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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

The Greatest American Hero: Season One (review)

Believe it or not, it’s only now that this charming fantasy series is hitting DVD, and it’s most welcome. Half tribute to the Superman mythos and half sendup of it, this cult-favorite series — and one of the more inspired successes from prolific producer Stephen J. Cannell (Silk Stalkings) — laid the groundwork for all the superhero reimaginings to come with its strikingly down-to-earth approach to juggling the demands of caped-crusading with those of being a working stiff and single parent. And it’s gently funny and whimsically smart, to boot. High-school teacher Ralph Hinkley (William Katt: Twin Falls Idaho) and FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) get thrown together by circumstance… and by friendly aliens who gift the pair with a superpower suit only Ralph can wear — though he immediately loses the instruction book that would have told him how to use it. Now they’re an unlikely team, the optimistic, mild-mannered Ralph and aggressive, hard-nosed Bill butting heads over how best to take advantage of this boon from above; it’s the perfect encapsulation of early 80s morning-in-America conservatism bumping up against the waning liberalism of the 70s. The entire eight-episode debut season — it originally aired on ABC in 1981, and the transfer looks fine — is here, plus 75 minutes of all-new cast interviews and the never-aired pilot for proposed spinoff The Greatest American Heroine. Also included at no extra cost: that incredibly catchy theme song.

MPAA: not rated

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