Venganza Media Gazette

Tech, TV, Movies, Games, and More

Dark Horse Comics Announces ANGEL Season 11!

MILWAUKIE, Ore., (September 26, 2016)—Buffy’s first love will receive a solo series and a “re-vamped” creative team in Angel Season 11. Corinna Bechko (Lara Croft, Star Wars: Legacy II) writes Season 11 while Geraldo Borges (Deadpool, Ghost) illustrates the series, and Michelle Madsen (Buffy Season 9, Angel & Faith Season 10) colors the issues. Scott Fischer (Angel & Faith Season 10, Buffy: The High School Years) and Jeff Dekal (Journey into Mystery, Dark Horse Presents) both created covers.

Angel Season 11 finds Angel being tormented by memories of his past. His visions link his dark past to a Big Bad coming in the future. The goddess Illyria intervenes and assists Angel as he discovers that it might be possible to change the future by traveling back in time to change the past.

Angel Season 11 writer Corinna Bechko shared her excitement for joining the Whedonverse: “I’m thrilled that I’ll be helping to add to a little corner of the Whedonverse, a rich and exciting place that contains infinite possibilities for exploration. Of course, the fact that I’ll be doing so with Angel, one of the most complex and interesting characters, means I have big shoes to fill. But I can’t wait to spend some quality time with him during this journey, and to have a bit of fun along the way!”

The first issue of Angel Season 11 goes on sale January 18, 2017, the day before Buffy’s birthday! Angel Season 11 will have twelve issues total.

September 28, 2016 Posted by | Comic Books, News, Television | Comments Off on Dark Horse Comics Announces ANGEL Season 11!

Deadpool and Agent Carter exclusive Funko POPs up for pre-order

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Amazon has put up for order two new exclusive POP Vinyl figures from Funko.

First, to tie into the upcoming film is Deadpool. While there are a multitude of new Deadpool POPs on the way, this one has a unique yellow and blue color scheme and the thumb pointing pose.

Then, tying into this week’s Season 2 premiere of Agent Carter is Agent Carter in Sepia Tone.  Like the Hot Topic exclusive, she’s holding the gold orb. This color scheme drives home the 40s era look.

Both these were considered completely sold out just last night, but they’re in stock now and with free shipping for Prime members.  So get your order in now!

January 22, 2016 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Deadpool and Agent Carter exclusive Funko POPs up for pre-order

Marvel Partners to Bring Statues, Clothes, and Toys for Adults in 2016

Marvel Comics Daredevil_Born AgainToday Marvel announced a new initiative to release products aimed at teen and adult collectors and fans.

In 2016 Marvel’s licensing partners will offer apparel, collectibles, action figures, and other items based upon their edgier properties, such as Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones television series. Items in this line will focus on characters from those series, including The Punisher (who will be featured in Daredevil Season 2, coming in 2016).

Not just television based, Marvel also said the edgier Marvel Publishing archives will be mined to support this release (such as the Daredevil: Born Again story).

With partners such as Kotobukiya, Sideshow, and Diamond Select named, fans can expect high-end statues. Plus Hasbro is specifically mentioned as releasing some of their popular Marvel Legends figures to tie into this initiative. Of course, Funko (the Energizer Bunny of marketing tie-ins) will also be offering several items.

Of concern is the lack of one key licensee — Hot Toys. Since 2008 that Hong Kong based company has produced 12 and 18-inch figures based on Marvel films. The figures are very popular and highly collectible, some selling out the first day they are offered. I know fans were hoping for Hot Toys versions of the movie Deadpool and the television series Daredevil. While Hot Toys may still offer such products in 2016, they are notable by omission in Marvel’s statement.

As of press time Marvel has not replied to our inquiries regarding Hot Toys’ participation in this campaign.

Also shocking is the inclusion of Marvel cult icon Deadpool. In early 2016 Hot Topic will launch a complete Deadpool campaign, which ties in with the Deadpool movie coming out in February. Historically Marvel has had rocky relations with Fox Studios, makers of the Fantastic Four, X-Men and Deadpool films. Merchandising for those properties has been limited, as stated by Hasbro’s Marvel Brand Team Manager Dwight Schultz, XM Studios, and others. Rumors came during San Diego Comic-Con that Marvel was lifting the restriction on Deadpool merchandise, and it has been confirmed in this release.

As an adult Marvel Comics fan and collector, I am extremely excited by this news. In 2014 and 2015 it seemed much of the Marvel content was being aimed at much younger fans, from single age to early teens. From changes to the Marvel comics to the Ant-Man film it seemed Marvel (or perhaps parent company Disney) was removing much of what made me a fan of the characters.

Additionally, as an X-Men enthusiast, it’s encouraging to see Deadpool back on the approved list for Marvel Licensing. While Deadpool merchandise has never been hard to find, as he is one of Marvel’s biggest break-out characters of the past 25 years, this specific push may indicate a more collaborative relationship between Fox and Marvel. (This may perhaps be borne out later in 2016 with Fox’s release of X-Men: Apocalypse).

While more details will certainly emerge during Toy Fair International in February, 2016, this is a promising revelation for grown-up fans of Marvel comics, movies, and television series.

Marvel’s entire press release is below.



Anti-Heroes and Vigilantes Inspire Dynamic New Product Line and Retail Promotions with Target, Walmart, Hot Topic, and Others

Glendale, Calif. (November 19, 2015) As fans continue to demand unique items to wear and collect from Marvel’s deep stable of characters, Marvel is rolling out its merchandising and retail plans for popular anti-heroes and vigilantes Daredevil, The Punisher, Jessica Jones and Deadpool.  This new development addresses a key Marvel strategy to tap into the Marvel vault and satisfy not only the fans of the major Marvel franchises — Avengers, Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy — but also comic book fans and those watching Marvel’s new Netflix Original Series.

Utilizing new artwork that launched this past summer, the merchandise campaigns focus on images from the vast Marvel Publishing archive to embrace an edgier tone. The lines have begun rolling out in stores with larger launches planned for January 2016 targeting teens and adults. Activity will heat up later in 2016 with the debut of the second season of the critically acclaimed Netflix’s “Marvel’s Daredevil, which will include the first-ever live-action appearance of the Punisher on television.

The licensing program features a wide array of adult fan-focused product originating off of the wildly popular Marvel Comics publishing line, from apparel to collectibles and action figures. Fans will have the chance to build out full collections for the first time with collectibles from Diamond Select, Funko, Sideshow, Kotobukiya, and NECA coming to retail. Additionally, Hasbro will add Marvel Legends collector figures and Hot Wheels will unveil collectible die-cast vehicles next fall. Mad Engine, C-Life, Hybrid, Freeze, Fifth Sun, Silver Buffalo and Bioworld will each be launching a robust lineup of product including men’s and women’s apparel, accessories, footwear, bags, home goods, and drinkware. The merchandising programs will be rounded out with additional offerings including collector plush, stationery, consumer electronics, and novelties. And this assortment would not be complete without the collected Marvel Comics editions where these popular heroes originated.

At retail, best-in-class partners are working on extensive in-store and online support. Beginning in January, Target will feature a Funko display that will spotlight Daredevil, The Punisher and Deadpool collectible bobbleheads. In February, Hot Topic is launching an in-store and online Deadpool campaign that will include eye-catching signage, a homepage takeover, and social media posts. Other brick and mortar retailers including Walmart, JCPenney, Spencer’s, Party City, and Kohl’s will also provide in-store and online support. Amazon will expand on its toy and apparel offerings for the characters and CafePress is launching a dedicated Jessica Jones shop offering unique merchandise for both men and women.

“Our goal is to open our deep vault of characters and explore all opportunities to drive incremental revenue that extends beyond our core franchises and extends our reach to new consumer segments,” said Paul Gitter, senior vice president, licensing, Marvel at Disney Consumer Products. “The excitement that is brewing across the board from not just fans, but also the licensees and retailers, is overwhelming and we are looking forward to seeing the reaction to this awesome product lineup.”

# # #

About Marvel Entertainment

Marvel Entertainment, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, is one of the world’s most prominent character-based entertainment companies, built on a proven library of more than 8,000 characters featured in a variety of media over seventy-five years.  Marvel utilizes its character franchises in entertainment, licensing and publishing.

For more information visit

© 2015 MARVEL

About Disney Consumer Products

Disney Consumer Products (DCP) is the business segment of The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) that delivers innovative and engaging product experiences across thousands of categories from toys and apparel to books and fine art. As the world’s largest licensor, DCP inspires the imaginations of people around the world by bringing the magic of Disney into consumers’ homes with products they can enjoy year-round. DCP is comprised of three business units: Licensing, Publishing and Disney Store. The Licensing business is aligned around five strategic brand priorities: Disney Media, Classics & Entertainment, Disney & Pixar Animation Studios, Disney Princess & Disney Fairies, Lucasfilm and Marvel. Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW) is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, magazines, and apps, igniting imagination through storytelling in ever-inventive ways. DPW creates and publishes books, magazines, eBooks and apps both vertically in-house and through an extensive worldwide licensing structure. DPW is also committed to the educational development of children around the world through Disney Learning which includes our flagship learning brand, Disney Imagicademy, as well as Disney English and other Disney themed learning products. The Disney Store retail chain operates across North America, Europe and Japan with more than 350 stores worldwide and is known for providing consumers with high-quality, unique products. Disney Store operates ecommerce channels in nine countries, which can be found here. For more information, please visit Disney Consumer Products .


November 19, 2015 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marvel Partners to Bring Statues, Clothes, and Toys for Adults in 2016

Frank Oz returns as the voice of Yoda in the all-new Star Wars Rebels episode


Frank Oz returns as the voice of Yoda in the all-new Star Wars Rebels episode,

“Path of the Jedi!”



Recognizing it’s time for Ezra to undertake his next important step in Jedi training, Kanan and his apprentice quest for an ancient Jedi Temple on Lothal. Once there, Ezra begins a series of Jedi tests and receives some unexpected guidance from Jedi Master Yoda.

Frank Oz was interviewed about his portrayal of Yoda.  Read it below!

Q. What was your initial reaction to Yoda when you viewed the concept sketches for the character in 1979?
A. When I saw the first sketches they were different from the Yoda we now know. But still, I sensed who he was right away. That rarely happens, but it happened with him.
Q. Do you remember what George Lucas said to you to inspire you to come up with the voice that you chose for Yoda?
A. Actually George didn’t ask me to do the voice. I gave him a voice tape early on but I was told he wanted to try other people doing the voice. Over the year or so while post was going on, I would hear that many men were auditioned for Yoda’s voice. But at the last minute, when I was on my honeymoon in Hawaii with my first wife, I got a call that George would like to use my voice after all. So we shortened the honeymoon and I went to LA to record Yoda for EMPIRE. But to answer your question, I studied old men’s voices.
Q. You reportedly created your own personal backstory for Yoda in 1979 to help you get into character.  Is that true?  Do you still have those notes?
A. I may have them deep in storage…somewhere. The content was about Yoda’s history. His likes and dislikes. How he came to be on Dagobah. How Jedi behaved hundreds of years ago, etc. And also the notes included what Yoda knew about various people. What he knew about Luke, what he knew about Princess Leia, what he knew about Han Solo, and what he knew about Darth Vader.  What he knew about all the characters impacted by the Force.  I had asked George early on in the rehearsal period of The Empire Strikes Back, to let me have the whole script instead of having just my scenes. I felt if Yoda was so wise I needed to know what was going on throughout the script so Yoda could sense it all.
Q.  You’ve created so many wonderful characters over the years—how difficult or easy was Yoda compared to others?
A. Creating characters is really not about one person. Yoda was designed by someone, built by someone, costumed by someone, described and had dialogue written by someone (George and Lawrence Kasdan), and directed by Kersh (Director, Irvin Kershner). What I do is take all the elements, plus what’s inside me, and bring them to life with, hopefully, a transformational and transcendent result.  That’s what happens with all the characters I’ve originated.
As I said I sensed who Yoda was right away when I saw the sketches, but what was different with Yoda is that he was not performing for an audience. I had to have him truthful to the script. And the major physical difference was that I had to have three people working him with me – all needing to be in exact sync with each other. That was really the challenging part – but the fun part too.
Q. How does it feel to be reprising the voice of Yoda for Star Wars Rebels after nearly ten years?
A:  It was wonderful to be him again.
Q.  How did you like working with Dave Filoni, EP/Supervising Director of Star Wars Rebels?
A. Dave was great. He “got it.” We worked well together.
Q. What is your favorite Yoda line from the Star Wars movies?
A. I don’t really have a favorite. Although I liked reaching for the gravitas when Yoda says to Luke, “You will be. You will be,” after Luke says he’s not scared. I love opposites in characters. At first glance, Yoda is an impish character, but when he speaks of anything having to do with the Force he becomes profoundly serious.  That paradox is interesting to me. One doesn’t expect that kind of gravitas from a character that small and impish.

Watch a clip from REBELS below!

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Movies, News, Star Wars, Television | , , , , , | Comments Off on Frank Oz returns as the voice of Yoda in the all-new Star Wars Rebels episode

Peggy Carter Squares Off Against Hydra in OPERATION S.I.N. #1!

Peggy Carter Squares Off Against Hydra in OPERATION S.I.N. #1!


This January, venture into the dark corners of the Marvel Universe of  the 1950s for an all-new globetrotting adventure in OPERATION S.I.N. #1 – the first chapter in a blockbuster new limited series starring fan-favorite characters Peggy Carter and Howard Stark! From blockbuster creators Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis comes an untold story of the Marvel Universe spinning out of the explosive events of Original Sin!

At the height of the Cold War, a supremely powerful alien energy source is discovered on Russian soil. In an effort to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, secret agent Peggy Carter and Howard Stark must intercept it before it’s too late. Only they’re not the only interested parties…

A new terrorist splinter group named Hydra is on the hunt, seeking the alien technology for their own sinister purposes. It’s only when a mysterious operative named Woodrow McCord enters the picture that Peggy and Howard will see just how far some people will go to keep Earth safe from harm.

Explore Marvel history like you’ve never seen it before as Peggy Carter, Howard Stark and Woodrow McCord do battle against the rising forces of Hydra. You will not want to miss the first chapter of this epic, spy-espionage thrill ride when OPERATION S.I.N. #1 explodes into comic shops and on to digital devices this January! 

OPERATION S.I.N. #1 (of 5) (NOV140774)

Variant Covers by GABRIEL HARDMAN (

FOC – 12/08/14, On-Sale 01/07/15



About Marvel: Marvel Entertainment, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, is one of the world’s most prominent character-based entertainment companies, built on a proven library of more than 8,000 characters featured in a variety of media over seventy years. Marvel utilizes its character franchises in entertainment, licensing and publishing. For more information visit © MARVEL 2014





December 5, 2014 Posted by | Comic Books, News, Television | , , , | Comments Off on Peggy Carter Squares Off Against Hydra in OPERATION S.I.N. #1!

The 40 Year-Old-Critic: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

11005771In The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews
Earlier this week, when I discussed Star Wars Episode III:  Revenge of the Sith, I described how I tend to channel my excitement into creative venues. I’ve been doing it my whole life, whether that meant writing fan fiction, building model kits, customizing action figures — the point is, I like to build upon my imagination. In 2005 that drive led to the creation of the Star Wars Action News podcast.

Two years later, a near-equal level of excitement gave birth to an even larger idea that became Now Playing Podcast. The excitement was for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3; the first film Now Playing ever reviewed.

I had been a longtime Spider-Man fan, from the 1970s Spidey Super Stories on The Electric Company to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and even Stan Lee’s daily The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strips, but even I didn’t anticipate my own hype for this sequel. I barely caught the first Spider-Man film in theaters (its release in 2002, directly against Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and my wedding, was much of the reason). I was more excited for 2004’s Spider-Man 2, but I wouldn’t say I was “hyped.”

But the bug bit me in 2007 — Venom had gotten into my system.

I started reading comics in 1990. I never got into them as a child; I simply wasn’t exposed to comics through friends or media. My Star Trek fandom drew me into the comics culture, because I wanted to read the “official” stories taking place after the events of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The first time I stepped into a comics shop the clerk tried to sell me Spider-Man No. 1, from the highly-acclaimed Todd McFarlane series.

This tease ignited the fanboy in me.

This tease ignited the fanboy in me.

I passed. I always thought the comics were just color reprints of the daily newspaper strip, until my longtime friend and Now Playing co-host Stuart started telling me stories about how Spider-Man changed his costume to one that was black-and-white. Incredulous, I didn’t believe him, especially when he told me the suit turned out to be an evil alien. In response, and to prove his point, he pointed me to a comic book store. I went back to read many of McFarlane’s Amazing Spider-Man back issues. Of specific interest were the stories that involved Venom, a muscle-bound baddie named Eddie Brock with whom the alien suit had bonded. Venom had all of Spider-Man’s powers, but none of his responsibility.

For years I read every Spider-Man comic, but I anticipated none as much as those that starred Venom. When Brock went from villain to anti-hero in his own series, Venom: Lethal Protector, I was even happier; I could now read about him every month!

I honestly wonder if I liked Venom even more than Spider-Man himself.

As a fan I read rumors about a big-screen adaptation of Spider-Man, but it languished in development hell for more than a decade. I remember reading a Wizard Magazine in 1992 that teased a James Cameron directed Spider-Man film starring Charlie Sheen as Peter Parker and using Terminator 2 special effects for the villain — Venom! I couldn’t have been more excited but, alas, that film never materialized. When Spider-Man did hit theaters in 2002 Sheen, Cameron, and Venom weren’t even under consideration.

Finally, after enjoying two Spider-Man films in theaters (as you can hear in the Now Playing Podcast Spider-Man Retrospective Series), word came that Raimi was finally getting to my favorite Spidey nemesis.

Venom was first teased at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con. I wasn’t in the Sony panel, but friends excitedly described the scene of alien ooze landing on Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). That the scene took place in a church really upped my expectations — Raimi had been pretty loyal to the Spider-Man mythos thus far, and despite casting the wiry Grace as the muscle-bound Brock, it seemed he was continuing that trend with Venom.

I'd seen the black outfit take Peter Parker to dark places in the comic...but never as dark as Maguire's uncomfortable dance scene.

I’d seen the black outfit take Peter Parker to dark places in the comic…but never as dark as Maguire’s uncomfortable dance scene.

Venom, Raimi, and Spider-Man created a perfect storm of hype.

I am a collector by nature, and often I express my fandom through displays of movie memorabilia. It all started with my Star Wars toys in 1977, but from Superman to Gremlins to Ghostbusters to Star Trek, I’d always buy the trading cards, toys, and books for films I loved. Of course, Star Wars remained my primary focus — I bought every figure, vehicle, book, and game released.

By the year 2000 my townhouse was a crowded toy box, full of Star Wars toys, but also X-Men movie figures, Spider-Man toys, McFarlane Toys’ Movie Maniacs series’ Leatherface, Freddy, and many more. But in 2001 I quit my job and became a full-time student, and with that drastic reduction in income came a drastic reduction in collecting. I actually sold most of my toys and narrowed my focus down to my first love — Star Wars. Even as my career started to take off, my income increasing, I was never tempted to return to collecting anything but Star Wars until Spider-Man 3.

By 2007, Star Wars Action News was heard by tens of thousands of listeners every month, and hundreds congregated on our forums to discuss the toys. Surprisingly, many of those fans were also swept up in the excitement to see Raimi’s next Spider-Man film. When I mentioned on the podcast that I was drawn to — but couldn’t allow myself to buy — a particularly cool Venom figure sold by Sideshow Collectibles, these listeners came to the forums en masse to encourage my spending! Some even tried to take up a collection to buy the $80 figure for me; an act of generosity I could not possibly accept.

The flames of my Spider-Man 3 excitement were fanned by Star Wars Action News listeners, and that combination caused me to move on an idea I’d had for some time: a movie review podcast. The first movie we’d review would be Spider-Man 3, obviously.

It wouldn’t be a stretch, my wife (and co-host) Marjorie and I had already reviewed one movie together, Snakes on a Plane, the year before.

Coincidentally, another Marvel character first planted the seeds in my head that I should launch this show. Coming out of 2007’s Ghost Rider Marjorie had me almost doubled over with laughter as she lambasted the Nicolas Cage film. Not only were her observations on point, they were quite amusing. I knew many of our listeners loved Marjorie’s color commentary, and I thought that if I’d had a microphone on us walking out of Ghost Rider we’d break download records.

Despite the film's numerous flaws, the CGI work on Sandman was impressive, and moving.

Despite the film’s numerous flaws, the CGI work on Sandman was impressive, and moving.

But I was daunted. Movie review podcasts were a dime a dozen. Anyone with a microphone seemed to be reviewing movies. With Star Wars Action News we’d made a big splash in the Star Wars community — a big fish in a tiny pond. Yet, even with that success I knew that we’d be out of our comfortable pond and thrust into an ocean of movie podcasts. I wasn’t sure how to make us stand out, and so I never acted on it.

More, SWAN had gone from a one-day-per-week hobby to a very time-consuming new career. Two hours of recording became 10 hours of editing, and then toy photography and travel — suddenly I was spending more time on podcasting than I was on teaching my college courses. Plus, teaching was my second job; I also had a full-time day job. With all of these commitments the thought of doing another podcast regularly was overwhelming.

Still, the seed had been planted, and my excitement for Spider-Man 3 turned it into action. Marjorie came up with the name, taken directly from the screen of her iPod that always said at the top, Now Playing.

It’s laughable now as I spend 30 or more hours per week on the show, but I originally thought Now Playing Podcast wouldn’t take much time. I figured we’d stick to my first idea and take the portable recorder (the one I’d purchased for the Samuel L. Jackson interview) to the theater and when the movie was over I’d have a microphone to capture our initial reaction. Marjorie and I went to the movies nearly every week, so we could have a spoiler-free review with just a few minutes of recording. I’d release it unedited, just add music, and be done.

As for the way to differentiate ourselves from the thousands of other podcasts? That would take me a couple more years to really figure out. In the meantime we had Marjorie and a built in audience for Star Wars Action News.

Deciding to launch Now Playing on the same day as Spider-Man 3’s release had two profound effects. First, my excitement for the next Spidey film had an outlet that didn’t involve buying collectibles. I was preparing our own launch of a podcast, so my time and money was spent getting domain names and setting up web pages (Though I was visiting Burger King more than usual to get their Spider-Man 3 kid’s meal toys — the Venom still eluded me).

Second, the anticipation for May 4, 2007 increased 50-fold — that was the day I’d get to watch Spider-Man and we’d launch our newest podcast!

My excitement level was so high we actually took that afternoon off work. There were no midnight shows, but we were there for the first matinee of the day. It was time to see Venom fight Spider-Man, and classic Spider-Man bad guy Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) would be in there somewhere as well.

In my mind I felt I knew how the movie would be paced. The trailers had shown Spider-Man fighting Sandman while wearing his black suit. I thought for certain it would follow the structure of the original film, with the first half largely about the origin story, only this time it would be the origin of the black suit (again with Sandman in there somewhere). Then, I assumed the second half of the picture would be about our hero battling his arch-nemesis, only this time instead of Green Goblin it would be Venom.

The more I heard about Sandman being the main baddie in this film, though, I started to form a back-up theory. The trailers never showed Venom outside of the church, so I thought this entire film could be a setup for Venom, who would return as the main bad guy in Spider-Man 4. 

No matter what, in Raimi I trusted. From Evil Dead to Army of Darkness, Darkman, and more, he had proven time and again to be a director with style and vision (that late 90s period including For the Love of the Game notwithstanding).

We got to theater early, after an obligatory trip to Burger King to try and get that damn Venom toy. No luck.

I can still remember being so excited I was practically vibrating in my seat. The film started, the score played over an opening credits montage reminding us of the first two films. Little did I know this would be the high point of the movie for me — thinking of the earlier, better films.

The introduction of the alien symbiote that became Spider-Man’s black suit was the opening scene, and completely convenient. It just happened to land near Peter Parker and take him over. No reason why, it just happened.

Faith was restored with the introduction of Sandman, Church having bulked up for the role and really looking like the comic book character come to life. The CGI effects during his transformation marked a new standard for humanity conveyed by computer animation.

But that was quickly lost by the contrived retcon tying Sandman to the death of Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, and a subplot involving Peter Parker’s love life.

I won’t rehash the entire review again. You can hear our full, detailed, scene by scene review in the Now Playing Podcast archives. The disappointment you’ll hear in my voice mirrors my thoughts sitting in that theater. During that theatrical experience I realized not only was I watching a movie that was not very good, but that Now Playing’s first review would not be very positive. I had hoped for the show to be a celebration of Raimi’s film — the orgasmic climax after five years of build-up. Instead, we would have to be honest and discuss how everything —  from the plot to the acting to the score — was not only far below my expectations, but also not very good at all.

No matter the quality of the movie, Now Playing Podcast had arrived. Star Wars Action News listeners and forum members were anxiously awaiting the review. So we went to the car and, raw from the experience, recorded our thoughts. We sat in the car, Spider-Man toys from BK in the back seat, and gave our initial reactions. I tried to temper my disappointment, but when I listen to that show I can hear the sound of a heart breaking.

In the years since I’ve come to focus on some of the better parts of the movie. The effects are mostly top notch, Topher Grace adds needed energy to the cast, and some of the jokes are winners. With the dour nature of The Amazing Spider-Man reboots, I even sometimes finding myself actually wishing for some of the spirit Raimi put in all of his films… even Spider-Man 3.

The tangled web that is Peter Parker's love life would never straighten out; after Spider-Man 3 Sony decided to reboot without Raimi at the helm.

The tangled web that is Peter Parker’s love life would never straighten out; after Spider-Man 3 Sony decided to reboot without Raimi at the helm.

Yet from that bad movie experience something good did come — Now Playing. It would take years for me to realize that. Despite my best intentions, the show went from being recorded on the run to being done in the studio; it went from unedited to lightly edited to full edits. The time commitment was growing, and the listenership wasn’t. We were now one very tiny fish in an ocean so overpopulated that most shows suffered from listener famine. Without listener involvement the show became neglected, and the fewer shows we did the fewer listeners we had when we would put out new reviews. For a while we even gave up hosting altogether.

It wasn’t until 2009 when another movie, another hype machine, got me going: the Platinum Dunes remake of Friday the 13th. Then I had the idea of the Retrospective Series and a three-person rotating cast of hosts. The hype for that movie also ended in disappointment, but we had finally found the format that made our show stand out.

Today Now Playing is a regular show in iTunes’ Top 10. I’ve met hundreds of listeners in person and talked to thousands through social media. Each person with whom I interact is an experience I cherish, and it’s stunning to think none of this would have happened if it weren’t for Spider-Man 3.

And as for my resistance to collecting Marvel, Spider-Man 3 helped me stave that off… for a couple more years at least. As anyone who’s heard my Marvel collecting podcast, Marvelicious Toys, knows, I have now fully embraced it and enjoy it as a smaller side-collection to my primary Star Wars collecting.

Tomorrow — 2008!

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec    

September 6, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Amazing Spider-Man TV Series, Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The 40 Year-Old-Critic: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

40 Year-Old-Critic: Popeye (1980)

popeye posterIn The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

What, you thought The Empire Strikes Back was a given for 1980? Absolutely not!  Let me explain.

1980 is a special year for me because it is the first year I can actually remember seeing movies in theaters. I have vivid recollections of my mother taking me to see The Empire Strikes Back on a hot summer day while weekending in Chicago, and I remember going to see Superman II when it opened at our local mall. And I remember later that year my sister Susan taking me to see the Robin Williams “comedy” Popeye, and sadly this is the moviegoing experience I remember best of all.

As a child I loved cartoons. Mostly, I was interested in superheroes like Superman, but I watched the Bozo show religiously and it featured a variety of cartoons, including Tom and Jerry, Mighty Mouse, and Popeye. I consumed this animated fare as part of a daily television diet.

My TV viewing was not confined to mornings, I was also starting to watch prime time shows.  Being the youngest child in the house I rarely choose what shows were on our one television.  Occasionally, when I was alone, I’d get to see Dukes of Hazzard or The Incredible Hulk. But most nights I watched whatever my older sisters wanted to see.

Their tastes ran to sitcoms of the day: Happy Days, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company,The Facts of Life, and my absolute favorite, Mork & Mindy. Robin Williams’ character, along with his colorful costumes, kept my attention for the full half-hour every Thursday night.

So, Williams as Popeye? It had to be a no-brainer for Susan to take her kid brother to that movie.  To this day, the experience of seeing that film is burned into my brain.


I yam what I yam…a bad movie.

My first reaction to this dirty, ugly picture was, “This isn’t my Popeye!”  I wasn’t sure what had happened to the character I loved from The Bozo Show, but as shown on-screen “our hero” Popeye was beaten down and disavowed.  His every scene seemed to be a boring exercise in humiliation.  Worst, this Popeye hated spinach! A recent rewatch made it clear that the ingestion of that canned plant is the character’s arc — his origin story — but to a 6-year-old it seemed this movie didn’t know the first thing about the cartoon I loved. It lacked the crazy, fast-paced antics of the animated show and replaced it with warbled songs sung by Shelley Duvall and Robin Williams, neither of whom should ever be allowed to sing again (Aladdin aside). It seems even Williams was embarrassed during the making of the movie–he looks depressed in nearly every scene.

And it wasn’t just Williams, it was everyone. As Pappy, Ray Walston was a frightening character who denied Popeye’s parentage. Bluto was a bully that seemed comical in animation, but when personified in the flesh his hairy bulk repulsed me.

At 6 years old I did not yet possess the vocabulary to express how this movie made me feel. I did not know the meaning of words like “abrasive” or “grimy.” I couldn’t properly express that Popeye lacked the fun, spirited tone of the cartoon, and that its rundown river-town setting made me feel like I needed a hot bath. I didn’t just experience disappointment, I had a feeling of utter betrayal — and not just by Popeye. I wasn’t that big of a fan where an inaccurate on-screen portrayal would scar me.

No, I felt betrayed by cinema.

Up until this point in my life I’d had a magical experience every time I had gone to the movies. I’d seen Yoda teach Luke Skywalker about good and evil. I’d listened to Muppets sing and loved it. I’d seen God in the guise of George Burns. I’d been enthralled as Mickey Mouse made brooms dance. I’d believed a man could fly!  I hadn’t seen a lot of movies in theaters at this age, but each one seemed hand-picked for maximum enjoyment. I thought the movie theater was a place where only good things happened.

Seeing Popeye made me realize, for the first time, that a movie could be really, truly terrible.  In some ways, it was the death of my childhood innocence.

Popeye plus Flash Gordon -- a double feature made in hell

Popeye plus Flash Gordon — a double feature made in hell

I insisted my sister take me back to the movies a week later to wash the taste of spinach out of my mouth. She picked a film I hadn’t heard of, Flash Gordon. Again, I thought I would be seeing another cartoon hero come to life (I’d mistaken it for the DC Comics hero, The Flash).

It was like a one-two punch, Popeye and Flash Gordon. I’d never look at movies the same again.

From the moment I walked, shell-shocked, out of that mall theater something inside me changed. My trust in the silver screen was broken. It would take many years for me to fully comprehend the enormity of that concept — that choices had to be made where I spent my money and time — but it all started with what surely must be director Robert Altman’s worst picture.

I am now about to turn 40, but inside I’m still a 6-year-old every time I go into a theater. I still hope every movie I watch — especially every theater-going experience — will be magical and wondrous. And I still feel betrayed when I’m instead given something as disastrous as Popeye or Aliens vs Predator.

At least now I can channel those memories and spare others from the letdown I experienced. As a critic on Now Playing Podcast I, hopefully, can warn people when there’s a Popeye at the multiplex. Also, as an adult, I can now fully put into words those negative feelings I had as a child.

Thinking now about 1980, I realize so many films I love today were released that year: The Empire Strikes Back, The Blues Brothers, Raging Bull, Ordinary People, and, of course, the original Friday the 13th.    I have memories of seeing them all, but none are as vivid as that horrible Saturday when I saw Popeye.

Next — 1981!

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec

August 10, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Comic Books, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man and The Howling Commandos to Make Halloween History on Disney Channel

Special Halloween Event Features the Voice Talents of Disney Channel Star Ross Lynch


Los Angeles, CA—September 20, 2013 – Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man makes its Disney Channel debut in a special one-hour Halloween event, Saturday, October 5 at 9pm/8c. This brand new prime time animation special features a never-before-seen team-up with Blade, the fan favorite vampire hunter; Jack Russell aka Werewolf by Night; The Living Mummy; Frankenstein’s Monster and Man-Thing. United together in animation for the first time, Spider-Man and his monstrous allies take on one of the biggest Halloween villains of all time, Dracula!

This landmark Marvel event also features a star-studded voice cast, including Disney Channel star Ross Lynch (Austin & Ally, Teen Beach Movie) as Jack Russell; Terry Crews (The Expendables) as Blade; and Oded Fehr (The Mummy) as The Living Mummy.

“This is the biggest event in Ultimate Spider-Man history,” said Jeph Loeb, Marvel’s Head of Television. “We’ve brought Spidey together with our greatest Supernatural heroes and some of the hottest names to voice them. We’re hoping families turn down the lights and turn up the volume for our spookiest special yet, courtesy of Ultimate Spider-Man!”

The episode will re-air the following week within the weekly Marvel Universe block on Disney XD, on Sunday, October 13at 11am/10c.

Fans can get a sneak peek at part one of the one-hour Halloween special with free download on iTunes beginning Monday, September 30.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Comic Books, Marvelicious Toys, Podcasts, Television | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man and The Howling Commandos to Make Halloween History on Disney Channel

Review: Into Pitch Black

Before Pitch Black hit theaters audiences were invited Into Pitch Black–a Sci Fi Channel special promoting the film. But unlike most TV specials promoting new release films with their behind-the-scenes footage and “making of” documentaries, Into Pitch Black took us into the Pitch Black universe with a fully dramatized story. It’s a rarity not included on any home release of the Riddick films, nor easily obtained online. But as part of Now Playing’s Riddick Retrospective Series I did my best merc impression and captured a copy.

Taking place several months after the events in Pitch Black we follow an unnamed law enforcement officer charged with finding escaped convict Richard B. Riddick, last seen aboard the spaceship Hunter-Gratzner. Unable to find any leads, the officer hires a female bounty hunter to help his investigation.

As the two dig into the background of several passengers on the Hunter-Gratzner we are treated to many scenes from the actual movie Pitch Black. Of the special’s 45-minute running length, about 15 minutes are scenes from the movie. We witness the spaceship’s crash-landing and several of the survivors exploring the planet. The narrative sells these scenes as information found during the investigation.

To try and expand the universe beyond the events in Pitch Black we also get footage, shot night-vision style, of “Cutter”, the psychologist who studied Riddick in prison. In the only useful piece of trivia in the special we find Cutter was the doctor who “shined” Riddick’s eyes, giving him night vision (a fact later retconned out in the video game The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay).

Despite the aspirations of being a mini-story set in Riddick’s universe, Into Pitch Black never escapes the trappings of a promo TV special. There is a lot of emphasis in teasing the audience with Pitch Black footage. More, the low production values of this special, from the washed-out home-video camerawork to the worse-than-porno acting makes this show virtually unwatchable. To have this amateurish footage intercut with high value production and acting by Keith David and Vin Diesel makes the new scenes seem even more pathetic.

I believe the obscurity of this piece is because it is an embarrassment–nothing any Riddick fan would really want to revisit. I give it a strong Not Recommend.

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Review: Into Pitch Black

TV REVIEW: Hannibal


Creator: Brian Fuller

Starring:  Mads Mikkelson, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Lara Jean Chorostecki

Network:  NBC

Airs: Thursdays, 10pm Eastern /9pm Central

Cinema’s most notorious cannibal has returned to public life as the unlikely star of a one hour NBC crime drama.  Hannibal, set before the events of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, finds a middle-aged Lecter assisting the FBI on grisly manhunts while masquerading as a Baltimore psychiatrist with a fridge full of secrets.  Any movie fan would naturally be concerned that TV censorship and commercial interruptions inhibit Hannibal even more than his signature straitjacket and facial restraints.  Yet the horror icon remains menacing and seductive in his new serialized incarnation, bringing a potent flavor to introductory episodes “Aperitif” and “Amuse Bouche” that masks the blandness of formulaic forensic shows.

If nothing else, series creator Bryan Fuller (Heroes) has found the perfect actor for the pivotal title role. Dane Mads Mikkelson avoids Anthony Hopkins comparisons by drawing more on the sinister minimalism of his James Bond villain from Casino Royale.   This Hannibal is trying to pass himself off as a boring suit, so he can’t risk the theatricality of those purring taunts and unblinking stares that caged Hannibal used to intimidate his interrogators.  Lecter lives out his double life wearing an unwavering poker face, but subtle gestures and asides help Mikkelson retain the dark humor and refinement that has always made this beast relatable.   A dinner of exquisite looking mystery meat, or a courtesy call placed to a fellow serial killer, play like private jokes between the viewer and this strangely admirable enigma.

Dr. Lecter hungers for an equal to sniff out his true nature, which makes his relationship with tortured FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) the crux of the show.  Graham’s heightened intuition helps him process crime scene clues through the eyes of the most depraved psychopaths – he’s a great investigator but an unstable lawman.  Lecter is brought in to help Will develop coping skills and process his recent first kill, but the shrink uses the sessions instead to insinuate his macabre world view inside Will’s fevered brain.  Dancy’s jittery performance is a nice contrast with Mikkelson’s calculating stoicism, even when the storylines push Graham’s emotional state to campy extremes.

Fans of Red Dragon and Manhunter recognize Will Graham as Lector’s eventual captor, but Hannibal has changed enough about the set-up to make that future uncertain.  Like JJ Abrams’ Star Trek or A&E’s Bates Motel, the project isn’t a slave to the source material and many canonical elements have been tweaked successfully.  Will Graham looks more damaged and socially awkward here than in the movies because he has a house full of stray dogs rather than a stabilizing wife and son.  Turning sleazy male reporter Freddie Lounds into a scheming female blogger not only contemporizes the character, it gives Lector a tempting new target.   As long as the show runners respect the source material, I think defying expectations is a great way of keeping fans interested.  Right now I don’t care if this Lecter ever ends up behind bars.

Still, not everything about Hannibal feels like a fresh reinvention.   Laurence Fishburne makes for a credible Jack Crawford, but he leads a stock crime fighting unit transplanted from a lesser procedural (annoying Asian scientist, dour bearded white dude, sexy lady shrink, etc.).  And the overwrought cases, which include a deer hunter skewering women on a wall of antlers and a pharmacist growing a mushroom garden out of comatose diabetics, create the bogus impression that every murderer on the East Coast is some aspiring performance artist using cannibalism to redress childhood hurt.  If this is what we’re going to get week after week, it’s going to diminishes Lecter’s reputation as a unique monster.

Hannibal has impressive production values, and its queasy corpse imagery and violent standoffs don’t feel compromised by broadcast television standards.  Yet I can’t help feeling like the show would play better on a network that doesn’t require it to make room for 17 minutes of commercials. Graham resembles a psychic more than a cop when ads don’t give us enough time to covet the clues, and he has to make improbable deductions to compress the plot.

Despite its flaws, Hannibal promises to be a worthy new chapter for the serial killer if it can maintain the Lecter/Graham dialectic.  I’m just afraid the show will get lost in America’s overcrowded DVR and wind up cancelled before its audience can find it.  I definitely RECOMMEND streaming both episodes over at sooner than later, and look forward to tasting the remaining 11 courses of Season One.


April 17, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on TV REVIEW: Hannibal


A pretty good first hand for an aspiring web series network   

House of Cards
Directors: David Fincher, Joel Schumacher, etc.
Writers: Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies, etc.
Starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stohl
Network: Netflix
Release Date February 1, 2013

Netflix, having successfully slain the video store with their revolutionary DVD-by-mail business model, plans to challenge cable television by offering subscribers an exclusive line-up of streamed programming.  The first original show out of the gate is House of Cards – a sophisticated one-hour drama about Washington political corruption that re-teams Oscar winner Kevin Spacey with his Seven director David Fincher.  The $100 million price tag and A-list Hollywood talent lets the world know that HBO and Showtime are no longer the only destinations for premium serialized entertainment, but is House of Cards good enough to re-position Netflix as the TV network of the future?  Maybe.  Season One wobbles under the weight of its many ambitions, but stands on a solid foundation of satire and delicious Machiavellian power plays.


Francis Underwood, Spacey’s silver-tongued Congressman, is our tour guide through the dimly lit halls and shadowy chambers of a White House besieged by distrust and petty grievances.  Frank’s got an axe to grind too.  The newly re-elected President passed him over for Secretary of State, so now he’s going to mobilize a cabal of conspirators to win himself an even bigger seat in the administration.  Despite frequent asides to the camera, stoic Spacey keeps his cards close to the vest.  We always know what the scheming politician thinks, but rarely understand what he’s doing behind the scenes.  It’s the kind of calculating antihero role the actor has always excelled at playing – a cross between tragic Shakespearean tyrant and his genteel murderer from Midnight In The Garden of Good And Evil.


All we know for certain about Frank’s plot is that it hinges on turning Peter Russo (Corey Stohl, Midnight In Paris) into governor of Pennsylvania, despite the Representative’s well-documented problem with drugs and alcohol (or is that part of the plan?).  The one character on this cynical show truly deserving empathy, Russo struggles to clean up his act and become the transformational figure his blue collar constituency needs to survive a downturn economy.  Hope is a rare commodity on House of Cards, but Stohl’s raw and human performance inspires it all the same.


Frank’s other key player in the game is blogger-journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara, sister of Dragon Tattoo star Rooney).  The Congressman feeds the cub reporter Beltway secrets, which she turns into headlines that keep Frank influential on public opinion.  Another series might be tempted to sensationalize the sexual affair that springs from their mutually beneficial partnership, but House of Cards largely avoids arousing libidos.  Zoe and Frank’s bedroom scenes contain no more heat than the numerous policy briefings and education bill debates that fill the man’s day planner.


I wish the other characters were more organically integrated into Frank’s schemes.  Large chunks of time are devoted to trophy wife Claire (Robin Wright) making difficult choices about her overextended humanitarian organization, and flirting with having an affair of her own.  I appreciate the irony of a professional do-gooder turning out to be such a callous person, but it’s a Hillary Clinton spoof that ultimately has little impact on Frank’s rise to power.  There’s also a disgruntled natural gas lobbyist, a contracted call girl, a terminally ill bodyguard, and even a barbeque restauranteur.  They offer great local color, but drop out of the main story too frequently to truly endear themselves.


On one hand, it’s admirable that Fincher has translated the brooding, monochromatic aesthetic of Social Network and Zodiac into a sprawling D.C. tapestry.  He’s never worked with a canvas so large, and I love that he’s able to hold up a mirror to today’s obnoxious political theater and find a marathon of authentic, intimate moments that other media misses.  Yet I’ve always felt that television needs to be compulsively watchable in order to sustain viewership.  Cruelty can be a darkly satisfying spectacle within the confines of a two or three hour movie, but spend a full season in a reptile cage and all that cold-blooded behavior is bound to numb audience enthusiasm.  The trouble is I never had a burning desire to know what happens next, particularly when outcomes rarely stray far from the most pessimistic possibilities.


Maybe it’s a good thing then that all 13 episodes of House of Card’s first season have been made available at the same time.  Because every one of the show’s principals plays the long game, it takes several episodes for audiences to get hooked on their myopic power manipulations.  Indeed, I wasn’t sold until Hour 6.  Binge viewers can consume the low boil intrigue in a single day rather than risk losing interest in the weeks it’d take for the story to climax on broadcast TV.


Overall, this is an easy RECOMMEND for Fincher fans, political junkies, or anyone curious about where TV is heading.  And it comes at a bargain when you consider Netflix’s monthly rate for unlimited streaming is comparable to the price of a matinee movie ticket.  I don’t’ know if I need to chase after Spacey as he races towards the uncertain fortune of Season Two, but I’m anxious to check out the rest of Netflix’s 2013 line-up: Eli Roth’s April horror series Hemlock Grove, prison sitcom Orange Is The New Black, Ricky Gervais’ Derek, and the return of Arrested Development.  It does indeed look like the revolution will not be televised, but streamed.


March 6, 2013 Posted by | Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Television | , , , , , | Comments Off on TV REVIEW: HOUSE OF CARDS (Season One)

Amazing Spider-Man Episodes 2 and 3 – The Deadly Dust

A group of students steal radioactive materials as a sign of protest, but they learn a lesson in nuclear weapons when an arms dealer takes advantage of the situation.

Spider-Man rides a chopper
The Deadly Dust
(Part 1 and Part 2)
Season: 1
Episode: 2 and 3
Air Date: Part 1: April 5, 1978
Part 2: April 12, 1978
Director: Ron Satlof
Writer: Robert Janes

Recently I watched Spider-Man (1977), the pilot movie for The Amazing Spider-Man TV series, which you can hear us review at Now Playing.   While I felt that movie was a bit slow, it was also so wacky and gonzo I could not look away.  More, I couldn’t imagine how CBS would turn this concept as presented into a weekly series.  I had to see more, so I eagerly jumped into the next episode, The Deadly Dust.

And man was that a mistake!  I’ll get into why.

The Deadly Dust is a two-part episode that aired over two weeks.  It was released internationally and on VHS and Laserdisc as a single movie.  As it is a single story I will be reviewing both episodes here.

I was still excited during the opening credits sequence, and noticed the title has changed.  While the movie was just Spider-Man, now the series is The Amazing Spider-Man, and the opening credits is no longer a tiny window of Spider-Man wall crawling–instead it’s a montage of the opening movie set to some generic 70s music.  I was disappointed to see the more rockin’ disco music from the pilot movie replaced; this isn’t nearly as groovy.

In addition to the title, in the year that passed between the airing of the pilot movie and this first episode the series cast had changed.  Peter Parker is still played by Nicholas Hammond, but gone was Dave the lab partner, as was Peter Parker’s Aunt May.  Instead there is an entirely new supporting cast.

J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle where Peter works as a photographer, was played in the pilot by Bewitched’s David White.  White was replaced by Robert F. Simon (who had a recurring role on Bewitched), to whom I take an immediate dislike.  His Jameson is far too quiet.  Jameson should have a flaming temper and wild ideas about Spider-Man.  That’s how the character is still written, but as acted by Simon the character just comes across as cranky, and perhaps a bit constipated.

In the role of the Daily Bugle’s token African-American, Robbie Robertson (Hilly Hicks) is gone and replaced by a new character, Jameson’s secretary Rita Conway, played by Chip Fields.  Fields is the spitting image of Glory Grant, who was Jameson’s secretary at the Bugle, but inexplicably that’s not Fields’ character.  Conway is shown to be a sassy woman who keeps Jameson in his place.

Though again in these opening scenes I’m not taken with her.  She seems to have the temper Jameson should have, blowing up too easily at her grumpy boss.  Plus the portrayal is a bit racist.  When Peter tells Rita he’s afraid Jameson will fire her, and that he has friends that would make it hard for Rita to find another job, Rita replies that she has friends that could make it difficult for Jameson to keep the tires on his Rolls Royce.  Why must the black character’s friends steal car tires?  I suppose because it’s the 1970s and on television.

But I am happy to see the only returning supporting character, Michael Pataki as Captain Barbera.  His Colombo-like persona was a highlight of the pilot movie.  When this episode opens it’s with Barbera trying to stop a woman from jumping off a building.  She says it’s her boyfriend’s fault and is ready to jump, but of course Spider-Man comes in and saves the girl.

I was immediately enthralled.  Who is the girl’s boyfriend and why is he making her commit suicide?  The title is “The Deadly Dust”–is that deadly dust Angel Dust and the girl is on a bad trip?  I thought back to the controversial issues of The Amazing Spider-Man comic where Harry Osborne goes on drugs and thinks he can fly, and I’m really taken in.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I discover this is just an introductory action scene that has no bearing on the plot of the episode.

The actual plot is about a nuclear bomb.  Peter’s college professor Dr. Bailor is about to open a nuclear reactor on the college campus.  Peter and his classmates are outraged at the thought of having radioactive materials on campus as the reactor will produce the titular “Deadly Dust”, also known as plutonium oxide, the byproduct produced from the nuclear reactor.  Bailor refuses to relent despite the sutdents’ heated arguments, so three of the students decide to teach Dr. Bailor a lesson and steal the plutonium.  When that doesn’t get enough press, they then take it a step further fashioning the plutonium into a makeshift nuclear bomb.  Lacking only one ingredient, plastic explosive to use as a detonator, the students hope the bomb will strike fear into the university and make Bailor rethink his blasé attitude towards such dangerous materials.

This was a plot line I could get behind–extremist activists going too far to prove a point and a nuclear threat are concerns big enough to warrant a superhero’s attention yet real enough to relate to the fears of the audience.  If that wasn’t enough to warrant Spider-Man’s attention, the masked vigilante is thought to have stolen the plutonium.  Now his biggest supporter, Barbara, is partnered with the FBI to investigate Spider-Man for causing a nuclear threat.  More, as Bailor said the only student capable of fashioning the plutonium into a bomb was star pupil Peter Parker, and Parker is known for his connection to Spider-Man, the feds think the two are in cahoots on the theft.

It’s a really good set-up that I enjoyed watching.

I was also enjoying the B-plot introduced.  Barbera’s public praise of the vigilante gets the attention of Miami Beach supermarket tabloid The Weekly Examiner, who sends Gale Hoffman to get a cover story on Spider-Man, using Spider-Man’s photographer Peter Parker as a lead.  Gale is sexy and smart and Peter is interested in her, but her refusal to leave Parker’s side hinders his ability to investigate the plutonium theft.  Gale acts in this episode much like a Lois Lane to Peter Parker’s Clark Kent–she’s a good reporter aiding Peter in the investigation, but needing to be ditched when it’s superhero time.

There’s many good scenes between Peter and Gale, with Gale suspecting Spider-Man of stealing the plutonium.  Here, for the first time, we get to the root of why Peter is a superhero.  Gale rightly points out that no one asked Spider-Man to save the world, and if he doesn’t like it he can just hang up his blue tights.  Peter responds very gravely saying “What about his conscience?  What’s the point of having a special power if you don’t use it to help people?”  He also says “I think Spider-Man does a lot of good but if people knew who he is it wouldn’t be the same thing?”  He goes on saying how lonely it is for Spider-Man, and it’s hard because Spider-Man has to lie to everyone at work, his friends, and even his girlfriends.  “People think it would be really wonderful to have Spider-Man’s powers.  Let me tell you, I’m not so sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse.”

In the entire pilot episode we were never given these insights into why Peter dons an outfit and stops evildoers.  Here, we get the reason and it comes because Peter is feeling close to Gale.  It’s both character exploration and relationship development in one scene.  I do wish there was more of a reason, though.  Without the guilt of Uncle Ben’s death, Peter’s motivations are thin.  More, his passionate speaking on the topic makes Gale suspect Peter may be Spider-Man, something she eventually asks him outright.  Unfortunately Peter’s convenient lies put Gale’s suspicions to rest. I think I’d have preferred it if his partner was in on his secret.

All of this in the first hour made me think The Deadly Dust may actually be an improvement over the pilot film, but it did lack in one regard–there was no real villain.  The students aren’t bad guys, they’re just misguided and not all that bright.  Running from the cops and performing investigations into the nuclear theft is entertaining, but could not sustain a two-hour running length, so we are introduced to Mr. White (Robert Alda, father of Alan Alda and bad guy from two Incredible Hulk episodes).

Mr. White is a multi-millionaire record executive who enjoys his Los Angeles lifestyle, hanging out on the roof of his skyscraper, bikini-clad women surrounding him.  But making money on gold records isn’t enough, Mr. White is also a…well having watched the episode I don’t know what he is.  Mercenary?  Terrorist?  Gangster?   Let’s settle on ill-defined baddie.

White reads about the plutonium theft and races to New York to steal the stolen nuclear goods.  He, like the FBI, thinks Peter Parker stole it, and that if he can take it from the grad student he can then sell it to the highest bidder.  Truthfully I liked the addition of this fourth faction to the story, but unfortunately Mr. White would come to dominate the story in its second hour.

By the end of what would have been the first regular episode of The Amazing Spider-Man I was really enjoying it.  The cops, the rogue students, Peter and Gale, and Mr. White’s goons all chasing the nuclear materials had been a great bit of fun.   I would have recommended the first of the two episodes.  But after the midway point the episode loses its focus and leaves New York.

Parker’s name is cleared and the plutonium found all too quickly.  One of the students making the fake bomb gets radiation poisoning and is rushed to the hospital. The hospital reports radiation poisoning and the real thieves are discovered, but not their bounty.  Racing to the hospital, the students just left their near-complete bomb in the middle of the room, and Mr. White’s goons quickly steal it and take it back to Los Angeles.  Peter, having put a spider-tracer on White’s white limo, wants to pursue.  He tells Jameson about the bomb, but Jameson cannot run the story lest it cause widespread panic.  To recover the bomb, and be the first out the door with the story once the danger has passed, Jameson agrees to go with Parker and Gale to Los Angeles.

This is where the story goes south.  Literally.  Once the three leads leave New York, every single aspect of the New York storyline is forgotten.  The students who caused this whole mess?  Never seen again.  Barbera?  Out of his jurisdiction.  The FBI agent DeCarlo who was tracking the plutonium in New York?  Disappeared.  No, the only ones who can save us from a rogue nuclear bomb are two reporters and a grumpy newspaper publisher.  Well, and Spider-Man, I suppose.

I learned after watching this episode that The Amazing Spider-Man series production was based in L.A., but the character is so closely identified with New York City they did not relocate the character.  With that being the case, why then make a story where Peter must travel cross-country to follow a criminal?  Was it so they could have their end action scenes outdoors, in the air, and not reveal that they are not in Manhattan?  It’s confusing, as is the story.

In LA Spider-Man fights White’s goons several times, most comically on a Hollywood old-west backlot (literally an old-west backlot, not a backlot subbing for a real location) and White becomes nervous.  Instead of selling the bomb he tries to extort the US Government, saying if his demands are not met he will “detonate the bomb in the place where it will do the most damage.”   This phrasing confuses our newspaper reporters, who apparently only write for newspapers but never read one, because the headline of a newspaper in LA reads “President to speak in California”.

The entire second episode of “The Deadly Dust” is a jumbled mess.  There are repeated fights that change nothing.  Gale is taken hostage and then freed.  Peter and Gale even visit Mr. White’s record studio, driving home the ridiculous nature of a record executive terrorist.  At best any two-hour episode of a 1970s television series might start to wear out its welcome, but here it has devolved into nonsense.

I think the show runners thought the plus side of the second hour is there is a lot less Peter Parker and a lot more Spider-Man.  Parker disappears more and more as Spider-Man fights goons and chases after the bomb, but honestly the Spider-Man fights in this episode are entirely terrible.  The Spider-Man outfit looks even more silly in this episode than in the pilot, his gloves flapping in the wind and his red boots looking like he’s expecting a rainstorm.  Moreover, the stuntman in the outfit is prone to grand, theatrical movements and cocking his head like a dog.  Every time Spider-Man is fighting these same goons I am left shaking my head.  More, it usually ends with Spider-Man running away!  Why he chooses to flee rather than use the oversized web shooters on his wrist to trip up his enemies confounds me.  There is no logic, it’s just there to stretch out a thin, silly story.

Not all the stunts are terrible.  We do get some good wire work as he climbs down buildings or performs superjumps, but watching someone climb isn’t really all that fun.  More, due to budget constraints, Spider-Man seems to wall-crawl only as a last resort preferring to run like any human on solid ground whenever possible.  I understand why it is done this way, but that doesn’t make the show any more entertaining.

Strangely the high point of the second hour for me was Jameson.  I couldn’t stand him in New York, being confined in his office and very low-key, but once out in LA he lets his cheap flag fly!  He is constantly chasing after Parker and dismissing anything having to do with Spider-Man.  He really starts to embody a version of Jameson as I imagined him.  He still has nothing on J.K. Simmons, but it’s an improvement.

And I must give this episode credit for its climax.  At the end, Mr. White and his goon have hidden the nuclear bomb on a rooftop near where the president is speaking, and it’s up to Spider-Man to stop it.  He convinces a helicopter tour guide to give him a ride, telling the pilot it’s a publicity stunt, and then freefalls out of the helicopter.  While the spider-suit flapping in the breeze shows clearly how poorly the suit fits the stuntman, it is cool to see Spider-Man actually perform death-defying feats.

And it gets better!  Mr. White is in his own helicopter and flies after Spider-Man, who uses his webbing to latch on to White’s ride.  White’s goon Angel pilots the chopper all around trying to shake the wall-crawler and we get to see practical stunt footage of the Spider-Man dangling from a helicopter.  The point-of-view camera used in the pilot returns as well, and we see Spider-Man’s view as he hangs on the rope.  It is really exciting.  This is where all their money went, and it is money well-spent.  Unfortunately it becomes a case of too-little-too-late in this episode as the poor writing and repetitive action had me checked out a good half hour before the money shot.

The poor writing continues as Mr. White just so happens to shake Spider-Man on the exact same rooftop where they stashed the nuclear bomb, and with Peter Parker’s scientific knowledge Spider-Man disarms the bomb, saving the president and Los Angeles, with two seconds to spare.

Peter Parker gives Jameson pictures of Spider-Man posing with the bomb, and he and Gale seem destined for a romance, but Mr. White escapes saying he will get Spider-Man another day.  Why FBI Agent DeCarlo doesn’t just arrest the man based on the newspaper articles is a question never answered, and I don’t think the series lasted long enough for Mr. White to actually return.

The first half of “The Deadly Dust” had so much promise, the second hour devolved into brain-numbing action for action’s sake, and bad action at that.  It’s a weaker not recommend as there are some things of value, but an easy not recommend.

Read my other Amazing Spider-Man Series Reviews

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Amazing Spider-Man TV Series, Comic Books, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Amazing Spider-Man Series Review Index

The Amazing Spider-Man TV Series Cast
The Amazing Spider-Man TV Series
Seasons: 2
Episodes: 13
Air Dates: 1977 – 1979
Series Creator: Charles W. Fries and Daniel R. Goodman
Stars: Nicholas Hammond, Chip Fields, Robert F. Simon

In anticipation of The Amazing Spider-Man opening in July, 2012, Jakob, Stuart, and I are doing a podcast retrospective series of all the movies based on the Marvel Comics Superheroes at Now Playing.

With Now Playing’s current Spider-Man Retrospective Series I will also be looking back at every episode of The Incredible Hulk TV series that ran from 1978 to 1982.

Pilot TV Movie
Spider-Man (1977)

Season 1
The Deadly Dust (later renamed Spider-Man Strikes Back)
The Curse of Rava
Night of the Clones
Escort to Danger

Season 2

The Captive Tower
A Matter of State
The Con Caper
The Kirkwood Haunting
Photo Finish

TV Movie Finale

The Chinese Web (later renamed Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge)

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Amazing Spider-Man TV Series, Comic Books, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Amazing Spider-Man Series Review Index

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 11 – Wildfire

The oil rig on which David is working is set ablaze by a saboteur who soon finds himself face-to-face with the Hulk.

Hulk's calling Wildfire
Season: 2
Episode: 11
Air Date: January 17, 1979
Director: Frank Orsatti
Writer: Brian Rehak
David’s Alias: David Blinkman
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Locked in an oil drum
on the back of a truck.
• After a fight seeing his
enemy set off an explosion
which may kill his girlfriend’s

We open with some  rootin’-tootin country-style music and I wonder if I accidentally put in my Bonanza DVD instead of the Hulk.  The music continues and I see some guys working on an oil rig.  No, not in the ocean–in the 70s there were actually oil wells found in the continental united states, and they had armatures that stood very high and required a lot of men to build them, drilling into the crust of the earth for that black gold.  (Note:  yes, I know there is still lots of oil drilling currently in the US, mostly in Texas, but the push for offshore drilling has downplayed the usefulness of such rigs).

David is one of the men working on this rig, so I do have the right disc.  We are also introduced to crew boss Mike Calahan and his daughter Linda (played b Christine Belford, the mom from Silver Spoons as well as Arnie’s mom in the movie Christine), who runs the office.  Mike has just come to Phoenix and started his own drill business after 30 years in the oil industry.  He has named the rig Wildfire, and believes Wildfire will hit oil and put his business in the black in more ways than one.

David has been working on the job for a week and isn’t fitting in very well with the other workers as he’s new to the job and has been a bit accident prone.  But Linda has taken a liking to David, seeing in the drifter a kindred spirit.  Linda wants to leave small town Arizona to go to New York, and David, having done nothing but travel for over a year, is more worldly than most of the men she meets digging for oil.  Linda shares her plans to move to New York, but she is stuck at the oil rig caring for her father.

We also meet Mike’s old friend Ray who is trying to buy out the lease on Mike’s rig.  He makes it seem like he’s doing Mike a favor, getting him out of hock for the drill, but Mike is convinced he’s drilling in the right spot and soon will score a fortune.

Ray is a former driller himself, but now he works for Tim Wade, a corporate man.  Drillers are distrustful of the businessman, so Wade uses the trust Ray has with the drillers to make them sell cheaply and quickly.  But in this case Wade is making Ray screw over his old friend Mike–Wade has done geology tests and Mike is drilling atop a million dollar oil well.  The clock is ticking, they need Mike to sell so they can score the oil instead of Mike.

And Mike is cutting it close.  He needs to buy more pipe and has no money.  He makes a deal with his workers to buy the pipe instead of paying them a salary in exchange for a share of the oil find.  Even David stays on hoping to get the money, and maybe hoping to get a share of Linda as well.  The two have begun dating, kissing, and the David-in-Love music that we’ve heard since the pilot is playing.

Linda’s a swinging 70s girl who invites David inside her cabin “no strings, no commitments, no demands” knowing that David doesn’t plan to stick around long.  So here we have the most clear evidence of David getting his Hulk-on as the camera goes out of focus, then back in to see David, tan coat slung over his shoulder (so he somehow got it back from the Los Santos sheriff’s office), leaving Linda’s cabin.  I imagine he’s feeling pretty happy and nothing could make him angry now.

Of course, I’m wrong.  On the way back to his own cabin David sees someone sneaking around the drill.  Investigating, he is hit on the back of the head and knocked out literally before he knew what hit him, and before he could Hulk-out.  It’s Frank Adler, one of Ray’s cronies, and he’s there to sabotage the power cable for the generator that runs the drill.  He locks David in an empty oil drum which he puts in the back of his pick-up truck and drives off.  David wakes up and shouts for help, but he can’t breathe in the sealed drum.  We don’t see David, we just see the outside of the drum, but we hear the trademark sound followed by a familiar roar.

Hulk-Out #1    Hulk bursts from the drum, exploding it from inside.  It goes in all directions to show Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), green and mean and ready for a fight.  Though it’s obvious Ferrigno isn’t really on a moving truck for this scene as he’s standing far too still with no shaking or vertical motion.

We get a very funny scene of Hulk peering through the back windshield of the moving truck like a peeping Tom.   Then Hulk leans over the cab, way over the cab, and smashes the front windshield, causing Ray to crash the truck.  Hulk peels back the roof of the truck like he’s pulling the tab off a can of soda, and lifts Adler out.  He seems ready to smash Adler, but Hulk is distracted by the radio.  In a very odd moment, Hulk starts pushing buttons, changing the station, then turning up the volume.  Finally he’s had enough of a shoe store ad and he does what we all wish we could do when we hear too many radio ads–he tears the radio right out of the dash.

His distraction over, he looks around for Adler, but the saboteur has run off in the night, so we fade to commercial so the viewers can watch some TV ads of their own.

The next day David reports the sabotage and attack to Mike, but the older man can’t be bothered—the crew is striking oil!  The black liquid explodes into the air and the men jump around ecstatic, practically seeing dollars fly into the air.  Now that Mike has struck oil he doesn’t care about sabotage or attacks, he thinks all difficulties are behind them.

But David’s difficulties can only be left behind by leaving town, so after his late night Hulk-out he tells Mike he needs to be moving on.  Mike tries to convince David to stay for Linda.  David says now that Mike has struck oil Linda isn’t going to stick around, and Mike reveals that Linda is very insecure.  Mike bought his daughter a ticket to New York a year ago and Linda is afraid to use it, afraid in The Big Apple she won’t be pretty enough or smart enough.

Linda’s insecurities aren’t enough to make David stay, but they are enough to have him confront his lover.  David tells Linda of his plans to leave.  When Linda says she has to stay for her dad, David outs her, saying he knows Mike wants Linda to go to New York.

Meanwhile Adler goes to Ray.  Even though Mike has struck oil, Adler thinks there’s still a chance to get the well for Wade.  When Ray refuses to push on with the takeover, Adler goes straight to Wade with a nefarious plan–blow up Mike’s rig before Mike can make his profit.  The old man will never have the money to pay off his debts, let alone rebuild, and he’ll have no choice but to sell.

Adler shows up at the drill carrying a giant red alarm clock that I think is supposed to be a bomb.  Maybe in the 70s bombs were made of oversized Flavor Flav alarm clocks.  I feel sure that someone will see the bomb and it will tick down before Hulk finally throws it far away from the well, but I was dead wrong.  Almost immediately the bomb explodes.

Fire spirals up the well, and I am impressed.  This isn’t stock footage, this is the same set where Bixby and the rest have been working, and it’s not a small fire it’s an inferno.  It’s really high production values for Hulk.  They blew the bank on this one.

The rig is burning and all around people are injured, including Linda who was hit by debris.  David becomes the crew medic, treating the wounds of Linda and the other drill workers, including the ones who were mean to him earlier in the show.

Mike takes charge to put the fire out.  The crane can’t reach the well to cap it so there’s only one way to save the site–blow up the rig to cut off the oxygen and put out the fire.   But Mike cannot get past the fire to get to the drill to blow it.

Ray comes, guilty over what Adler did, and confesses everything to Mike.  Then Ray and Mike decide to team up and try to make it through the flames, donning flame retardant suits (which may be 100% accurate but look to me like they are made of Jiffy Pop containers).  The two old oil workers head into the flame carrying the dynamite, leaving David with the detonator.

But Adler is sneaking around like Snidely Whiplash, peering out from behind a shed.  Nothing can stop his burning the rig, so when David is left alone Adler attacks–and David fights back!  Blocking a punch from Adler, David punches the saboteur in the gut.  They keep fighting too, with David holding his own.  But a missed punch gives Adler the upper hand, kidney punching David from behind.  In over a year of the show, I’ve seen David be brave, putting himself in danger to save others, but I’ve never seen him be tough.  Here he’s being very tough.  I really was sure Adler was just coming to pummel the scientist, causing him to Hulk-out as we’ve seen a dozen times before.  But no, the fight goes on, both land blows, but David’s eyes are still brown.

It’s not the beating that makes David Hulk-out, it’s when Adler goes to the detonator, setting off the explosives that would kill Ray and Mike.  Then David yells “No” and has white eyes.

Hulk-Out #2:  Hulk throws Adler aside and runs into the fire, throwing flaming beams with ease.  He finds Mike, who was injured in the explosion, and takes him to Linda who is waiting by the fireside.  Hulk then rips the front off a crane, carrying it through the fire to the rig, and single-handedly caps the well.  It’s rather smart of Hulk to know the exact way to put out a fire, showing a level of intelligence we haven’t seen him exhibit before.  Unlike when he landed an airplane, here no one is giving Hulk step-by-step instructions; he’s figuring it out on his own.

The well, and the day, saved Hulk runs off into the wilderness while Mike comes to, alive and only worried if the well was capped.

In the coda we see Linda, Ray and Mike in Mike’s office filling the audience in on how everything ended.  Ray joined Mike’s crew as an experienced businessman to help Mike now that he’s made it rich.  Adler is in prison.  As for David, he has taken his things and left without even taking his share of the money from the oil find.  But as they talk it’s shown he sent back a bottle of red wine for Linda with a note saying it should be drank in New York, and that maybe David will meet her there to drink the wine and get his pay.

Linda leaves the office to read the rest of the letter alone.  The romantic score plays while we watch Linda waffle between crying and laughing.  Will she finally leave for New York to follow her dreams?  We never know as we cut to David, in his tan jacket, hitching a ride.

As David leaves I’m sad to be leaving with him.  His adventure in Arizona has been one of his best.  Wildfire was a really strong episode with great action and amazing pyrotechnics, a high point for the series thus far.  We also had an extended fist-fight between David and Adler.  This series really is lacking in fights; usually someone starts a fight, David takes a beating, then Hulk finishes things quickly.  To see punches land and a fight have ebbs and flows, while not very original, was a nice change of pace for this series.

In addition to being exciting and eye-pleasing, the episode was really well written.  While Adler’s tenacity is a bit much, the rest of the script is tight.  So often we’ve seen David Hulk-out for random reasons, just to give us some action at the mid-point of an episode.  Here, both of David’s Hulk-outs are plot-driven.  Hulk does important things and both times against a real villain.

Finally, this episode had two-dimensional characters.  While not as good as three-dimensional ones, it’s twice as good as the one-dimensional characters featured in most of the episodes so I count this as a positive.  These characters feel more real than most in the series, and that reality is deepened by the fact that the episode does not wrap up every plotline.  Sure, Mike has struck oil and will be okay, but Linda’s more personal plot is left ambiguous.  Will Linda go to New York and drink her red wine, or will she remain captive to her fears?  That’s up to the viewer to decide–and how refreshing that is!

I give this episode a strong recommend.  It’s the first episode of 1979 and if the rest of the episodes in this year are half as well made it will be a very good year indeed!


Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

April 5, 2012 Posted by | Conventions, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | 1 Comment

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 10 – Escape From Los Santos

A recently widowed woman and David find themselves on the wrong side of jail bars when they are framed for the murder of her crime-fighting husband.

The Incredible Hulk will Escape from Los Santos
Escape From Los Santos
Season: 2
Episode: 10
Air Date: December 1, 1978
Director: Chuck Bowman
Writer: Bruce Kalish, Phillip John Jaylor
David’s Alias: David Brown
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Sprayed in the face with mace
• Handcuffed to a woman
who is falling off a cliff

I know Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) teamed up with Thor in The Incredible Hulk Returns and with Daredevil in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk but I hadn’t heard of any team-ups during the original series.  But in reading the DVD description of this week’s episode I really wondered if there might be a new hero entering Hulk’s history.  After all, the murder of a crime-fighter?  I pictured someone wearing a mask and a cape.  Unfortunately, Hulk is not teaming up with Power Man or Captain America in this episode; the crime-fighter mentioned is a District Attorney dead long before David (Bill Bixby) ever shows up in Los Santos, Arizona.

David  is walking down an Arizona highway, tan jacket slung over his shoulder, when a high-speed chase whizzes past, two police cars pursuing a woman.  David, realizing it’s foolish to have a coat in Arizona, stops and ties it to his knapsack and when he continues on the police are driving the other way, passing David again, the driver they were chasing now in custody.  One of the police officers, Mike Evans, pulls over and offers David a ride into town, but David has to ride in the back of the car like a hostage.  Evans seems suspicious to me, and I’m getting shades of First Blood  with a drifter minding his own business being hassled by cops who don’t want the hippie in their town.  Sure, the Sylvester Stallone movie wouldn’t  come out for several years, but David Morrell’s original novel had been out  several years, and honestly I’d love to see that story used as inspiration for a Hulk story.  But unfortunately all this has in common with First Blood is that David gets a ride from a corrupt cop.

Evans seems congenial enough on the ride, sharing with David that the woman they arrested murdered her husband.  But despite Evans’ conversational nature, it’s obvious trouble is afoot when they get into Los Santos and David asks to be let out at the motel and Evans says “There’s a place closer to the station that’s cleaner and cheaper.”  Arriving at the station Evans introduces David to Sheriff Harris, played by guest star Dana Elcar, at this time perhaps best known for being FBI Agent Polk in The Sting but who would go on to be MacGuyver’s boss on MacGuyver.

The sheriff invites David in for coffee, but as soon as David enters the police shove him in a cell.  They take his wallet, finding no identification, and tell David he’s under arrest.  The officers won’t answer any questions, but in the next cell he sees the recently arrested woman, named Holly Cooper (played by Shelly Fabares, who actually appeared with Bixby in the Elvis Presley movie Clambake a decade earlier).  Holly , distraught for reasons unknown, tells David that the police are going to try him for the murder of her husband.  David is confused and becoming angry when the police come in saying in David’s bag they found the “evidence” that David is the murderer–love letters showing David and Holly were having an affair causing David to kill her husband.

The police come to get Holly and she cracks, shouting to David that the police will kill them both.  David starts to shout, so one of the officers spray him with mace.  I know David’s burning eyes are white as we get…

Hulk-Out #1   We have several stages of transformation here, seeing Bixby in the half make-up before the full appearance of the Hulk.  In the cell Hulk starts to roar, and when one of the officers comes to check on the noise, Hulk grabs the man through the bars.  He pushes the man back, pushing the cell of the door with him, and breaks through a wall where another officer is trying to put Holly in a car.  Hulk shoves the officer in a trunk and when Holly passes out Hulk picks her up and runs off into the night.

After a commercial we come back to what could be thought is a different show entirely.  A young man named Richie Forrest is trying to talk his girlfriend into going all the way, but she is trying to ward off his advances.  This scene goes on for quite too long really making me wonder what this has to do with the Los Santos Sheriff’s Office or Hulk, but soon Hulk shows up, disturbing the kids and possibly preventing a date rape.  Once the car drives away Hulk sets Holly down, and sits next to her.  We get a reverse transformation that is actually a very well-done fade between various stages of make-up.  Human again, David picks Holly up just as Hulk had and walks on.

He takes Holly to a broken-down truck David passed on the way into Los Santos.  Several Mexicans had broken down and set up camp while they work on their vehicle.  They give Holly water but refuse to help any further.

Once awake Holly tells David the details that her husband Ray was the assistant district attorney.  Ray found out the sheriff’s office were doing illegal things, mostly smuggling illegals and drugs across the Mexican border, so the sheriff had him killed.  Holly says Ray had files at their house which may incriminate the officers, and Ray’s boss the DA would believe Holly if she had the evidence.

David says he’ll help Holly get the evidence, and Holly points out he obvious–they are at the edge of town, David can just escape.  David isn’t going to leave though.  He gives the excuse that if they get the evidence then his name will be cleared as well…but his name isn’t David Brown, and he’s already on the run for one murder he didn’t commit, so why not another?  It’s because David’s a good guy and he won’t leave a woman in trouble, so back into town they go.

Through a complicated series of events that involve the Sheriff disabling the entire town’s telephone lines and Ray’s longtime friends refusing to help Holly the two fugitives finally make it to Holly’s house, just to be stymied as two officers are already at the house.  They see the Sheriff and his deputies walking out of the house carrying a large, ugly, orange tote.  They trashed the house in a search and found the unsubtle file tote which held Ray’s evidence.  The officers are smug, without that evidence Holly can’t prove anything and she will be found guilty of murder.

After the Sheriff is gone David and Holly go into her house to get the keys for Ray’s pick-up truck.  They go in the house to get the keys and Holly finds their wedding album thrown on the floor.  She starts to look through the album and I am wondering why we need an emotional scene of her mourning her husband, but it turns out to be plot driven!  In the wedding album Holly finds some film negatives–everything Ray had in the file he also made photos of and hid the negatives in their wedding album.  With the evidence in their possession David and Holly take Ray’s battered pick-up…but they are stopped again when Evans pulls up, cutting off their exit from the Driveway.  Pulling a gun on the two, Evans says “the wife of a deputy DA should know better than to return to the scene of the crime” and begins to arrest them again.  While exiting the car Holly leaves the envelope with the negatives on the pick-up’s seat cushion.  Evans handcuffs the two fugitives together.  He starts to search the truck, though I’m not sure why since Evans knows they didn’t commit any crime, but he almost instantly starts to reach for the envelope.  Needing to stop Evans from getting the back-up of the files, David kicks the pick-up door, slamming Evans shins in the process.  Evans falls and David and Holly, still handcuffed, jump in the truck.  They smash down a fence with the truck and drive away, which perhaps they should have done in the first place when Evans pulled up behind them.

They’re trying to reach the DA’s house, but it’s 15 miles away with nothing in between.   Hitting the main highway they encounter one of the Sheriff’s roadblocks.  They change course down a dirt road but the officer is in pursuit.  For late 70’s television it’s a fairly exciting TV car chase.  David is up-shifting and downshifting, fishtailing on hairpin turns.  The Sheriff is on his tail, and not able to keep up with the pick-up.  When the Sheriff misses a turn, David turns around and runs right at the police car, causing them to drive over a small cliff, going airborne and crashing their car.  I almost expected for Roscoe P. Coltrane to check on his dog Flash after the crash as this chase was right out of the Dukes of Hazzard playbook–then it hits me.  The Sheriff is basically a slightly more evil, and slightly more fit, Boss Hogg.  By this point Dukes was a rating hit, so emulating its action-packed style is a smart move for its lead-in series.

David and Holly arrive at the DA’s house and the happy musical score by Joe Harnell is playing, but I know things aren’t over yet–Hulk has only appeared once!  My instant guess is that the DA is in on the corruption Ray was investigating.  And I was right.

They meet the DA, Jim, who looks to be a kindly older man.  Instantly he tries to tell Holly to turn herself in and follow the rules of the court, but he allows Holly and David to tell their story.  Yet despite giving them tea and hearing them out, I can see the telltale signs–Jim has his Mexican house servant drive away their truck, and Jim never gets the handcuffs off David and Holly.  When David shows Jim the negatives, Jim says “You hold onto those and I’ll take care of everything else.”

Sure enough, getting a refill of tea David and Holly spot Ray’s physical files, the ones the Sheriff took from the house, in Jim’s house.  It has to be those files because there can be only one orange tote that ugly in all of Arizona.  Their truck gone, David and Holly flee on foot with their last hope being to walk to the state police.

Trying to keep pace with each other due to the handcuffs they run off into the desert, and the Sheriff and his men get the dogs and give chase.  I’m again reminded of First Blood but despite being a murderer Sheriff Harris is no Sheriff Teasle.  Harris is much more flat a character, lacking nuance.  Plus Harris is just a lackey for Jim, and what evil mastermind is named “Jim”?

But Jim gives the order that this time Harris is not to capture the two fugitives, but to kill them.

We get another chase, this one on foot accompanied by fairly exciting music, and edited fairly well with scenes of David and Holly running intercut with shots of the police cars looking for David.  It’s a well-done montage that really conveys the action.

David and Holly reach a dead-end when they come to a deep ravine, the police on their trail led by the bloodhounds.  With no alternatives, David and Holly climb out on a thick power cable that spans the ravine, using another cable to steady themselves as they walk.  The close-up shots of David and Holly are quite obviously not very high up, shot from the actors’ knees, but the wide shots look pretty good with the stunt people in real danger.  But as they get to the other side Holly steps off the cable too soon, and slides down the ravine.  She is falling and calling for help, and despite David’s best efforts she’s pulling him with her.  David cannot get a handhold, but he can get white eyes.

Hulk-Out #2:  Hulk transforms, and his much bigger wrist breaks him free of the handcuffs.  Single-handed, he pulls Holly up and starts to carry her while she shouts for David, wondering what happened to her partner in crime.  Given that he never let her go, I really thought I was going to have to add Holly to the list of people who know David’s secret, but either Holly was so panicked by the impending fall that she paid no attention to David’s transformation, or she’s just really, really dumb.

The sheriff is still giving chase, and he and his men try to follow David and Holly across the wires.  They have rifles and I wondered why they just didn’t shoot the two, but they explain they cannot kill the two until they also have the negatives.

With the police on the wire, Hulk goes and starts to shake the cables, eventually pulling down the cables’ support beams on his side.  The sheriff and officers retreat to the far side before they fall, and Hulk roars from a distance.

The cops go to get the dogs to go around the long way while Hulk approaches a frightened Holly, who starts to throw rocks at the green giant.  Hulk is confused why the nice lady would want to hurt Hulk, and Ferrigno actually looks sad and bewildered as he lets Holly run away.

But we see a shot of someone’s shoes as the mysterious newcomer comes up behind Holly and she screams…is it the cop?  Has she been found by Jim?  We don’t know, as we cut away to see Hulk sitting down to pet a fawn.  The writers love to remind us that animals with their instinct know they have nothing to fear from Hulk, a lesson humans have yet to learn.  The reverse transformation is again shown, with Bixby again in the pale green make-up and eyebrows.

Lost in the desert, shirtless and barefoot, he returns to the ravine fearing Holly had fallen.  He arrives to find a group there waiting for him–Holly with the Mexicans, their truck now repaired.  Holly has the negatives, and the Mexicans give her a ride to the state police.  They have to pass a roadblock, and in an ironic moment the fat, sombrero wearing Mexican talks to the officer while the white people hide in a crate under a tarp in the back of a truck.  And irony upon irony, when the Sheriff accuses the Mexicans of being illegals the fat one gives the Sheriff his driver’s license–he was born and raised in Denver Colorado!  (I should probably have referred to them as Mexican-Americans, but they were called “Mexican” in the credits, so I went with that).

Free at last, the coda shows David and Holly outside the State Police Department.  Holly is going in, and David, in a shirt provided by the Mexicans, has to move on.  With a kiss on the cheek David watches Holly take the evidence to safety, and wearing a tan shirt provided by the Mexicans David walks off to some celebratory music.  David gets back on the Mexian’s truck and the Lonely Man theme plays as he continues his journey.  I don’t know if he’ll ever make his way to Phoenix.

I also find myself wondering–did David lose his tan jacket?  His bag was taken by the police, and despite the evidence making it to the state cops David never regained his possessions.  The tan jacket has become a fun little item to watch for episode after episode.  Has it met its end?  Will David need a new coat to walk around the desert in?  The questions are endless with Hulk.

Coat aside, this was a pretty strong episode.  I saw the twists and turns of the plot coming, and it tries to fool us by having not one but two authority figures turn out to be corrupt, but the truth is in 1978 this may have all been very shocking.  By 2012 this is a played out trope so I had an unfair advantage.  But I admire the episode for having so many twists and turns, and not being just a straightforward plot.  I was really sucked in during the opening scenes wondering who the woman was, why the police said she killed her husband, and why they needed David as a scapegoat.  Over twenty episodes into Hulk none have had me more on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

The chase scenes in the episode were good as well.  Both the car and foot chase were exciting, and accented by one of Harnell’s best scores.

It had good action and a strong plot.  I wish that the villains had been a bit more inventive and fleshed out, but I may be asking too much of any one-hour episode.  Still this is a solid recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

March 24, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | 1 Comment

Avengers Assemble on Disney XD Starting April 1 — Watch Trailer Now

Assemble!! Marvel’s The Avengers hits the big screen May 4… But in the meantime, get your hero fix with Marvel TV’s trailer for season 2 of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, premiering April 1 inside Marvel Universe on Disney XD!  The Avengers have fought against some of the most powerful and dangerous super villains in the world. But just when the team thought they had things under control, new threats emerge… Caught in the crossfire between two warring alien empires – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must make a stand. But whom can they trust when they learn not everyone is who they seem to be?

Tune in for The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes season two premiere, along with the series premiere of Ultimate Spider-Maninside Marvel Universe on Disney XD April 1 beginning at 11am/10c.

March 22, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, News, Television | Comments Off on Avengers Assemble on Disney XD Starting April 1 — Watch Trailer Now

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 9 – Stop the Presses

The ABCs of tabloid reporting spell trouble when a newspaper story on the Hulk includes a photograph that could expose David.

David Bruce Banner tries to Stop the Presses
Stop the Presses
Season: 2
Episode: 9
Air Date: November 24, 1978
Director: Jeffrey Hayden
Writer: Karen Harris,
Jill Sherman Donner
David’s Alias: Unknown
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Beaten up by a cameraman,
his face shoved in a pizza.
• Gets coat caught in a
printing press

For many episodes I’ve commented on the dour nature of The Incredible Hulk‘s second season.  I have repeatedly called Hulk an action series, but truthfully for most episodes the tone has felt far more in line with Little House on the Prairie than contemporaries like Charlie’s Angels.

Remember the old adage “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it”?  I get it in Stop the Presses.

We open with establishing shots of San Diego and the “happy” theme music we’ve heard in several previous episodes. Not only is David (Bill Bixby) in America’s finest city, San Diego also houses the headquarters of the National Register tabloid newspaper.  A shot of the newspaper’s office building shows that it was established in 1969, by no means a long-standing bastion of information.  Plus there is a sculpture on the outside (likely not done by Ricky) that looks like a Picasso with long arms, pert breasts, and a hole in its head.  Really the more I look at the sculpture the more foul it appears.

This one shot gives me more information on the Register than I’ve had in the other 20 episodes combined!   For instance, we now know that Hulk-obsessed reporter Jack McGee (series regular Jack Colvin) is working for a newer newspaper.  The writers of previous episodes have been unclear about the Register, sometimes making it sound like The Enquirer with its tales of Bigfoot and Farrah Fosset, but then other times the Register is out covering real news like nuclear reactors and legitimate sporting events.  Plus there’s the Disco Dude competition.

But as we cut inside, we see McGee is bringing some of the hard-hitting journalistic ethics to his role as he refuses to use photos taken by Charlie (played by Art Metrano who would go on to play Mauser in the Police Academy series), a freelance paparazzi in a loud striped jacket.  Charlie works for Joe Arnold (former Bionic Woman regular Sam Chew Jr.), a Register reporter with questionable ethics who “turns local filler into big story.”  While currently covering a triple murder, Arnold’s primary stories are exposées on restaurants with unclean conditions.  As McGee’s editor Mark puts it, “Our readers like to see us as the guardian angels of the restaurant eaters.”

But the real reason Mark is darkening McGee’s desk is to take him to task over his weekly creature report.  The Hulk hunt is too expensive with plane tickets, wrecked cars, and the ten-thousand dollar reward with nothing new to show for it.  Jack is given an assignment to cover a fortune tellers’ convention and to drop the Hulk story until he has something more than an out of focus photo.

Now given that the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) has been anything but subtle, running down the field of a televised football playoff game with 75,000 attendees, storming through a crowded race track, interrupting a heavily attended demolition derby, and other such major events I think there must be some great footage of Hulk out there.  Especially from the football game, the sports reporters with their long lenses should have glamour shots of Hulk lining their walls.  To think that the Hulk is considered a myth like Bigfoot and Bat-Boy after being seen by literally hundreds of thousands of people is a stretch, and that McGee is the only reporter in the country trying to get the story a bigger stretch still.

But when McGee sees the cover story of that day’s Register is of a gorilla brought down by a tranquilizer gun McGee gets a thoughtful look that can only mean a new plot to find Hulk.

Meanwhile down at the studio backlot David is working at Bruno’s pizza joint as a dish washer–and he’s not very good as owners Jill Norton (Julie Cobb, who would go on to play the mom on Charles in Charge) and Karen Weiss (Mary Frann, who would go on to play Bob Newhart’s wife on Newhart) tell each other, and us.  But while not much of a dishwasher David has his benefits, getting the restaurant’s liquor license straightened out and helping Jill do the books.  And it’s also implied that Jill hired David out of an attraction to the kind drifter–an attraction that Karen shares, flirting openly with the dishwasher.

We quickly realize this is a “wacky restaurant'” as Karen is taking photos of their customers and the restaurant for their “wall of fame”, and one owner is telling their pizza chef Fred (Happy Days’ Pat Morita) that he is using too much garlic while another owner claims there is not enough.

Morita is a bit of stunt casting for Hulk.  He had been running an all-American burger joint on ABC for years, so I suppose having him as a chef at a pizzeria is typecasting.  But Morita does not play Fred like Arnold, the delivery and mannerisms are completely different.  Of course Morita’s eventual claim to fame will be as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid but here we see his trademark humor as he delivers great reaction shots to the two women flirting with David.  He also gets great lines, saying that with them both interested in David “They’ll be flinging ravioli at each other before this is over.”  This episode already has the tone of a sitcom, and Morita’s comic timing suits it perfectly.

But the novelty of this sitcom setting is actually working for me early on.  It’s fun to see Bixby in this Jack Tripper-esque role.  Bixby rarely is allowed to lighten up as David, and here, playing off Morita and the target of the two attractive women’s affections, Bixby is all charm and smiles.  It’s too rare we get to see some of his comedic roots in Hulk and it’s a welcome sight.

We also find that Jill used to be a reporter for the Times but never made much of herself with the small-time stories she was assigned so she opened her own restaurant.  This is important as later in the episode we need someone to provide exposition for the audiences about newspaper printing practices, and here she is!

But Jill is about to get more of the press than she can handle as Charlie and Arnold have Bruno’s set in their sights for their next story.  Their restaurant cleanliness stories that Mark bragged so much about are all faked by the two unscrupulous journalists.  They pick joints that cannot afford lawyers as targets, and newly opened Bruno’s is next on their list.  Charlie sets a fire in Bruno’s dumpster, then the two put rancid meat and other garbage around Bruno’s kitchen.  Fred and David come in and catch the two “reporters” getting their story, and Arnold snaps some very clear pictures of David before running off.

Fred thinks that Arnold’s story is the end of Bruno’s.  It will take years and insane lawyer fees to prove Arnold faked the story, and by then the customers will have been run off by the supposed  “health hazard”.  But David’s concerns are deeper as the shots of him will surely be seen by Jack McGee and many others who believe David Banner to be dead.  His concern causes Jill to wonder if David is a fugitive but they have the more immediate concern of keeping their restaurant open.

The two women go down to the Register to try to talk Joe Arnold into having the story killed but the reporter is less than receptive.  The two women make a scene but are unsuccessful in convincing Arnold or his editor to not run the story, so David takes matters into his own hands.

That night David goes to the Register after hours as the fortune teller’s convention arrive to be interviewed by Jack.  David integrates himself in the group, pointing at a random name on the list, but soon finds himself on a crowded elevator with McGee.  It’s a well framed shot with David clearly visible to the camera though surrounded by the fortune tellers, and David covering his face with his hand as McGee enters.

But while I enjoy that bit, this is the first of many places where I think the episode strays too far into sitcom territory.  Harnell’s silly musical score during this scene seems more fitting of an episode of Bewitched than Hulk.  The writers also introduce a recurring gag about a fortune-teller who repeatedly incorrectly guesses people’s astrological signs and when she’s corrected she shouts “I knew it!”  This comedy is a bit broad my tastes and while it may have fit in with the sitcoms of the 70s humor is very timely and often does not age well.

Plus the scene is only there for the humor it provides, it does not advance the narrative one iota.  It does introduce Sam, the Register’s security guard, but the sight of McGee chases David away before the dishwasher can abscond with the pictures.

The next day Arnold’s story exposing Bruno’s dirtiness is in the paper, but David is lucky–the photo used of him is the one where he had covered his face.  But it’s not over yet as Karen and Jill lament that “next week there will be another story and more pictures.”  I doubt that even a tabloid like the Register could turn a dirty pizzeria story into weeks of coverage, but it’s enough for David to worry that the next picture printed will show his face.

At the Register the next day we see Arnold having a meeting with Geller from the Health Department.  Geller is giving Arnold an “unofficial warning” about his continuing to write that the Health Department is slacking off.  Arnold shows Geller some of the staged photos and Geller replies “A little garbage, some moldy cheese.  Your readers may not have anything better to worry about but we do.  Come see us when you bust some real offenders.  Maggots, cockroaches, real filth, that’s when we get involved.”  Personally I’d like to think the Department of Health would prevent me from eating moldy cheese as well as maggot-laden meat, but I guess not.

Geller’s speech gave Arnold some new ideas and he and Charlie head back to Bruno’s, this time with a jar full of cockroaches.  Sneaking into the kitchen they start to stage their photos, but are seen by David.  David slyly takes Arnold’s camera and snaps pics of the reporters planting the evidence.  Charlie and Arnold give chase and Charlie, a former wrestler, starts to beat up David, slamming him into walls, and finally shoving his face into a pizza.

Fred must have again used too much garlic as David’s eyes go white.

Hulk-Out #1 Charlie throws David under a table and, hoisting up his plaid pants, ignores the dishwasher, never seeing his clothes rip or his skin turn green.  But soon Hulk is there in the kitchen roaring at the two reporters.  Charlie says “I ain’t gonna wrestle this guy” and tries to run, but Hulk slides a large freezer in front of the paparazzi to trip him, then Hulk throws the former wrestler through a screen door, never to be seen again.  Arnold snaps some pics of Hulk and runs away, as Hulk also runs down the alley

Later at the Register Arnold is confronting McGee about the Hulk pictures snapped at Bruno’s.  McGee had taken the photos from the file cabinet in the hopes “the brass” would be impressed by the pictures and allow him to resume his weekly Hulk report, but it did not.

McGee then confronts Arnold over his journalistic ethics.  Arnold reveals his motives saying, “There’s only a handful of reporters in this country that make big money, and I intend to be one of them” and “you want me to do it straight the way you do and end up with nothing?”  But McGee is a hard-boiled, ethical tabloid reporter and doesn’t take to Arnold’s cheap shots.

Back at Bruno’s we see Karen, Jill, and David trying to move the freezer back in place.  Pat Morita is not helping as, sadly, Fred has called in his resignation.  I’m a bit upset as I liked the energy Morita was putting into his small role, but his time on set must have been limited as he never returns to give more patrons bad breath.

As David tries to clean up the kitchen, Jack McGee comes in to talk to the girls about the Hulk.  The girls try to do a quid pro quo–McGee gets Arnold’s faked photos and they’ll give McGee their Hulk story, but McGee says “Those photographs are logged and dated.  I’d have to steal them.  It’s a violation of ethics.”  Technically, Jack, even if they weren’t logged I’d think stealing them could be an ethical violation; that said, letting photos you know to be fake destroy a small business may not be entirely ethical either.  Jill asks what anyone working at the Register would know about ethics, and McGee looks stung but not shocked by their statement.

At an impasse he leaves saying “I honestly wish I could have helped.”

David meanwhile has found some of Jill’s photos that had been developed, including one shot of Arnold making a pizza in the kitchen.  After McGee leaves, David makes a big show of the photos, saying “Those photos were taken on Monday, the same day Joe Arnold showed up.”  Now, while these photos are 3.5″ x 5″ pictures, David is able to make out the time on the wall clock and read the headline of the newspaper Fred had hung in the kitchen, all supposedly proving the picture was taken of a perfectly clean kitchen less than an hour before Arnold’s fake photos.  Never mind that the newspaper could have been saved and hung and the picture taken later–according to Karen the receipt for the pictures being developed “proves” the photos’ authenticity.

These photos could force the Register to print a retraction, but they’d need a copy of the Register‘s photo log.  Karen says “We can’t just walk in there and take it,” then, sitcom style, her face breaks into a large smile as she  realizes what she said and adds, “can we?”  I smell a heist afoot!

Meanwhile McGee has tracked down the big game hunter from the Register’s front page.  Remember that minor subplot?  I probably wouldn’t have either.  McGee is interviewing the hunter, asking about the tranquilizer darts used for big game, ensuring there are no ill effects of the tranquilizer dart.  The game hunter with his proper British accent is happy to show off his new rifle and darts that could put an elephant to sleep.

All these various plot lines come together that night when David, Karen, and Jill go to the Register.  Jill enters the lobby wearing a very sexy dress bearing cleavage to get security guard Sam’s attention.  She says she’s there to see the publisher, Robert Steinhauer, and walks around the far side of the guard’s desk keeping the guard’s eyes while David and Karen sneak past and up the stairs.  The amusing part is the guard doesn’t want to hit on Jill, as was their plan, but instead adopts a paternal attitude, offering the girl some of his wife’s hot soup from a plaid Thermos.

David and Karen call down, pretending to be Steinhauer, asking Jill to be sent up.  The elderly guard gives Jill a talk about how the publisher may be a big shot but the guard wouldn’t let his daughter date the newspaper mogul.  Jill smiles and rejoins her partners in crime.   The three then start to rifle through the Register’s photo logs (kept in a filing cabinet that has a lock but, typically, isn’t locked) finding the shots of Bruno’s that are timed and dated.

They are ready to leave but Jill notices the run sheet on the wall shows the Bruno’s story is the front page of the next edition, which has already gone to press.  Jill, with her journalistic background, knows all about the press and tells Karen and David the photos chosen are already imprinted on the plates, and the only way to stop the story is to steal the plates.  David looks at the photos and sees the shot of his face is circled for use, so the three go off for the plates.

We then see McGee at his desk late, with the large rifle he got from the hunter by his side.  Sam is making his rounds and offers Jack some soup (God, Sam, enough with the soup already!  I’m sure your wife makes great soup but what will you eat if you give soup to everyone around?)  McGee is putting pins in a map trying to determine where Hulk will appear next, and I’m thinking McGee would have as much luck consulting the fortune tellers he interviewed the night before.

David sends the two girls down telling Jill “You look lovely but you’re not dressed for fast getaways,” plus if only one person goes into the print shop only one person will get caught.  I think to myself that if only one person goes in no one will see that one person Hulk-out as well.

David sneaks into the printing presses, which is either a location shoot or the most elaborate set I’ve seen on this show in a long while.  David cuts the power in a shot that is imaginatively lit, a single light on David’s face after the lights go out.  As the workers and Sam the guard, go to investigate the circuit breaker David sneaks into the press to grab the plate.  David doesn’t know where the plate is, but he has plenty of time–he locked the door to the circuit breaker and bumbling, old Sam has dozens of keys to try.

This scene reminds me of a video game, as looped lines urge Sam to hurry up and find the key.  There’s a few seconds pause, then another looped line trying to urge Sam along.  It’s uncanny that such a trope would be used in a media other than a game, as it’s rare in media that there are long enough pauses in the action for such an event, but it provided me with a smile here.

Finally David finds the plate and starts to pry it from the drum.  Just as he removes the plate, careful to not make any sound, Sam unlocked the doors and the workers turn the power back on.  David tries to get out but in his attempt to be stealthy he doesn’t notice his jacket is dangling precariously close to the spinning press (don’t worry, it’s not his trademark tan jacket about to meet its untimely demise, it’s a new denim one).  The coat gets caught and pulls David toward the press.  Fighting with the coat his hand gets caught in the press and the pain is too much.

Hulk-Out #2:  Hulk is able to easily extract his hand from the drums, moving the rollers backwards in doing so.  He roars loudly over the sound of the machines, then smashes the machine, stopping the presses.  He pulls out a heavy drum, and also happens to step on the plate David was trying to steal, denting it.  Hulk throws the drum and knocks over shelves of printing ink.

But coming to stop the hulk is Jack McGee!  The reporter was talking to Sam when Hulk revealed himself, and McGee ran down with the rifle.  He shoots Hulk in the leg, but Hulk isn’t stopped.  He runs at McGee and pushes the gun down, causing McGee to shoot himself in the calf with a dart.  Hulk then crushes the gun and runs away as McGee, drugged, tries to follow but can barely make it down the stairs.

Hulk is lost and reaches a dead end of 500lb spools of unprinted news paper.  Hulk’s vision is getting blurry and he is getting weak from the dart, but he musters enough strength to push down the rolls and run past.

Finally Hulk finds a quiet place to sit and the reverse transformation occurs.  We see a face from Ferrigno to Bixby in the silly large eyebrows, to Bixby just in the contact lenses, but the green glow is gone so, while rudimentary, it’s less cheesy than previous transformations.

Human again, David pulls the dart from his leg.  Then finds himself face-to-face with Jack McGee!

But McGee is drugged, his vision so blurred he cannot see any details.  Saying “Who are you?  Help me.” McGee passes out and David escapes.

And in the coda we are back at Bruno’s.  Jill and Karen are there, but David is not.  On the wall is a news headline that reads “Restaurant Stories Exposed – National Register Seeks Help” and the women say they are back in the black.  But Jill says “The place sure has lost a lot of its magic since he left.  I mean men like David just don’t come into a girl’s life very often.  David was so special.”  Karen says if she ever sees him again she’ll give him a piece of her mind for leaving without notice, but Jill has David’s number:  “We’ll never see him again.  Another town, another name.  Wasn’t he wonderful?” and Karen replies “he was perfect”.

The whole time the two girls are holding a photo of David as they reminisce, but then we get the punchline–the picture is of David’s back, and there’s no way to make out his face.

And we end, as we always do, with David walking down the highway (hey, where’s the tan coat?  Maybe in the bag) as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

Thus ends The Incredible Hulk: Three’s Company edition where a misunderstanding causes two girls to go on a wacky adventure with a guy who’s not all he claims to be.  With amusing characters scattered around like Sam the guard and Fred the cook, this is a drastic change of pace for Hulk.  While I am very appreciative for an episode that is not morose, I do feel the pendulum has swung a bit too far the other way.  The comedy in Stop the Presses is too broad, too wacky, and in this episode I was hoping for some great McGee/David cat-and-mouse like we got in The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas.  Instead there is virtually no suspense, just jokes.

Still, while not every joke hit, the episode was an amusing diversion aided by fantastic performances.  As Karen and Jill, Frann and Cobb exhibit amazing chemistry and timing, the type it usually takes actors years to establish.  I wish the characters were a bit more different (I got confused who was Jill and who was Karen halfway through the episode) but they were a joy to watch on-screen and could easily have led a Laverne and Shirley type spin-off.  Morita is underutilized in this episode, I wish they’d filmed one scene of Fred returning to his job at the end, but also provides a great energy and timing.  All of this gives Bixby a chance to show his comedic chops, and while this episode may have too much garlic I still give it a solid recommend.


Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

March 20, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 8 – Killer Instinct

It’s not all fun and games for David when he becomes an assistant football trainer, because the team’s physician is studying aggressive behavior.

The Incredible Hulk's Killer Instinct
Killer Instinct
Season: 2
Episode: 8
Air Date: November 10, 1978
Director: Ray Danton
Writer: William Whitehead,
Joel Don Humphreys
David’s Alias: David Burnett
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Locked in a steam room
after having towels snapped
at him
• Hit in the back with a metal
bowl after being locked in
a holding pen

By this point in Season 2 of The Incredible Hulk I was still enjoying each episode, but I found myself growing weary of the unsubtle life lessons the stories had been built around.  Season 1’s pattern of often inserting Hulk into a different hit movie was obvious but a usually resulted in a fun mash-up.  The more serious tone of Season 2 had weighted down the episodes and while they were still enjoyable they simply were not as fun as I had expected.  As such, when I saw the preview and read the DVD description posted above for Killer Instinct I felt I was in for another episode that felt like an After School Special, this one against steroid use in sports.  I was ready to call out the irony of having a series starring a bodybuilder damn steroids, but I was sure the footballer’s aggressive behavior would be the result of a chemical administered by the mentioned physician, or perhaps the coach.

I am very happy to report that is not the case.  This episode of The incredible Hulk is a simple adventure story that fits in with the action series of the time such as The Bionic Man and The Dukes of Hazzard.  That said, it’s an episode that still lacks quite a bit of fun, treating the story of a football player with anger management issues as a serious melodrama.

When the episode begins we see a football team practicing and, as a good Illinosian, I notice the football players all have large Cs on the side of their helmets–the trademark of the Chicago Bears.  I figured David had made his way to the Windy City this week, but no!  The football team we see is the fictitious pro football team the Los Angeles Cougars.   Admittedly C stands for “Cougar” as well as it does for “Chicago” (and far better than it does for “Bears”), but the reason for the uniforms and helmets the Cougars wear is to match up with stock footage of the Bears that will be inserted into the episode later.

Beyond the football uniforms I could not help but laugh at the 70s style in evidence in the establishing shots.  For this scrimmage game all the players as well as support staff are sporting short black shorts with white socks pulled up to their knees.  This includes David (Bill Bixby) who is working for the team as an assistant trainer treating the minor injuries of the team players.  Not wearing black shorts, but with one hell of a perm, is Dr. Byron Stewart (Rudy Solari), a psychologist performing a study on the team.  He is watching the practice game taking photographs for his research.

During the practice star player John Tobey (Denny Miller–Duke Shannon from Wagon Train) is delivering hit after hit, even cracking the ribs of one of his team members.   Tobey is proud of being able to hit so hard and playing his hardest even in practice, but the other players think something may be wrong with Tobey–something echoed by the media and Tobey’s wife June (Barbara Leigh).

David goes to speak to Dr. Stewart, who has published several books on aggression in football players–books that built on the work of a Dr. David Banner!  David’s real motive for taking the job was to get close to Stewart in the hopes of using Stewart’s research to help him gain control of the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno).  The two chat, then David asks to sit in on some of Stewart’s hypnosis sessions with the football players.  It’s an odd request coming from an assistant trainer who is not supposed to be a medical professional, so Stewart initially refuses.  When David asks if it would be acceptable with a player’s permission Stewart then acquiesces

During his time with the team David became close with Tobey, spending dinners at the footballer’s house, looking at the little army men Tobey spends hours painting in his off-time.  Tobey also confides in David, telling the trainer about his rise to fame, and how his father was a stern man who got Tobey into the military hobby.  Due to their personal relationship Tobey agrees to let David sit in.

June also asks David to keep an eye on Tobey.  She noticed her husband has become more angry and aggressive, not like the man she knew.  She fears that the press is right, that Tobey is playing dirty.

Soon we find that there is a lot of aggression in Tobey as we see him in one of his sessions under hypnosis.  It’s a very strangely edited scene, as Tobey, eyes shut, slams his fist and whines “Lousy stinking cheaters!”  Then the film rolls from the bottom up to the same shot zoomed in tighter.  Then it rolls from the bottom again and he does it in extreme close-up.  I’m sure the rolling of the frame is intended to create a hypnotic mood but it just made me roll my eyes at the obvious trick editing technique.

Tobey is reliving a childhood memory of playing touch football with friends but the opposing quarterback was cheating, causing Tobey to lose.  Under the hypnosis Tobey is back in his childish mindset, and having a full-on tantrum like a child so  Dr. Stewart talks him down from the session as David looks on from behind one-way glass.

Stewart later explains to David that he is having Tobey reexperience the first moments of anger and aggression that stick with him through to adulthood.  David is concerned about Stewart’s methods, fearing they may be dangerous, but Stewart is convinced that this is the path to curing such aggression.  Stewart postulates that by perhaps using hypnosis to alter the memory it can allow the patient to continue to experience the anger, but to control it, possibly by using hypnosis to alter the original memory.  The end goal is to allow the uncontrollably aggressive bring their rage under control.  David is skeptical but does not intervene, perhaps due to his hoping Stewart will be successful and able to cure David of his own anger.

We then cut to some quite obvious footage of the Chicago Bears playing the Pittsburgh Steelers (I can tell by the helmets), but all the voices are overdubbed by the actors and the audience is chanting “Tobey! Tobey!”  Intercut with the stock footage are shots of Tobey and David, and damn if the editors didn’t do a fantastic job of matching the crappy look of the stock film!  I really thought at first the shot of Tobey was from the original game, with the grainy, washed-out film.  It’s impressive that they can match the film so well, even if it means making the new footage look terrible.  Still, the shots of the football game remind me of an ad for Sports Illustrated, hit after hit, tackle after tackle, not feeling cohesive, feeling more like a montage than a scene.

Tobey’s next hypnosis session shows Tobey’s anger with his own father over his father making him shake  hands with the cheater of the touch football game.  I want to give credit to Miller for committing to his role as Tobey.  It’s not every actor who will drop all vanity and act like a temperamental 6-year-old screaming “I don’t like cheaters!” repeatedly.  An experienced actor, if not a star, Miller both looks and acts the part of the aggressive sportsman, and it goes a long way towards helping me not laugh during these hypnosis scenes.

We then see the next football game (one in which the stock footage and new scenes don’t match nearly as well as the first game).   Tobey gets hit hard by opposing player Kermit Connelly   After the play Tobey retaliates, tacking the unsuspecting Connelly.  It causes a all out riot on the field and Tobey is ejected from the game.

David goes to see Tobey in the locker room but finds Tobey out of control.  The footballer is punching the lockers screaming “Cheaters!  I’m not shaking anybody’s hand!”  Worried, David goes to Stewart and asks the psychologist to go to Coach Haggerty and suggest that Tobey be benched as a danger to himself and to others on the field.  Stewart refuses, stating David is not a professional, and kicks him out.

But in Stewart’s waiting room two of Tobey’s teammates overhear David’s suggestion, and are not happy with David trying to bench the team’s star player during playoffs.  They follow David into the locker room where the assistant trainer is gathering some towels.  They threaten David, snapping towels at him, the makeshift whips stinging David’s skin.  David retreats and the two players push him in the steam room, turning the steam up to high.  Unable to see David they start saying “You stay in there and think about this”, but the players don’t hear what we hear–the telltale high pitched sound that signals David’s Hulk-out!

Hulk-Out #1:  As the steam temperature raises the players cannot see anything, but they hear a low growl.  Then right on the other side of the glass appears a green, wet face–Hulk!  I have to say they did a good job of keeping Ferrigno’s make-up in tact while he’s wet, and the close-up of his face through the glass is a great shot.  That said, David was wearing those black shorts when pushed into the steam room, creating a very skimpy wardrobe for Ferrigno.   David usually wears long pants and makes Hulk look ready for a flood, but I feel Hulk is strangely vulnerable, exposed as he is in black shorty-shorts.

Hulk punches through the steam room door with both hands, one hand grabbing each player.  He pulls them against the door, and they make comical “smushed” facial expressions.  Hulk then pushes the door back, and both players fall under it.

Standing, one of the men attacks Hulk using a football helmet as a melee weapon, but Hulk deflects it, shattering the headpiece.  Giving up, the players flee when Hulk is distracted by seeing his own reflection in a mirror.  Hulk flexes and growls for a while then throws a bench into a mirror, shattering it.

After the commercial the two players try to convince their coach about the Hulk, but Coach Haggerty (Pepper Martin, Rocky the garbage-eating thug from Superman II) thinks the two players were juicing and caused the damage to the locker room themselves.  There’s a funny line where Haggerty asks if the Hulk is a Packers fan with the green skin, and if Hulk is so strong they should try to sigh him to the Cougars.

During all of this Tobey goes to see Kermit.  Kermit’s leg was horribly injured and he may never play again but Tobey still tries to cheer up the sidelined player.  Kermit finally explodes, calling Tobey a grandstander, accusing Tobey of intentionally maiming him.

Tobey is shaken by this accusation and goes to David for help saying he did want to kill Kermit.  David says he has “transference reaction”, that Tobey has lost the ability to discern between what has happened in the past and the present, between what is real and what is not.  David reassures Tobey that it can be treated with treatment and rest.  Tobey blows up at David at the “rest,” realizing it would mean not playing in the upcoming championship, and storms off.

Back home Tobey starts to box up his little Civil War men and then leaves, never knowing June is watching the whole time.  He takes the army men to the stadium and uses them as mock football players in a game, then crushes one of the most intricately painted ones.  It’s a scene that doesn’t entirely work, though we’re supposed to see that Tobey is so angry that he will destroy that which he spent hours creating.

Worried about Tobey disappearing, June calls David and says “I can’t get through to him, not like his father could” and that gives David an idea.  Checking one of the pictures in the team display case David realizes that the cheater in Tobey’s game of touch football was Tobey’s father.  The hypnosis sessions Stewart conducted have brought all these childhood feelings into Tobey’s present and since the elder Tobey is now dead John cannot confront him and put the feelings back where they belong.  Stewart tries to kick David out, but David is adamant that Tobey must confront the photo of him and his father and that if Tobey is not stopped he may kill another player out of aggression.

David finally realizes that Stewart won’t stop Tobey from playing for fear of losing his two hundred twenty-five thousand dollar research grant.  More, Tobey is not Stewart’s patient, he’s a research subject so Stewart feels no moral obligation to step in.  David asks Stewart  what it will mean for the psychologist’s career if Tobey kills someone on the field in the game, and walks out.

As the Cougars prepare for the game we see Tobey is more sullen and despondent than ever.  Coach Haggerty is less worried about Tobey’s anger than Daivd’s absence–he failed to get the playoff footballs signed by the players so Tobey has David fired and his pass revoked.

When David arrives at the game late he is stopped by security.  Needing to get to Tobey he tries to buy a ticket but doesn’t have the $200 the scalper demands.  Finally, desperate, he climbs the fence, using his boot to avoid the barbed wire, but he is spotted and apprehended by stadium security.  The guard grabs David by the forearm and puts him in a holding pen with other people.  I’m not sure what they did to get locked in the pen, I assume they tried to get into the game without a ticket, but in the credits someone is listed as “Drunk Man” so perhaps they were disorderly during the game.  These men sit around a radio listening to the game they have been prevented from seeing.

On the field Tobey is seeing his father in place of the other players.  He is trying time and time again to hit the opposing quarterback but has been stopped.

In the pen David is shouting and rating that if Tobey gets to the quarterback the quarterback will be killed.  David is becoming irate with panic and worry for Tobey.  He’s yelling at the others in the pen to not cheer for Tobey but to try and help him, and annoyed by David’s shouting one of the men throws a metal bowl at David, striking him in the back.  David can take it no more–his eyes go white.

Hulk-Out #2:  The other men in the cell are so fixated by the transistor radio playing the game and their chants of “Tobey! Tobey! Tobey!” that none notice when David’s clothes start to tear.  Only when Hulk roars disturbing their enjoyment of the game do they realize they are caged in with a green beast.  But Hulk isn’t here for them, so with a roar he leaps from the second-story window out into the stadium.  Running through the stadiums Hulk tries to get to the field, while the Cougars try to set up for another play.  Tobey calls the play saying “I’m gonna kill that quarterback this time” and it’s not an exaggeration.

The ball is snapped, but Hulk enters the field and the announcers are fixated by Hulk but the players, their heads in the game, don’t notice the green giant bearing down on them.  Tobey sacks the quarterback, then starts to punch the man while he’s down.  Before he can do serious damage to the quarterback, Tobey is lifted off his opponent by the Hulk, who slings Tobey over his shoulder.

An amusing scene follows of Hulk running down the field carrying Tobey.  It’s set up like a football play, with the announcers saying “He’s past the 15 yard mark, the 10…” and the Cougars trying to block Hulk but Hulk just pushes them aside one by one.  Hulk scores a Tobey Touchdown entering the end zone and dropping the pro baller.  When the other Cougar players try to attack Hulk, Hulk pushes the goal posts over stopping them.

But Hulk must now face Tobey, who gets up and tries to go after the opposing quarterback again.  Hulk pushes him down once, twice, then Tobey tries to attack Hulk himself.  Hulk grabs Tobey by the helmet and pushes him to the ground.  This time Tobey stays down, and Hulk realizes the crowd for the first time.  He flees, smashing through several barricades in the stadium before pushing down the gate and running off into the city.

In the coda we see David at the Tobey’s house, he, June, and John surveying John’s army men.  We find that the Cougars lost the playoff game to Memphis, but John is now getting the help he needs to deal with his anger and will be playing again next seasion.  David says he has to leave as he does not want to become part of the publicity Tobey’s actions and Dr. Stewart’s research will bring.

Donning his tan jacket and bell bottoms once more David walks away from the Los Angeles Olympic Building, looking back wistfully for the first time in the series, as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

Thus closes a well-acted, well staged episode of The Incredible Hulk.  Technically I can find no flaws other than the hallmarks of low-budget television production 30 years ago.  However, the episode is at best a field goal, not a touchdown.

First, the story feels stretched too thin.  We see not one scene of Tobey being rough on the field but three, not one hypnosis session but two, David asking Stwart three separate times to help Tobey.  Had there been more story to fill the hour it would have tightened up the script and removed a lot of redundancy.

More, this is really another episode of Hulk without a villain.  Tobey is as much a victim as a villain.  While he hurts people, it is out of his control–he’s sick, not evil.  When there are no villains it’s hard for Hulk to have someone to smash and the green guy often ends up feeling superfluous, or, worse, obligatory.

I do recommend Killer Instinct due to the performances but I know Hulk can do better.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 19, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 7 – Alice in Disco Land

David takes a job in a disco, where he meets a troubled dancer and soon realizes that she is a remnant of his past.

Hulk in Alice in Disco Land
Alice in Disco Land
Season: 2
Episode: 7
Air Date: November 3, 1978
Director: Sigmund Neufeld Jr.
Writer: Karen Harris,
Jill Sherman Donner
David’s Alias: Unknown
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Unable to open a locked
• Falling off a stack of boxes

After a string of episodes that , while mostly entertaining, danced with danger bringing in racial stereotypes and topics like child abuse and the mentally challenged it was such a relief to be going towards an episode entitled Alice in Disco Land.  I was pretty sure the only stereotypes I’d be facing were those of 70s disco divas and swinging bachelors.  For a show based on a comic book intended for kids, The Incredible Hulk was dealing with some pretty heavy issues.  It’s not that I mind the occasional issue episode, but I felt there were too many in a row.    After a series of serious reviews, I was up for the Hulk to have some fun boogieing on the disco round!

Can you imagine my disappointment when I found out it was another serious “issue” episode, this time dealing with alcoholism?  It was an episode that had far more in common with the 70s book Go Ask Alice than Alice in Wonderland, but while unexpected given the title I found the episode entertaining.

We open at the Pandemonium Disco.  DJ Dr. J is hooting while spinning his 12-inch records and sharing his slogan “Shake it, but don’t brake it, and if you can’t shake it then fake it”.  We are in the 70’s for certain.  The music is a groovy disco beat, and the camera is zooming and spinning around the dancers on the disco floor like I was watching an episode of Solid Gold.

This is where David works as a bartender, taking crap from drunk ditzes.  It’s his first night and we are quickly introduced to his coworkers:  Al the bouncer (played by Brion James who I instantly recognized from Blade Runner and 48 Hours), penny-pinching club owner Ernie  (guest star Marc Alaimo, Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space 9), plus an unnamed slutty waitress.

Despite it being his first night David is already giving lectures to Al that it appears the bar is serving underage minors.  Sure enough, he soon sees one on the dance floor, someone that he recognizes–Alice Morrow, David’s goddaughter!  After Alice’s father died her mother moved to Canada; the last time David saw the girl was at her father’s funeral over a decade earlier.

We see flashbacks of David lying in the grass with little Alice reading her Alice in Wonderland, a book he gave her for her birthday.  Now Alice is sixteen and has been crowned “Queen of Pandemonium” along with her “king” Louie Sharp.  David tries to call Alice’s mother and learns from the maid that Alice has been constantly running away since she was 14, stealing her mother’s jewelry to fund her travels.  David wants to speak to Alice’s mother Rosalyn, but she is on business in New York.

She is dancing and she is drunk, and she doesn’t recognize David when she sits at the bar to get a drink.  But she obviously still remembers her time reading Alice in Wonderland with David as she cannot stop quoting Lewis Carroll.  But this provides an opening for David, who also seems to remember the book line for line, and his ability to quote it opens an avenue for him to talk to Alice.  In the course of the conversation David immediately realizes Alice has a drinking problem.

For once there is an area where David is not an expert!  The next day he goes to see Joan Roberts at the Alcohol Abuse Program where she lectures David (and the audience) on the “epidemic” of teen alcoholism.  Joan tells David no one can force Alice to get help, she has to come into the program on her own.  Because Alice is underage Joan suggests reporting the girl as a runaway.  When David says that won’t work because of Alice’s parents Joan then suggests David make an anonymous tip to the bureau of alcohol control.

David does make the tip anonymously, but alcohol inspector Art Philben is on Ernie’s payroll.  Art tries to tell Ernie to not serve underage people for a day or two until the heat is off, but Ernie says he’s almost broke and needs the money the kids bring.

That night Ernie plays by Art’s rules and the teens leave in droves, except for Alice who is going through withdrawal. Her need for booze has her even being judged by Louie, who tries to cheer her up with news that they are finalists in the disco dance competition.  When she only wants a drink, he storms out.

Then Alice hits rock bottom, flirting with David, subtly offering sexual favors to the much older man in exchange for a drink.  David of course turns her down and tries to make her realize she’s addicted, but she uses the age old line “I can quit any time I want.  I just don’t want to.”

Staring into the looking glass (a mirror to the rest of us) behind the bar Alice starts talking nonsense saying “Daddy will tell me what to do” and runs out.  When David is able to follow he finds Alice has climbed atop a tall billboard, telling her friends she “followed the white rabbit down the hole.”  Alice is swaying on her feet and looks ready to fall to her death at any moment.  She is hallucinating that she is in a tree, her father standing below to catch her when she jumps.  That vision changes to her father’s casket, all interspersed with drawings from “Alice in Wonderland.”  Alice cries, shouting “Who’s gonna miss me tonight?” and “Daddy, where’s Wonderland?”

David tries rushing up to get her but the only way is through an abandoned building with a rickety staircase.  David keeps falling and sliding down the stairs.  Out of breath from running up so many flights he reaches the door to the roof that can take him to Alice, but the door is locked.

David’s eyes go white.

Hulk-Out #1 David’s Pandemonium shirt tears and then the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) is there.  He knocks down the locked door, running out onto the roof.  He then bursts through the billboard from behind, grabbing Alice before she can fall.  Alice yells “please let me fall!” but Hulk takes her to the middle of the roof where she will be safe.  Alice’s friends then come to the roof and Hulk runs off into the distance.

After the commercial break David finds Alice, looking pretty peaked with big bags under her eyes, sitting in a park.  She had been taken to the hospital the night before, but she left not wanting to be found out as a runaway.  David talks to her about the dangers of alcohol withdrawal such as tremors and hallucinations and Alice says “I don’t know what’s worse, drinking or not drinking?”  Seeing that Alice is ready to stop drinking the potion, David takes her to see Joan at a meeting reminiscent of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Alice is rude and surly at the meeting.  In a really terrible exchange Joan asks Alice how old she is.  I guessed Joan to be in her 50s; Alice guessed 35.  Joan revealed she is 26 but looks 35 because she was a hard drinker for ten years starting at age 13.  Hearing Joan’s story lowers Alice’s defenses and she begins to participate honestly with the group.

But they are seen leaving the group by Art, who calls Eddie.  Joan is one of the District Attorney’s prime witnesses against Pandemonium for selling alcohol to minors, and Art jumps to the conclusion that Alice and David are other witnesses against Eddie..

At Pandemonium Louie is practicing for the disco competition when in walks National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin).  Louis is excited thinking McGee is there to interview him for the Register‘s “Disco Dude” competition that Louie entered, but McGee isn’t down with disco, he’s hunting for Hulk.  Louie isn’t interested in the Hulk until the reporter mentions the newspaper’s $10,000 reward for information on the big green guy.  Spurred on by the thought of quick cash Louie takes McGee to Alice, but Alice refuses to talk to McGee.  More, she tells Louie that she won’t dance with him in the competition, that she’s never coming back to Pandemonium.

Louie races to Eddie to tell him about Alice, and Eddie is upset as Eddie and Alice’s dancing brings in crowds.  Louie is very money hungry–he wants McGee’s $10,000 and he wants the $500 prize money for the disco competition, so when Eddie offers Louie $100 to ensure Alice dances that night Louie heads to Alice’s apartment trying to bribe her with a bottle of alcohol.

He arrives to find Alice being interrogated by McGee, and as she kicks them both out McGee says “I wasn’t able to stop having nightmares about the Hulk until I talked to somebody about it.”  Assuming McGee isn’t lying to gain Alice’s trust I find it interesting that they portray McGee as having been traumatized by the events in the pilot.  In the pilot and every episode since McGee seemed only interested in the story but never the least bit afraid of the Hulk or the death supposed deaths the Hulk caused.   If some of his first season attitudes were a response to fear, and his hunt the attempt to face that fear, that would add a lot to the character.  I’m reading quite a bit into a single line said in passing, but I do hope it’s a sign of things to come for McGee.

David visits Alice after the two men have gone.  Alice complains that Louie is trying to force her to go to the disco but she doesn’t want to go because she’ll drink.  Unlikely as it seems, David sides with Louie.  David has seen Alice dance and knows she has a special talent.  He tells her she has a disease and she cannot run from it, the problem isn’t the disco–the problem is wherever she goes.  What I’ve read about addiction says that you should never  put an addict in the path of temptation, so I find David’s advice to be medically false as well as being too much too soon for a sixteen year old addict.  But David’s words get through to the girl, she returns to Pandemonium that night to dance with Louie.

And dance they do…to a disco version of The Lonely Man theme.  It’s groovy to the max.

David then goes to talk to Eddie, and Eddie and Al take David to the basement.  They call David a fink and accuse David of being a grand jury witness against Pandemonium.  They handcuff the bartender and, despite David’s honest denials, Eddie and Al don’t believe him.  They leave David locked in the basement and go to take Alice “for a little ride” to see if she’ll tell them about the grand jury investigation.

Eddie and Al go to wait as Alice finish her dance, and David tries to escape in the basement.  He flings his rolling chair into a wall, breaking the chair’s arm and releasing him.  His hands still cuffed together he cannot open the gate to the stairs, and trying to climb atop boxes of booze they collapse and David falls.

His eyes go white as Alice finishes her dance.

Hulk-Out #2:  Eddie and Al go up to take Alice, but before they can make it to the door Hulk comes out of the basement.  He throws Al into the bottles of alcohol behind the bar.  He then shatters the looking glass with the cash register.  He trashes the bar, preventing anyone else from being served, then chases after Eddie.  Eddie throws a chair at Hulk, but Hulk deflects it right into the disco ball.  He then throws Eddie against the turntables in the DJ booth.

The fight over, Hulk notices all the discoers staring, and at the front of the pack is Alice.  Hulk walks onto the disco round, and everyone but Alice backs away.  They stand and look at each other, and the way it’s filmed I really wonder if they are about to dance.  Maybe they would have, but right then the disco ball falls from its impact, crashing in front of the hulk.  Hulk is startled and roars at the kids before running outside.  On the outdoor backlot Hulk rounds the corner to see McGee just arriving at Pandamonium.  Hulk growls at McGee for good measure and runs off into the night.

After the final commercial David and Alice are both leaving town.  Alice is going to become a disco dance instructor, and David is going to parts unknown.  She gives David her copy of Alice in Wonderland saying she won’t need it any more, and David dons his heavy black coat and sticks out his thumb for a ride as credits roll.

And thus another “important” episode of The Incredible Hulk ends.  I must say that seeing these Season 2 episodes in sequence has completely changed my view of The Incredible Hulk.  I had seen many of these episodes, including Alice in Wonderland, in syndication over the years, but in the random order of syndication I never before realized Hulk was a show that really changed over time.  In the first season the show was finding its legs and often using blockbuster film plots for inspiration while adding in Hulk.  Now in Season 2 we are dealing with a string of episodes where almost every one has a moral.

Truthfully it makes sense.  Given that Hulk is based on a comic aimed at kids inserting a moral lesson each week makes sense.  My disconnect is I never saw Hulk as a children’s show as it was beloved by people of all ages.  In these early episodes I believe the producers were not so confident that adults would turn in at 8pm to watch a big green man beat up bad guys so they aimed these episodes very squarely at children.

I wouldn’t mind a few life lessons sprinkled throughout the series, and not every episode has attempted to teach while it entertains.  The Antowuk Horror and Another Path certainly had no deeper meaning.  The ratio just seems reversed from what I would expect.

That said, as I wrote above, many of these episodes are entertaining–including Alice in Disco Land.  While the way David handled Alice’s addiction may not match my 21st century knowledge of addiction treatment, seeing David reconnecting with someone from his past and stepping into a paternal role worked well for me.  His relationship with Alice was entertaining on screen; the two actors had chemistry.  Plus it was groovy to see the Disco club.  I do recommend this episode.

But I do feel the title was misused.  While clever because it stars a girl named Alice and she is in a disco, I expected this episode to be a modern retelling of Carroll’s classic story.  I expected to see characters who were taking the place of the white rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and possibly even the Queen of Hearts.  I think that a pastiche of Alice in Wonderland, Hulk, and disco would have been far more entertaining than what we got.  Hell, they don’t even have Alice facing a bottle of booze that says “Drink me.”  A good episode but many missed opportunities.


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March 18, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 6 – Another Path

In San Francisco, David meets Li Sung, a Chinese philosopher who suggests that controlling the autonomic nervous system may be a way to subdue the Hulk.

Enter the Hulk - Another Path
Another Path
Season: 2
Episode: 6
Air Date: October 27, 1978
Director: Joseph Pevney
Writer: Nicholas Corea
David’s Alias: David Brahmer
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Locked in a freezing trailer
he grabs a frozen metal rod
• Tied to a bed

After David (Bill Bixby) visited a Native American looking for an herbal potion that would rid him of his Hulk alter-ego (Lou Ferrigno) I was less than enthused when I read the next racial stereotype David would seek out was a Chinese philosopher.  At this point in American culture we still were okay with Asians being portrayed as laundromat owners who used Calgon on laundry and claimed it was an “ancient Chinese secret.”

But my spirits were buoyed when I saw the writer was Nicholas Corea, a series producer at this time this man would go on to write the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns and had previously written the enjoyable, gonzo The Antowuk Horror.  I hoped Corea could deliver another fun episode of Hulk.

And he did.  Unfortunately the episode is littered with Asian stereotypes, but the way the episode is handled makes up for it.  This episode isn’t about teaching acceptance and understanding of others, this episode is a mash-up between The Incredible Hulk and Kung Fu, two of the most popular action shows in the 70s.  As the episode follows many kung fu tropes of the day and makes no attempts to be at all serious it makes the stereotyping of the Chinese characters slightly less offensive,

The episode opens with David hitchhiking in the rain, his tan jacket covered by a slicker.  Not finding a ride, he comes across a stopped semi truck with a refrigerated trailer pulled to the side of the road.  He asks the driver for a ride, but the driver wants nothing to do with hitchhikers.  Desperate to get out of the rain David hops in the back against the driver’s wishes, but the driver is wise to him.  He locks David in the trailer and turns on the cooling unit.

In the trailer David finds an another man taking shelter from the storm, Li Sung (character actor Mako, who I know best from his role as Kanemitsu in Robocop 3).  Li Sung is meditating and does not respond to David’s attempts to rouse him.

David soon realizes that the trailer has dropped below 30-degrees, but David’s pleas for help fall on deaf ears as the trucker drives on.  David gives up his tan jacket to keep the Asian man warm, and continues to yell for help.  Accidentally clasping his hand around a frozen metal rod, David’s hand is burned from the cold and his eyes turn white.

Hulk-Out #1 The Hulk-out is very early this episode, and I was shocked that the transformation was happening right in front of Li Sung but the man, who’s eyes were now open, did not react with shock or even interest.  I didn’t guess it then, but Li Sung is blind, thus he had no knowledge of David’s double identity.  Yet.

Hulk starts to smash his way through the side of a semi truck.  Sadly, due to the quality of DVD, I can see exactly where the false portion of the trailer wall was hung and knew exactly where Hulk would smash it.

The trucker had started to warm up the back, but it was too late.  He comes to the back just as Hulk punches down the doors, knocking the driver flat.  Then Hulk carefully helps the blind man out of the back of the truck and carries him to safety.  This is when I first realized Li Sung is blind, as I notice him carrying a large white stick, looking like the cane of a blind man, while Hulk carries him.

Sitting under the hot California sun Hulk transforms back to Banner and it’s a well done transformation, with just an extreme close-up of David’s eyes, caked in green make-up with white contact lenses, the reverse-transformation sound plays, then David is sitting there half-naked.  He pulls out the spare shirt he’s smart to keep in his knapsack and goes over to Li Sung who is making tea by a fire he had built.

Li Sung gives David a cup, and if you haven’t figured out Li Sung is blind you might be confused..  We get a close-up of Li Sung pouring the tea, his thumb in the cup.  He pours the tea up to his thumb, submerging the tip.  This is how Li Sung knows when the cup is full, but if you didn’t catch that you may just think “I don’t want to drink tea that the old man dunked his thumb in!”

As David cannot remember what happened while he was Hulk, Li Sung recounts the events.  David is relieved when Li Sung says no one was hurt, but something about Li Sung’s description is off–he mentions that Hulk “The vehicle we were traveling in was damaged.  At least it sounded damaged.”  That is when David catches up to me and realizes the man is blind.

My fears of the portrayal of Asians in this episode is confirmed in this scene however.  Li Sung is a caricature right out of the Kung Fu playbook, spouting Confucius-like wisdom, such as “Each question in time.  We are where we are” and “Yes, I am blind, a physical disorder which fortunately has little to do with true seeing.”   Additionally, immediately after revealing he is blind, Li Sung uses his super kung-fu  hearing to smack a snake on the head with his stick, scaring it away from their camp site.  I wish I could say that all portrayals of Asians in the 21st century are more enlightened, but Chinese mystics like Li Sung are far too common.  Still, it did not ruin my enjoyment of the episode.  Nor will I count the times the Asian mystic trope is used, lest this entire review be a list of Li Sung’s fortune-cookie dialogue.

Li Sung also reveals that, in his own way, he saw “the power” David possesses, and I am shocked that three episodes in a row someone has learned David’s secret.

Li Sung describes to David the process of his meditation, and that in the trailer he was meditating so deep that he was not feeling the cold.  When David seems to doubt Li Sung’s ability the Asian man picks up a burning ember from the fire.  Li Sung never shows any indication of pain, and after he sets it down David cannot find a burn mark on the man’s hand.

David is astounded and immediately thinks if meditation can prevent an ember from causing flesh to burn it surely can allow him to control his Hulk-outs.  He asks Li Sung to teach him how to meditate to control his “disease” and he even reveals to Li Sung how his wife Caroline (from Married) tried to help him find a cure before she died–the second Married callback this season and I’m again impressed by the continuity.  After bonding over a love of jazz music Li Sung agrees that David can travel with him and Li Sung will instruct the man in meditation techniques.

Li Sung tells David he is returning to San Francisco where the old man used to run a school teaching meditation to Americans.  The school became a huge success and Li Sung ran away leaving the business in the hands of his student Steve Silva  (played by Tom Holland who would go on to direct Fright Night and Child’s Play). Having been gone for two years Li Sung is now returning to his school, and takes David with him.

But Li Sung is unaware that Silva has turned the school into a protection racket, extorting the residents of the Chinatown-dressed backlot out of their savings.  Silva tells the residents he does it in the name of Li Sung so none of the residents oppose him.

Li Sung and David arrive in a beat-up pick-up truck.  Li Sung rides in front while David meditates in the back, sitting cross legged with his thumb touching his middle finger.  I am reminded of Edward Norton’s meditation scenes in the recent Incredible Hulk film and wonder if they drew inspiration for Bruce Banner’s meditations from David Banner’s travels with Li Sung.  David had been sitting in that position for six hours, and Li Sung must work to bring him back to consciousness; David is a fast learner.

Returning to Chinatown Li Sung discovers his old friends are now afraid of him, thinking Li Sung is the mastermind behind the protection racket.  Li Sung takes David to the school’s original location in a humble building, but finds the school is now in a glitzy high rise.  Entering a receptionist tries to sell Li Sung a membership saying they take credit cards.  When Li Sung is recognized as the face on the wall he is quickly shown to the classroom where Silva is teaching students.

But he’s not teaching the Americans to meditate, he’s teaching them kung fu!  And he’s teaching it aggressively, calling his students “weak willed”.  It is much like the scenes of John Kreese teaching the Cobra Kai in The Karate Kid.

The Mr. Miyagi like Li Sung interrupts class and takes Silva to task over his teachings.  Li Sung had used martial arts as a minor part of his teachings, whereas Silva has it as a primary focus.  In conversation Silva makes his rationale seem reasonable, that it works better for Americans who need more discipline, but David and Li Sung both see the school’s focus is far different than it was under Li Sung’s watch.

That night Li Sung and David begin to snoop around the school but before they make it far they are attacked by a girl with a knife.  Li Sung starts to fight her off, but when she realizes she is attacking the famed Li Sung she turns and flees.  Then Silva, Silva’s goon Simon Ming, and many other students come out for their midnight workout.  Silva says the girl, May, should be arrested for trying to kill David, but David thinks the attack was a case of mistaken identity.  He points out that Silva himself may have been the target as May seemed to be awaiting his midnight training.

We then get a scene that shows us Tom Holland is a better director than an actor.  He is talking to Simon, explaining he has the power to decapitate a bust made of solid plaster.  His kung fu is slightly more believable than Loni Anderson’s karate, but not much.  At no point do I believe Holland is a kung fu master, nor that he is dangerous.

Meanwhile Li Sung tries to convince David to leave, saying it took half a lifetime for Li Sung to find how to control his small anger, let alone a rage as long as David’s.  But when David pushes Li Sung admits if David stays Li Sung will use him selfishly to find out what is going on with his school.  David smirks, wanting to know himself, so Li Sung’s partner in crime heads to May’s house to find out why she attacked the two.

May explains that when Li Sung left Silva showed his true nature, changing the school’s regimen and using business skills to build an empire–all done in Li Sung’s name.  May’s father knew Li Sung had no part in Silva’s plans, so Silva had him killed.  May’s attack was to kill Silva for revenge.  David asks why May doesn’t go to the police but she says that the people there don’t trust police.

That night Li Sung comes to May’s apartment where several locals tell Li Sung of the crimes, including extortion and murders, Silva orchestrated to promote the school and Silva’s business interests.  Hearing this, Li Sung says “Silva must come down.  He’s twisted the power I gave him.  It’s my responsibility,” but David still advocates police involvement.

Li Sung says “great strength can be summoned and controlled” through meditation and I wonder if Li Sung is suggesting David can control the Hulk but it is actually Li Sung saying he can summon the strength needed to stop Silva.

We also see Silva is no meditation master.  He tries to use meditation to put his hand in a flame, but cannot muster the concentration and overcome his fear.  When Simon brings word the people are gathering around the returned Li Sung Silva says he will defeat the meditation master in public combat to destroy the local’s faith in him.

David knows that Li Sung plans to fight Silva, and believes the old man cannot win.  He says he’ll go to the police with or without Li Sung, so Li Sung touches David’s shoulder and does a Vulcan nerve pinch.  He pinches David’s shoulder and David slowly passes out.  When David awakens he’s tied in bed, being fed tea by May’s grandmother.

David starts to become irate, demanding Gramma Loo cut him free, and when she refuses his eyes turn white.

Hulk-Out #2:  David transforms and, with his hands tied to the bed frame, the frame splinters as his clothes rip.  Gramma Loo was discarding of a broken tea cup, but when she returns to find her furniture smashed, David gone, and a large topless green man climbing out her window she starts to scream and slap Hulk with a fan.  It’s the Chinese stereotype combined with the funny grandma stereotype, and it actually could have been funny if Ferrigno had given a good reaction.  As it is Hulk gives Gramma Loo a look and just shakes his head “no.”  Hulk climbs out the window to go save Li Sung and runs through the backlot, roaring at locals and flipping furniture.

The old meditation master is entering the tower to attack Silva.  Silva and Simon hide in Silva’s office, with Silva’s students poised to take down the old man.  Silva is not worried, saying “If Li Sung gets this far he’ll see that the student has now become the master.”  Not even Simon believes this bull as he makes a disbelieving scowl behind Silva’s back.  The look the actor playing Simon gives is priceless.

Li Sung enters the school and I’m watching, a TV version of Enter the Dragon as the evil white man’s students attack the kung fu master.  Li Sung holds his own, the blind man taking out four of Silva’s students.  Li Sung moves on, but the it’s now Enter the Hulk as the green giant enters the dojo!  The students attack Hulk with sticks and Hulk doesn’t even move.  He throws one student across the training room, and when another attacks Hulk with a bo staff, hulk pins the man to the wall with the weapon, then lifts him up to the ceiling, wedging the staff to keep the man trapped in the corner.

Li Sung continues to take out Silva’s students with ease, averaging about five seconds per student.  Hulk follows in Li Sung’s wake, finishing off the students the kung fu master had already beaten.  Hulk throws one student over a stair railing, and I’m thinking that student may be maimed or killed.  We know the Hulk never really hurts anyone, but a fall down a cement staircase can lead to a broken back or worse.  We never see that student’s fate.

Li Sung finally reaches Silva’s office and the two start their fight.  Li Sung easily knocks down Silva, hurting the younger man’s hand in the process.

Hulk eners, and Simon attacks the green man with a spear.  Hulk grabs the spear and knocks Simon down with a sumo belly bump.  Hulk then throws the spear into the ceiling where it cannot hurt anyone.

Li Sung doesn’t need Hulk’s help after all as unaided he bests Silva in combat, eventually grabbing Silva’s shoulder and doing the Vulcan nerve pinch again.

The locals enter to see Li Sung standing victorious over Silva’s unconscious body, but Li Sung does not rejoice for while he’s freed the neighborhood he knows he’s lost not one but two students, and tears well up in his eyes over David’s loss of control.

After the final commercial break David and Li Sung walk down the streets of backlot San Francisco saying goodbye.  Li Sung says May will assist him in rebuilding the school.  Li Sung says David can stay as well but David says he has to go. Bixby finally verbalizes David’s rationale for running:   “Now that the creature has shown himself I think it’s better for everybody if I get out of town.”  Li Sung says he understands,though I’m not sure I do.  But for skeptics like me, Li Sung also mentions National Register reporter Jack McGee called from Miami and is coming to San Francisco to investigate the reports of the Hulk sightings.  This is a reason for David to run that I understand.

Sung Li says he wished they had more time to work on David’s problem, and David says he’s learned a great deal, enough to give him hope.  But Sung Li won’t let David go so quickly, saying “if we don’t have the years necessary to cure you perhaps we could afford a few hours.  We could go someplace, listen to some jazz.”  With a big smile David agrees and, tan jacket in hand, he walks Li Sung down the backlot street as a jazz version of The Lonely Man theme plays.

While full of Asian stereotypes I found myself enjoying Another Path.  It’s story was a bit of a retread of Terror in Times Square but mashed-up with Enter the Dragon, a hit 5 years earlier, and David Carridine’s Kung Fu.   The combination is fresh and original, and it’s fun to see the Hulk as a fish out of water.

That said, Hulk was pretty useless this episode.  He saves an old man from a truck that was about to be heated up anyway, and then he follows in the old man’s wake fighting people Li Sung had already defeated.  It’s likely that without the Hulk’s intervention the end result would have been the same.  But even though Li Sung’s power made Hulk useless I’m actually glad the episode stuck to its guns and made the old man competent, not needing to be rescued by the all-powerful green man.

Also I would have liked the episode to try and tell us that kung fu is really powerful, and a kung fu master can possibly hurt or defeat the Hulk.  Would Li Sung have been able to Vulcan nerve pinch Hulk?  That’s a fight I would have liked to see.  But what we get is a blast in its own comedic way with Hulk fighting kung fu masters.  With the stylize black dojo as the background, the fight scenes were fun even if they were unnecessary.

I recommend Another Path.

Additional note:  IMDB and many other sites incorrectly list Tom Holland’s character as “Frank Silva”.  Having watched the episode twice for this review I can say clearly he is referred to dozens of times as “Steve”.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews


March 17, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marvel Reveals Ultimate Spider-Man Cartoon Trailer

Can’t wait until April 1st to catch your favorite Super Hero in action? Check out Marvel’s new Ultimate Spider-Man trailer debuting on! Watch as Nick Fury offers Spider-Man the biggest opportunity of his life: to join S.H.I.E.L.D., take on evil villains, and learn what it takes to become the ULTIMATE Spider-Man.  Get a fresh look at Spidey’s action-packed adventures, new Spidey Tech, and special guest stars to excite fans and bring everyone’s favorite Wallcrawler to the small screen like never before!  The series premieres April 1 at 11am/10c inside Marvel Universe on Disney XD!

And if you’re at WonderCon in Anaheim this weekend, you can be among the first to go inside Marvel Universe when Head of Marvel TV, Jeph Loeb presents the series premiere of Ultimate Spider-Man, and the Season 2 premiere of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, as well as  a look at future Marvel Universe series! Join us for “Marvel Television Presents from 12:00 – 1:00p in Room 213ABCD.

March 16, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, News, Television | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marvel Reveals Ultimate Spider-Man Cartoon Trailer

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 5 – A Child In Need

Taking a break from his search for a cure, David finds refuge in the great outdoors when he works as a school gardener and befriends a 10-year-old who is either accident prone or the victim of child abuse.

A Child In Need - Hulk Smacks Jack Back
A Child In Need
Season: 2
Episode: 5
Air Date: October 20, 1978
Director: James D. Parriott
Writer: Frank Dandridge
David’s Alias: David Baxter
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Frustrated no one will call
the police to stop a child from
being beaten.
• Punched, slammed into a wall,
and tossed through some doors

I read the one-sentence summary of this paragraph and just thought “Oh no, the Hulk smashes child abuse.”  For three episodes in a row The Incredible Hulk has courted controversy by approaching very sensitive, real-world topics and framing it as an action story starring a giant green man.  I appreciate television that takes risks and does not shy away from hot-button issues, but there is the question of appropriateness.  As a young series that focuses on what Hulk can smash it seems like there is no right way to go about it.  While neither Ricky‘s take on the mentally challenged nor Rainbow’s End dealing with Native Americans was a tragic failure, neither really clicked with me as the right way to handle those topics.  So here as Hulk takes on a child abuser I really wondered how this would play out.  As always I hoped for the best, and as the others before it excelled in some respects while failing in others.

The episode opens and David (Bill Bixby) is working as a groundskeeper at Lincoln Elementary School in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Given that David has forged his identity in every city, has no social security number, and no background I am concerned about the level of care these children are receiving.  I would hope background checks would be mandatory for workers at a school, especially one with young children.  But this episode has some big issues to deal with, so if to do so requires a leap in logic about how David got his job at a school I will let it have that “gimme”.

David is tending to the school’s garden accompanied by a sweet, somewhat happy version of The Lonely Man theme when he comes upon student Mark Hollinger, sitting alone and crying.  David notices cuts on the boy’s arm and, thinking Mark was recently hurt and that’s why he was crying, David takes him to Mary Walker, the school’s nurse.

Mary tells David that Mark is accident prone and often has these types of injuries, and David points out that accidents cause scrapes and bruises, not “multiple contusions.”  The nurse brushes off David’s concerns.  Her face shows a modicum of guilt, but she says “my job is to patch the cuts and bruises, not to worry about how they got there.”  David doesn’t force the issue, he just smiles smartly.

After school Mark runs up to David, and David buys the boy an ice cream.  Someone needs to teach Mark “stranger danger” as you never take food from strangers.  As they eat David asks about Mark’s hobbies and his friends, trying to get at the root cause of Mark’s injuries, but Mark doesn’t get it, just saying he doesn’t have many friends and usually plays with his dad.  David eventually asks outright about Mark’s bruises.  Mark insists he got them falling down and David doesn’t push.  He just knowingly tells Mark if he needs a friend he’ll be there.  (A strange man offers to be a special friend for a young boy!  Stranger danger!)

Mark then asks where David lives, and David takes him to his apartment (stranger danger!), and it’s a very nice place for a gardener on the run.  Spacious, glass french doors, really extravagant.  I think David should be living someplace more humble and saving his money for a rainy day when McGee comes knocking, but, again, this episode is not about David. If David lived in a shack it’s unlikely Mark would want to move in with David, which he asks to do.  He hints around, asking David if his sofa folds out into a bed, saying how David’s apartment could easily hold two or three people which David takes as a sign of trouble at home.

David says “I imagine your mother and father are very worried about you” and I think “Yeah, if they knew he was sitting on a sofa that turns into a bed in the home of the newly hired school groundskeeper.”  If I didn’t know David was the hero of the series I honestly think this episode would be a story similar to Dudley and Arnold at the bike shop on Diff’rent Strokes.

David walks Mark home where David is introduced to Mark’s father Jack, who sees the injuries on the boy and asks how he got them.  The look on David’s face says he thinks Jack is putting on a show, as do I.  As does Jack, I think as Jack invites David in for a beer and David accepts.

The inside of Jack’s home is the height of suburban 70’s style.  I swear when I was growing up my parents had the exact same furniture, if not the upholstery, as the Hollingers — the same gold sofa, the same dark wood frame chair.  It’s uncanny, and I wonder if every house in the 70’s had those pieces.  I keep checking the walls for a giant wooden fork and spoon.

Chatting with David, Jack seems to put the blame for Mark’s injuries on his wife Margaret.  He says she works nights and is very stressed, and that it is hard for her to be a mom and hold a job.  David takes the bait and immediately shifts all suspicion to Mark’s mother, going so far as to track Margaret down at her job at a convenience store.  Under the guise of a customer David starts casual conversation, but in under a minute he starts to accuse the woman of beating her son.  He starts first through implication, “Mark gets hurt…a lot…and no one seems to know why.”  When that doesn’t illicit a response David puts it bluntly “I think Mark’s being beaten.”  Margaret is shaken and asks him to leave.

But being a good employee she first has to ring up David’s purchase.  When Margaret hands David his change he gets a good look at the large, dark bruise on Margaret’s hand.  David smiles smugly, knowing now that Jack is beating them both.

At this point I think Bixby is playing this wrong.  He’s too full of smiles when this is a topic not able to be smiled about.  He shouldn’t be smug when he’s shown he’s proven right, he should be upset that he’s right.  Instead he just smiles this fish-eating grin.  And then he goes home?  He doesn’t go to get the boy, he doesn’t call the police, we just jump to the next day and David is back at work.  He couldn’t wait a moment to confront Margaret, but he then can go home and get a good night’s rest?  It’s poor writing and likely poor directing not telling Bixby the right way to portray Banner in these moments, and it’s keeping me from thinking David is the right person to be getting involved.  I think someone needs to get involved, but not the newly hired gardener of the school.

The next day David sees Mark at school and claps the boy on the shoulder, causing the boy to wince.  David looks down Mark’s shirt (Stranger danger!) sees another round of injuries, and takes him back to Mrs. Walker.   The injuries are so severe this time that the nurse writes Mark a note and sends him home.  When David again pushes Mary to report the abuse the nurse confesses she wishes she could help, but at her last job she reported a parent for abuse.  No one would corroborate Mary’s story, the family denied it, and she ended up losing her a job.  David asks if anyone from the school can talk to Jack and the nurse replies “Why don’t you?”  It’s not a come-up, it’s an honest suggestion, and one that David appears ready to take.

We then follow Mark home.  He is coming home late, having spent the day alone.  He tries to enter quietly and sneak into his room but Jack calls him in.  The musical score by Joe Harnell sets a menacing tone, taking Jack’s fairly flat line deliveries of “You’re late again” and turning them into the most ominous of threats.  When Jack sees a note in Mark’s pocket showing that Jack was sent home early Mark is even more upset, but he’s not shouting, he’s aggravated.  He says “You get more out of hand every day.  What do we have to do to teach you to behave?” and I think a beating is coming, but no, not yet.  Margaret sends Mark to get ready for dinner.

But Jack sits there stewing, and a story about a boy saving his father’s life in a plane crash is what sets Jack over the edge.  I’m not sure why that story is what does it, but we see Jack is pushed to the edge by the thought of a father being saved by his son.  Jack’s face gets red, and he leans forward agitated.

Jack asks Mark to bring him a beer, and Mark is afraid.  Margaret tells Jack to wait for dinner, but Mark demands the beer now, and he demands Mark bring it to him.  Mark opens the beer and walks tentatively, taking baby steps towards his demanding, red-faced father.  Jack continues to bark orders, getting irate, saying insane things like “you don’t like to help me do you” and making Mark put it in his hand.

Mark is shaking and at the last second he drops the beer.  I saw that coming from the moment Mark popped the tab off, but I suppose Jack did too.  Jack didn’t want to get a beer, he wanted to give a beating.  Jack starts to shout and he’s turning even more red; it’s the human equivalent of a Hulk-out.  If he had been gamma irradiated he would have white eyes, but instead he just kicks the beer and starts to chase Jack through the house.  Presumably he is hitting Jack, but we don’t see it, just hear it.

Truthfully this scene is well done.  The actors, at the extreme reach of their limited range, do a good enough job of selling the emotion of the moment, aided greatly by Harnell.  More, the dialogue is a bit odd but it shows the pathos and the pain of abuse.  This moment was one I feared would either be too soft or over the top, but they hit the right note here.  You feel for the victims, and more than any episode before I want Hulk to show up and put a stop to it.

And he will.  We cut outside to see David walking up to the house.  Hearing the screams he knocks on the door, trying to interrupt.  Margaret answers and tells David to go away, but Jack comes and tells the gardener to mind his own business.  When David doesn’t appear ready to take that suggestion Jack shoves David who falls backwards over a railing, falling several feet.

I’m sure the physical violence from Jack will make David Hulk-out, but no!  David is just fine.  Standing, David sees a neighbor across the street working in his yard, but when the neighbor witnesses the violence in the Hollinger’s yard he starts to hustle indoors.  David catches up to the man and asks for help, but the neighbor refuses saying “That Hollinger is crazy.”  David tries another neighbor and gets the same result.  When the neighbor refuses to open the door David can take no more.  We get white eyes.

And what white eyes we get!  It’s an extreme close-up of the contact lens Bixby wears and it’s white, tinged with green.  Really impressive on DVD.  I recommend you see that frame!

Hulk-Out #1  We cut inside and see Jack terrorizing his family.  He shoves Margaret to her knees by her shoulders, showing us how Mark got the bruises on his shoulder.  Jack then lifts Mark off the ground and slams him into a wall.

Then Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) slams into, and through, the opposite wall.  Coming in, Hulk stalks towards Jack who stands in the dining room, frozen to the spot where he was beating his son.  Hulk flips the dining room table out of the way and Jack forgets about beating his son, cowering from Hulk.  Hulk lifts Jack off the ground as Jack lifted Mark.  Jack tries to punch the green beast, and Hulk throws him through some shutters that cover an indoor window, throwing the man into the kitchen.

(I thank Hulk for destroying that 70s bastion of style, the shutters covering interior windows in a home.  Do they even make houses with interior windows any more?)

Hulk then turns to Mark, and Margaret is yelling for Hulk to not hurt her child.  But Hulk is there to help, not to hurt.  He picks up the boy and flees the house, with Margaret shouting “don’t take my baby!”

Hulk takes Jack to a studio backlot that is supposed to represent Lincoln, and he’s chased by the Keystone Cops.  It appears the cops have Hulk cornered but when Hulk doesn’t comply they start to move in.  With some wacky disco music a chase scene begins.  It’s totally out of place to have in this episode, but Hulk flips a pick-up in the street causing all the police cars to crash.  Their cars hit fire hydrants and they don’t even bother to pursue on foot instead just radioing for back-up.  Mark helps Hulk escape the cop’s view.

When out of sight, Hulk transforms back into David in a unique way, the best reverse transformation of the series.  Mark and Hulk walk in shadow, and through a series of obvious fades Hulk grows smaller and eventually becomes David, still holding hands with Mark.  While the fades were obvious, it is the closest thing to a “morph” that the 70s could do, and with the actors walking instead of standing still, covered in shadow to hide bad make-up effects, it shows a full-body transformation in a way the series has never done before.

Mark now is one of the few that know David’s secret, and he says he wish he could change too. Obviously Mark wishes that to fight back against his father.

The next day David calls Mary over to his apartment.  She asks about the green monster, David replies that the only monster is Mark’s father.  He tells the nurse that he found Mark walking on the streets the night before.  He brought Mark back to his apartment to protect the boy from his father.  (Mark spent the night in the groundskeeper’s apartment?  STRANGER DANGER!)  David asks the nurse again to go to the cops saying “There’s more important things than losing one’s job”.  Mary rightly asks why David doesn’t go, and David says “because I have considerably more to lose than my job.”  Mary asks if David is wanted, and David says “Something like that”.

David asks Mary if she’ll talk to the police if he can find one other witness to corroborate Mary’s information, and Mary agrees, so David goes to see Margaret.  But National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) has gotten to Margaret first.  David hides from the reporter and hears Margaret tell McGee that Hulk beat her son and her husband.  Of course a giant green man who’s wanted for murder is the perfect scapegoat for any unexplainable injury.

But the clock is ticking.  Jack (Hollinger, not McGee, and I’m frustrated that there are two people named “Jack” in this episode) is in the hospital for observation to ensure the Hulk didn’t seriously hurt him.  David tries to convince Margaret to go to the police for Mark’s sake.  He informs Margaret, and maybe the audience “There are laws against child abuse” and says he is afraid their lives are in danger from Jack’s beatings.  Margaret says “it doesn’t happen very often, only when Jack loses his temper.”  Ut-oh.

More dialogue continues and it becomes obvious that the writers are trying to draw a parallel between the anger Jack feels that causes him to beat his son and the anger David feels that causes him to become the Hulk.  That is an incredibly bad decision.  Hulk is our hero in the story who took the battered child and saved him from the abuser.  To draw parallels like this, to equate our hero to a wife-beater and child abuser, is in extremely poor taste.  More, it paints our hero as a bad guy who is half a step away from beating children!  It was an ill-conceived parallel that should not have been explored as it was.

Margaret gives the abused story “He doesn’t mean to do it, it just happens” and David says Jack needs psychiatric help before he kills one of them.  This is the beginning of David’s “message” for the episode.  David doesn’t see child abuse as a crime, he sees it as a disease.  While Margaret and Mark are worried that Jack will go to jail, David tries to convince them that Jack doesn’t need jail, he needs a hospital.  I am not an expert on abusive situations, and I am certain that therapy is part of any attempt to break the cycle of abuse, but the oversimplification here is off-putting.  More, we watched as Jack tortured and beat his wife and child.  Sorry Jack, you are now a loathsome individual who I don’t want to see helped.  I want to see you go to jail.  I don’t want to see you helped, I want to see you punished.  You didn’t try to shoot a horse, you beat your family.  You are past the point of no return; you are irredeemable.

But not to the writers and, thus, not to David.  David preaches the benefits of the hospital, while Margaret gives the standard, cliched, tearful responses.  Finally she says “Give me some time” and David agrees.  He tells Margaret to meet him, Mrs. Walker, and Mark in the gym after school.

When school ends David challenges Mark to some basketball.  While playing twenty-one David tells Mark that the two of them, plus Margaret and Mrs. Walker, need to go to the police.  Mark asks if his father will go to jail and David again starts preaching the benefits of medical care for abusers.  But Mark is on my side–he wants his father to go to jail.  He says if his father doesn’t get locked up then he’ll just come back madder and start all over.

David then becomes an apologist for the abuser.  David says “Your father doesn’t want to beat you, he just has a problem” trying to explain child abuse as a mental illness to the child.  While I think on the one hand it’s important for the boy’s self-esteem to know that his father doesn’t hate him specifically, it’s again not right to say these things.  It’s one of those times I think David needs to shut his mouth and just wait for this to be handled by someone who won’t be packing up and abandoning everyone at the top of the hour.

But David is so busy telling Mark about the social programs for child abuse he doesn’t see Jack come in the back door.  Jack hears David telling Mark about these programs and the man changes from child abuser to adult abuser as he starts to pummel David.  Jack lands punch after punch to the stomach, the face, throws David into a wall, and finally thorws him through the double hinged gym doors.

It’s just a shame he was too busy beating David to notice the white eyes.

Hulk-Out #2:  Behind the doors Jack cannot see David’s transformation, and it is one moment required but not believable.  Rather than pursue David through the doors, Jack calls for the man to come back and get more of a beating.  But it’s not David that comes back through the doors.

Hulk smashes through the gym doors and stalks at Jack.  Like any good bully, Jack backs away in fear from Hulk, but Hulk keeps coming, demolishing gym equipment in the process.

Jack turns to run but Hulk catches up, grabs Jack and slides him into the wall.  Cornered, Jack tries to fight.  He punches Hulk repeatedly but Hulk just growls and pushes him back into the wall.  Jack continues to attack but Hulk just keeps shoving him back, bullying the bully.

But Jack is starting to break down.  He’s having memories–memories of a belt whipping across.  Jack has memories of his own father beating him with a belt, and starts to project images of his father onto Hulk.  Jack soon breaks down crying “please don’t hit me daddy” and bawls on the floor.  He calls for Mark, sobbing apologies to the boy, and I think we’re now supposed to think Jack is redeemed and will get the help he needs.  But I still hate the man.

In the coda we see David, looking sharp in a new black turtleneck he must have spent his security deposit on.  He is at Mark’s house with Margaret and Mary.  Margaret happily says “the hospital says Jack will be back in less than a month!”  The way she delivers the line makes me think of a housewife telling the benefits of an appliance.  The hospital is sold as a “set it and forget it” solution.  They also show Mark is healthy, having him babble about what he’s learned about the subconscious and repressed memories that caused his father to hit him.

Everyone is beaming with smiles, everyone is happy.

Mary and Margaret tell David “are you sure you don’t want to stick around and talk to the reporter about the green man?  You could get your name in the paper” but David demurs.

Mark tries to get David to stay a bit longer by challenging him to another game of twenty-one, tossing David the ball.  David throws it one-handed and, swish, makes a perfect shot.  Saying “I better quit while I’m ahead” he throws his tan coat over his shoulder and walks off down the road as Mark watches on from the lower left corner of our screen.

Like David with Hulk, I am torn in two regarding this episode.  On the one hand I admire A Child in Need for daring to cover such a hot-button, real-world issue as child abuse.  The scenes of the abuser and the portrayals of the abused were, for the most part, convincing and done in a sensitive manner.  In an era where such topics were not often discussed, it would serve to raise awareness with children and adults who enjoyed the show.  Had this show come a decade later I have no doubt that it would have ended with Bill Bixby, out of character talking straight to the audience, giving an 800 number for a crisis center for the abused, saying “If you or someone you know is the victim of abuse, don’t hesitate. Call now.”  It is very possible that the airing of this episode did raise awareness, and who knows, perhaps one or more abusers were made to stop by people reacting to this episode.

But on the other hand the episode oversimplifies the entire problem of child and spousal abuse.  The episode ends with everyone smiling, almost giving a thumbs-up to the camera.  This is Hulk‘s idea of a happy ending, but truthfully in a situation such as this there are no happy endings, especially not this quick.  There needs to be time for healing.

Yes, I’m asking for some realism in a television show about a puny man that transforms into a giant green rage monster.  If they are going to tackle serious issues like child abuse, they cannot treat it with the same comic-book style they treat their hero.  It, again, is the appropriateness of the forum for such a serious issue.  If you cannot handle it seriously because “that’s not what this show is” then this show is not the proper medium to discuss serious topics.

Bixby’s portrayal of David just irks me this episode.  I like David when he’s smart, I hate David when he’s a smug know-it-all, and in this episode he’s definitely the latter.  His little smiles, his knowing glances, his proselytizing how doctors can cure abuse, it’s a bit too much to bear.

As for Hulk, his scenes were good.  Both times I felt Hulk was really in the right place at the right time.  I felt bad for Mark and his mother, and I wanted to see Hulk smash the abuser.

It’s not a perfect episode, it didn’t astound me with its handling of the subject matter, but I admire the episode for doing what it did back in 1978.  A very mild recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 16, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 4 – Rainbow’s End

Hoping to tame the Hulk, David works at a racetrack and seeks out a trainer who has successfully used a vitamin formula to calm a troubled horse.

Hulk at Rainbow's End
Rainbow’s End
Season: 2
Episode: 4
Air Date: October 13, 1978
Director: Kenneth Gilbert
Writer: Karen Harris, Jill Donner
David’s Alias: David Bishop
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Hit by a falling beam in a
burning barn.
• Burning his hands on a pipe
while the reactor melts down

In the previous episode of The Incredible Hulk we had the show tackle the issue of the mentally challenged, to ill effect, so you can imagine my nervousness when I realized this next episode would portray David (Bill Bixby) going to a Native American to find an herbal cure for his Hulkism.  Attitudes towards Native Americans have changed drastically in 30 years, and I was very worried that here we’d see stereotypical headdresses, peace pipes, sweat lodges, and more.  After all, in Married the writers were happy to portray cancer as Indians slaughtering pilgrims.

I was half right.  Rainbow’s End does have several moments of poor taste, but, like Ricky, was not as bad as I’d feared.  I will explain why throughout the review.

The episode begins with David relaxing with a beer in a random bar.  It’s good to know that despite being on the run from the law and the media, having no reliable source of income, and having a giant green rage monster inside of him, David can still enjoy the finer things in life like a cold beer on tap.  I do find it amusing though that David is a paying customer at the bar when most episodes would show him working at the bar.

As an aside, have you ever seen such a clean, well dressed homeless man in your life as David Banner?  While he may sometimes have to scrounge for money for a pay phone he can always pay for his pilfered clothing, cab rides, and beers.

The television in the bar is turned to news of horse races, featuring a story on Rainbow’s End, “the meanest horse in racing” who has now been tamed by Thomas Logan (guest star Ned Romero).  As pharmaceutical solutions such as tranquilizers would bar Rainbow’s End from racing, Logan was able to concoct a natural alternative using vitamins and herbs.

Poor Indian Stereotype #1:  We find out about this partially from a newspaper headline which reads “Indian Hocus-Pocus Rocks Racing World.” Accompanying the headline is a picture of Thomas Logan, a Native American, wearing a feather warbonnet.  As this is our first view of Logan I did fear David would Hulk-out in a sweat lodge before the night was through.

David wonders if Logan’s herbal cure can help him repress or control the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), so he hops a bus and heads to the race track.

Poor Indian Stereotype #2:  While on the bus David is reading the newspaper article about Logan.  The boorish man seated next to David takes this as an opportunity for a conversation with such lines as  “That Thomas Logan sounds like one crazy Indian!” and accuses Logan of giving the horse “firewater”.   The man doesn’t trust Logan’s medicine, saying  “the chief doesn’t know his herbs from his elbow” and that he’s betting against Rainbow’s End in the upcoming race.

Now while I list that as “Poor Indian Stereotype #2” it was the first time this episode that I wondered if the writers were trying to dispel Native American stereotypes.  The man seated next to David is obnoxious, but I cannot tell if he’s supposed to be, thus showing the loathsome nature of those who view Native Americans in such a way, or if I am reading this character as repellent because of what he’s saying and the writers considered him just a neutral character.  Even after the episode ended I am not sure.

Despite the man’s views, David decides he will bet on Logan, continuing on to the race track for the cure.  He arrives and is somehow able to walk right into the closed racetrack to see Rainbow’s End doing practice runs on the track watched over by Logan.

Happily, Logan is dressed like an ordinary person with no moccasins, no headdress, no face paint.  He also speaks proper English.  Whew, crisis averted!  After the picture on the front of the paper I expected the writers to portray Logan as a Tonto-like character, and I’m happy to see a more realistic portrayal.  Logan even overtly confronts Native American stereotypes.

But for that step forward, there is also a step back.  Logan is an isolationist, not trusting David thinking he is a reporter trying to sneak out word about Logan’s methods.  More, it cannot be denied that while Logan is acting like a normal person the writers have cast him in the role of “medicine man”, using a special blend of seven herbs and spices to create a medicine that science cannot.

Logan tries to send David away, but their conversation is interrupted when Rainbow’s End starts to buck and rear, throwing the jockey.  A woman tries to grab the horse’s reins  and is knocked down.  David puts himself in front of the girl and calms the horse.  I think.  Obviously Bixby was a bit nervous being around a bucking horse, so all we see is the woman on the ground and some looped lines of Bixby saying “whoa, whoa, calm down” and then we cut to David petting a perfectly calm horse.

The owners of Rainbow’s End, Jimmy Kelly and Laurence Henry Carroll the third (guest star Craig Stevens, star of Peter Gunn), rush out and thank David for his quick work.  The girl David saved was Kim Kelly, Jimmy’s daughter an an aspiring jockey herself.    For saving the girl Laurence offers David a job at the stables, which David happily accepts.  No discussion is had about David’s duties or pay, but a mention is made of him shoveling hay.

Of course, David took the job as a way to stay near Logan, and keeps asking Logan about the medicine given to Rainbow’s End.  Logan is still worried, asking David “Are you sure you’re not a reporter?”  David laughs and says “Honest,” and Logan replies that if David says “honest injun’ I’ll deck you.”  Again I wonder if the writers are trying to put forth a positive, realistic view of Native Americans–one where they don’t appreciate the stereotypical media view of their culture.  Then again if that’s the case why did Logan agree to pose with the headdress?

Logan’s fears about David are quickly put to rest when David realizes why Rainbow’s End went wild at the track.  It wasn’t that Rainbow’s End was just a bad horse or that Logan’s medicine didn’t work, someone replaced the saddle oil with acid.  When the acid mixed with the horse’s sweat from running it caused so much pain that the horse reacted wildly.   It’s a contrivance that makes about as much sense as the heart-attack potion in Final Round, but it clues us off that there is a saboteur at the racetrack.

Logan and David take the acid to Jimmy who seems unworried.  When they say they want to alert Laurence, Jimmy snaps they’re “not to bother Mr. Carroll over a bad can of saddle oil.”  Neither one bothers to point out it’s not bad saddle oil, it’s acid.  Corrosive acid that someone intentionally burned a horse with.

David discovering the acid causes Logan to trust the newcomer and start to share details of the compound he uses to calm Rainbow’s End.  After a time, David asks Logan if the compound has been used on a human.  Saying he has hyperactivity followed by blackouts, David asks Logan to try it on him.  Logan initially resists afraid of the risk, but David persists.  Meanwhile, I wonder what the risk is of using herbs and vitamins on a human, but I don’t hang out at The Vitamin Shoppe.

The focus returns to the primary plot of who’s trying to hurt Rainbow’s End.  At this point I know from his reaction to the acid that Jimmy is the villain, but I am hoping the writers are more clever than that.  Perhaps he is just stupid and our red herring?  No, I gave them too much credit, Jimmy burned the horse and has a lot more dirty tricks up his sleeve.  We find out the entire back story on Jimmy, as told to David by Kim.

Jimmy developed a new radar device that will track horses as they race on the track (and kudos to the writers for being able to foresee that races would soon have computerized results).  As Jimmy didn’t have much money he sold the patent to Carroll to fund the development.  As Kim puts it, it was “fair and square.”  But once Jimmy had a working prototype he became enraged, thinking he’d been swindled by the rich man.   Jimmy wants the patent back but everyone, including Jimmy’s own daughter, thinks he should be grateful Laurence believed in the device enough to invest with it.

It’s an odd, convoluted story that I couldn’t quite follow.  Laurence is shown as a kindly fellow, befitting of the actor who played good guy Peter Gunn.  He does not come off as a harsh businessman with a “you made a deal, you have to live with it” ethic.  More, Laurence only gets rich if Jimmy’s device works.  Jimmy is close to perfecting it, but he hasn’t yet.  There must be some financial incentive for Jimmy to continue his work.  Even if he sold the entire patent to Laurence, either he must be a paid employee performing work-for-hire, or a business partner with some cut of the profits.  I think the writers have no clue what words they’re putting in the character’s mouths.  The writers aren’t contract lawyers and in the end it’s supposed to be “Jimmy thinks he’s getting a raw deal but he’s not.”

I’m also confused by the course of action Jimmy takes during this.  Instead of sabotaging the sonar device, or refusing to work on it, he burns a horse with acid?  I don’t see the direct link between Rainbow’s End’s and the sonar, but the rest of the episode will be Jimmy attempting to assassinate the horse.

Oddly, I believe Kim is telling David this story as some type of flirtation, as she then invites him to a dance being held that night.  I suppose it’s like a team-building exercise, having all the track workers come together and dance.  At the dance Jimmy blows up at Laurence shouting “Do you really think I’m going to stand around and watch you make millions off my invention?” and “you don’t just steal money from me and walk away.”

Jimmy storms off and David follows “to make sure he gets home okay.”  But Jimmy doesn’t make it home okay–he goes and sets a major fire to Rainbow’s End’s barn.

David goes to save the horses, setting several of them free, but Rainbow’s End is too skittish and violent.  David gets a leash on him but the horse bucks and kicks at David.  They have made little progress when the fire causes structural damage to the barn, and a flaming beam falls on David.

Hulk-Out #1  Rainbow’s End is no match for the Hulk.  Hulk grabs the reins, knocks aside some bails of hay, and punches through a wall to lead out the panicked steed.  It’s a funny scene and, like Bixby before him, you can see Ferrigno break character a bit, dealing very gently with the horse. Seeing the workers coming, Hulk runs off with Rainbow’s End, and I wonder why he doesn’t just let the horse go.   Sitting still with the horse Hulk begins to transform back into David while the worrkers extinguish the blaze.  But one worker, Logan, was out looking for Rainbow and witnesses David’s metamorphosis.  Now Logan is one of the small number of people who know David’s secret.

With the reverse transformation it’s another step backwards for the series as the bad eyebrows and green glow are also evident, but as the plot demands Logan see David transform I can forgive it this one time.

In most episodes after David transforms into the Hulk for the first time he is hounded by National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) and David has to continue running, but something always keeps him there just a while longer.  But in the majority of episodes the Hulk was actually seen by bystanders who call the police or the media.  That is what alerts Jack to the Hulk’s presence.  In Rainbow’s End however Hulk rescued the horses and was only seen by Logan; everyone else was too fixated on the fire.  No one is talking about a large green man, and no one was hurt.  As such, I’m very confused in the next scene where David tries to leave, but Logan talks him into staying.

Poor Indian Stereotype #3:  We also get a dropped reference to McGee, not in relation to the Hulk but to Rainbow and Logan’s miracle drug. Logan receives a call from the reporter, and Logan again says he doesn’t want to talk to the press.  It ends with Logan calling McGee “Kemosabe” in a way that does not come off as ironic.  More, McGee never struck me as especially bigoted or racist except against large, green men with a poor grasp of the English language.

That done, Logan and David look to using the drug as a cure for the Hulk.  There is some truly great dialogue in here between Logan and David.

Logan:  My grandfather’s tribe would have treated you like a god.  If you could control it you’d have great power.

David: I don’t want that kind of power.

and also

Logan:  You posses a powerful force!

David:  No, it possesses me!  I can’t control it.  Even in my sleep.

The two actors really sell this scene and it is a standout.  The debate ends simply with Logan saying “We begin the treatments today.”

But before treatments can begin David tells Logan that Jimmy started the fire.  Kim, working outside, overhears this and confronts her father.  He doesn’t deny it, he just sits there with his face scrunched up like a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.  It’s an astoundingly silly facial expression that doesn’t even change when Kim engages in some emotional blackmail, invoking her dead mother, saying she loves him.  She says she’ll try to make things right with Mr. Carroll.  I’m not sure how she can “make things right” for her father committing arson, attempting to kill Rainbow and half a dozen other horses, and generally being an ass.  Despite how kindly Carroll has been so far I strongly suspect any reasonable person would respond to this information by calling the police.

But we have to wait a while to see what happens to Kimmy and Jimmy, as we see David and Logan try to cure the Hulk.

Poor Indian Stereotype #4:   In this stereotype I have to fault Joe Harnell, the composer of the score for The Incredible Hulk.  While I love Harnell’s title themes for Hulk, and in most episodes his score is perfect, sometimes he plays a scene wrong.  This is one of those times. In montage form we see Logan make the formula for David.  All the actions, all the things the actors are doing, are completely normal.  But in scoring the scene Harnell took inspiration from the same Cowboy and Indians movies that were referenced in Married.  The score is a slow, moody rendition of the Native American ceremonial music used in thousands of films and cartoons, filled with mystic overtones and wood instruments.  While Logan is wearing jeans and working in a building, as far as Harnell’s score is concerned he might as well have the headdress on and be in a tepee.  The music tells me Logan is a medicine man, while the script seems to mock those who hold such notions of Native Americans.  I am disappointed in the lack of imagination the score shows, but I have to remember it was a different time and a television show on a tight schedule.

David drinks the liquid from a large stein.  Will it calm him?  Will it transform him?  Will he get stoned?  Will, as David jokes, he turn into a horse?  Instead it seems to put him to sleep.  This doesn’t surprise me as the drug has often been called a tranquilizer.  I’ve never been entirely sure how it would cure David of the Hulk unless it just kept him so sedate that he’d never get angry again.

David goes to bed and has memories/visions of his second wedding, and his marriage to Caroline in the season opener.  I’m pleasantly shocked to see these scenes.  Not once since Married aired has David mentioned his second wife, and it’s nice to see Dr. Caroline Fields lives on in David’s memories.  It even includes scenes of Caroline having her seizure, and the hurricane during which she died.  That said, as David didn’t mention it this episode either, these scenes would be very confusing to someone who skipped the season opener, it’s trusting the audience to have seen it.  I suspect the script just said “David has a nightmare” and, in editing, they decided to add these scenes to show the audience the dream.  I also think they needed to stretch the episode out a couple more minutes as this goes on longer than it really needs to.  Either way, a series with as little continuity as The Incredible Hulk maintains should not have this type of reference with no set-up.

In this scene Harnell proves himself once again.  I may not have enjoyed the Native American score for Logan, but I love  the score during this dream.  It is a perfect mix of melodies and fear as the dream transitions from good times to bad.

David’s sleep gets more restless, he’s tossing and turning.  Will this be the third time that a dream turns him into the Hulk?   He shouts “Carol” in the half hulk voice in his dream, and wakes up…his eyes aren’t white.  He’s not changing.  It seems as if he may have found his cure.

But if he has, who will stop Jimmy?  Kim’s talk must not have taken hold as the grumpy old inventor is oiling his rifle, with a sharpshooter’s scope on it.  The next day is the race that will prove Jimmy’s device works, and Jimmy refuses to let that happen so he is going to shoot Rainbow’s End.  And he’s practicing his aim by watching Rainbow’s End race on TV.  I hate to tell him but the cameraman is already keeping the horse in the center of the screen so being able to keep the video in your crosshairs is not a sign of your ability to hit a moving target.

The next morning David tells Logan that he feels the best he has in a long time, calm but alert, and I’m wondering where I can score some of what David’s drinking.  As the topic changes to the workplace drama David asks if  Jimmy’s troubles will hurt Kim’s racing career.  Logan says “not if she’s good.  Which she is.”

She’ll have to prove how good she is, though, as Andy the jockey isn’t feeling well and David diagnoses that Andy sustained  a concussion when he was thrown from Rainbow’s End during the acid incident.  David says if he rides again he could be killed (though David fails to mention it would require another blow to the head, which seems unlikely).  Not wanting to risk Andy’s life, kindly Laurence has Kim saddle up to ride Rainbow in the race.

Of course Kim’s dad Jimmy is going to shoot the horse, and may kill his own daughter by accident in the process!  Oh the suspense.

Logan watches from the stands with Mr. Carroll.  Jack McGee shows up to continue his investigative journalism into Logan’s potion.  David watches in the standing-room-only area.  Above them all Jimmy takes up position on the roof.

Much like the last episode we set up the race with lots of obvious stock footage showing a crowd far larger than the show’s budget can afford.  We see close-ups of David standing in the bleachers with a few people around him but in wide shots it appears to be a sold out crowd.

But somehow in the chaos David is not looking at the race or at flirty Kim’s big moment, but at the roof.  Maybe his Hulk-sense is tingling because while I see nothing he keeps staring at the roof.  Finally Jimmy takes aim and David sees Jimmy with his scope.  David tries to get to the roof working through the crowd, but the race is on and the very small crowd is refusing to step out of the way for David.  He trips on someone’s foot, someone else steps on his hand, and then some real jerk pours hot coffee poured on David’s back.  Oh the indignity!  There was no warning on the cup saying “The beverage you are about to spill on a fugitive from the law may be hot” so I smell a lawsuit!

Logan’s formula must have worn off as we get white eyes.

Hulk-Out #2:  We see little transformation here, just a shirt tear then a shot of the crowd and, like he’s on a spring, Hulk jumps up in the middle of it.  With a roar he does what David couldn’t, parts the audience and runs through the crowd.

We get a reaction shot from McGee who can’t believe his luck to have Hulk come to him, and a shot from Logan who knows David’s first dose was not an instant cure.  They both race after Hulk.

Now in the past we’ve seen Hulk do super-leaps, but here Hulk must feel he needs more cardio as he chooses to take the stairs, smashing through a glass double-door in the process.  He knocks down the door to the roof just as Jimmy was taking aim.  Unable to cross the distance of the roof before Jimmy can pull the trigger, Hulk pulls off the entire railing of the roof, dislodging it, a section of it knocking Jimmy down.  Hulk runs up to Jimmy and chucks the rifle far away, and I hope it doesn’t land and hit poor Andy in the head, killing him.

The police soon arrive and then when police come on the roof Hulk runs away.  Having gotten his workout in, Hulk takes the short path, leaping from the high roof to the ground, while the police tend to Jimmy.

Hulk runs out the parking lot while Kim enters the winner’s circle having set a world record time riding Rainbow’s End to victory.  But she wants to share her success with David, who is nowhere to be found.

We see later that David has come to get his tan coat and say goodbye to Logan.  Logan wants to try altering the dosage or the ratio, but David says it could take weeks and with McGee around he can’t take the chance.  Logan understands and tells David “all things do pass.”

Then he stops to say goodbye to Kim, who says Mr. Carroll is going to help her take care of her father.    I say never quit your job as Mr. Carroll is the single kindest employer ever.

Kim asks why David wasn’t in the winner’s circle, and he says it was hard to get through the crowd, but there will be lots of winner’s circles.  She says she will be looking for him in every one, and David walks off as a faster version of The Lonely Man theme plays.

Rainbow’s End is another uneven episode of The Incredible Hulk.  It seems the writers cannot find a good balance when there is David’s personal story as well as a criminal plot for Hulk to fight.  Sometimes the pendulum swings too far one way and we get Married with no villain at all.  Other times it goes the other direction and we get episodes like The Antowuk Horror.  Here the dual plots never seem to mesh, and neither is entirely satisfying.

For David’s story I find it frustrating that David comes close to a cure, or at least a path worth exploring, but he is easily scared off by McGee.  It’s McGee’s purpose in the show, but to make it work I’d have liked to see McGee have a greater presence.  Sometimes finding Jack Colvin in an episode is as hard as finding Waldo on a page.

I also found Jimmy’s horse-assassination plot to be muddled.  I could determine no logic behind Jimmy’s anger, and Laurence is such a nice freaking guy that even after Jimmy sets fire to the stables and tries to shoot the horse he still wants to help take care of the man.  He’s a saint!  Even Kim sees it and she’s Jimmy’s daughter.  I understand they say the sonar device is the reason, but if that’s the case why’s he killing the horse?  It’s all very confusing and unsatisfying.

As to the handling of Logan’s being Native American I do think this episode may have been an attempt to apologize for Married‘s metaphorical Indians killing David’s wife.  But despite the show being very progressive about exposing Native American stereotypes, perhaps a make-good for Caroline’s cowboys-and-Indians visualizations in Married, it’s not consistent in its delivery of the message.  They give us a caricature of a man discussing “firewater” but in the same scene show Logan wearing a headdress.  They say “Don’t say ‘honest injun'” but give us a musical score full of melodies taken from the most obvious of Native American themes.  It’s a very odd aesthetic that I blame on the fast production of television episodes; it’s obvious that not all parties were quite on the same page with this episode’s “message.”

Finally Hulk’s scenes were a bit lackluster.  I enjoyed his appearing in the middle of the crowd, and laughed that it was hot coffee that pushed David over the edge, but from the calm way Hulk rescues a horse to the fact that Hulk’s ultimate goal is to beat up an old man, I fail to be excited.

All that said, I love two scenes in this episode, the scene where David and Logan discuss if Hulk is a blessing or a curse, and David’s dream sequence.  Those two scenes alone elevate this otherwise unspectacular episode.  I feel those are scenes every Hulk fan should get a chance to enjoy, so I recommend Rainbow’s End.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 15, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

David Banner’s Not-So-Secret Identity

Banner to Hulk TransitionOver the course of the series The Incredible Hulk a standard trope is that someone close to David witnesses his metamorphosis and, thus, is in on his secret.  But how often does it really happen, and do those who find out live to tell the tale?  Here is a list of everyone who finds out that David can transform into the Hulk:

Season 1:

The Incredible Hulk pilot movie:

  • Dr. Elaina Marks (deceased):  told of David’s change and studies him.  Dies in a lab fire.
The Incredible Hulk Returns (aka Death in the Family)
  • Julie Griffith:  sees David transform after hitting him with a pot.
  • Michael: sees David transform while fighting a bear.
Season 2:
Married (aka Bride of the Incredible Hulk)
  • Dr. Caroline Fields (deceased):  told of David’s true identity and secret.  Dies of a rare disease.
Rainbow’s End:
  • Thomas Logan:  sees David’s reverse transformation while looking for a horse.
A Child in Need:
  • Mark Hollinger: after being rescued from his abusive father by the Hulk he walks down an alley holding Hulk’s hand while the green giant transforms back into David.

(This list will be updated as our Incredible Hulk review series continues!)

Read my Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

March 14, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 3 – Ricky

Both David and the Hulk go the distance for a mentally challenged young man who is goaded into driving a defective car in a demolition derby.

Oh Ricky you're so fine you're so fine you blow Hulk's mind. Hey Ricky!
Season: 2
Episode: 3
Air Date: October 6, 1978
Director: Frank Orsatti
Writer: Jason Summers
David’s Alias: Unknown
Hulk-Outs: 2
•  Jams his hand between a
shovel and a bar.
• Burning his hands on a pipe
while the reactor melts down

On the back of each DVD in The Incredible Hulk box set is a brief description of every episode.  I have been posting these descriptions at the top of each review.  However, this one had me truly worried.  The Incredible Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) befriends a mentally  challenged man?  Given the changes in attitudes towards the mentally handicapped in the past thirty years, I was honestly apprehensive about this episode.  With the production values of 70s television and the perfunctory life lessons that are often inserted as an afterthought to the on-screen action, I truthfully expected Ricky to be a cringe-worthy.

The preview before the show started didn’t help.  It shows mentally-challenged Ricky getting yelled at and he responds “Maybe the big green man did it.”  Then it shows Ricky sitting behind the wheel of a race car making engine sounds like a child.  Almost every line in the preview is someone shouting “Ricky!” with a different inflection.  I am prepared for the worst.

Fortunately the episode was not as embarrassing as I had expected.  It’s merely bad, accented by some truly awful moments.

The episode opens with stock footage of stock cars racing.  Clearly in the lead is Buzz Deter (guest star James Daughton, Greg Marmalard from Animal House) and it looks like former champ Sam Roberts (guest star Gerald McRaney) will have to settle for second.  Sam is fighting hard to regain the lead, but his “unsportsmanlike” driving causes him to spin out on the track, and in the spin his door gets jammed shut.

He screams for his pit crew to come get him out, but the first on the scene is Ricky, Buzz’s mentally challenged brother.  Why he’s out in the middle of a race track is beyond me, and given his size I don’t think he was the fastest to get to Sam’s car.  In his attempt to be helpful Ricky works his fingers into the car door frame and uses his weight to pull, prying back the door slightly.  At this point I’m especially worried, please don’t tell me this boy is mentally challenged and as strong as the Hulk!  Fortunately that is not the case.

Sam, in the car, establishes himself firmly as the episode’s villain as he yells “Someone get that retard out of here.”  Hearing that voice is when I first realized Sam is played by Gerald McRaney (Major Dad) in his second guest-starring role in The Incredible Hulk.  Previously he was Denny, the foreman and Julie’s suitor in the second pilot episode The Return of the Incredible Hulk (aka Death in the Family).  In 1978 McRaney was not a known actor.  Sporting the thick beard he wears in this episode I doubt even the casting director would remember he had a bit part in a previous episode, let alone a television viewing audience that had not seen his previous episode in almost a year.

Far less recognizable is Mickey Jones who plays Ricky.  A character actor who I’ve seen a dozen times in TV guest star roles such as this as well as in the movies Sling Blade, Total Recall, and Tin Cup.  Only when I looked him up in IMDB did I realize I have just one memory of the man–he was the sheriff-slash-mechanic in Vacation who takes all of Chevy Chase’s money after he drives off a cliff.  He has a trademark Captain Lou Albano beard in most of his roles, but as Ricky he’s clean-shaven making him unrecognizable.

Ricky looks about to get in some trouble from Sam when David (Bill Bixby), dressed in pit crew coveralls, comes and escorts Ricky away from the crash.  David has hitchhiked his way from Utah to Nevada and gotten a nondescript job at the racetrack where he cleans up, repairs soda machines, and helps fix cars.

David introduces himself to Ricky, and notices the mentally challenged man wears a large pin on his shirt that says “Ricky.”  Here my first moment of horror sets in.  Ricky explains the button was a gift from his brother.  “I have to wear it all the time or I might get myself lost,” Ricky says, and thus we have the first inkling of Buzz’s character.

Truthfully I’m not sure what to make of Buzz this episode.  Trying to put myself in the head of writer Jason Summers, I think Buzz is supposed to come off as a caring brother who simply doesn’t have the resources or training to care for a mentally handicapped individual.  To me, however, Buzz comes off as an ill-tempered jerk who worsens the stigma of the learning impaired.  He makes Ricky wear a button which I take to be a mentally handicapped version of a scarlet letter.  Then whenever Ricky deviates from Buzz’s orders in the slightest of ways Buzz flies off the handle shouting at his brother.  In the calmer moments he tries to tell David “Ricky’s retarded.  People just won’t understand” but I think Buzz doesn’t understand either.  Buzz is so set on winning the Daytona race and buying a house for his fiance-slash-mechanic Irene that I wonder where Ricky fits into Buzz’s world view.

In truth, Ricky doesn’t.  Buzz wants to win enough money to be able to afford to put Ricky in a home.  David starts to preach about state homes and programs that can give Ricky the care he needs now.  Buzz says Ricky has been in and out of hospitals, but David is referring to more specialized care.  As I watch this conversation I become quite uncomfortable.  First, as in Life and Death David is preaching about personal matters that are really none of his business.  Second, that David is constantly pushing people towards government funded programs is sending a weird political message that the show is ill-equipped to discuss.  Finally, that the one thing both David and Buzz agree on is that Ricky needs to be locked away in a home and not able to live in society is really off-putting.  I am no expert in caring for the mentally handicapped, but Ricky seems beyond functional to me.  I know of many organizations that teach the mentally challenged how to function, get their own homes, work jobs.  But getting Ricky to stand on his own two feet is nobody’s objective–getting him “proper care” (meaning: out of Buzz’s hair) is.

While the portrayal of Ricky is not offensive, David and Buzz’s plans for the man are.

During all of this we also find out the background of Sam Roberts and his brother Ted.  The two are partners in racing, Sam drives the cars and Ted fixes them.  They were offered a job as “PR Reps” for Allied Tires, a job Sam turned down because he was on a winning streak.  Now, I could see Allied Tires wanting Sam and Ted to be a spokesperson, possibly used in some advertising, but they continually use the term “PR Rep”.  A PR rep is who you use to communicate to the media, to handle advertising, external communications, and such.  If Allied Tires had a Bridgestone-Firestone type situation with tires blowing up and killing people it is the job of the PR Rep to issue statements like “We are looking into the situation.”  I cannot see these two gearheads as PR Reps, they are thugs who party until 4 a.m. then get up and race cars and drink beer.  But their dream of the good life, either as racing champs or PR Reps, was stolen when Buzz showed up and started to win every race.

Buzz goes on a date with Irene, leaving Ricky alone for the night to watch horror movies.  He’s watching the Universal classic Wolf Man and I think for sure that Ricky will see David transform into the Hulk but no one will believe the boy.  Unfortunately this doesn’t pan out in the least.  Instead, the moment Buzz is gone Ricky sneaks into the garage.  Ricky is infatuated with race cars, and he hops behind the steering wheel and starts the car.  With the car in neutral, he floors the gas and pretends to be racing, all the while making revving sounds verbally.  I don’t know why he had the engine running and was making “grrrr, grrrr” sounds, but I guess it’s because it’s the writer’s view of the mentally challenged.  More, it is simply uncomfortable to watch a 37-year-old man (Jones’ age when this was filmed) performing these scenes this way.

Due to the exhaust from the car being trapped in the closed garage Ricky soon passes out from the fumes.

David happens to be right outside the garage, having been tasked by the Roberts Brothers to fix a broken soda machine.  Hearing the engine he tries to get into the garage, but Ricky locked the door from the inside.  David tries to break in using a shovel, but it slips and jams his hand.

Hulk-Out #1  Hulk breaks down the door with ease and rushes to the front of the car.  Around him we see smoke that is supposed to represent the exhaust from the car, and perhaps it is dry ice on the set but the way it moves it appears to be a very poor animation.  Additionally, the smoke appears green, perhaps a nod to the Hulk?

Now with the door down Ricky would likely be fine.  It’s a large garage door that would vent the area quickly, but Hulk is never satisfied with the simple fix.  He first goes to the front of the car and smashes down on the roof, obviously crushing something important as the car stops immediately.  Then Hulk goes to the driver’s side of the car, tears out the seat belt, and carries Ricky outside.

The mentally challenged man wakes up almost immediately and starts coughing, but his near-asphyxiation is quickly forgotten when he sees the Hulk standing over him.  And Hulk is all up in Ricky’s face, clearly invading the shorter man’s personal space.  “You’re…green!  How can you be green?”  Ah, the writer’s mind of the mentally challenged, too innocent to be afraid of a giant half-naked green man.

But Hulk’s response is very odd.  He responds with a growl, but am I mistaken or did Hulk just say his first word?  Much like a baby first intoning “da da”, Hulk’s first word might be a word or it might be a series of noises that my mind is turning into a word, but damned if the Hulk didn’t just growl the word “Green.”  It’s no “Hulk is strongest there is” but it’s a start.

His throat burning, Ricky goes for a soda, but as David never had a chance to repair it the machine steals his money.  Hulk retaliates by ripping off the front of the soda machine.  Don’t make Hulk thirsty, you wouldn’t like him when he’s thirsty.

Ricky takes the soda he paid for, then offers a grape soda to Hulk.  Of course, since no “good” character in the series must ever be seen doing anything unethical Ricky leaves the money for Hulk’s soda in the machine.  However I notice no one is leaving money to replace the soda machine’s missing front door.

Ricky then gives Hulk a lesson in how to open a can of soda.  “See I can teach you because Buzz showed me.  People used to laugh at me before I could do this.”   It’s an insane moment.  I get the writer’s intent–it’s showing that Hulk has an even more childish mind than Ricky, and that Ricky is so kind he will immediately become the big brother to Hulk teaching him to open a soda.  And I do understand this is supposed to be amusing to see Hulk doing something as everyday and mundane as drinking a cola, but the humor is not clicking for me.  Seeing Hulk dribble down his chin, infantilizing Hulk and Ricky both, feels very wrong to me.

The only positive thing I can say about this scene is that I forgot pull-tab soda cans existed, and it takes me back to my childhood.

I do wonder about the wisdom of giving Hulk a sugared soda.  Since we are treating Hulk like a child, many parents of small children won’t give their kids soda due to how it causes hyperactivity and restlessness.  I really hoped the episode would go in weird directions, with Hulk rampaging on a sugar high, but instead he just slowly wanders off.  We see his shadow grow smaller and I think it’s the best Hulk to human transformation we’ve seen yet.

After the commercial we return to see Buzz yelling at Ricky again.  Buzz’s car is smashed, as Hulk is wont to do, and no one believes Ricky’s story about “the big green man.”   The story makes Buzz even angrier, calling it the first time Ricky has ever lied to him.  Truthfully I think the writer is again cheating. It doesn’t matter who smashed the engine, big green man or Ricky, had Ricky not been playing behind the wheel it never would have happened.  Second, the car has obviously not moved, and it was smashed from the top.  Does Buzz really think Ricky is strong enough to crush a car?  Even kindly garage owner Mac says “Ricky’s strong, but is he strong enough to crush a car?” but Buzz refuses to acquit his own brother just calling it “weird”.

I likely would have gone through the entire summary without mentioning Mac were he not played by Gordon Jump, one of the iconic Maytag men who rose to fame as the “big guy” Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati.  The second WKRP star to appear on Hulk, Jump filmed these scenes before WKRP premiered, and as WKRP was not a quick success he likely was not recognized by many Hulk viewers when this was first run, but to see him play such a bit part was shocking to me having grown up with the man as a TV star.

Mac offers the less-than-helpful suggestion that Buzz should “enter the car in the demolition derby” but Buzz and Irene are convinced they can make it race-worthy by Saturday.  Feeling guilty for Hulk’s damage, David offers to pitch in as well.  He is sent to get parts for the car and to cheer Ricky up David takes him on the errand, promising that Ricky can help Buzz fix his car.

In this scene David asks Ricky “did the green man hurt you?”  Ricky says “No” and David seems relieved again…or is it more?  Maybe I am reading into this scene as I think David should have learned long ago that Hulk is not a killer, but I think when Ricky says he wasn’t hurt David is bemused, not relieved.  It’s like Bixby is portraying David as learning the Hulk’s pattern.  He’s not as worried about the Hulk really hurting innocents.  I hope the writers catch up to Bixby soon.

On their outing David takes Ricky on a side-trip to a park.  There David lets Ricky roam on his own and examine the sculptures. Ricky is tentative and unsure if it’s okay to go on his own and the scene has the feeling of a domesticated animal being released in the wild.  But rather than run away, Ricky runs towards sculptures and fondles them.  He rubs the tummy of a cherub, just feeling everything.  The acting is bad, with Jones squinting and making the most extreme “dumb happy face” he is capable of, and the score is worse trying to sell me on sweetness I don’t feel.  David has a huge smile cross his face.  He’s clearly seeing something I am not.  What I am getting from the scene is once again a creepy feeling watching a 37-year-old fondle statues.  What I am supposed to be getting from this scene is that Ricky has an affinity for art, specifically sculpture.  It’s not as useful as being able to take Ricky to count cards in Vegas, but it’s a step towards Ricky’s happy ending.

Returning to the race track David again corners Buzz and tells this man how he should treat Ricky.  Were I Buzz I think I’d tell David where to stick it.  Daughton was 27 when this episode was filmed, so assuming the character is about the same age I think Buzz has far more experience with Ricky than David, who’s been in Ricky’s life for a few days.  David says Ricky has a great feeling for art.  “Maybe he lost something at birth, but maybe he gained something else.”

Buzz continues to argue the point, but now we get an important scene.  We know it’s important because the music tells us so, and because everyone stops what they’re doing to just watch Ricky in this moment.  Ricky sees two screwdrivers hanging on the wall out of order, and is able to on his own figure out how to rearrange them from largest to smallest.  It’s such a saccharine scene that I wonder if later in life when Bixby was a director of Blossom he would return to this moment to get inspiration on how to stage the “very special episodes”.

But seeing that Ricky can order things small to large Buzz relents.  He won’t let Ricky use a welder, but he gives Ricky some epoxy glue to glue some scrap metal together “but don’t get it on your fingers or your eyes, and always wear gloves.”

For the first time in this entire Hulk series, I wonder where is Hulk?

He will return, thank God, due to a plot by the Roberts brothers.  They have called to beg for the PR Rep job, and have been told if they win Saturday’s race they can have the job.  (Is it one job or two jobs?  I really don’t understand the entire PR Rep goal.)  They think the race is theirs with Ricky and Hulk damaging Buzz’s car, but Irene is too good a mechanic and Buzz is taking the car for a test drive.  Seeing Ricky with the epoxy, the Roberts out some in the car’s gas tank and ruin the carburetor.

Again Buzz blames Ricky for the damage.  While Ted and Sam did set Ricky up for just this, it would be nice just once to see Buzz not jump to the worst conclusion about his brother.  Irene can fix it but she needs parts and time.  Then we get a montage of Irene fixing the engine, Ricky helping but moping, Buzz and David fixing the car, full of trumpet and piano music.  It’s truly terrible, and ends with Buzz asleep while the other three have pulled an all-nighter to fix his car.  Sure, on the one hand the driver should be well rested, but on the other hand it’s a dick move.  One last part is needed to get the car ready so Irene and Buzz head off in a beat up family truckster (I’m sure Ricky could have fixed the truckster if needed, but not the race car!).

But once Ricky is left alone the Roberts come in and lie to Ricky, telling him that regulations won’t allow Buzz’s car in the race and the only way for Ricky to help Buzz is to drive the car in the demolition derby.  They tell Ricky comforting lies, that they are his friends, and that Ricky is a good enough driver to win.  As Ricky has always wanted to be a race driver, and he wants to help his little brother, he is pretty easily convinced.

As he starts to drive the car out David comes in, but Sam hits him from behind with a wrench.  David is knocked unconscious before he can transform, and Ricky, mistaken for Buzz by the race announcer, enters the demolition derby.  Also entering the derby is Sam, who is gunning for Ricky specifically to finish off Buzz’s car permanently.

The demolition derby begins and we are treated to more stock footage.  I have discussed in previous reviews when stock footage used enhanced the episode or detracted from it, but in no previous episode has the stock footage been so seemingly out of place.  I don’t know where the footage originated, but it appears to be a demolition derby in the  60s, completely out of date even when this episode first aired.  Cars straight out of American Graffiti smash into each other, and I swear I saw Herbie the Love Bug in there somewhere.  None of the cars in frame with Sam or Ricky look anything like the cars in this footage, and between that and the poor method of editing that shows random crashes without any connection to our characters it really felt arbitrary.  More, the stock footage of the stands shows crowds of people, but in new footage showing the announcers it looks like the bleachers at a high school football game.  If any effort was made at all to match the footage it failed completely.

Having never raced before, possibly never even driven before, he is looking like he might win the derby, and Mac says Ricky is driving better than anyone else; driving like he was trained to do it.  Now I fear that we will be told that Ricky’s true skill is driving the demolition derby and the episode will end with Ricky a champion demolition derby driver.  Thank God that didn’t happen either.

Irene and Buzz return to find David just coming to and Buzz’s car missing.  They soon find the car in the demolition derby, but their worry for the car becomes secondary when Irene reveals the part they needed was a coupling for the fuel line.  The car is leaking gas and if Ricky’s car gets hit he’ll be killed.  Only Ricky’s beginner’s luck has kept him alive so far.

While Irene and Buzz stare and gape, David grabs the first car he sees and races to Ricky’s aid.  I don’t know where David found this purple car to drive into the race or if cars are just sitting around during these derbies, but David is soon in the derby.

But David is too late.  Sam repeatedly rams Ricky’s car and it catches fire.  David’s car also gets sandwiched, trapping David inside.  He can’t get out, cant escape, and shouting “Ricky” in his half-hulk voice we get white eyes and

Hulk-Out #2:  In Never Give a Trucker an Even Break we saw Hulk transform in a car in the most lackluster way.  Here they do it right…Hulk tears the steering wheel off the column.  Then, the doors trapped by cars, he tears open the roof and leaps out.  Plus with the car being purple it’s the closest we’ll come to Hulk wearing purple pants until Trial of the Incredible Hulk.

When Hulk enters a demolition derby, Hulk wins.  Hulk flips a car and chases after Sam.  Usually Hulk rescues the innocent then punishes the guilty, but here the order of operations is reversed.  Growling menacingly he flips Sam’s car.  This could have killed the person, but we see Ted rushing to the car and pulling Sam out, Sam is okay.

Then Hulk gets to Buzz’s car and again tears out the seat belt.  I’m wondering if Hulk is thinking “Hulk tear this out before! Who put this back here? Hulk smash seat belt repairman.”  Hulk grabs Ricky and runs away as the car explodes, and I wonder if this is the creation of the “I’m too cool to look at the explosion” shot.

Setting Ricky down Hulk growls and flexes for several seconds.  He finally runs off when Buzz, Irene, and Mac come to Ricky’s aid.  Ricky says “The big green man came back” and now Buzz and Irene know he’s telling the truth. Aww.

Ricky sees that in the race he lost the button Buzz gave him, and Buzz says “You don’t need it, not any more.”  Double aww.

And Mac, running the race track, tells the Roberts Brothers to pack up and get out, they’re finished for what they did to Ricky.  I guess their PR Career is over, perhaps they can try social media?

The episode ends and we see Ricky is back at the sculpture park, but now he’s sitting at a table creating a sculpture with other mentally challenged adults.  I’m not sure if the clay Ricky sculpted was supposed to be Hulk; it has as much resemblance to Ferrigno as the bust of Lionel Richie has to the singer in the video for “Hello”.

We find out Ricky has been admitted to a boarding school for the mentally challenged.  I don’t know if the sculpture park was on the school grounds or if the school was on a field trip to that same park. Intellectually I know that the director is being economical reusing shooting locations, but narratively this is nonsense.

More, as I stated, I continue to question the happiness of the family looking on and saying “I think he’ll find what he needs here” while they tuck him away in a facility away from his brother, the only family he has left.  But the writer thinks it’s a happy ending so David and Buzz think it’s a happy ending so we are supposed to think it’s a happy ending.  I’m not so sure.

David goes to say goodbye to Ricky, and Ricky says “You won’t visit any more?” David says he can’t, but he will write.  Ricky says “Misses James can read them to me and pretty soon maybe I can read them myself.”

Then David, tan jacket in hand, walks off as a crane shot lifts higher and The Lonely Man theme plays on.

The most ironic  thing about this episode?  By having two pairs of racing brothers, Summers had an opportunity to create a story that shows a healthy fraternal relationship contrasted with an unhealthy one.  Showing Buzz and Ricky to be a team that no one could break, while evil Ted and Sam constantly bickered and sabotaged each other, would have been genius.  But instead Summers does just the opposite!  Ted and Sam are great brothers.  They take a little anger out on each other when they lose the races, but the whole episode they have each other’s back and work as a great team.  Meanwhile Buzz doesn’t trust Ricky, often can’t be bothered with Ricky, and his actions, if not his words, show he thinks of Ricky as a burden.  Given the alternatives, maybe Ricky was better off in the home after all.

The episode honestly was not as cringe-inducing as I’d expected it to be.  I feared something incredibly politically incorrect and possibly unintentionally mocking the mentally handicapped given how attitudes have changed in 30 years.  But while I do question the “happy ending” of tucking all mentally challenged people away from society in a home, I think it was handled pretty well for the time, but not well enough for me to truly believe Ricky as a character, nor care about him.

The episode could have been saved by some good Hulk action scenes, but Hulk merely flips a few cars, rescues the same person from the same car twice, and drinks a grape soda.

More, am I the only one disappointed that Ricky’s last name wasn’t Jones?

While not as bad as I’d feared, I still can not recommend Ricky.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

March 14, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 2 – The Antowuk Horror

After getting a glimpse of the Hulk, the citizens of a struggling resort town invent their own replica Hulk as a way of increasing tourist business.

Antowuk Horror Monster fights Hulk
The Antowuk Horror
Season: 2
Episode: 2
Air Date: September 29, 1978
Director: Sigmund Neufeld Jr.
Writer: Nicholas Corea
David’s Alias: David Barton
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Drops a crate on his foot then
falls into a stack of barrels
• Thrown down the side of a
mountain by his boss.

In the season two premiere of The Incredible Hulk we were treated to a dramatic character exploration.  David (Bruce Bixby) travelled to Hawaii, got married, confronted the beast inside him, and lost his wife.  We last saw him sitting on a Hawaii beach mourning Caroline outside her destroyed home.

I can’t say that I’m surprised that all of these major developments were forgotten by this next episode; that is how all action series worked in the 70s and 80s.  But just because it was what I expected doesn’t mean I wasn’t slightly disappointed.  For all the drama David endured, the reset button has been hit.  David is somehow back in the states and back on the run.

That said, a return to the formula also means a return to form for Hulk.   While it’s not in this show’s DNA to allow David to evolve and change much, this reset brings the show back to what viewers expected and wanted from their weekly series.

We open with National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) walking through a wooded area in Utah where Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) had been spotted three weeks prior.  There have been no sightings of the creature since, and McGee is stumped.  Despite his frustration, he is still not ready to take up master hunter Buck Hendricks’ offer to kill the Hulk.

When at the top of his game Buck was an expert hunter and tracker, but now he’s down on his luck and living in his car.  Buck wants McGee to give him a job finding the Hulk, and thinks that if he can be the man to kill the Hulk it will get him back on the lecture circuit.  Because, as we all know, hunters travel the world, giving lectures.  Hunters are known for their astounding oratory skills.  Especially hunters that became bloodthirsty old coots.

McGee refuses, seeing the desperation in Buck’s face.  McGee says, “You wouldn’t used to think of shooting something that’s worth more alive than it is dead” and we see that McGee may want the Hulk but he has a moral code about it–he wants the Hulk captured, not killed.  Buck doesn’t care either way, and that desperation will lead to trouble for David.  When McGee turns Buck away, the old hunter challenges the reporter to see who can get the Hulk first.

Buck had said that Hulk went up into the mountains, and he was right.  After his Hulk-out in the woods David had found his way to Antowuk, UT, an obvious back lot, I mean, former resort town in desperate need of tourists.  Most people, tourists and locals, have left the town already but David found work in a general store owned by Harlen Bates.

Trading labor for room and board David has been performing odd jobs around Harlen’s store, and also watching after Harlen’s daughter Samantha.  Samantha is a precocious girl.  She is very smart in science, but worried about her own future living in a ghost town.

There are some very cute scenes between Samantha and David that are a joy to watch.  It’s adorable that Samantha sees David using a dirty bandanna to wrap a cut and she gives him a lecture about germs and proper first aid.  Bixby is charming playing off the little girl.  He has a skill of working well with child actors that he likely honed with years on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

While David bonds with Samantha, Harlen drinks beers with his friend Brad.  The two knock back a cold one while brainstorming ways to drum up business and tourism.  Brad is ready to leave the town behind, as so many others have, but Harlen is attached and becomes frustrated with Brad’s fatalism.

Harlen becomes more angry when he goes inside and sees that Samantha and David have rearranged the store.  Obviously threatened by David’s intelligence and ability to connect with Samantha, Harlen snaps at both of them.  He tells Samantha she’s lucky her mother’s not alive to see her treating the hired help better than her own father, causing Samantha to burst into tears and, even with Harlen offering an apology, the little girl runs out.  Seeing David worried about Samantha’s emotional state angers Harlen even more, and he orders David into a back room to clean and inventory all the items.  I’m not sure what Harlen sells, but this back room was full of an insane number of crates and boxes that had been stored behind nailed two-by-fours.  In addition to the boxes are steel gas canisters, wood barrels stacked to the ceiling, and more.

Not content to just have David perform manual labor, Harlen stands there berating David as he works, trying to goad David into a physical fight.  Harlen obviously wants to take out his frustration by administering a beating to the smarter man.  He pushes David around, bullying him, guessing David is on the run.  “I know your kind.  Big shots, can’t stand having someone tell them what to do.  They have little tantrums, Davy.  Let loose on me and get it out of your system.”

Truthfully Harlen does have David pegged.  Perhaps that is why David looks ready to fight back.  The berating, the physical abuse, David looks ready to throw the first punch possibly for the first time in his life.  Harlen is inviting it, saying David can keep his job if he beats Harlen in the fight.  David forms a fist…he’s considering it.  He’s restrained, but prepared to defend himself.  If Brad hadn’t come in perhaps David would have thrown the first punch, but Brad does come in.  Harlen throws himself at David, and Brad restrains the larger man, escorting him from the room.  Alone and frustrated, David does take out some aggression on the boards he must tear out.  Working angry, David is careless and a crate falls on his foot.  The pain causes him to fall backwards into a pile of wood barrels that collapse upon him. From underneath the barrels David pops his head out and we see the white eyes.

Hulk-Out #1  Hulk throws a barrel and hits the camera!  I found it amusing as it’s obviously an accident, the frame shaking as the camera wiggles form the impact.

Hulk then picks up one of the random metal tanks Harlen had in the back room and throws it through the roof.  It launches out of the building like a missile.  Hulk smashes out of the storeroom and into the streets and everyone is frightened and running.  Of the group only Samantha thinks “where is David”.  Hulk runs away down the back lot as the crowd gathered around Harlen’s store looks on.

Now is a commercial break, and this is the beginning of a new Hulk trope.  I’ve complained in many previous reviews about the bad effects of the reverse transformation, and Bixby himself did not like the time required for the prosthetic appliance application.  As such, my memory is that most often Hulk would run away, we have a commercial break, and then when we return David is back.  Truthfully, this is better in every way.  For almost twenty episodes we’ve seen the transformation of Hulk back into David, then we see David try to surreptitiously, but legally, obtain new clothes.   At this point in the series economical storytelling is a bonus as is not having to see those embarrassing fake eyebrows on Bill Bixby.  Here at the very start of season two this new, improved method of returning Hulk to David form is born.  After the commercial David returns with clothes in tact, so he must have gotten them somewhere.  I don’t mind not knowing who’s clothesline he left a fiver on.

David returns to find Harlen’s store in chaos, with Mayor Murphy, Sheriff Colton, and the press all there to find out about the green monster that caused so much damage.  David feels guilty for the damage caused to Harlen’s store,  but Harlen sees the destruction as a good thing.  Finally the shopkeeper thinks he has a way to restore the tourist trade in Antowuk, using the story of this monster to attract “wierdo” monster hunters–monster hunters with money in their pocket.  “Resort community battles mountain monster,” is how he spins it to Mayor Murphy and Sheriff Colton, entitling it “The Antowuk Horror”.  With nothing to lose, the sheriff and mayor agree to the publicity stunt.

After the people leave we get an unlikely tender moment between Harlen and David.  It’s completely unbelievable that Harlen, who had to be physically restrained from beating David when last they met, would pour his heart out to David now.  I can chalk it up to Harlen was drunk and now he’s sober, or he had calmed down and now wants to make amends, but it is still an unlikely scene playing out.  Harlen is semi-apologetic to David, saying “I don’t really want you to hurt yourself”, as he helps David right some furniture. Then David listens sympathetically while Harlen discusses not being able to fit in with normal people, and the only place Harlen feels at home is on the mountain.  This is supposed to explain the gruff, abusive man to us and let us feel bad for him.  I just roll my eyes.  For all his talk saying he’s stupid, I never got that Harlen was exceptionally dumb.  Nor does he come off like a mountain-bound hermit.  Had this story been that Harlen built his business with his dead wife and letting the store go would be like the last memory of his wife slipping away I might have bought his rationale for where the story goes.  However, trying to tell me that the owner of a shop on a mountain cannot fit in with the residents of Salt Lake City is a stretch.  I blame both the writer and the actor for this.

Harlen also has a tender moment with his daughter, perhaps spurred on when David seems to care more about Samantha than her own father does, but more than likely because Harlen has a scheme up his sleeve that will make it so he doesn’t see Samantha for a few days.

Harlen and Brad get gear from the store and make a big show of going out to hunt the Hulk, and Harlen asks David to watch after Samantha while he’s gone.  The next morning Brad comes running back into town shouting for help, telling a fake story that they were attacked by the creature and it took Harlen and ran off.  Of course, David knows it’s a lie because he still has his clothes on, but they find Harlen’s shirt with blood on it leading the sheriff and mayor to start a posse to find the creature and rescue Harlen.

We then hear a car radio as a reporter  says “Harlon Bates is reported missing, supposably captured by the creature.” Yes, the radio reporter says “supposably.”  Not “supposedly”, “supposably”.  But with that blow to English grammar the reporter sparks a wildfire which causes Jack McGee and a dozen other reporters from TV and print to descend on Antowuk.  It’s a media circus and Sheriff Colton, enjoying the spotlight, stands with his chest puffed out looking like Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford from Smokey and the Bandit.  

The town is buzzing, and David should be fleeing the town but is tethered by his promise to look after Samantha.  He hides from McGee in the store, watching as the tourists Harlen promised come to town and even throw a carnival.

But the carnival is interrupted as the Antowuk creature attacks–and it’s not the Hulk, it’s Harlen with black shoe polish smeared over his face.  Having seen Hulk himself I don’t know why Harlen paints himself black instead of green, maybe green shoe polish is harder to find, but it really look’s like Lon Cheney is attacking Antowuk in full werewolf make-up.

Harlen runs around screaming like a loon and shakes a popcorn stand, terrorizing the tourists.  But then I get a bit confused as he effortlessly flips the sheriff’s pick-up truck.  No show is made of it, but it’s later revealed some of the steel canisters Harlen kept in the storeroom were full of compressed air.  Harlen hid it under the truck and, with it as pressure, used a secret lever to flip the vehicle.

I also wondered if the sheriff was in on this ruse.  Both Sheriff Colton and Mayor Murphy were up for using the monster to bring tourists, so it’s not a stretch that this small town could concoct a conspiracy to boost tourism.  Plus we never see anyone find Harlen’s car-flip contraption, and I would assume the Sheriff’s first order of duty would be to tend to his flipped truck.  But it’s later revealed this was Harlen and Brad working alone, and I’m probably asking too much by hoping for a bit more logic in a 70s television episode.

But Harlen’s timing for this “attack” couldn’t be worse as Buck just arrived in Antowuk looking for the Hulk.  Buck sees Harlen’s “monster” and gets Harlen in his sights, but in his haste Buck forgot to load the gun.  By the time the ammo is ready Harlen has run into the night, but Buck is ready to use his expert tracking skills to find and kill the Antowuk Horror.

We see Brad and Harlen plotting, and any audience member who didn’t realize Harlen was the monster is now shown clearly that it was a hoax, and that Samantha is in on the hoax.  Brad told Samantha the truth so the little girl didn’t worry about her “missing” father.  With Harlen’s antics the night before  the town is booming with tourists and Brad thinks it’s time for Harlen to be “rescued,” but Harlen wants to give one more performance before putting up his blackface.

But in town Samantha breaks down and, worried for her father, tells David the truth.  Of course, David had it all figured out already.  When Buck, mistaking Samantha’s concern for the monster as fear, tells her that he’s sure he’ll kill the beast, Samantha gives David directions to where Harlen is hiding.  David wants to go alone to talk sense into the shopkeeper, but Samantha follows David up the mountain.

There Harlen is preparing for the performance of a lifetime.  He has hid another canister of compressed air under a large boulder for “the monster” to roll down the mountain, and also a pile of logs he plans to roll down and scare reporters.  He then has Brad to gather the reporters to lead them to his site.

After Brad goes, David finds Harlen’s hiding spot.  Harlen begins his performance early, trying to scare off David by rolling the logs.  Undeterred, David loses his patience with the shopkeeper, telling Harlen to stop acting foolish and that the people aren’t coming to report on the creature, they’re coming to kill it.  Harlen is having none of it, mostly concerned that if the reporters come and see David they’ll figure out Harlen’s ruse.  Resorting again to violence Harlen pushes David, so David retaliates by shouting to the reporters that the monster is just Harlen.  The shopkeeper then shows how monstrous he can really be, lifting David in the air and throwing him down the mountain.  “He asked for that anyway” Harlen says as David’s shirt tears.  Harlen is walking back to his mark to await the reporters so he never sees…

Hulk-Out #2:  We start with a close-up of the Hulk’s face and he doesn’t look good.  Perhaps it’s the camera angle, perhaps it’s the lighting, but Ferrigno’s eyebrow appliance appears too large, the largest it’s been since the pilot episodes, and the wig looks a bit like Hulk just came from a guest spot on The Monkees.

Hulk’s make-up problems are far less evident in a wide shot as he goes after Harlen.  The shopkeeper is panicked seeing the real monster again and, without waiting for reporters, launches his boulder down at the Hulk.  Hulk doesn’t run, Hulk doesn’t dodge, Hulk just stands still and punches the boulder.  This is why I love the Hulk.  He. Punches. A. Boulder.  Take that, Indiana Jones!  The boulder shatters, and Hulk doesn’t budge an inch.

No one can face a man that can punch a boulder, so Harlen runs and Hulk gives chase.  I also notice that we are seeing this chase in real-time.  Season one Hulk was almost entirely seen in slow motion during action scenes, much like the Six Million Dollar Man.  Now the producers are comfortable enough to let the action be in real-time and it’s more exciting for it.

Hulk catches up to the mountain man and throws Harlen, much like Harlen threw David earlier.  But Harlen is finally getting the fight he’s been itching for the whole episode.  He stands up, pulls off his furry gloves, and obviously forgetting what happened to the boulder he goes at the Hulk.  Deflecting a punch, Hulk effortlessly pushes Harlen down again.

But the two gladiators are unaware they are being watched by two people with drastically different motives.  Samantha has followed David up the incline and is crying out to try and help her father, and at the bottom of the cliff  Buck sees the two and, thinking there are two monsters, plans to kill them both.

Samantha rushes toward her downed father, but in her haste she slips and falls off the side of the mountain.  At the last moment she is able to grab hold of a small tree, but her grip is slipping.

Hulk, always the good guy, goes to rescue the girl, but she is out of reach and even Hulk knows he can’t get to her without falling.  Harlen also goes when he sees his daughter needs help.  There is a great moment where Harlen stands toe-to-toe with Hulk, unflinching, putting his need to save his daughter above his own fear.  But Hulk isn’t there to fight, he’s there to help Harlen rescue the girl.

Harlen tries to have Samantha grab a stick, but she can’t get a grip.  Hulk then grabs Harlen by the ankles and lowers him over the cliff to grab the girl.

But at the bottom of the mountain Buck sees Hulk exposed and takes aim. It is truly a tense moment.  We know nothing will happen to Hulk, but we also know bullets hurt the green beast.  If he is shot while lowering Harlen his grip will slip, and then will the father and daughter fall?  It seems poetic if Harlen were to cause the daughter he ignored to be injured or killed as part of his foolish plot to save the town he put above his family.  I know Samantha’s not going to die, but I could see her being hurt so I’m on the edge of my seat.

Buck shoots.  Hulk is hit in the shoulder (he’s always hit in the shoulder), and he recoils.  He loses his grip on Harlen with one hand, but the other hand holds tight and, single handed, he holds both father and daughter.  Even injured Hulk gets back to work pulling the two up to safety.

With Samantha out of danger Hulk roars, and leaps off the top of the mountain.  I love Hulk this episode!  It’s the most super we’ve seen him, punching boulders, leaping from mountains.  He drops hundreds of feet but lands upright in front of Buck, pushing the old hunter into a tree and bending his gun in two.  Even bleeding from his arm nothing can stop the Hulk!

Except a posse with a bloodlust.  At the top of the mountain the posse rush to the edge with their guns, taking aim at Hulk, but they don’t shoot for fear of hitting Buck.  The actual looped line of dialog is “Don’t shoot, you’ll hit the old man” and I feel bad for Buck.  This once unstoppable hunter has now been reduced to living in his car, beaten by Hulk, and then called “the old man” by a group of strangers.

Hulk runs off, but standing at the top of the mountain holding his daughter is Harlen, still half in his monster make-up.  The sheriff and the mayor are enraged, and the reporters are ready to denounce the entire thing as a hoax, but McGee saves the day pointing out that while Harlen may be a hoax Hulk most certainly is not.

In a bit of comedy, reporters start to declare Buck a hero for standing up to the Hulk, and as reporters rush after Buck for an interview, McGee shouts “that man is an employee of the National Register!”  We end the episode knowing Buck will be alright and he didn’t have to kill the Hulk to do it.  Of course, he’ll likely be too busy on the lecture circuit to come back and repay McGee by finding the Hulk.

Left alone, Harlen has finally stopped acting like a jerk.  He tells Samantha,  “We better find David.  I’ve got some apologizin’ to do. To both of you.”  But it’s too late, David had left town.  He put a note in Samantha’s microscope kit saying good-bye, but the girl chases David on the highway.  She tries to convince him to stay, but David has to move on.

As they say farewell a car of tourists stop and ask the two  “is this the way to Antowuk where the monsters hang out?” Thus, while David may be gone, we know Samantha and Harlen will do okay because tourism will still be alive and well for some time to come.

David throws his tan jacket over his shoulder and walks down the side of the mountain while credits roll.

With a horrible title that attempts to evoke thoughts of The Amityville Horror this episode began with me prepared for the worst.  I could not have been more wrong.  Bixby shines in this episode, his scenes with Harlen show a stronger side of David than we’re used to, and his scenes with Samantha show David as a good-hearted person.  Bixby is just a pleasure to watch scene to scene here.  Even when he has no dialogue, such as when he’s standing in Harlen’s store watching the carnival outside, we know his every thought and motivation.  This episode is a shining example of why I love Bixby as David Banner.

Hulk also shines this episode.  While the first Hulk-out is a bit lackluster, causing some minor property damage, the second Hulk-out has monster fights, bounder punching, and leaps off mountainsides.  Due to budget the action is shot in such a way as to not be too incredible, but it’s exciting nontheless.

Finally we get to see McGee as a good-hearted person.  While he is chasing Hulk from town to town for his own career, he doesn’t want to see the Hulk killed, and he also is a moral compass for his old friend Buck.  It’s nice to see this third series regular become a bit more fleshed out.

The worst thing about this episode is its title.  I give it a strong recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 13, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 2 Episode 1 – Married (aka Bride of the Incredible Hulk)

In this gripping two-hour season premiere, David travels to Hawaii, where he meets a beautiful psychiatrist who agrees to take him on as a hypnosis patient–and then as a husband after they fall in love.

Married Hulk and Banner meet
(aka Bride of the Incredible Hulk) 
Season: 2
Episode: 1
Air Date: September 22, 1978
Director: Kenneth Johnson
Writer: Kenneth Johnson
David’s Alias: David Benton
Hulk-Outs: 4
•Remembering the death
of his wife while under
•Beaten, thrown off a balcony
into a glass table
•A dream of his current
and first wife both dying
•Hit by a car in a hurricane,
then trapped in an alley by
fallen electric transformers

For the second season premiere of The Incredible Hulk When Season 2 of The Incredible Hulk began series creator Kenneth Johnson wanted to ensure it started right.  While the majority of season one episodes were formulaic, standalone episodes written and directed by a variety of people, Johnson himself returned to write and direct this two-hour episode Married.

While the set-up of this episode is similar to most others in the series, the tone of Married resembles no single episode, but rather the pilot movie for The Incredible Hulk.  Both are slow-paced dramatic stories of David Banner (Bill  Bixby) searching for a medical breakthrough, all the while falling in love with a blond scientist aiding him with his research.  In Now Playing’s podcast review Stuart in LA called The Incredible Hulk pilot “a superhero origin without a villain.”  Like the pilot, Married has no villain; there are no smugglers, drug dealers, or mafioso.   But it also has no origin story; David Banner is already the Hulk.

Yet despite those absences, Married is considered to be one of the best episodes of The Incredible Hulk, and the only episode of the series to win an Emmy award when guest star Mariette Hartley won for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Dr. Caroline Fields.  Additionally, like the two pilot movies before it, Married received theatrical release internationally with the title Bride of the Incredible Hulk.  By taking the formulaic superhero series and making a feature-length dramatic episode Johnson found success.

That said, the episode is a bit of an oddity for this series, and I wonder how the viewers who enjoyed watching Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) put the smack-down on criminals felt about watching a psychological drama that served as a psychological exploration of David Banner’s psyche.  I know it wasn’t what I expected out of this series to be sure!

The episode opens with David in Hawaii.  There’s a great line when he tells Caroline it was very difficult for him to get to Hawaii and she asks “Did you swim?”  David laughs and says “Almost, yes.”  So the show acknowledges it’s hard for working people to afford a trip to the big island, let alone David who previously didn’t have enough money to use a pay phone.

Dr. Caroline Fields is a psychologist and expert in hypnotherapy.  David has gone to Hawaii to find her in the hopes that she can help him cure his bursts of anger that trigger the release of the Hulk.  It’s a bit more of a naturalistic solution to the Hulk problem, versus the science-fiction radiation treatments that have failed David so often in the past.

David’s unlucky streak continues, however, as he arrives on Caroline’s last day; she’s taking an extended sabbatical.   David follows the doctor out, pleading with her to take his case, but she refuses and refers David to one of the associates at the institute.  David equates that to “Going to see Michelangelo and getting one of his apprentices” and refuses to give up.  He even stalks Caroline, following her to her house, and I’m thinking this is not a great way to convince a psychologist that he is sane and deserving of her help.  It is more likely she will file a restraining order against him.

When he arrives at her house he finds her hooked up to an EEG machine and performing self-hypnosis.  This is shown in a visual montage of effects similar to the opening credits of every Hulk episode, showing close-ups of her cells, her trachea, her brain, her veins, and even her heart and blood cells.  It’s a visually striking montage, and also reminiscent of the Hulk pilot when David is experimenting on himself.  It ends with Caroline having a seizure in the chair.  It’s shot in an extreme way, using a fish-eye lens positioned right above her head, her neck craned back to look into it, attempting to provide the distorted tunnel-vision point-of-view of a seizure victim.

David rushes to her aid, breaking through her glass door, cutting his arm on the glass.  Once her fit ends she realizes he’s helped her, and responds with kindness–instead of calling the cops about her stalker she bandages his arm.

While tending to David’s wounds we find out that she has a terminal illness.  It is one of those fictitious Hollywood glamorous diseases where the afflicted woman looks perfectly right up until the time of their tragic death, but it is described as similar to Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but it also causes circulatory malfunction and her cells are malfunctioning, refusing to repair themselves.  She is shocked at David’s ability to diagnose the disease, and when he tells her he worked at in advanced genetic disease research at the Culver Institute in California her face brightens.  She asks if he worked with Dr. Banner, and David wryly says “quite closely.”

Then we get a bit of backstory that I wondered about since the pilot episode.  In that podcast I wondered if David had been researching strength enhancement before his wife died or if he just accomplished a lot of research in less than a year.  Here we get more of David’s backstory, told in third person by David himself.  While his wife Laura was alive David’s focus of research was curing of genetic diseases like the one Caroline suffers.  After Laura’s death David abandoned his genetic research and switched the focus to strength enhancement.

After learning Caroline’s secrets David spills his own, revealing his true identity as well as his alter ego as the Hulk.  He again asks for her help, asking her to give him hypnotherapy will help him control Hulk.  Caroline is willing, but simply cannot–she only has six to eight weeks to live.  She is hoping that through self-hypnosis she can find a way to arrest her own illness, and she cannot take time away from that pursuit to help him.

But David offers to stay in Hawaii and help Caroline.  He claims the reason is that if he can help her have more time to live then maybe she can help him control the Hulk.  In Bixby’s performance though I get that David is helping because it’s what David does, helps those in need.  Possibly David is also anxious to return his life to a bit or normality as well, performing genetics research as he did before the Hulk entered his life.

We then have several scenes of David looking into microscopes, talking about mitochondria, and other technobabble that reminds me of the pilot episode and it’s slow pacing, spending lots of time on the science research.  That languid pace is repeated here, which is not shocking given that Johnson is once again writing and directing the show.

But, also like the pilot, the focus here is on David’s relationship with his research partner.  In the pilot we saw David’s unspoken reciprocated love with Dr. Elaina Marks.  Here we see Caroline and David researching, spending all day and night together, taking respites on the beach, and making progress with her illness.  With the acting of both Bixby and Hartley I believe the relationship is genuine and enjoy watching it progress.

But after a few days of research Caroline cannot resist the chance to help David in return.  She puts him under hypnosis, having him revisit the events of his first metamorphosis.  We see the scenes in flashback as David recounts the events, and when he starts to get worked up Caroline calms him down through hypnosis.

I love David’s description of becoming the Hulk for the first time:  “I had a feeling inside me like 100 people shouting all at once.  Like a locomotive beginning to roll.”  For a year viewers watched David transform, but now we finally hear what it’s like for him to transform, and it does not disappoint.

What is slightly disappointing is that David blacks out totally when he becomes the Hulk.  But Caroline tries to push him further, to find the repressed memories of what the Hulk did that night–and he does get some images!  The film style changes, to an almost frame-by-frame slow motion of his first transformation, of Hulk smashing the car.   Then Caroline jumps to his second transformation, and David recounts his dream in the hyperbaric chamber.  He tells of the good times with Laura, and then the car accident in which she died.  Footage from the pilot is used liberally here.

I’m torn on these retellings.  When this episode aired in 1978 it had been almost a year since The Incredible Hulk pilot aired.  Without the benefit of home video, video-on-demand, or even syndication, audiences would have not had a chance to revisit this pilot except in the rare rerun.  By putting these scenes in the second season opener Johnson allows latecomers to see the exciting scenes from the pilot that populate the opening credits every week.  It also reiterates David’s full backstory, the death of his wife and the direction of his research.  And I do love that we hear David’s own retelling of events, giving us insight into the origin of our hero.

By the same token, these scenes are very drawn out and while David’s viewpoint is a nice shading, there’s no new information here.  And while these scenes were exciting in the pilot, seeing them as they happened, the slow-motion flashback style robs the scenes of all excitement and tension.  While I watched the pilot a month ago, not a year, I find myself thinking that Johnson may have overplayed his hand by bringing back too many scenes from the pilot all in the first hour of this episode.

Hulk-Out #1:  As David tells of Laura’s fatal car accident and his recurring nightmares reliving the event his emotions become heated and Caroline’s hypnotic suggestion to stay detached have no effect.  As he relives the death of his wife, David shoots up in the chair, he growls in his Hulk voice “I couldn’t get her out!” and his eyes go white.

This is the first time since the pilot that David has transformed without a task for Hulk to perform.  Be it to take out aggression on a car, land an airplane, or beat up a mobster, when Hulk comes out I’m pretty sure of what he’ll smash.  But in this scene, for the first time since his transformation in the hyperbaric chamber I don’t know what Hulk will do.  I am enraptured, and Caroline is, rightly, petrified.

The transformation is one of the best ever as well.  First, that animated green blob that annoyed me so much season one is finally gone.  They show Bixby’s face in make-up, but the make-up is much improved.  Instead of green kabuki make-up and silly Groucho Marx eyebrows, now they have applied latex moldings to his face.  It now really makes Bixby himself look larger and more muscular.  The shot is bottom-lit, like a kid using a flashlight to distort his face while telling a scary tale by a campfire.  It makes Bixby look even more inhuman.  Intercut with shots of the clothes tearing I see that the make-up and transformations have received a second season upgrade, and I like it!

On the commentary Johnson mentioned that Bixby had little patience for the make-up process employed here, which may explain the more lackluster transformations of the first year.  Still, it’s an astounding moment and I can only hope Bixby’s distaste for the latex process doesn’t force a return to the cheesier transformations and reverse transformations going forward.

When the transformation is complete we see Hulk, also bottom-lit from a lamp, and he starts to smash Caroline’s house.  He goes for the window, his normal means of escape, but Caroline says “no” so Hulk stops.  But while he obeyed that first order, Hulk is testing his boundaries.  He seems to toy with the psychologist, kicking a table in her direction.  Here Ferrigno is showing true menace, more than I ever saw him show to one of the villains-of-the-week.  There seems to be some intelligence in Hulk’s eyes, and his actions are not those of an unleashed berserker but that of an evil demon who wants to show Caroline who’s the boss.  I don’t know why Hulk is this way–is it an after-effect of the hypnosis?  Was it the hypnotic control that stopped Hulk from smashing the first wall?  Whatever it is, Hulk almost shows a sarcastic smile as he throws a lamp backwards to break a window, and runs out it–cutting his arm on the way out just as David did on his way in earlier this episode.

Then we get a startling jump-cut to a man screaming at the top of his lungs. The loud noise had me jump in my seat, but it was just a Hawaiian luau and show for the tourists; the scream was that of a performer.  The noise attracts Hulk, and then the performer screams again–a scream of terror seeing the green giant.  All the attendees scatter, but for one curly-haired boy who sits and smiles as Hulk punts the roast pig.

Hulk eventually calms down and the reverse transformation beings, witnessed by Caroline who followed Hulk across the island.  This transformation is also without the animated green light, but in Hulk the transition from Hulk to David has never been as elegant as that from David to Hulk and this is no different.  We get some fades between shots of various make-ups that, honestly, the green glow helped hide how terrible this effect is.  As a child I would watch Hulk and always be excited on the rare occasion that I would see this reverse transformation.  As an adult I just know that these look terrible and my memory tells me that in later episodes they would do all they can to not show the transformation back to a human.  Seeing this attempt of the effect I understand why.

While cleaning up Caroline’s house from Hulk’s mess she notices that David’s arm is mostly healed, and that the injury Hulk sustained is halfway healed already.  David reveals that as a result of his metamorphosis his metabolism is very high, and Caroline gets excited thinking the Hulk may be the key to her cure.  She wants to again hypnotize David, to help him control the Hulk, so they can get a sample of his tissue.  With that sample Caroline hopes they can cure her disease.

I smile inwardly knowing that this same exact fool’s errand of cultivating Hulk’s tissue is what led Glenn Talbot to his death in Ang Lee’s Hulk.  But here we see the plot’s live-action origin!

So Caroline puts David under hypnosis again, and now we get the spotlight of the episode–we get to see inside the mind of David Banner and the Hulk!  I have read much about the making of this scene both online and in Lou Ferrigno’s autobiography.  But for all the heat and troubles the cast and crew suffered, these scenes are worth it.

It starts like a scene from Oliver Stone’s The Doors, David walking across sand dunes in his bell-bottom jeans.  In this desert is the only time the entire series that David and Hulk are on the screen at the same time, and it’s a remarkably powerful sight to behold.  Ferrigno plays it so well, all confidence and strength, and puny Banner runs from Hulk!

As this is David’s mind, rules don’t matter, so I let it pass that suddenly some construction equipment appears out of nowhere and David is able to use it to drop a net on the beast.  But even the strongest ropes David’s mind can make cannot cage the beast, and so Caroline wakes David up and they plan to try again later.

Now my appetite has been whetted for David’s internal psychological battle, so I find myself less patient with the romantic scenes of Caroline and David.  My patience is strained further when David adopts the stereotypical accent and pigeon English of an Asian while bringing home Chinese take-out…I cringe at the offensive stereotype but remind myself this was 35 years ago and this must have passed for a charming flirtation with “mama-san.”  We also find out that Caroline was almost married but held off, wanting to put off children and focus on her career.  She and David walk the beach, hold hands, and the love theme that played in the pilot during the scenes between David and Elaina is reprised here as David falls for another blond scientist.

I also find myself a bit disinterested when we have hypnosis of Caroline, trying to control her cells and fighting off her disease through the power of her mind.   Caroline is using visualization techniques and stock footage in her hypnosis.  While there is stock footage of cells and such, Caroline was inspired by David and a grating John Wayne impersonation to visualize her disease as a group of Native Americans attacking a convoy of “pioneers”.  The footage in in black-and-white and serves to make me feel like TBS inserted footage of an old spaghetti western in the middle of my Hulk episode.  Worse, it’s full of racial stereotypes and a terrible score.  I want to back Caroline and her fight against the disease but I am put off by the way the story is told.

I am more interested when National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) arrives on the scene.  With the Hulk having been spotted at the luau McGee couldn’t be far behind.  Hell, if I were Jack and the Register would pick up my travel expenses I’d research Hulk sightings in Hawaii, Rio, Sydney, and London.  As always, when Jack arrives the stakes are upped as David must hide both his Hulk face and his real one.  We find out here the Register is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the Hulk’s capture, so every fortune hunter around will be trying to capture the green beast.

Jack has come to question Caroline about possible Hulk sightings, but unsuspecting of trouble David goes to answer the door.  It’s a well-filmed and choreographed dance that occurs.  David walks towards the door, and I wonder what will happen to make McGee not see David.  But David opens the door!  McGee has his back turned, looking away.  He spins around, just as David realizes who is there and slams the door shut again.  It’s the closest call the two have had so far this series and quite a bit of fun, feeling like a throwback to the comedies of days gone by.  Caroline opens the door the second time and shoos away the reporter.

I hoped McGee’s arrival portends an increase in the suspense of the episode, but it didn’t–this is McGee’s only scene in the entire episode.  While it’s a fun scene, it does not drive the plot and hardly justifies the flight from Los Angeles for the actor!  I really hope Jack Colvin enjoyed his trip to Hawaii, because a vacation is the only excuse for him being here.

Then we go back into the recesses of David’s mind.  This time Hulk is in a cage, reaching through the metal bars to grab at David, his captor.  I notice Ferrigno’s make-up is shedding in the heat and his sweat, but the scene is still powerful, and made more so when David starts to release a yellow gas tranquilizer in the cage.  From this scene came a poster that graced the walls of thousands of boys across America, including me, with Hulk in a cage, the gas swirling about.

But Hulk still breaks out of the cage, and David is awakened again, frustrated that the Hulk is “too damn strong to be caged, even in my imagination!” but Caroline remains optimistic.

At this point we are about halfway through the episode, and I have really enjoyed the performances and the hypnosis scenes.  The romance is evolving in a very natural way, with flirtation that has not yet boiled into a love affair, but is certainly at a full simmer.  But nothing we’ve seen in the episode so far could prepare me for the wild, crazy ride that was about to come.

Despite her racially biased self-help visualization Caroline gets a pathology report showing no progress against the disease.  She has only two to three weeks to live.

I am a fan of Joseph Harnell who did the music for all Hulk episodes, but he insists on playing these test result scenes too large.  The instrumentation is akin to that when Janet Leigh is being stabbed in the shower.   The score this entire episode is tremendous, even if it does devolve into disco riffs at times, but during these scenes his atonal notes serve to undercut the tension.

Speaking of disco riffs, we get our best disco scenes here as Caroline, upset with her test results, goes on a self-destructive bender.  She starts a dangerous, speedy drive in her Mercedes.  She happens upon a bar named “Swingers” and pulls into the lot.  Perhaps I was naive, perhaps I thought the 70s were a simpler time, but I never expected Swingers to actually be a bar for Hawaiians into partner-swapping.  Nor did I expect Caroline to be a freak on a leash.  It turns out Caroline also has a monster inside of her–a sex monster, and it’s aching to get out in a big way.

Caroline goes in and drinks fruity cocktails served with pineapple wedges and the disco music plays.  The scene is the epitome of the 70s with the waka-waka music and the man with a large afro and sideburns.  Then a guy with a porn-style handlebar mustache, his shirt unbuttoned to his naval to show off his gold chains, hits on the drunk psychologist.

This is the exact 70s swinging stereotype mocked in every episode of Three’s Company but here Brad is being entirely serious, and the audience is expected to go with it.  “Hello”, he says, “I’m Brad.”   Caroline replies “Oh yes, you probably are.”  The two then go disco dancing and I cannot contain my laughter. But I stop laughing and my jaw hits the floor when she goes back to his place with another couple.

The dialogue is really something.  The other woman says to Caroline “Aren’t they gorgeous?” and Caroline replies “Yes, and their chests are so neatly brushed!”  I am dumbfounded.  Is this intentional humor poking fun at what men considered “sexy” in the 70s, or is she really turned on by this man’s lush body hair?

Then both women start to dance with Brad then go looking for the hot tub and  a bit of group sex.  Brad notices how drunk Caroline is and tells his friend “I think we can get out the cheap stuff now” and his friend replies “I can dig it.”  The pure 70s-ness of this scene is out of sight, man!

But before Caroline and her new girlfriend can run their hands through the rest of Brad’s brushed body hairs David shows up.  He sees Caroline have a momentary breakdown, falling to her knees crying, and tries to go to her but Brad stops David at the door.  Looking back and seeing Caroline having a good time with the brunette Brad and the other guy have no reason to believe David even knows Caroline.

In another bit of unintentional comedy, Brad’s friend pops a champagne cork right into David’s chin.  David runs past the men to Caroline, but Brad and his friend will not allow this jive turkey to harsh their buzz, so they beat David and throw him off a balcony into a glass table.  To which the brunette slut exclaims “Far out!”

Hulk-Out #2:  The two studs go to throw David out, but waiting for them is the Hulk.  He lifts one of them up by his chest hair and throws him behind a bar (No, I’m not joking).  Hulk then super-leaps to the balcony, and seeing him the brunette slut moans in ecstasy and cries “Far out!” again.  Hulk goes to toss Brad by his hair, on his head this time, and ends up ripping the swinger’s toupee right off!  Brad is as bald as Telly Savalas, and Hulk is just confused by the rug in his hands, so he pushes Brad back through a wall into a bathroom.  Hulk then picks up the passed-out Caroline, but the first stud can’t leave well enough alone and throws bottles at Hulk.

Hulk replies by picking up the entire fireplace and tossing it at the bar, causing the house’s second story balcony to collapse–so much for Brad’s sexy swinger pad!  No one is hurt in the collapse, but their night, and Brad’s house, is ruined.  Hulk finally leaves with Caroline, as the fire starts to spread through the ruins of Brad’s house.

And now I wonder how off-the-rails this episode has gone!  I was fine with the slow paced melodrama and romance-through-research of the first hour, and captivated when it evolved to the symbolic representation of the Hulk in banner’s psyche.  But suddenly we have devolved to Hulk saving Caroline from poor moral choices and beating up some swinging singles.  It went from serious to absurd in the span of a single disco song.  I can only presume this was to stretch the episode to a two-hour running length while giving us someone this whole episode for Hulk to fight, but due to the dated nature of the scenes and the crazy, sexual nature of the plot I have gone from praising to mocking this episode.  Truthfully, these scenes have to be seen to be believed.

Transforming back into human, David takes Caroline home and puts her to bed.  And then they make love…so Caroline still got what she wanted that night, though with maybe only half as many people involved.  But David wakes up to find himself alone in bed, and thinking it was wham-bam-thank-you-Banner he runs to look for her. We see Caroline has not gone off on another group sex bender, but is just playing Frisbee with the curly-haired boy from the luau, obviously regretting her life choice to not have kids.

David can read all this in her face, so he asks Caroline to marry him.  She doesn’t get it at first thinking it is a gesture, but David tells a story about a tiger and a strawberry that basically says “we may not have much time but let’s enjoy the time we have to the fullest.”  They pledge their love to each other, and then they get lai’d–as in they put lais over each other’s necks before their wedding ceremony. It’s a small ceremony but done in the beauty of Hawaii I can think of no spectacle as sweet as these two damned people exchanging rings.

It also is good to see David over Laura once and for all.  While David has had girlfriends, and presumably lovers, as he wandered the country, his original motivation for becoming the Hulk was to pay a karmic debt for Laura’s death.  His cheap flings in Vegas and Texas cheapened that somewhat in my mind.  But now he has had a true love affair, and though everyone knows she is going to die before credits roll it is a sweet and subtle character evolution for David.

The honeymoon is short though as we return to hypnosis scenes.  In the desert of David’s mind the scientist is locking Hulk in a large safe.  Caroline’s hypnosis is to trap the Hulk so David can release him in controlled circumstances.  But even the large vault cannot contain the Hulk.

Meanwhile Caroline’s pilgrims are still fighting those indians, but the cavalry, in the form of a new chemotherapy drug, has come riding over the ridge.  Her  newfound energy allows Caroline to rescue the curly-haired boy from drowning in the ocean, as well as “play doctor” with Dr. Banner.  But her exertion speeds up the progression of her disease.

As David sleeps one night we see more of his desert subconscious, this time without Caroline’s guidance.  Hulk is breaking free of his cages and following David in the desert.  Then David’s memory changes, leaving Hulk behind and going to happy times with Laura, and then to happy times the past few days with Caroline.

The dream changes again.  Caroline, in her wedding dress, takes off her lai and boards a bus driven by the Grim Reaper, in full black cloak.  The bus drives away and Caroline waves from the rear window, and try as he might David cannot catch the death bus.

The death of his past and current wife intermingle in David’s dream, and we see where this is going.

Hulk-Out #3:  This is another incredible transformation with Bixby wearing facial appliances and good make-up.  Hulk stands and begins to smash Caroline’s bedroom before turning on the psychologist herself.  Perhaps Hulk is upset at the hypnotist’s attempts to cage him, but he walks towards her menacingly, crushing the bed frame.

But Caroline is determined to get what she needs, and she uses a tool that looks like a pet-hair brush to get a tissue sample from the green beast.  He throws her onto the bed, but her soothing words calm him.

The next day David is worried by the bruises Hulk’s slap left on Caroline’s arm, but the cells seem to offer the psychologist the chance at a cure so both doctors put forth all their energies into the research.  David thinks that in a sterile hospital environment they can use the Hulk cells to save Caroline’s life.

Unfortunately Banner’s bad luck continues–a hurricane is hitting the island.  Caroline’s condition is too critical to wait, and the two newlyweds fight.  David accuses Caroline of using too much energy, and we’re meant to understand that Caroline is not just dying of her disease–she traded her life so she could save that of the curly-haired-boy.  But she won’t give up without a fight so David takes her Mercedes to the hospital, and we are treated to some grainy, old stock footage of hurricanes while they drive.

In the commentary Johnson said the cinematographer intentionally degraded the new footage shot so as to better match the grainy stock footage.  While it did help to minimize the contrast between the two scenes.

That said, where did this hurricane come from?  For David’s entire stay in Hawaii he’s been treated to blue skies and sunny times on the beach.  There was never any talk of an impending storm, and there should have been.  First, had this entire story been set against the background of a storm it would have provided a metaphor for Caroline’s disease and her relationship with David; it would start sunny and the clouds could build as her condition deteriorated.  Second, with some set-up this ending wouldn’t feel so random.  As is, it feels like a contrivance to keep Caroline from reaching the hospital.

Caroline starts to have a fit in the car and, for some reason, grabs the car door and jumps from the moving car, running off into the storm.   David gives chase, and is hit by a car which injures his leg.  He still is able to keep pace with the infirm woman, who is grabbing her head and hearing loud noises, but his path is cut off by some fallen electrical transformers.  Trapped by the sparks we have

Hulk-Out #4: Hulk can easily smash and throw the transformers and give chase after Caroline, who keeps shouting for David though, again I reiterate, she lept from his moving car.  Hulk races through the hurricane, having to tear down a fence to get to Caroline (and I wonder how the sick Caroline got there in the first place).  Then the two have a tender moment, as she embraces and kisses the Hulk, saying “At least we never gave up trying.  I’ll miss you David,” she dies in the Hulk’s arms.  Hulk stands there holding his bride in the torrential storm as sad music plays.

The storm passes, and we see in the light rain Hulk has transformed back into David, still holding Caroline tightly.

We then get a scene the next day of David and the curly haired boy sitting outside Caroline’s house which was demolished in the storm.  The boy says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up and hopefully find a cure for what killed Caroline.  “I’d never have the chance if it wasn’t for her,” the boy says.  He imparts a few other pieces of trite wisdom, such as “My grandma always says people never die so long as someone remembers them,” and that gives David a smile.

As David sits on the beach morning his wife, The Lonely Man theme plays and credits roll.

As I said at the start of this review, at the time this was the most acclaimed episode of the series.  Perhaps in 1978 this passed for amazing television, but I must say 25 years later the episode does not shine so brightly.

The show certainly has its high points, all courtesy of the performance of the three principles Ferrigno, Bixby, and Hartley.  All three give tremendous performances that make me forget of them as actors and make me believe in the reality of their characters.

Mariette Hartley did not want to be in an episode of The Incredible Hulk.  Like Bixby before her she thought starring in a comic book show was beneath her, but she was convinced by her agent who said “Mariette, this is your Emmy.”  He was right, she won an Emmy for this performance.  But I have to say that while I enjoyed her romance scenes, the rest of her performance was merely passable.  Her drunk performance was not convincing, and her rare moments of illness seem affected.

That said, I feel like the romance scenes played out a bit too long.  I liked that it added realism to their relationship, but it played unevenly.  A montage of science experiments does not a great love story make.

And truly I think that is what Johnson wanted to make, not just a love story but Love Story.  Much like previous episodes, this one feels drawn from that big screen hit.  The parallels are too profound to ignore.  But is that what a viewer of The Incredible Hulk wants to see?

Truthfully the high points of the series for me were not in Hawaii but in David’s mind.  The metaphorical confrontations with Hulk, the retelling of his first transformation, these scenes were standouts.  I feel in this episode Bixby outshone Hartley in every scene.  If this were a movie-of-the-week and not a regular episode perhaps Bixby would have had an Emmy himself, but his nomination would have to be judged on an entire season and I imagine voters may not be as forgiving when we return to the normal Hulk formula.  From Banner’s finding a new love to help him get past Laura to his fear at facing his inner beast, it was Banner’s story, not Caroline’s, that interested me.  Johnson said in the commentary that he was frustrated Banner and Hulk could never meet and this dream arena was his answer to that problem.  I’m glad he found the way to do it, the scenes pay off the contrivance of hypnosis.

These scenes are greatly aided by Ferrigno, giving the best performance of his career.  Both in the dreamscape and in Caroline’s house, this is a totally new Hulk under different circumstances.  This is a Hulk that would give the youthful me nightmares.  To paraphrase the self-help mantra David and Caroline chant on the beach “in every day in every way Hulk is getting better and better”.

But the episode also did not date well.  The random swinger subplot is the epitome of pre-AIDS sexual freedom.  With the gold chains and the chest hair Brad is a walking, talking stereotype that I could roll with in any other Hulk episode.  In this serious drama, however, Brad is out of place.

I do recommend you see Married.  The unintentionally comedic Swinger bar scenes have to be seen to be believed, and the Banner/Hulk scenes are some of the best of the series.  But it’s not as strong a recommend as I had expected to give it due to the episode’s pacing and uneven atmosphere.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Turn Around, White Eyes – How The Incredible Hulk Traumatized Me For Life

On many episodes of Now Playing Stuart has called out my phobia of anything related to eyes. Be it needles in eyes, eye surgeries, eyes popping from heads, any form of eye trauma has made me wince.  Sometimes my sphincter actually closes up when I watch something very grotesque and eye-related.  Some of my earliest memories are eye related, such as an episode of Dr. Who where someone had anti-matter eyes, or in Superman 3 where the robot woman opened her eyes and underneath was bare metal!  But I’ve never known why I have such an aversion to eye trauma.  But now, doing my reviews of The Incredible Hulk for Now Playing for the Venganza Media Gazette I think I have found the origin!

As a child of 3 or 4 Hulk scared the crap out of me. When I was 4 my godmother took me to a local toy store to meet superheroes. Guys were there in costumes, and I was pleased to meet Spider-Man, Captain America, and Superman.  To me I was meeting the stars from the TV series, too young to know the difference between fantasy and reality.

But also there was Hulk. And I was frightened. The image is burned into my mind 30-some years later–and looking back the costume was god-awful. It was this thing made of what looked like bent cardboard, and covered with green felt like a mini-golf course. The mask frozen in place…it was comical. But it was Hulk, so I hid behind my godmother’s leg, scared the creature would hurt me. All because of this TV show. I was as scared of Hulk as Carol Anne was of The Beast; as Tina was of Freddy.

So why did I watch Hulk if it scared me so? I love horror. Since preschool I have been fascinated with that which frightened me.  At age 3 I loved The Count best of all Sesame Street muppets because he was a vampire, and I wanted to know if he counted sheep in a coffin.  And every Friday at 7 I would face my fear of Hulk.

Some episodes were just too traumatic.  But even the most rote of episodes had me transfixed, and petrified, when Lou Ferrigno showed up.

But now I realize, what is it that preceded the Hulk?  What is the trademark first sign of the transformation?  David Banner’s white eyes!  The eyes went white, the clothes would tear, a low growl would erupt, and then a green, unstoppable force of terror would dominate my imagination as it did my television screen.

I imagine I will go to my grave freaked out every time I see something to do with eyes, but now I think at least I know why.

March 9, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Marvelicious Toys, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Turn Around, White Eyes – How The Incredible Hulk Traumatized Me For Life

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 12 – The Waterfront Story

After taking a job in a Texas dock tavern, David becomes immersed in a ruthless world of union politics.

The Waterfront Story - Incredible Hulk
The Waterfront Story
Season: 1
Episode: 12
Air Date: May 31, 1978
Director: David Barton
Writer: Paul M. Belous,
Robert Wolterstorff
David’s Alias: David Barton
Hulk-Outs: 3
•Beaten up by thugs
(before episode starts)
•Beaten up in a bar fight
•Locked in a crate

We have now reached the last episode of Season 1 of The Incredible Hulk.  While in many series a season-ending cliffhanger is the norm, ensuring viewers are left in suspense over the summer hiatus, Hulk sticks to its episodic structure and ends its first with this standalone story of David (Bill Bixby) in Galveston, Texas.

Hulk-Out #1:  We start at the Galveston Harbor Imports docks–Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) is bursting through an aluminum wall and throwing crates at dock workers.  Why is he there?  What did the workers do to him?  We don’t know, but we soon find out.

The next day David, in his trusty tan coat, comes back to the docks where National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) is interviewing a security guard.  The guard says that a shipment was being robbed and he was being held down when someone stopped to help.  The mysterious good samaritan got beaten for his efforts, but then the Hulk showed up and saved the guard’s life by scaring off the thieves.

McGee is more interested in the Hulk than the robbery, and David shows up at the tavern where he tends bar to give his resignation.  Whenever McGee shows up David has to move on.

But tavern worker Sarah guilts David into staying.  In the few weeks he’s been in Galveston David has formed a relationship with widow tavern owner Josie (played by Sheila Larken who played Agent Scully’s mother on The X-Files).  David’s affections have pulled Josie out of her shell, and when he tries to tell Josie he has to leave the widow begs David to stay.

But fighting for Josie’s attention, if not romantically, is Cliff McConnell (played by Doogie Howser dad James Sikking).  Cliff is running for dock union president, a position Josie’s husband Frank last held.  Cliff is urging Josie to support him in the upcoming election.  Also hounding Josie for the endorsement is Cliff’s union rival Tony Kelly (Jack Kelly, star of Maverick), who Josie believes engineered Frank’s “accident”.  Both men believe Josie’s endorsement can determine the election’s victor–Cliff is trying to use sympathy to get Josie’s endorsement, Tony is using intimidation.  When Josie is noncommittal she then finds Cliff being beaten by three men, men Cliff claims Tony sent.

Honestly I saw where the wind was blowing–despite the episode telling me through the musical score and Josie’s actions that Cliff was good and Tony was bad, I felt like there was more to this than met the eye.  When Josie said Frank was investigating robberies at the dock when he died I realized the mastermind is going to be more suave and less gruff.  More, Tony is talking about setting up a fund for dockworkers’ widows, something Josie takes as a bribe but which I think is meant to show Tony really has a heart.  Perhaps it’s the actors; Sikking is just exuding slime while Kelly is coming across pretty earnest after his first scene.  Plus with Kelly being Bart Maverick I’m just inclined to trust him.  So the casting is working against the script, and I saw a mile away that Cliff staged his own beating to get Josie’s endorsement.

While the dock worker union is our “A” plot, the heart of the story is its “B” plot of David and Josie in love.  We see them sipping coffee, fishing for the morning breakfast (Josie says fish is wonderful for breakfast if it’s fresh caught–I’ll take her word for it).  But in their romantic moment, David again tries to tell Josie he must leave.  Her attachment to him is obviously far stronger than his to her, and she cries in his arms when he tires to go.  It’s a solid storyline.  David stuck around for Josie, despite McGee snooping around.  Might he have found love worth staying for?

Unfortunately while that’s the plot that interests me more, the script pushes us back to the dock story.  Whoever the mastermind, the face of the criminal operation is Marty Hammond (Ted Markland, Hap from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).  Hammond makes phone calls with his mysterious boss while arranging for the theft of goods from the dock.  His boss says something which obviously means “that interloper David is standing in our way” as in the next scene Hammond is in Josie’s tavern slipping a dead fish into one patron’s picture of beer and blaming David for the joke.  A bar fight ensues, complete with the crazy, wacky, rootin, tootin wild west harmonica and banjo music one expects.  David is beaten repeatedly.

Hulk-Out #2:  David’s eyes are already white when he is thrown out of the bar (literally, he’s thrown through the double-hinged doors).  He is quickly forgotten as it seems every patron of Josie’s bar was itching for a fight.  People are punching and choking each other, and one eager woman has jumped on a man’s back and started pummeling him with both fists.  One rascal is staying out of it, drinking all the beers of the distracted fighters. Then Hulk roars, bringing all the patrons to attention.

He punches down the stockroom doors, and tears through the bar.  Before the fight the people of the bar were laughing about McGee’s article on the Hulk, but now he’s there in the flesh!

At first this is played serious, with the ominous score from Joseph Harnell.  But soon it devolves back into wacky western territory, the harmonicas are blaring, and Hulk is causing wanton destruction while everyone runs.  The last few fighters team up with pool cues and balls to attack the giant, but the comedic music shows Hulk is in no danger.  They may attack with pool balls and cues, but Hulk attacks back by throwing the entire pool table at them!

Sarah is the only one remaining in the bar, and says Hulk reminds her of her second husband, “the strong, silent type” and tries to help Hulk escape before the police arrive.  She hides Hulk in a back room saying Hulk’s “handy to have around” and, alone in the quiet, Hulk transforms back into David.  It’s not shown much but the green glow is still there.  Once back to himself, David escapes out the window lest Sarah know Hulk went in and David came out.

After the commercial break we see Josie giving Cliff her endorsement, blaming Tony for the fight that tore up her bar.  Despite level heads thinking the bar is a total loss, Josie is resilient and ready to use her savings to open the bar again that week.

David returns and Shelly says what we’ve always thought–she calls Hulk the “Jolly Green Giant”.  Ho ho ho!  Bixby again plays it tense, asking if anyone is hurt, and literally breathing a sigh of relief when Shelly informs him that no one was.  I think about a year into it that we should know Hulk isn’t a killer, but David is still not so sure.

And now David feels he must leave.  It is the pattern, one Hulk-out and David starts to leave, two Hulk-outs and he hits the road.  He has come to say goodbye to Josie, saying he found a job in New Orleans with an old friend.  He has his tan jacket and his bag, and the end-of-show music is playing.  But I know the union worker plot is unresolved and the hour isn’t up so there is no way David is going to make it to the town border.  But Josie is at least happy David stayed until she was ready to stand on her own two feet, and this time she allows David to go.

On his way out of town, David walks past the docks and sees what I already knew, Cliff is in cahoots with Hammond.  More, Hammond caused the accident that killed Frank.  David cannot leave with Josie endorsing the man who instigated her husband’s murder, so he rushes back to tell her.

But Josie doesn’t need David.  Listening to one of her husband’s favorite operas, she finds he has recorded evidence of Hammond’s role in the dock thefts.  Cliff comes to see Josie and hears Frank’s tape.  He takes it from her and claims they will take it to the police, but the music tells me he’s planning something far more evil.

David calls Josie’s house (and Josie has a 6-line business phone in her house?  Was the prop master out of home phones?) and when Cliff answers David takes Sarah’s car and races to help Josie.  A car chase ensues, with David chasing after Cliff and Josie.  Of course, Cliff isn’t taking Josie to the police but to Hammond.

Cliff reveals he is over his head in gambling debts and the stock market.  Frank wanted his resignation, so he and Hammond killed the union president.  Now, to avoid being discovered, they must also kill Frank’s wife.  The two criminals tie up Josie and tell one of their cohort ship captains to drop Josie in the middle of the water on their next boyage.

David rescues Josie and I’m happy to see David do some heroics, not Hulk.  It’s too rare that Dr. Banner is shown as a competent adult.  But before they can escape the ship captain, Cliff, and Hammond come back and give chase.  Hammond tries to shoot the two, but Cliff is worried about witnesses.  Running, Josie trips over some crates and is knocked out (how does one pass out from a fall?  I didn’t see her hit her head), and the two are taken hostage and locked in a crate.  Despite the captain’s objections, they begin to load the crate onto the boat.

Hulk-Out #3:  David’s yells for help are unheeded so he Hulks-out.  With the crate hoisted high in the air to be loaded, Hulk breaks it apart and, holding the unconscious Josie, leaps to safety.  On the ground Hulk seems more concerned with Josie’s safety until the boat captain attacks with a stick.  Hulk throws him in the water, so we know he’s out for the episode.

More dock workers attack with pipes, and they too are thrown in the water.

Seeing how easily Hulk took out three dock workers, Cliff and Hammond try to escape in Hammond’s pick-up truck.  But one handed Hulk holds the truck and prevents it from moving.  Then he tears off the door and the truck spins out of control, crashing into two other vehicles.

The police sirens start to get closer, so Hulk runs off and we hear some canned looped lines like “That sucker’s big!” and “What is that thing?”

In the last segment of the show we see that Josie is supporting Tony in the race, Cliff and Hammond have been arrested, and once more Josie and David must say goodbye.  She now knows he’s in some sort of trouble and needs to leave, and donning his heavy black coat he walks down the Texas street as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

This was an episode full of promise unfulfilled.  I was excited when the episode opened on a Hulk-out and, minutes into the episode, McGee was there investigating.  It was a perfect set-up for dramatic tension, with McGee searching for the Hulk, David knowing he has to leave but his love for Josie keeping him in Texas.  Had that been the episode I think I would have been happier.  I would have preferred the dock worker union plot kept in the background as the impetus for action and David’s eventual departure, with the focus on David’s relationships and motivation to stay or go.  Instead the entire focus of the story is on the dock workers, and I’m left yearning for what this episode only hints at.  More, the episode is uneven.  It goes for deep dramatic moments, then cuts to a wacky wild west bar fight.  One more rewrite and a director with a stronger vision could have made this a standout episode of the entire series.  As it is, this is still one of the better Hulk episodes of the ten-episode regular part of the first season.  Recommend

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March 9, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 11 – Earthquakes Happen

Hoping to access gamma-ray equipment, David poses as a scientist inspecting a nuclear research facility and becomes trapped in the complex when a devastating earthquake strikes.

In Disguise David flees McGee while Earthquakes Happen
Earthquakes Happen
Season: 1
Episode: 11
Air Date: May 19, 1978
Director: Harvey S. Laidman
Writer: Jim Tisdale, Migdia Chinea-Varela
David’s Alias: Ted Hammond
Dr. Robert Patterson
Hulk-Outs: 2
•  Crushed by a computer bank
during an earthquake
• Burning his hands on a pipe
while the reactor melts down

After last week’s inventive and original episode Life and Death, now we’re back to “Hulk Goes to the Movies!”  First we had Rocky, then Airport ’75, then Duel, and now it’s Earthquake!  Universal Studios owned the movie Earthquake, thus its scenes and general plot were both used liberally in this episode of Hulk.

We have establishing shots of Los Angeles, David (Bill Bixby) has made his way back home to California.  Here we get a rare instance of David performing a grift–he makes a phone call where he pretends to be Ted Hammond, head of the San Thomas Nuclear Research Facility.  He’s calling to delay a visit to the facility by Dr. Robert Patterson (and that’s Dr. Robert Patterson, not to be confused with Robert Pattinson Twi-hards…though I wonder how many hits this blog will get now that I’ve invoked the name of the unkempt one).

Visit delayed, David then impersonates Dr. Patterson.  He goes to great lengths in this, stopping by a local shop claiming to have been robbed and needing new photo identification.  With his fake credentials ready he heads to the San Thomas Nuclear Research Facility pretending to be Dr. Robert Patterson, who is an expert in structural stress analysis and atomic safety systems.

The facility is run by Ted Hammond, but was designed by Dr. Diane Joseph, and the two are at odds over the facility’s safety.  Ted ordered a safety review after he  discovered the lab was built on a fault line.  He thinks Diane is overconfident about the center’s ability to withstand an earthquake.

Of course, David isn’t interested in the nuclear reactor.  He has performed this entire con to gain access to the facility’s Gamma Lab, and we see a flashback to the pilot episode with Dr. Elaina Marks reminding the audience that radiation reversal may rid David of the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) forever.  David hopes his access will give him a moment alone with their gamma machine.

David arrives at the lab we see National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) is there already.  For once Jack isn’t hunting the Hulk, but instead pursuing a story that there is an impending earthquake and the lab is unsafe.   McGee is accusing the lab of running on a skeleton crew to minimize casualties if the reactor goes nuclear.  When David, posing as the safety inspector, arrives McGee tries to chase the supposed safety inspector down for an interview.  It’s another moment of a close call between David and Jack, but David hustles into the lab, his back always to the reporter.

Once at the lab we finally see a hole in David’s scientific knowledge–he’s not up on his structural safety techniques.  He is being guided by Diane, who quickly becomes suspicious when she realizes he’s not doing the study correctly and not answering questions properly.

And David certainly is acting desperate.  His interest in getting to Level 4, which houses the gamma lab, is a bit too obvious.  The moment he’s left alone he tries to use an axe to open a locked door.  When he sees others coming through the other way, he slides a broom (in an awesome broom-cam shot) to prevent the door from closing and makes his way to the lab.

But due to her suspicions, Diane has Patterson’s dossier pulled and finds what she needs–due to an artificial knee Dr. Patterson walks with a cane.  David had no cane, and so they know he’s an impostor.  She alerts lab owner Ted Hammond, and they go to have him arrested, but it’s too late–David has already powered on the gamma lab.

In doing so, David fired up the lab’s nuclear reactor.  He places a chair underneath some ominous looking piece of equipment, preparing to irradiate himself with gamma rays yet again.  It’s a wonderfully ominous scene, aided by the music from his experiments in the pilot.  I was engaged, even though I recognized the silliness of David so quickly gaining access to a gamma gun and immediately ready to shoot himself with it.

Diane finds David and stops the gamma gun from firing with just three seconds to go, and before they can argue any more an earthquake hits.  Footage of massive destruction to Los Angeles landmarks, as seen originally in Earthquake, is shown while the set upon which David and Diane stand shakes.  David tries to get Diane to safety, and a refrigerator-sized computer bank falls upon David.

In the chaos, the gun switches modes from gamma to laser, and a blue laser starts shooting randomly at the ground.  Because, of course, all radiation machines also can weaponize to shoot lasers.  Despite how unlikely the situation, the lasers shoot repeatedly, starting fire and threatening the life of the unconscious Diane.  David cannot get to her to help her, so we have

Hulk-Out #1:  The green glow is back, and we see David’s clothes rip underneath the computer bank.  Then Hulk is there, quickly ripping the gamma/laser machine from the ceiling, and carrying Diane to safety.

Outside the radiation chamber the other center workers react to the danger, some shaken and frozen with fear, others doing their job to try and mitigate the damage to the reactor.  Some workers call to the gamma lab, and Hulk rips the phone and speaker from the wall, right before peeling back the lead door to the lab so he can escape.  But moans from the injured Diane call Hulk back and, taking her hand, he is calmed and the reverse transformation happens.

Again we see the green glow cover Hulk’s body, and a close-up of Bixby in fake eyebrows.  They’re starting to get better at the reverse transformation, and I’m starting to be used to the silly green glow, but I am also comforted in the knowledge that it improves and I won’t have to see it 80 more times.

David quickly dons a lab coat to cover himself and puts his shoes back on.  I’m confused how turning into the Hulk would have his shoes pop off unharmed and not split, but I guess we don’t need a Die Hard situation with barefoot David searching a demolished, glass strewn lab for shoes.

Things go from bad to worse when Ted discovers the nuclear reactor is running, started by David when he fired up the gamma machine.  The turn-offs and emergency shutdown are not working and the cooling units are overheating.  The secondary cooling unit is running, but if it stops there will be a nuclear meltdown!

David and Diane are trapped with Ted, lab worker Turner, and security guard Paul.  Paul’s leg broke during the earthquake, and the five are trapped in the gamma lab due to steam from the reactor blocking their exit.  Carrying Paul, they climb through a corridor full of high voltage wires to make an escape.

As the group make their way to safety, the secondary cooler goes out.  The reactor is going to meltdown, and all personnel are to evacuate.

Much like in Earthquake, the group of survivors trapped in the corridor begin in-fighting, with petrified Turner wanting to attack David for being the one who caused this whole mess.  But David’s medical knowledge plus his being an able-bodied person have Diane and Ted  feeling they need him to escape and the authorities can deal with him after.

In the control room the remaining workers are trying to turn on the emergency valve to cool the reactor.  Without the valve opening, the facility has less than five minutes until meltdown, but the motor for the valve has jammed.  Those above ground can escape, but David’s group is trapped.

There’s a scene of the lab workers above ground arguing about escape, with one saying “there may be people alive down there” and the pragmatist replying “but only for three more minutes!”  The scene is unintentionally humorous due to the cliched nature of the conversation, but it serves to drive home the danger David is facing.

But David isn’t willing to give up.  The group tries to open the valve manually.  It opens some, but the heat from the reactor causes the corridor to flood with steam.  Turner and Ted flee back to the group, while David stays to try and turn the valve.

The pipe burns his hands, so he takes off his shirt to touch the pipe, and I know this means one less torn shirt as we hear the transformation sound.

Hulk-Out #2:  We see no transformation here, but Hulk is there and opens the valve, averting the nuclear meltdown and saving the city.  Then, needing an escape, Hulk punches through a thick cement wall to get away from the steam.  He runs out the corridor to the outside and off into the city.

In the end, McGee questions the scientists about the fake Dr. Patterson, and Ted says he saved them all but may have been killed in the steam of the tunnel.

But David was not killed, he dons a long black coat and tries to hitch a ride to the next nuclear lab as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

This episode is rather rote.  While capitalizing on the disaster movie craze of the 70s it strains credibility to set up the chain of events that can lead to a nuclear meltdown.  I will say the footage from Earthquake! is used to good effect.  Unlike Never Give a Trucker an Even Break, Earthquakes Happen uses the footage to up their production values and create tension, while not aping them for climactic plot points.  While the entire premise of a group of bickering individuals trying to escape a building after an earthquake is the general premise of Earthquake!, this doesn’t feel as plagiarized as the previous episode.

By the same token, Hulk doesn’t really fit in this episode.  While David and his quest for a cure creates the entire series of events, the Hulk-outs are sparse.  Plus, knowing the Hulk can solve any problem through strength, there’s no real sense of danger.  When David can’t turn the valve, it’s an eye-rolling “okay, Hulk, open the valve”.  This, of course, is the case with all Hulk episodes, but if the set-up and action is entertaining I go with it.  As depicted in this episode, I simply don’t think an earthquake is an exciting enough situation for the Hulk to be in.  I honestly found the scenes of David performing his con and trying to break into the lab far more exciting than what happens after the earthquake.

It’s a perfectly average episode, and I like this series so average is pretty good.  This episode gets a weak recommend.

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March 8, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 10 – Life and Death Review

David becomes friends with a pregnant woman, and together they uncover a chilling plot to steal infants for use in DNA experimentation.

Incredible Hulk Life and Death Genetics Lab
Life and Death
Season: 1
Episode: 10
Air Date: May 12, 1978
Director: Jeffrey Hayden
Writer: James D. Parriott
David’s Alias: David Bernard
Hulk-Outs: 2
• Injected with poison
while strapped to a
medical table
•Falls down a fight of

This episode begins with David (Bill Bixby), wearing his tan jacket, at the end of a hitched ride.  He is in Oregon, headed to Marysville where Dr. Stan Rhodes (Andrew Robinson) is conducting DNA experiments.

But getting out of the truck sitting there, as if waiting for him, is a very pregnant woman, Carrie Taylor, also looking to hitch a ride to town.  David is concerned as she looks ready to go into labor at any time, but she says she has no choice.  David flags them both a ride and they drive into Marysville.

Then something very odd happened.  Up on the screen flashed the text ALL CHARACTERS, ORGANIZATIONS, AND EVENTS IN THIS STORY ARE FICTIONAL.  While this disclaimer is often found at the end credits of a movie or show, to have them so bold at the start is odd.  It usually means a fictional story is being told inspired by, or loosely based on, real events in the news.  I see this warning at the start of several episodes of Law & Order but never before on Hulk, so I am immediately on guard to see what in this episode could have been considered slanderous to the point of needing this title.

I think, however, that this was there because television viewers in the 70’s weren’t as sophisticated as today’s audiences.  I recall reading reports that people in the early 80s would go to Pontiac dealerships in the hopes of buying a Knight Industries Two-Thousand.  Likely producers feared that this episode, with it’s all-too-real topic of illegal baby sales, could cause outrage among television viewers if they weren’t told outright “Hey, this is fake.”  (Of course, those same viewers must somehow live with the belief The Incredible Hulk is a documentary.  Just think about that.)

The title is then followed by another:  MARYSVILLE, OREGON.  While I appreciate the show giving me a geographical location, it’s usually either cagey about the locale (a’la Death in the Family) or it states it through events and dialogue.  Nothing in this episode seems to require such specifics, so it struck me as odd.

We find that Carrie is a single mother, and is going to a company called Matrix who will pay her a good sum of money for her baby,  then sell the child to people who can afford to give it a better home.

As David accompanies Carrie to Matrix he gives a rare bit of personal information, talking about how he grew up with a younger sister–an interesting detail that will come into play later in the series.

David then goes to meet Dr. Rhodes, and I immediately recognize the actor as Andrew Robinson.  I know him best as Larry, Kirsty’s father in Hellraiser, though he may be more famous for being Garek in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.   In the late 70’s and 80’s he had a run of television guest appearances, and I always like seeing a familiar face guest-starring in a TV show.  That said, at this point he’d best be known for a villainous role in Dirty Harry so I also immediately distrusted Dr. Rhodes and his very large perm.

Rhodes is excited to see David as he has been anxious for human volunteers for his DNA experiments.  Using an X-Ray machine Rhodes plans to “eliminate an extra adenine thymine link” in David’s DNA (which has a theoretical connection with excessive aggression).  This involves injecting a mutant cell into David’s brain–a very dangerous, untested procedure that Rhodes can’t even do legally.  He can’t get funding for his experiments and tells David he’s up to his ears in hock self-funding the research, but the benefit of possibly curing birth defects in the womb is worth it.

There’s a lot of technobabble here involving X-Rays, DNA, the thyroid, and more.  Good to see Robinson getting early practice at that Trek hallmark practice.

But then Rhodes is called into an emergency–a woman was brought in shortly after giving birth.  She is delirious and bleeding but keeps saying “Matrix took my baby.”  This puts David on alert, so he goes back to where he dropped off Carrie and the voice on the speaker claims to have no knowledge of Carrie Taylor.

Undeterred, David climbs the cement wall surrounding the complex, and finds Carrie walking in the back yard in the early stages of labor.  David tries to talk the impoverished woman out of selling her baby, asking her if it’s what “she really wants” and Carrie starts to have second thoughts.  David continues to preach about state-funded programs that can help Carriecare for the child, and I really wonder what business it is of David’s.  When Carrie is still unsure, David threatens to go to the police to turn in the illegal baby-selling ring.

But then the other shoe drops–Dr. Rhodes shows up at Matrix.  He is their on-staff obstetrician, delivering the babies in exchange for Matrix funding his DNA experiments.  He confronts Matrix owner Ellen about the girl who was found on the streets, but then Rhodes and Ellen see David in the yard with Carrie.

Ellen is suspicious.  David and Carrie contacted Matrix and Rhodes about the same time, and seem to know each other.  She fears they may be cops or, worse, planning to blackmail Matrix.  Ellen then tries to convince Rhodes to kill David during the experiment later that day.

This scene between Ellen and Rhodes is shot with a hand-held camera, and some really extreme camera motions and angles.  The camera doesn’t zoom in during the conversation, the cameraman walks closer and closer–camera wobbling all the way.  It ends with an up-the-nose shot of the two villains.  I admire any attempt by the show to be artistic but this was so poorly done that I can’t entirely support it.  But later in the episode this would be forgiven.

More, while the topic of the conversation is murder, it’s the most uninteresting murder plot ever.  The entire conversation is about getting David to sign a release form so that Rhodes can legally kill him during the experiment.  I really hope that’s not how medical releases work, otherwise I’m never getting a tooth pulled again!  It was already said Rhodes was making David sign a form for a completely different procedure–I’m pretty sure Rhodes would lose his medical license for causing a death while performing illegal experiments, no matter what forms were signed.

Nonetheless, the next scene has David reading aloud the agreement he is to sign that releases Rhodes and the hospital from liability during the experiment.  As David signs a fake name, David Bernard, the questions about how much protection the form provides Rhodes multiply.

But Rhodes is committed to kill David now.  He straps David to a medical desk, and injects David with a poison.  David starts to panic, knowing the needle is too short, the injection is too low, and the injection is in the wrong place.  I figure he’ll Hulk-out before he can be injected, but I am wrong!  Rhodes injects David, saying he’s sorry but it’s what he has to do to stop David from blackmailing Matrix.  Rhodes leaves David on the table to die, and only then do we get

Hulk-Out #1:  As David is strapped to a medical table this transformation must be different–and it’s different for the better.  We do still get that animated green glow on David’s face, but then we have a quick-cut scene of clothes tearing, Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) breaking his restraints as well as his clothes, and he is free!  The score turns to a style inspired by monster movies as we see Hulk rise from the table in silhouette, shot backlit through the frosted glass window to the lab.  It’s actually an artful scene, and I’m realizing director Jeffrey Hayden has a strong visual style, sometimes to better effect than others.

Hulk breaks through the glass and we get to see Ferrigno act.  He is stumbling and lethargic.  Shots from the Hulk’s point-of-view show his vision fuzzy–the poison is rendering even the Hulk powerless!  He stumbles, and while Ferrigno’s facial expression is blank, his squinting and body language do sell the scene effectively.

The scene is played mostly right, showing people afraid of Hulk and Hulk stumbling around, but it goes one step too far when Hulk stumbles onto an elevator with an old man on a walker.  The old man’s reactions can only be described as intentionally comedic, and it begins to rob the scene of its tension.

Hulk tears through the side of the elevator and jumps out.  Sadly the shot of Hulk jumping is a bit silly, with Ferrigno obviously suspended on a cable doing some kind of hand jive motion–it looks like he’s dancing, not falling.  But the shot is brief, and I can forgive it in the scope of things.  Despite the old man and the dance-fall, the score and the drama are so good that I am with it.

Hulk breaks through a brick wall to escape the hospital, and then wanders into a grove of trees where the poison’s effects finally overtake the green giant.  He closes his eyes and starts to pass out, and the green glow covers his face as he changes back to David in the most artful reverse transformation we’ve seen yet.  While there’s a bit of the green glow on Hulk’s face, mostly we see Hulk’s point-of-view go bright, then restore back to David’s point-of-view.  A close-up of partially-transformed David’s face is actually grotesque, not comedic like the large eyebrows on Bixby have been in the past.

Human again, David is still drugged and barely able to stand.  We get more point-of-view shots seeing that David’s vision is blurred and, I hate to say it, but I really think Ferrigno did a better job acting drugged than Bixby.  Bixby’s face has a wide-mouthed expression, and it comes across as a bit silly.

But as David stumbles, in the hospital we see something shockingly realistic–another doctor is checking up on the mystery patient in the hospital and realizes the medicine Rhodes prescribed is improper.  In an ER it’s common for doctors to change shifts and double-check each other’s work.  The patient spills the beans on Matrix and Rhodes’ connection with the organization, so the covering physician calls the police.  I am stunned–this is the most realistic downfall for a villain in any Hulk episode to date.

Rhodes has returned to Matrix to give birth to Carrie’s baby, and Ellen and Rhodes plan to give Carrie the same poison they did David after she gives birth.  On the hospital table, Carrie reveals she doesn’t want to give up the baby, that she can keep him with state programs and child support, that they’ll make it so long as she loves her baby, but Ellen and Rhodes continue with their procedure.  Of course, their procedure is just giving birth, which Carrie cannot stop, so her objections seem ill-timed.  It would be simple for Ellen or Rhodes to lie and say “okay, you can keep your baby” and calm the panicking mother-to-be, but they are evasive.  They’ll poison the woman but not lie to her?  Odd ethics.

As they prepare for the birth, David makes his way to Matrix.  Even drugged, his concern for Carrie has given him the drive to stumble to the address, somehow pull himself over the wall, and break into the complex.  He tries to go up a flight of stairs, but stumbles and falls down, leading to

Hulk-Out #2:  Drugged Hulk claws his way up the stairs, and then is finally back to full strength.  He triumphantly breaks through the door where Rhodes and Ellen have just finished delivering Carrie’s baby.  Hulk grabs the doctor and his assistant and throws Rhodes down the same stairs that David recently fell on.  The assist gets dropped off a second story landing.

But in the delivery room, Ellen is still trying to steal the child.  She puts the baby in a cart and tries to roll it out of the room, but the Hulk is waiting.  I expect a push-and-pull, but the Hulk is so frightening Ellen just runs off and leaves the baby.  She runs outside, where the police are waiting, and I guess a Hulk is more frightening than prison as Ellen lets the cops in so they can stop the Hulk.

Hulk picks up the baby and gives it a smile that is actually incredibly cute, then hands the baby back to her mother.  The police barge in, guns pointed at Hulk, but as Hulk is by the mother they cannot shoot.

Then we get a fairly amusing scene as the police order Hulk to go to a wall, turn and face it, and finally put his hands against the wall.    Of course, as soon as I see Hulk near a wall I know that wall will soon be in need of repair.  But to have the cops say “Put your hands against the wall” and Hulk does just that, knocking the wall down in the process, is subtle humor that I can appreciate.  More, it’s another great shot.  The Hulk is lit from one direction in such a way to create a dark shadow behind him, right on the wall that will be his escape.

The cops are so stunned by the wall being broken that they just stand there while Hulk leaps from the second-story balcony to the yard and runs off to freedom.

After the last commercial break we see David, perfectly healed, in the hospital with Carrie and her happy, healthy baby.  She says if the baby was a boy she’d name it David for all the help David offered.  A nurse radios that a reporter named McGee wants to talk to Carrie about the Hulk, and that’s David’s cue to leave.

As he leaves, Carrie asks David if his reason for coming to the hospital was a success.  David gives a wan smile and says “No, but this time it’s for the better” and we realize this man truly is willing to sacrifice his own happiness in the protection of others.

In one last scene we see David and McGee in the same hallway, and David has to duck to use a water fountain, narrowly hiding his face from the reporter’s eyes.  Another near miss, David again hits the highway, thumb out for a ride, as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

This episode has strong writing and strong visuals.  From never before seen ways to attack the Hulk, not knowing if a poison can kill the beast, to a realistic downfall for Matrix, I am impressed with the script for Life and Death.  David’s role in the events don’t matter on a large scale; had David never come Ellen and Rhodes still would have been arrested due to the escaped woman.  But David and Hulk’s actions prevent Matrix from taking Carrie’s baby, a clear win.  Episode screenwriter James D. Parriott is also listed in the credits as the Supervising Producer of the series and it’s clear from this script he has a great handle on Hulk and what makes the series work, even only ten episodes into the series.  I am not entirely sure it’s David’s place to convince impoverished single women to not give their babies up for adoption, I think it’s a very personal decision David should have stayed out of, but it’s a minor quibble.

I give this episode a solid recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 7, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 9 – Never Give a Trucker an Even Break Review

It’s full-throttle action when David aids a female trucker on the road for vengeance against the hijackers who took her father’s rig.

Is this screen grab from Never Give a Trucker an Even Break? Or is it from Steven Spielberg's Duel?  The answer is "yes"
Never Give a Trucker an Even Break
Season: 1
Episode: 9
Air Date: April 28, 1978
Director: Kenneth Gilbert
Writer: Kenneth Johnson
David’s Alias: Unknown
Hulk-Outs: 2
•Out of change for a pay phone
•In an out-of-control car about
to be rammed by a truck

After Final Round and 747 the writers of The Incredible Hulk had a pattern–pick a hit movie and reproduce it cheaply while finding a way to add the Hulk into the action.  It’s like the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) was just wandering through the Universal Studios backlot, going from movie to movie like a giant green Forrest Gump.

This time the movie in question is Smokey and the Bandit.  A smash 1977 hit, Smokey and the Bandit was the latest in a series of trucker films that were a rage in the 70s and early 80s, including Convoy, Breaker! Breaker!, and one of the earliest trucker films, Steven Spielberg’s Duel.

Before Jaws made Steven Spielberg a household name, and  Close Encounters of the Third Kind certified the director a hit-maker, he made Duel for Universal Pictures.  But by the time this Hulk episode was made both those blockbusters had been released to great fanfare, and Spielberg would be a Hollywood power player with some significant clout.

And, as I learned reading Lou Ferrigno’s autobiography, this episode of The Incredible Hulk made Spielberg angry–and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

As I mentioned in previous reviews, Hulk, like many other TV series around the same time, used footage from movies as cheap stock footage.  For Never Give a Trucker an Even Break the Hulk creators went into Universal’s archives and mined Spielberg’s Duel.  The producers didn’t only take shots of big rigs from Duel, they took entire action sequences and plot points!  As Duel had very specific vehicles and action scenes, items that would be integral to the story of this episode, the writers wrote an entire episode of Hulk around the action from Duel.

Spielberg was not happy with his directorial debut being recycled for a television series, and tried to prevent the show from using his shots.  However, due to the contract he signed with Universal he was powerless.  Burned by The Incredible Hulk, Spielberg would wield his clout to demand in his future contracts that none of his footage could be recycled in such a manner.

Spielberg may have had his revenge a few years later while making the TV series Amazing Stories episode Remote Control Man.  An episode all about TV series come to life, there was a cameo by Hulk (not played by Lou Ferrigno, but a much less muscular double).

But looking at this week’s episode of Hulk, I can see why Spielberg might be upset.  I can only imagine Kenneth Johnson, writer for this week’s episode, watching Duel and specifically trying to figure out how much of it he can use in an episode.  The amount of reuse goes beyond homage or convenience and almost into piracy!

The episode starts with David (Bill Bixby) walking the streets in Nevada.  As the series has not really kept verisimilitude with David’s geography from the end of one episode to the start of the next, I liked seeing him still in Nevada creating stronger ties to the previous week’s The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas.  The dialogue even references David having come from Vegas, and the episode starts as most episodes end, with David hitchhiking on the highway, The Lonely Man theme playing.

But now we see what happens after he hits the road.  He is picked up by a young, fast talking blond girl.  Something seems amiss when she offers David $10 to deliver a “funny birthday card” to her boyfriend at his office.  David, ever the trusting soul, agrees happily, seemingly anxious to see the joke himself.   Bixby plays this scene horribly, with a stupid grin on his face.  It’s worse because we all know David’s being played for a fool, and his complete naiveté in this situation is silly.

It all pays off when the recipient Ted opens the letter and, shocker, its not a funny card but a note that says “I’ll kill you if I get the chance.”  Ted and his workers blame David for the note, made worse when he cannot give the name of the blond girl that lied to him, and the blond girl’s car has disappeared.

The men are about to beat David when they’re all distracted by one of their trucks, the iconic rusty, beat-up red truck from Duel, starts driving off.  David was a patsy to distract the men while the blond stole their truck!  David flees the men and jumps on the moving truck, climbing through the cab window into the passenger seat.

And then we get some terrible dialogue.  I think it’s supposed to be quick and clever, the type of dialogue you’d hear in Ocean’s 11 (or Smokey and the Bandit).  For example David says “I’m just trying to catch up” and her response is “Yeah, but let’s hope they don’t.”

Through this painful banter we find out the crux of the story.  The truck belonged to the girl, who’s name is Joanie, and her father.  They were hauling ten-thousand gallons of gasoline when Ted and his goons hijacked the truck and put Joanie’s dad in the hospital.  Telling this Joanie spouts more bad dialogue, “I could never figure out who’d want to steal ten-thousand gallons of gas anyway?  I mean beer maybe, but gas?”

Ted’s goons disguised the truck (presumably with beat-up red rust paint) but Joanie recognized it and decided to steal it back.  David postulates maybe they wanted the truck, not the gas Joanie was hauling.  He peers in the back to find the goons had emptied out the gas and filled the tanker truck with “very expensive computer components”.  Ted and his goons hijacked a truck full of these random, anonymous computer components, and were planning to use the tanker to smuggle them.  Smuggle them where?  Sell these computer components to whom?  In the 70s “very expensive computer components” would be of use to large corporations like IBM, but unless it was a prototype Apple PC I can’t imagine them having much in the way of street value.  You can’t grind them up and snort them, so I fail to see the profit for Ted.

Joanie and David drive along looking for a phone to call the cops (ah the 70s when pay phones were along the sides of the road and no one had heard of “cell phones”), but none is forthcoming.

During all of these scenes Joanie and David are being chased by Ted and his lackey Mike in a red Plymouth (go figure, the car from Duel), and this episode’s bottom-barrel production values get the spotlight.  The scenes inside the car or truck are obviously filmed on a rear-projected set.  The camera angles, the scenery, nothing about it looks real.  But when we get the exterior shots (from Duel) the film grain is different, as is the color processing, and the vehicles are moving quite quickly.  The producers don’t even seem to try to make it match.  Worse, the entire episode is scored to an upbeat, jaunty western tune that seems right out of Smokey and the Bandit.  It’s a total tonal mess.

The action is staged directly from Duel storyboards, using Duel’s film, with the Plymouth using a dirt road to pass the truck and Joanie using the truck to bump the back of the car, making it swerve off the road and hit a guardrail.  Duel is a film full of suspense and terror.  This episode is an absurd tale full of broad humor.  I can see why Spielberg was pissed; imagine taking footage from Fatal Attraction and interspersing it into an episode of Growing Pains and you’d have the same type of effect.

Only ten minutes into the episode I realize I’m in for quite a bumpy ride myself.

Ted and Mike are sloppy and incompetent, searching their Plymouth for a gun that they just can’t find.  Is it in the glove box?  Is it on the floor?  The toolbox in the back seat?  It’s a gun in a small car.  They find the gun and…it’s not loaded and they have to search the car for bullets.  It becomes very clear this episode isn’t going for suspense, it’s going for the lamest form of humor.   I cannot believe this farce was written by series creator Kenneth Johnson, who created the melodramatic psychological pilot for this series.

The story continues to plagiarize Duel as the goons have to pull off for gas and find the Plymouth’s radiator hose is in need of repair.  Joanie and David pull off at a gas station as well.  Still looking for a phone they ask the gas attendant, but his phone isn’t working.  Joanie gets gas, and David parts ways with the troublesome blond.  He stays at the gas station preferring to take his chances hitchhiking rather than with Joanie and the expensive computer components.  Joanie promises to call the police on Ted as soon as she can find a phone, and David starts walking the highway as The Lonely Man theme plays.

Wait, what? The Lonely Man theme?  We’re only a half hour into the episode and we haven’t even seen the Hulk yet?  This can’t be how it ends.

And, of course, it isn’t.

David wanders up the road to see Joanie’s truck pulled over,  Ted and Mike having caught up to the blonde.  We don’t see how they stopped her in the big rig, but they have taken Joanie captive and stolen back the truck, leaving their Plymouth unattended in the desert.  Ever the hero, David hot wires the car and takes off in pursuit to rescue the girl.  He follows them back to where they have Joanie hostage, so David runs off to find a pay phone to call the cops.

Yes, this entire episode has been a hunt for a pay phone in the desert.

But this time David finds one!  I have no idea where this oasis of a pay phone was by Ted’s base in the desert, but now halfway through the episode David can finally call the authorities.  He puts in his dime to call the operator.  No answer!  So he calls the number of the pay phone company, but the support woman is less than helpful.  She refuses to call the police, and “is not equipped” to connect David to a call.  She gives him the number of a police station, but he used his last dime on the unanswered call to the operator.

I’m laughing, but David is getting frustrated.  He’s checking the coin return for a stray dime, anything to call the police.  He finds a dime and calls the police, but the operator says “please deposit twenty-five cents for the first three minutes.”  David is fumbling through change, finding only pennies.  Joanie is screaming in the distance, and then we get…

Hulk-Out #1:  Yes, I’m not kidding.  His lack of a quarter has caused David to Hulk out, screaming the words “I don’t have twenty-five cents!” in his gravely Hulk-transformation voice.  The green animated blob takes over David’s face, his eyes go white, and he transforms.  The buttons pop off his shirt and I’m thinking if he doesn’t have a quarter there’s no way he can afford new buttons for his shirt, but now the Hulk is here and proceeds to take out David’s anger on the phone booth.  Hulk crushes the phone receiver and tears the phone out from the wall, smashing the phone booth in its entirety.

Hey, Hulk, remember Joanie?  Want to rescue her?

Once the phone booth is suitably destroyed Hulk breaks through the aluminum wall of Ted’s base.  Hulk lifts up one goon with one hand, and uses the other to toss another lackey across the garage.  He then lifts up Joanie in his arms and flees.

Another one of Ted’s goons picks up a chain and starts to swing it above his head–the first time Hulk has been attacked by a real weapon other than a gun!  I think a good fight may follow, and the goon captures Hulk’s arm with the chain.  But he’s apparently throwing the chain from only three feet away as Hulk reaches out with his other hand and throws the goon up to the roof of the building!  The goon is able to catch a fingerhold, and Hulk runs off.

But during all this, Ted and Mike have driven off in the truck with the “very expensive computer components”.  Joanie takes chase in the red Plymouth (so I know more scenes from Duel are coming!), and Hulk is left there to roar impotently.

I want to say I think Lou looks good in the make-up this episode.  With the torn shirt hanging from his shoulders, he is intimidating and after the farce that we’ve been watching on screen his presence is more than welcome.  But he has little to do, the fight is too short, and before we know it we’re at a commercial.

Joanie is driving over 80 miles per hour!  Still she cannot escape the scenes from Duel as she drives and hides behind an embankment.  (At this point can I start calling Joanie “Mann”, the lead character in Spielberg’s film?)  Once the truck passes, she drives on and sees David by the side of the road, just post-transformation.  Despite his torn clothes Joanie doesn’t connect David to the Hulk.  In this exchange I cannot decide which line was funnier, Joanie saying “We have to find a phone!” continuing the endless search for telecommunications, or David searching through his bag for a new shirt saying “I really need to start buying shirts that stretch.”

They drive and see a phone by the side of the road.  Joanie pulls off, but the truck is in pursuit, so David gets behind the driver’s seat and the two take off once again.

Banjo music as loud as can be, Mann, er, Joanie and David try to outrun the truck.  The truck bumps them, and they pull in front of a train, and now I just wish I was watching Spielberg’s film en toto rather than this rip-off.

We do get some new footage interspersed with Spielberg’s, seeing the car hit some barricades Dukes of Hazzard style but the majority of the external shots are from Duel.  As is the plot as the radiator hose of the Plymouth gives out and the car overheats.  The car barely makes it to the apogee of the mountain, and then pick up speed as they coast down the other side.  This happens near the climax of Duel and leads to an exciting and innovative ending.  But in Never Give a Trucker an Even Break it instead ends with David losing control of the car and hitting the side of the mountain.  Joanie is knocked out, and Ted and Mike bear the truck down on the car.  The stress causes

Hulk-Out #2:  In 747 we  saw Hulk fly a plane.  Now we see him drive a car.  Unfortunately this is not filmed nearly as well.  Rather than have Bixby in the rear-projected car doing his transformation, they have him on an all-black set with the green glow on his face.  Close-ups of shirt arms tearing and Bixby in partial make-up are interspersed with car chase scenes, and it all ends with Hulk, obviously not in a car, holding a steering wheel attached to nothing.

And we never get to see Hulk try to mess with the brakes, or steering.  Instead the car just stops, and Hulk knocks the door off its hinges, then throws it aside, also pulling Joanie free from the car.

The banjo music is replaced by the Hulk theme from the pilot intermixed with rapid piano notes to indicate danger.  It’s actually not bad but, like this entire episode, uneven.

Hulk pushes down an electrical pole, and using the 40-foot post like a wooden baseball bat he smacks the front of the tuck.  He then pushes the Plymouth into the truck, and the two vehicles collide in a fiery explosion.  The climax from Duel is shown with the car and truck both going off the side of a cliff, but Johnson must think Duel would have been improved by having the Hulk in it as the scene is now intercut with Hulk standing at the top of the cliff roaring triumphantly.  It’s a long drawn-out crash that makes sense in the film, but just seems to pad this episode’s running length.

Before the truck went over the cliff Ted and Mike jumped to safety. But Ted’s leg is broken and Mike is unconscious.  Hulk goes to the unconscious, but safe, Joanie who awakens to again see David post-transformation.  Joanie never asks what happened to David’s shirt again, but they walk away to go to the cops.

And in the last scene Joanie buys David some new clothes with the reward money she got from turning in Ted, and the shop owner tells Joanie that a reporter named McGee is looking to talk to people who saw the green creature.  This, of course, cues David to leave, but Joanie convinces him to stay!

Joanie:  David, I’d like to share that reward with you.

David:  That’d be nice, but I really have to leave.

Joanie: (suggetively) I’d like to share more than that with you.

(now a porn groove bass funk starts playing)

David:  How about lunch?

Joanie:  That’s a start.  (laughs)

David:  (suggestively) Yeah…

And instead of The Lonely Man theme we get a disco version of it, perhaps the “David Gets Some” theme?  But it ends with a banjo riff out of Deliverance as credits roll.

And none too soon for my tastes.  After each episode being better than the last, this is the first real stinker of the season.  There is a reason I’m reviewing an episode of The Incredible Hulk every day and not an episode of Dukes of Hazzard–I don’t really care for Dukes.  I don’t like the juvenile humor of Roscoe P. Coltrane and his dog Flash, and I don’t get excited by car chases scored to banjo music.   Yet that’s what this episode has in abundance.  I’m sure to CBS this served as a great episode to get Hulk watchers to stick around for another hour to watch more car chases on Dukes but for me this episode was miserable.  I didn’t find the intentional humor funny, and I found the serious moments unintentionally hilarious.

The only good thing I can say about this episode is that if it was still 1978, and you didn’t see Duel in theaters seven years prior, you could see the best scenes in Never Give a Trucker an Even Break and not even have to pay the $3 for a movie ticket.  But now that we have home video I strongly suggest you check out Duel instead of this turkey.  I saw it for the first time during my research for this episode, and I can give that a solid recommend.

I understand that people with different tastes than mine, those who still enjoy Dukes of Hazzard and Smokey and the Bandit to this very day, may find something they’re looking for in this episode.  These tastes are not mine; being in a comedic truck heist film wasn’t what I wanted to see the Hulk do.  I give this episode a strong not recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 6, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 8 – The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas Review

The stakes are high when David takes a job in a Las Vegas casino and agrees to help a reporter who’s working on a piece about a gambling scandal.

McGee Faces the Hulk
The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas
Season: 1
Episode: 8
Air Date: April 21, 1978
Director: Larry Stewart
Writer: Justin Edgerton
David’s Alias: Not revealed
Hulk-Outs: 2
•Slapped and knocked down a
flight of stairs
•Buried alive

We open with establishing shots of Las Vegas and a casino.  This is no shock given the title, but what makes it special is the music!  It’s a wonderful synth-funk beat with a strong bass line that combines funk and disco on a TV budget.  There have been five CD soundtracks of The Incredible Hulk released on CD but this track has escaped release?  It’s a crime!

We see David (Bill Bixby) is now working at Elder’s Casino as a shill.  He’s being trained by a sweet blond blackjack dealer named Cathy (Simone Griffeth).  The audience knows these two are clicking when Cathy picks up a copy of The National Register and makes fun of another one of Jack McGee’s Hulk stories, claiming the fuzzy picture of the green muscle man is likely McGee in a rubber suit.

But trouble is afoot.  In Vegas, newspaper reporter Ed Campion has a hot story with evidence proving that the Casino’s owner Tom Edler is linked to organized crime.   But Edler’s people are on Campion’s tail, and Campion’s wife Wanda is ambushed at the airport when she tries to fly  to Los Angeles with the evidence.  Desperate, Ed calls his friend and fellow reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) to come to Vegas and take the evidence back to LA.

Edler demands a meeting with Campion at his casino, offering the reporter $250,000 to kill the story.  When Campion refuses Edler’s bribe, Edler has his lackey Lee hit Campion with a car outside the casino.  But David happens to be getting off work and rushes to offer medical aid.  David accompanies the injured man in the ambulance, where the reporter gives David a tape recording of Edler’s attempted bribe and information on an airport locker where Wanda stashed the rest of the evidence.  As he slips from consciousness, Campion makes David promise to get the information to Jack McGee, the only man who can help.

Of course David is torn, and the audience is in great suspense.  David is the type of man who keeps his promises, but he can’t show his face to McGee, and thus we have the suspense of the episode.  David tries to drop the tape at the front desk of McGee’s hotel, and we get a tense scene of David calling McGee on the phone to pass on the information.  It’s David’s first direct interaction with McGee since the pilot!  McGee knows David’s voice but can’t quite place it, and the episode-long game of cat and mouse is afoot.

Later at the casino Lee recognizes David as the man who helped Campion after the crash.  Afraid that Campion may have given David evidence, Edler and Lee interrogate David, first trying to play on his company loyalty, then turning to coercion.  But when David tries to escape Edler turns violent and we know what this means…

Hulk-Out #1:  David is knocked down the stairs and what comes back up is the Hulk!  He knocks around Edler, then rampages through the casino, scaring dancing girls and upsetting a stereotypical gambling southerner complete with 10-gallon hat.  But the Hulk is focused on escape, not destruction, and runs out of the casino and into an alleyway where he transforms back into Banner.  Again the reverse transformation is accompanied by the green animation.

We see David interrogated by cops who believe him to be a drunk, and then David offers to buy some spare clothes from a municipal worker, but these scenes aren’t coming off as either funny or suspenseful.

Instead, stealing the show this week, is Mr. McGee.  Working with Wanda, Jack has been gathering the evidence and doing some actual investigative reporting.  I see now that Colvin was perfectly cast as McGee and he comes off as a classic investigator in the vein of Sam Spade.  It’s fun to watch, and I do believe I would watch a Jack McGee spin-off where the reporter investigated a new crime every week so long as Colvin was the star.

And this week it is Jack who is the hero, taking the risks to get the information from the airport locker.  But McGee doesn’t know there’s an ambush awaiting him at the airport, and David has to take a cab to the airport to try and warn the reporter.  Before she can call airport security Wanda is taken hostage by Edler, and I do find it odd that crime-lord Edler does so much of his own dirty work such as kidnapping women and beating up employees.  What’s the point of being the boss if you still have to get your hands dirty?

David arrives at the airport too late and McGee is taken hostage by one of Edler’s men, and Lee then captures David.  The goons put David in the back seat of their car…right next to McGee!  Again it’s suspenseful–David is at gunpoint so there’s no way he can avoid McGee this time!  He gets in the car and Bixby plays the scene perfectly, not wanting to look at McGee lest he be recognized, but unable to look away.  But the joke’s on us, and David, as McGee is out cold having been hit by Edler’s goons when he tried to make a break for it.

The goons take David and McGee to an obvious soundstage that is supposed to be “the landfill on the south side of town”.  There’s not a star in the sky, but the lighting is perfect!  The goons plan to kill the two, pushing them into a pit and using a bulldoser to dump loads of sand on the two.  Edler shows up with Wanda, another victim for the sand pit.  McGee stays out cold, but after the third load of sand is dumped David finally has had enough!

Hulk-Out #2:  Rising from the sand we get a hero’s shot of Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk.  Even in the dark lighting of evening he is bright green and looks great.

Moments later McGee awakens and is more afraid of the Hulk than he is of the goons that tried to bury him.  But while McGee fears the Hulk is a killer, Hulk effortlessly picks up McGee and performs a superhuman Bionic Woman type leap out of the sand pit, dropping McGee safe on the ground.

Hulk then turns his attentions to the goons, throwing Lee for yards into the sand.  The second goon uses the bulldozer to attack the Hulk, and Hulk stops the land mover in its tracks, ripping off it’s blade and knocking it on its back wheels.  Bested the goons run off.

But now we get the best scene of the episode.  Finally face to face with his quarry, McGee doesn’t run.  He isn’t even afraid.  Instead he walks up to the Hulk and starts to question the monster.  He asks if Hulk can understand him, and it gets even more suspenseful when we see McGee ask Hulk if he knows Dr. David Banner.  It’s a great moment, and plays well in the preview, though it makes little sense.  McGee doesn’t suspect Banner is alive, he thinks Hulk killed Banner and Elaina Marks.  It would have made sense for McGee to ask about both doctors, but it’s been eight months since the pilot aired and, without the aid of home video, it’s likely the audience barely remembers Dr. Marks.  It’s obvious, but I can’t deny the excitement of watching McGee stand feet from Hulk and invoke the name Banner.

The Hulk cannot answer, but he is calming down, and the green animated glow covers his face–he’s about to turn back into David right in front of McGee!

But while Edler’s goons made a run for it, Edler himself just went to get his gun.  He shoots the Hulk in the arm, bringing back the beast’s rage and stopping his transformation.  Hulk shot-puts a rock at Edler, hitting Edler’s car door and knocking the man out.  Then, before McGee can question him further, Hulk runs off into the desert.

In the dénouement we see David leaving the Casino, saying goodbye to Cathy.  In addition to providing exposition that Edler has been arrested, it’s actually a great ending scene, full of quotes with double meaning.  Cathy says “You run into [McGee] yet?” and David smiles wryly and says “Not yet”.  Cathy gives David a token to play in a slot machine and when it comes up a loser Cathy says “Maybe some day you’ll hit it.”  David replies sadly “Maybe I will at that” and he leaves the casino as a different version of The Lonely Man theme plays.

And what a great episode this was.  I love the cat-and-mouse between McGee and David.  With McGee set up as David’s nemesis this type of direct interaction and confrontation is exciting and ups the stakes.  Every time McGee comes to town David’s life is made a bit more difficult, and here Jack is not only in Vegas from the beginning but David is tasked with getting in touch with the reporter.  It provides a tense dynamic to the episode that raises the stakes to more than your standard episode.

I just wish the writers had found a better way to create this situation.  It’s just an unlikely  crazy coincidence that David just happens to be working in Vegas at a casino owned by a criminal under investigation by a friend of Jack’s.  I’d have preferred a less unlikely set-up, but that’s a mulligan I can give this episode if the rest of the episode proves worthy.

And it does.  Well-written, exciting, and entertaining it gives Colvin a chance to shine in the spotlight while keeping David and the Hulk central as well.  A very strong recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 5, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 7 – 747 Review

Terror soars to new heights when David and a young boy must land an airplane after the flight crew is disabled.

Hulk Banner Flies A Plane
Season: 1
Episode: 7
Air Date: April 7, 1978
Director: Sigmund Neufeld Jr.
Writer: Thomas E. Szollosi,
Richard Christian Matheson
David’s Alias: David Brown
Hulk-Outs: 2
•Trapped in a locker being
pushed out of an airplane.
•Landing an airplane and
unable to pull up on the yoke

With four regular episodes under their belt, plus the two pilot movies, The Incredible Hulk’s creators seemed to have stumbled upon a formula:  “What would happen if the Hulk were in this location, which is the worst possible place for the Hulk to be?”  Last week that location was Times Square, a hubbub of noise and people.  Putting the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) in that chaos is a recipe for mayhem, and people would surely turn in to watch.

This week the concept goes entirely the other way–an airplane!  I can hear their pitch now:  “Trapped in a confined space thousands of miles in the air, there’s nowhere for people to escape the Hulk!  Worse, with Hulk’s penchant for running through walls, he could depressurize the entire cabin and fall thousands of miles to his death!  It’s The Hulk meets Airport ’75! Ratings gold, I tell ya!”

Either that or the same production crew who saw Rocky in 1977 and thought “Let’s make that an episode of The Hulk saw Airport ’75 two years prior and followed the same pattern.

Thus we have the next episode of The Incredible Hulk:  747.

David (Bill Bixby) is still looking for a cure for the Hulk and he has found an article about a radio-neurologist named Dr. Charles who has done some cutting edge research in gamma radiation.  Charles is about to start a long lecture tour across Europe, and he is leaving that very day at 5 pm.  The problem is Charles is in Chicago and David is in San Francisco!  David says he’s going to fly out immediately, and I wonder why bother?  Given the amount of work and research I can imagine will be needed to cure Hulkism I don’t think even the world’s smartest neuro-radiologist could fix David by 5.

Nonetheless, David takes Columbia Airlines Flight 14 from San Diego to Chicago.  Of course, the plane is doomed.  It is carrying Egyptian artifacts, and the flight’s stewardess Stephanie and pilot Captain Phil are plotting to steal the priceless artifacts and parachute out of the plane.  They will drug the pilots for the heist, but the pilots will awaken to safely land the plane.

While the writers and producers were likely thinking Airport with this film, even using some footage from Airport for establishing shots of the airport and airplane, I couldn’t help but think of Airplane! as David pulls up and a voice announces “The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only.  No parking.”

The ties to Airport continue as we are introduced to the passengers on the plane:  A first-time-flying shoe salesman Mr. Leggit, an elderly couple sitting next to David called Mr. and Mrs. MacIntire, and Kevin, a precocious boy traveling with his mother.  The boy is played by Brandon Cruz, who played Eddie Corbett, the son of Bill Bixby’s character in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.  

After takeoff the stewardess proceeds with her plans to drug the pilots, slipping a special drug in their coffee.  But when Stephanie is looking away that rascally caffeine addict Mr. MacIntire swipes a cup of coffee, one with the drug in them.  The nurse tries to retrieve the coffee by telling MacIntire there was medication in the coffee, and David is immediately suspicious.  Panicked, Stephanie just throws a bottle of prescription drugs in another cup of coffee and proceeds to poison the pilots.  Once the two other pilots are unconscious Stephanie and Phil are free to continue their plan.  Were it not for David.

When Mr. MacIntire passes out from the drug, David performs a surreptitious medical exam, then interrogates Stephanie about what medicine was in the coffee.  Stephanie gets flustered and, not trusting the stewardess, David demands to speak to the pilot.  Phil comes out and, feigning concern, he leads David down to the cargo hold under the strained guise of looking for a medical kit.  Phil tricks David into stepping inside a locker that supposedly has a medical kit inside.  Phil locks David in the locker, then proceeds to loot the artifacts in plain sight of his captive.

These are some wonderfully stereotypical artifacts too!  A gold head of a pharaoh, some gold bracelets, all valuable I’m sure.  But David overhears not only the names of the looters but also that they plan to parachute into Fremont Pass.  To prevent David from telling the authorities this information Phil decides to push David out of the plane.  There’s no way he could have expected…

Hulk-Out #1:  David transforms inside the crate, and while Phil cannot see the actual transformation it shouldn’t take a leap of logic for the pilot to realize only one person was in that locker a minute ago, ergo David must be the Hulk.  Not that Phil has much time for reasoning when the Hulk comes at him.  Phil goes for a gun and shoots, but misses Hulk, instead hitting a fuel line.  Hulk throws the pilot towards the open hatch, and Phil almost falls out.  Phil screams for help and the Hulk, always a hero, goes to help the thief but slips on the fuel and falls out the airlock!  It actually is quite an exciting moment to wonder how the Hulk will survive a 30,000 foot fall, but at the last second he grabs onto the hatch with one hand.  Phil tries to knock Hulk loose, but using his free hand Hulk flings the evildoer across the hold and, roaring, pulls himself back in.

We then get a very funny scene of Mr. Leggit going to use the bathroom, opening the wrong door and seeing the Hulk.  It’s played quite well and the laugh provides tension relief from the intense fight we just had.  Leggit’s attempts to convince Kevin, Kevin’s mother, and the stewardess that the Hulk is aboard continues the amusement.

Meanwhile Hulk then transforms back into David with the animated green glow, and now the glow covers not only David’s face but also his arm.  The arm actually worked to good effect, but the face is still awful.

Leggit’s rants cause the other stewardess, Denise, to investigate the hold and she finds David dressing himself with clothes found in the luggage.  David tells Denise of the planned heist, which Denise of course doesn’t believe.  Seeing pilot Phil unconscious on the ground she is more suspicious of David than her co-workers.  She asks David what he hit the captain with and David, reaching, says “we’re in the hold, I hit him with whatever I could!”  It’s quite a funny evasion.

But with Phil to reassure her that the heist would work the already skittish Stephanie cracks.  She backs up David’s story, confessing her story to Denise, and tells David which medicine she used to knock out the pilots.  Ever the doctor, David realizes the dosage she used was so strong the pilots will never awaken in time to land the plane.  Worse, with the fuel leak, they cannot stay airborne…and there’s no one aboard who can land the plane!  Denise and David radio the flight tower, who responds saying the plane needs to land in Denver–even if there are no pilots!  They will walk David through the steps involved in landing the plane.  Why David? Because he’s the star of the show, I suppose.  In the 70’s perhaps it was still unthinkable that a woman could land a plane, even if Denise would be more familiar with a cockpit than David.  And despite there being 100 other people on the plane, David was there first, so he must land the plane!

Fortunately he does have help.  Denise and David hope an experienced pilot may be among the passengers, but they don’t want to cause a panic, so they make an announcement offering experienced pilots a tour of the cockpit.  There are no experienced pilots, but Kevin comes up as he wants to be a pilot when he grows up.  As Kevin’s father has a private jet he is the passenger most familiar with airplane instrumentation stays in the cockpit, helping David find the controls and instrumentation.  Meanwhile Denise recruits Stephanie to come back to the light side and help prepare the passengers for a crash landing in the hopes that Stephanie’s recklessness didn’t kill them all.

Now I want to say that thanks to Airplane!, Snakes on a Plane and countless other movies and TV series this trope of an untrained layperson landing a plane has become a cliche, but back in 1978 this still would have been fairly novel.  And while it may have recalled scenes from Airport ’75, that film didn’t commit to this plot line–Hulk does.

The landing goes fairly smoothly with David keeping his cool, but during the landing it’s found that the plane is leaking hydraulic fluid as well and David can’t pull back the yoke.  Even with Denise pulling the stick won’t move, and the yelling by the ground control crew push David past the edge.  At the last second David orders Denise and Kevin to leave the cockpit and we get

Hulk-Out #2:  This ranks as one of the most inventive Hulk-Outs of the whole series.  David needs to keep control to land the plane–if he transforms fully the plane will crash and they all die.  So we see Bixby, face panted green, in partial transform.  This is proof of something important–David can control his metamorphosis.  It may take training and practice, but because it matters and he’s focused here David stays in mid-transformation for the entire landing, using the strength of the Hulk to pull the yoke but keeping some of David’s intelligence as well to stay in control.

It’s also a great coincidence that he’s talked through it by the ground crew on the radio.  The air traffic controller, referring to the plane, keeps repeating the mantra “stay in control”, but that applies just as much to David’s control of his strong alter-ego.

Unfortunately David loses control just before the landing.  Fully transformed, the Hulk follows the controller’s order to pull back the yoke saving the plane, but when the man on the radio asks Hulk to hit the brakes it just confuses the green Goliath.

As the plane is not slowing down on the runway Kevin knows something is amiss so he runs into the cabin to find Hulk.  Kevin logically thinks David has left and Hulk came from…somewhere, but in mid-crash there’s no time for conversation.  With Kevin’s instructions Hulk is able to push on the brakes.  In a sweet moment, Kevin puts his hand on Hulk’s to pull back the throttle, and Kevin steers while Hulk brakes narrowly averting a total disaster.

With the plane landed and everyone safe the Hulk rages through the plane, not sure where to go and legitimizing Mr. Leggit’s rants.  Finally Hulk knocks open a hatch and runs down the tarmac, knocking down a fence and racing to Denver.

As our episode ends, we see David calling Dr. Charles’ office to find that Charles has left for Europe, though he will be happy to see David when he returns.  In three months.

Heartbroken, David dons a much heavier coat than he has in previous episodes (hey, it’s cold in Denver) and walks into town as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

While this episode repeats Final Round‘s idea of taking the plot of a hit movie and inserting the Hulk, 747 is a much better choice of movie to ape.  A boxer versus the Hulk isn’t suspenseful, but the Hulk in the middle of a disaster film is!  While the nefarious heist plot is a bit of a reach, I do like it better than something more violent than the plane being taken over by hijackers or just a random accident.

Plus in this episode Banner and Hulk’s relationship actually evolves.  Now we have seen the Hulk is able to follow simple instructions, and David able to control his metamorphosis.  It is a wonderful step that, if this series were airing today, could have been the first step on a journey of David gaining control of this new power.  Unfortunately due to the nature of episodic television in the 70’s and 80’s characters were far more static, and such evolutions uncommon, so I don’t think this is the first step of David’s journey but merely a one-off occurrence that will not be referenced again for the rest of the series.

But no matter what the series has in store, this episode is the best to date.  A solid recommend and I hope the quality can stay aloft as the shows continue!

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 4, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 6 – Terror in Times Square

David finds work in a Times Square arcade, but the job is hardly fun and games when he realizes that the owner is being blackmailed, and he also uncovers a murder plot.

Hulk in Times Square
Terror in Times Square
Season: 1
Episode: 6
Air Date: March 31, 1978
Director: Alan J. Levi
Writer: William Schwartz
David’s Alias: David Blake
Hulk-Outs: 2
•Beaten by drug
•Trapped in rush hour

The episode opens with some stock footage of New York in the 70s, and it really is an “incredible” sight.  I love New York City but only went in the late 90s and after, when Giuliani had already begun his sanitization of the city in general, and Times Square specifically.  So when the episode began with a  montage of arial shots from the bay and seeing the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building I actually did some freeze frames, to compare the city as I know it to how it looked 35 years ago.

The third shot is of Times Square, and if the same year this episode was released George Benson sang “the neon lights are bright on Broadway” he had no idea the garish spectacle it would be in 2012!  In these early scenes I see an almost quaint Times Square with old school Sony and Coca-Cola ads, very subdued to the Times Square of the 21st century.

But soon we’re taken to our reason for being in New York City–the Hulk!  For a change, we start off with Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) telling his friend Bobby the Hulk had been spotted in New Jersey. Now McGee thinks the Hulk has come to The Big Apple.  Bobby accuses Jack of being obsessed with the Hulk, revealing the reporter has traveled to Chicago, St. Louis and even Cleveland chasing after the elusive green giant.

This gives us our first look inside the life of Jack McGee.  In every episode since the pilot Mr. McGee has shown up halfway through the episode and snooped around making things difficult for David and bringing the police to arrest the bad guys.  But we have never heard his reasons why focuses so much on the Hulk, or what his contemporaries think of his investigation.  Here we see he’s seen as a bit crazy chasing stories about green men, but McGee reveals his view that the Hulk is “the biggest knock-down drag-out five-star final I’ve ever latched onto.”

And through his investigations McGee has come to know the Hulk’s patterns, because he’s exactly right–David Banner (Bill Bixby) has come to New York.  David wants to find Dr. Everett Lewis, an expert in genetics research, looking for a cure to his Hulkism.  But Dr. Lewis is out of town until “next Friday” and in the meantime David took a job working at an arcade.

Not to spend this whole review reflecting on the 70s, but arcades were very different before Pac-Man and Frogger.  Full of pinball machines and  novelties, it’s a different type of arcade than any I’ve known.

We’re also introduced to Carol Abrams, the boss’ daughter.  She is being tutored in her pre-med studies by David, and she seems to have a flirtation with the older man.  I was shocked at how forward she was when she, pretending to be an unruly customer to see how David would react, told David “how about I go for your sack”.  I could not believe a testicle joke on family television!  But it turned out she meant a bag of quarters David was carrying, retrieved from the pinball machines.  Still, I think this was an intentional double entendre.

But wherever David works we know there’s trouble, and at the arcade we find the arcade’s owner, Norman Abrams is one of several Times Square businesses being shaken down by local mobster Jasion Laird (Robert Alda) for protection money.  When the businessmen revolt and start to reduce their payments to “Uncle Jason”, Laird and his lackey Johnathan thinks that a “cancer” is spreading through Times Square.  In retribution for Norman reducing his latest payment, Jason orders Norman to kill”Uncle” Leo (Hello!)–the ring leader of the revolt.  Jason makes vague threats towards Carol if Norman refuses.

David overhears Jason’s demands and tries to intervene, but one of Jason’s goons stands in David’s way with a clever bit of dialogue to David:  “Look, you really don’t want to make me angry.  And I don’t want to make you angry.”  A nice play on David’s famous opening credits line.  The goon then takes David hostage, but we know where this will end up…

Hulk-Out #1:  Jason’s goon takes David to Jason at a shipping dock where Jason does some smuggling of “candles”.  Candles supplied by Eddie Franklin, the biggest drug dealer in New York.  Jason suspects David to be a middle-man for a competing mafioso and orders his goons to beat the truth out of David.  Not wanting to witness the violence, Jason leaves David with the odd threat “there’s a shortage of wheelchairs in this city.”

David ends up making a run for it and we see Bixby to be quite nimble, vaulting over shipping crates, before being caught and punched behind a series of crates, just out of sight for his transformation.

The Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) has a new wig this time with bangs!

He throws some crates and goons around but doesn’t see a sneak attack from behind by a forklift.  Hurt, Hulk bends, then topples the forklift, showing some great feats of strength.  But now wounded, Hulk runs off down an alleyway, kind of skipping to show him favoring his wounded leg as we go to commercial.

We return to the reverse transformation and the animated green glow over the face is almost entirely gone now.  He found a quiet spot in Manhattan–in an alleyway?  Having been to Manhattan many times I know alleys are basically nonexistent; real estate is too valuable to spend unused as alleyways are.  We are obviously on a soundstage.

Now once again human David whispers “Norman!”,  super worried for his employer.  When we last saw Norman and Leo it did look like Norman was going to give in and, to protect his daughter, follow Jason’s wishes and kill Leo.  We, the audience, have every reason to want David to hurry and stop Norman from becoming a murderer.  But before heading to help his boss, David first finds some fashionable plaid shirts hanging from a clothesline.  David takes the shirts, but leaves some cash in their place because, remember kiddies, stealing is wrong!

We see David limping, wincing from the leg injury he sustained as the Hulk, but he still makes it to Norman’s apartment and when Norman doesn’t answer David breaks down the door.  And we thought only the Hulk could break through doors!  But all David’s worrying was for nothing as he enters to find no one killed.  Instead, Norman and Leo drunk themselves into a stupor while planning to kill Jason.

David tells Norman to do nothing rash as he plans to use the information he found out at the dock to get Jason arrested.  Needing hard proof, David steals a stethoscope and goes to Jason’s warehouse and starts searching crates.  He finds some piece of art that, judging from Bixby’s sniffing his fingers, is apparently filled with heroin or cocaine or some such.  Then David uses the stethoscope to crack Jason’s safe.  Oh that wily Dr. Banner!

In the safe David finds Jason’s little black book of debts and, careful to not touch it with his own fingerprints, David puts it in an envelope.  Then, sure to wrap the statue in a brown paper bag, David flees the warehouse with the evidence.

But sobering up, Norman and Leo decide to team up to kill Jason, knowing they will die in the process.  And we get some honestly touching, fairly well-acted scenes of Leo coming to terms with the end of his own life, and Norman having a subtle goodbye with Carol.  Joe Harnell created a great piece of piano and synth music for this familial scene, and it’s built up so the audience really believes it’s Norman’s last goodbye.

And it would be, if not for the Hulk!

This whole episode seems to be David chasing a couple old men and always being a few steps behind.  He is getting agitated, unable to score a cab (which is a challenge oft times in New York).  With his lame leg, he travels around the city.  At the arcade David finds Norman and Leo have gone to their fatal appointment with Jason.  David brings Carol up to speed and gives her the incriminating evidence and orders to call the police.  Unwilling to wait for the police himself, though, David continues his chase for the old men.  This time he actually scores a cab and offers the cabbie $5 to take him to the Park Avenue rendezvous.  Again I laugh; $5 wouldn’t get me 3 blocks in New York today, let alone motivate the cabbie to do it quickly.

Then again it doesn’t help David either, nor does another Hamilton David offers the cabbie to hurry.  So agitated by the city’s gridlock, and worried about Norman’s well-being, David starts yelling at the cabbie.  The stress of the situation gets to him and then right there in the back seat of the cab we have…

Hulk-Out #2:  There is a great pun as the cabbie, not looking in the back seat, says “You’re gonna be 10 minutes late so keep your shirt on” only to look up and see Hulk, who has never worn a shirt.  After some humerous facial expressions both from Lou and the cabbie, Hulk smashes off the cab door, and starts to run down the street.

And now we get our money shot.  This is what we are here to see–the Hulk in Times Square, running through the streets.  While much of this episode has been shot on a soundstage with some stock footage for establishing shots, there’s no mistaking–this is the real thing.  I’m again gawking at the time period, seeing one movie theater proudly proclaiming they are playing Saturday Night Fever, another playing Coma.  But beyond the dated landmarks and fashion the scene is actually phenomenal.  There are plenty of reactions from both extras in the shoot and regular New Yorkers Ferrigno just happened to run past.  The score works well for these scenes, a bit of gothic rock, and the use of a telephoto lens adds some grit to the film.  It really is a great scene, Hulk smashing newspaper kiosks on his way to save Norman.

You also can tell it’s cold.  There is snow on the ground, and the Hulk’s breath is visible as he roars.  The wet cement and brown color of the film stock makes New York feel seedy and dangerous, as I remember thinking of it before I went.   The camera circles round and round the Hulk, giving me another great look at the Times Square of the 70s.  Shockingly they had those shady electronics stores on every corner even back then.

But yes, this is one of the famous episodes where we see the “Hulk slippers”–a pair of green ballet shoes that Ferrigno sometimes wore to protect his feet.  On DVD they do stand out, but if I hadn’t read about them in Lou Ferrigno’s autobiography I may not have noticed.  They did a good job of matching the paint of his body, and for most shots his feet are out of frame.

It only takes a few minutes of Hulk terrorizing Times Square before reports make their way to Jack McGee, who is soon chasing the Hulk down to Park Avenue.  It’s a wonderful shot of McGee casually wandering the streets, smoking a cigarette, until he spots the Hulk.  McGee throws down his smoke and takes chase, and again Colvin has sold me on the reality of his character.

Hulk finally gets to the parking garage where Leo and Norman plan to kill Jason.  To stop Norman from pulling the trigger Hulk throws the old man into a wall.  Hulk then throws around Jason’s mobsters, and throws head mobster face-down into some wet cement–a reference to Jimmy Hoffa perhaps?

But the police sirens cause Hulk to flee.  Carol summoned the cops as David ordered, and they quickly arrest Jason and his goons.  Inexplicably Norman and Leo, a duo planning a murder, are left unmolested.

The heat is now on, so David dons his tan jacket, kisses Carol goodbye and wanders off to a saxophone-laden rendition of The Lonely Man theme–perhaps the big city remix?  But it fades to the familiar piano score and a wide shot of New York one last time as credits roll.

This episode does have some disappointing aspects.  From the opening with Jack McGee and his buddy I expected the reporter to play a much larger role in the episode.  Seeing McGee with other reporters in the big city, as well as the NYPD, would have been an interesting dynamic for David and the Hulk to face.  I mean, for once McGee got to town before the Hulk showed up, so I was certain that would play into the plot.  But I was wrong.  Despite the wonderful opening scene of McGee, he’s forgotten until the last 5 minutes of the episode…just like every other episode.

Also the main plot of local businessmen shaken down and fighting back against a mafioso is mundane and hackneyed.  I liked the way it was played, but it didn’t feel like a story that had to be told in New York.  The same story could have been played in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, or any big city.  If the production was going to fly to New York, I’d have preferred a story that really played on that fact.

Despite this, the scenes of Hulk in New York are damn fun.  And the director knew it, letting the scene go on so long as to become indulgent, but it never lost its energy.  Ferrigno gave it all he had on those streets and it worked perfectly.  Add to that some good character actors cast as Leo and Norman, and it’s a very solid episode that I can easily recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 3, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 5 – Of Guilt, Models and Murder Review

The picture isn’t pretty when david awakens in a room next to a dead model. Is the Hulk a killer? Loni Anderson guest stars.

Bill Cole goes for a Hulk KO
Of Guilt, Models and Murder
Season: 1
Episode: 5
Air Date: March 24, 1978
Director: Larry Stewart
Writer: James D. Parriott
David’s Alias: David Blaine
Hulk-Outs: 2
•Running to help a girl and
attacked by dogs
•Tied up and trapped in a
car crusher

Since the pilot episode of The Incredible Hulk we’ve been told that the Hulk could be dangerous, yet we’ve seen him only act on the side of good.  He’s been kind to children and beaten up bad guys, but Hulk’s potential to harm innocent people has been a constant thread throughout the series.

This is something taken into great use in the fifth episode of the series:  Of Guilt, Models and Murder.  We open to see David (Bruce Bixby) just finishing his transformation back into a human from the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno).  The sound effects, torn clothes and white eyes show us clearly he has been the Hulk, but neither David nor the audience know the circumstances of why he transformed, or why he’s in a very fancy bathroom.

After washing up, David emerges to find a room in shambles, the furniture overturned, and the body of a beautiful young woman lying on the ground.  Did Hulk kill her?  Of course not, but while the intelligent audience may know this David does not.  And thus we get our first true mystery story in The Incredible Hulk.

David thinks back and we see him in flashback just walking the streets when he hears someone yelling for help.  Being a good guy he goes to help and sees the beautiful woman in the window of a mansion yelling.

Hulk-Out #1: Trying to get to her, David is attacked by Dobermans.  He gets the white eyes, and we see his point of view as he looks to the woman in the window, and see that as he changes his vision is tinted green.  We never see Lou in the make-up, because David can’t remember what the Hulk does, but we see the before and after of this scene.

Then we come out of that flashback and into another, a scene from the pilot, David remembering Dr. Elaina Ross saying that as the Hulk is an outgrowth of David Banner the Hulk won’t kill because it’s not in David’s nature to kill.

As he’s on the run already, David leaves the scene and the next day sees on the news that the dead girl was Terri Ann-a model who was the face of Joslin Cosmetics.    In a press conference, James Joslin (guest star Jeremy Brett) said that Terri was playing around, calling for help in the window.  But the Hulk came, tossed their dogs around like rag dolls, and burst through the door.  In a flashback showing Joslin’s story we see Hulk tear up the house, break furniture, growling the whole time.  Cutting back to Joslin, he says the Hulk crushed Terri, breaking her back and leaving her dead.  Afraid, Joslin says he ran for safety.

I think the telling of this story is very bold.  While the audience knows from the beginning that the Hulk didn’t kill this girl, the director chose to have it acted out anyway.  Home audience members watched as the Hulk attacked a girl, and that is serious, gripping material.  Immediately this episode had me hooked.

This story also ups the ante by introducing National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) very early on.  As McGee goes wherever reliable Hulk sightings are reported, he is one of several reporters camped outside Joslin’s mansion.  McGee always raises the stakes of an episode as now David has to hide his real face.  It’s nice to see McGee acting like a reporter, interacting with other tabloid journalists, acting like paparazzi stalking Joslin.  It adds a bit of much needed realism to McGee’s role.  But unfortunately McGee does little else, spending much of the episode just sitting outside the mansion, and the rest of it looking for his stolen car.  But we’ll get to that.

David is distressed by these reports and we get some great scenes of him conversing with another transient, a girl, discussing the dangers of life on the streets in a scene that really added depth to David’s plight, and when David goes up to the police car I thought he might actually turn himself in.  But a flashback of a blond Joslin was with on TV clicks in David’s fuzzy Hulk memories, so he instead goes undercover to take the job of valet for Joslin.

Getting the job, David quickly learns that Joslin’s previous valet was a man named Sanderson, and now Sanderson is blackmailing his former employer.

Also soon after arriving at the mansion David spots the blond girl he saw on TV–someone any 70s TV aficionado would recognize as WKRP in Cincinnati star Loni Anderson.  As this episode aired six months before WKRP premiered Anderson was still mostly an unknown at this time, but I cannot separate her from her most famous role.

Here Anderson is playing Sheila Cantrell, Joslin’s newest top model.  Meeting David at Joslin’s mansion she tells the new valet how Joslin is a dangerous, viscous man and I feel certain that Anderson will be this episode’s damsel in distress, the next target of Joslin’s rage.  But the writers fooled me–she’s not the victim, she’s the true killer!

Even a slip in Sheila’s story didn’t tip me off.  She mentions the Hulk had white eyes, a detail not released in the press.  But this only gets Sheila to claim Joslin is the murderer, which made David very relieved and me even more certain Loni would need to be rescued by the Hulk before credits rolled.

As Sheila tells her account of that night, we again see the events in flashback.  Now an attempted rescuer, the Hulk gets to flex right into the camera, something Ferrigno does best, and I notice they finally got rid of the huge eyebrow appliance.  Now Hulk just has bushy eyebrows and a large green wig, the iconic Hulk make-up.

And in this scene Ferrigno has to emote, acting distraught at the death of Terri.  It’s a different emotion being played than when Dr. Marks died in the pilot.  I’m not entirely sure Ferrigno pulled it off, but it was mercifully short.

Anderson continues to sucker me in with her damsel in distress routine, and David urges her to flee Joslin’s influence.  Meanwhile David steals Mr. McGee’s car and goes to find Sanderson at the auto salvage yard he owns.  Using McGee’s tape recorder, David hopes Sanderson will tell David something that would clear the Hulk of Terri’s murder.  But David’s confab with Sanderson is interrupted by Joslin, Sheila, and Joslin’s goon Elkin.  Sheila then makes the villain’s mistake of confessing everything–she killed Terri, not Joslin.  Sheila wanted to be Joslin’s cover girl, but Terri wouldn’t back down.  So Sheila used her karate skills to kill her…and seeing Loni Anderson try to fake karate movies is the epitome of unintentional humor.

They shove David and Sanderson into a run down car in the salvage lot which they then forlkift into the car crusher, leading us to

Hulk-Out #2:  The car is put in the crusher, and  Elkin starts the crusher (which has a hysterically placed “Please, no smoking” sign by the controls).  The three glamor villains  stand to watch David die.  But David gets the trademark white eyes and the green animated glow on his face is subdued this time.  As Sanderson is in the front seat, and David in the back, Sanderson never sees David transform, but the Hulk tears the roof off the car (and we see all the make-up rubbed of Ferrigno’s hands in the process).  Then Hulk uses one single hand to hold off the car crusher, while using his other to throw Sanderson to freedom.  Ferrigno does a great job of showing the strain against over three thousand pounds of pressure, really selling us on Hulk’s strength, before he finally has to jump free and attack the baddies.

He crushes Elkin’s gun and tosses him into a pile of cars, but before he can take care of Sheila and Joslin he has to run away–the police found Mr. McGee’s car outside the salvage yard, and came in to investigate.  Joslin claims Hulk was about to kill them all, and as Sanderson had fled earlier there was no one to discount the story.

Except for David.  Despite his pants being stretched to their limit in his Hulk transformation, Mr. McGee’s tape recorder stayed safe in his pocket, capturing Sheila’s entire confession.

We then cut to several days later, where Mr. McGee is being interviewed about his discovery of Sheila’s taped confession, and saying while the creature may have been cleared for this murder he is still a wanted fugitive.  And David, his conscience cleared if not his name, turns from the TV set and walks away into the studio back-lot as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

This is the first really inventive episode The Incredible Hulk has given us.  It had two unique elements that elevate it above the standard episode.  The first is the mystery of who killed Terri.  While a sophisticated audience is pretty sure Hulk wasn’t to blame, David wasn’t so sure.  This is an effective reminder why David wants to be rid of his alter ego–he can not be assured of the safety of those around him when the Hulk arrives.

Then the way the story was told, using multiple instances of flashbacks to show the audience what happened that night–first showing it as Joslin told the night to be, then as Sheila said it was, then finally showing it as it really happened–helped to change up the show’s pattern.  Usually we get Hulk-Outs about 25 and 55 minutes into the episode, but here the episode started after a Hulk-Out that was then shown throughout the entire episode.  It greatly increased the Hulk’s presence in the episode, and gave us an episode about the Hulk, rather than the episode about some other plot that the Hulk just happened upon.

Unfortunately the villains in this episode are stock, and even though Loni Anderson brings name recognition to the role now, but at air time she was literally just another (very) pretty face.  The writers did sucker me in thinking she was the next victim when she was the killer, but the fact that she killed Terri through her mastery of karate was farcical.

But no matter how poor the villians’ acting or plot was, this episode easily gets a recommend.  I hope to see more creativity in future episodes like what was exhibited here.

 Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 2, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 4 – The Beast Within Review

A job at a zoo introduces David to a female scientist who is conducting genetis research that may help him gain a better understanding of his own condition.

Bill Cole goes for a Hulk KO
The Beast Within
Season: 1
Episode: 4
Air Date: March 17, 1978
Director: Kenneth Gilbert
Writer: Karen Harris,
Jill Sherman Donner
David’s Alias: David Bradburn
Hulk-Outs: 2
•Attacked by a gorilla
•Tied up, about to be poisoned

The second regular episode of The Incredible Hulk TV series, The Beast Within is the first regular episode showing David (Bill Bixby) going undercover in the search for a cure that can rid him of  the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) .

In an article of Anthropology Monthly David read about the research of Dr. Claudia Baxter (Caroline McWilliams) into the root chemical cause of animal aggression.  Her goal is to find an antidote to aggression in animals, and David thinks it may help aggression in humans as well.  David takes the job as a janitor at the zoo where Baxter works and approaches the scientist, claiming to have had a couple years of pre-med as well as experience in animal husbandry.

As Baxter must have needed a tiger masturbated she decides to show David around the lab and bring him up to speed on her research, but waiting in her lab is sexual harasser Carl (Richard Kelton).  Offering grant money in exchange for a date, Baxter coldly turns him down.  We find she’s more interested in animals than humans as she is disappointed by most of the people she’s met.  But she has full trust in her animals, even allowing a gorilla named Elliot to wander free in the lab.

There’s a wonderfully funny moment where Dr. Baxter presents David with “the work of Dr. David Banner–a brilliant, if long-winded, scientist” who’s work Baxter wants to continue.  Bixby plays that moment perfectly, bemused to hear opinions on his own work in that way.

She has continued Banner’s work and created AGD-4, a drug that seems to stop the aggression in animals, but then causes an after effect of severe aggression in the animals.

But Baxter’s work is in danger of losing her grants due to the death of several animals due to infection.  We find this out from Baxter’s boss Dr. Malone (Dabs Greer, best known as Reverend Alden from Little House on the Prairie) who cracks the whip saying if they had more people like David working there the zoo would never be clean.

Which is true, actually.  We have many, many scenes of David, a janitor, flirting with Dr. Baxter, performing experiments, and buying hot dogs for the comely scientist.

If we didn’t already suspect Carl and Dr. Malone of being evil, it’s confirmed the next scene where Carl is seen carrying a chimp that he and Malone declare dead.  David examines the chimp and think it is just in a “comatose state”.  And we soon discover the depths of the plot when Carl and Malone meet with a South African diamond smuggler named Joe.  The zoo is using the animals to smuggle diamonds into the United States, and killing the animals to remove the diamonds.  This makes me wonder, if they have to autopsy the animals to get the diamonds out, how are they getting the diamonds in the animals in the first place?  More animal husbandry?

It’s a ludicrous plot that is strained even further when we see Malone having second thoughts, and Joe and Carl conspiring to kill David, fearing the janitor may “know too much”.  Rather than kill David obviously Carl decides to inject Elliot the gorilla with the AGD-4, then locks David in the cage with the enraged ape.

Hulk-Out #1:  With Elliot beating David, David starts his transformation and beats on the gorilla.  While the fact that Elliot was a guy in a suit worked okay during the early scenes, in the fight with the Hulk the costume’s limitations become obvious.  Ferrigno flexes and growls, and so the gorilla throws some lab equipment at Hulk and we can actually see the gorilla suit wrinkle.  The fight continues all in slow motion, Lou’s pecs jiggling, the lab being destroyed, until Elliot retreats into his cage.  But at the last minute Dr. Baxter comes in to see the giant green Hulk, so Hulk breaks through the wall and runs off following a sign that humorously says “To the Animals.”

In most episodes this is where the Hulk-Out would end, but this one continues for many more scenes of Hulk flexing and growling at zoo attendees, giving plenty of eye-witnesses to Hulk’s escapades.  But, lest the younger members of the audience be frightened by the rampaging green man, Hulk also has a tender moment with a little girl who feeds peanuts to Hulk.  Of course, Hulk eats them shell and all.   It’s a mash-up of two scenes from the pilot movies, but it is there to gently remind the audience that Hulk is friendly to children.

After the girl’s shrieking mother frightens Hulk off he finally he hides in the tiger den.  There, petting a baby tiger, the Hulk finally change back into David.  And once human, David is quite scared of all the giant cats around him (though I’m not sure why; if a tiger attacked I’m sure he’d just change back into the Hulk).

The Hulk’s appearance has upped scrutiny on Dr. Malone and the zoo, and Malone plans to use Hulk as a scapegoat for all the dead animals.  Malone suspends Baxter from the zoo, but as she’s packing, David returns and notices some of the AGD-4 compound is missing and a blood sample shows that it was the cause of Elliot’s attack.

But with all these eye witnesses to Hulk’s appearance, the police and Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) are out in full force trying to capture the creature.  And we get a funny moment when Baxter asks David to get rid of Mr. McGee as she doesn’t want to deal with the press.  David is unsure what to do and gives Baxter a character-building speech about how she can’t hide from people forever and she should start with McGee.  It is a manipulative move on behalf of our hero.

Additionally, with The Incredible Hulk’s pilot episode fresh in my mind, and the havoc McGee caused the last time he tried to get a news story about some scientists, it was funny to see McGee snooping around another scientist’s lab.  His methods have improved, though, as here McGee tries to lure Baxter into an interview by saying the press can help her research or hurt it.

After Baxter brushes off McGee, David and Baxter realize all the dead animals are South African, and deduce from a newspaper headline that they must be used for smuggling diamonds.  But Carl overhears their talk, and takes the two hostage at gunpoint.  They tie up David and Carl plans on throwing Baxter into the lion’s cage, while Malone goes to inject David with a lethal dose of AGD-4.

Hulk-Out #2:  Before Malone can inject David, the janitor Hulks out, snapping his ropes.  Hulk knocks Malone aside, and punches through an aluminum wall, running to the Lion’s cage to rescue Dr. Baxter.  Carl is just about to throw Baxter in the cage as Hulk approaches, and Carl just drops Baxter and tries to make a run for it in his jeep.

Here we see the Hulk’s most impressive feat of strength since the pilot:  Hulk picks up a jeep and starts shaking it until Carl is thrown from the driver’s seat, then Hulk throws Carl in some water.  As it’s the 70’s, the rules of television clearly state that if someone is in water they are completely immobilized and unable to either flee or attack, and this gives Hulk a tender moment with Dr. Baxter as police arrive.  Then Hulk runs off into the night, as police arrest Carl, leaving me disappointed we didn’t get to see the Hulk battle a lion.  He’s fought a gorilla and a bear, a lion seemed the next logical step.

And in the denouement we see that Dr. Malone, Carl, and Joe were arrested and Dr. Baxter’s name cleared.  More, she is promoted to director of the zoo.  But despite her asking David to stay on and continue her anti-aggression research, Mr. McGee’s sniffing around forces him to move on.  So with a tender first and last kiss with Dr. Baxter, David dons his tan windbreaker and walks down the road to The Lonely Man theme.  But we see he left one final clue, signing Dr. Baxter’s cast to try the effects of gamma rays on DNA overlap as she continues her research.

This episode was very formulaic and did not change the status quo any from what we’ve seen in previous episodes.  The plot of zoo animals being used to smuggle diamonds from South Africa was a bit silly, but yet very inventive.  And despite the bad 70’s effects and costumes, the Hulk/gorilla fight was rather fun.  A middle of the road episode, this gets a mild recommend.

 Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



March 1, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 3 – Final Round Review

A boxer comes to David’s aid when he is mugged and then finds him work at a gym, but the gloves are off when it’s discovered that the boss is also a drug dealer.

Bill Cole goes for a Hulk KO
Final Round
Season: 1
Episode: 3
Air Date: March 10, 1978
Director: Kenneth Gilbert
Writer: Kenneth Johnson
David’s Alias: David Benson
Hulk-Outs: 2
•Trapped in a cage
while his friend is about
to have a heart attack

In November, 1977 CBS aired two pilot films of The Incredible Hulk TV series.  The first was the pilot movie telling the origins of how David Banner became The Incredible Hulk.  The second, called Return of The Incredible Hulk, and renamed Death in the Family for syndication, was the first episode showing the formula the rest of the series would follow.

When those two TV movies were a hit in the ratings, CBS ordered a full pick-up of The Incredible Hulk as a weekly TV series, but since no regular episodes of The Incredible Hulk were made pending Return of The Incredible Hulk’s ratings, fans had a long wait before the green Goliath would again grace their television screens.

Finally, in March of 1978, the first weekly episode of The Incredible Hulk was broadcast:  Final Round.

It’s lucky The Incredible Hulk had the preceding two TV movies before it, because as a first episode this one is quite ridiculous, and incredibly dumb.

It begins with David Banner (Bill Bixby), on the run, and arriving in Wilmington, Delaware…or a reasonable Universal Studios back-lot facsimile thereof.  A quick Google search tells me Wilmington has a very high crime rate, something David finds out pretty quickly as he is mugged within minutes of his arrival in the city.

The three gang members drag David into an alley and start to beat him, and I am expecting a very early episode Hulk-Out.  But series creator and episode writer Kenneth Johnson played me well!  Before David’s transformation can begin a stranger clad in a gray sweatsuit comes to David’s aid.

The stranger is Henry Welsh.  Calling himself “Rocky”, Welsh wants to be “a contender, like all those other Rockies”.  The problem is–he can’t fight.  His girlfriend Mary knows it, the other fighters at the gym know it, everybody knows it but Rocky.  In a clumsy scene where someone’s car just so happens to have broken down we’re shown Rocky does have a talent for fixing engines, but his dream of a heavyweight belt has him rejecting a job at a garage owned by Mary’s brother.

Welsh is played by Martin Kove, best known for his role as The Karate Kid‘s evil sensei John Kreese.  Before he played the Karate teacher for rich kids of Reseda, Kove played an aspiring boxer in The Incredible Hulk and it’s amusing to see him try to put on a bad fake accent here.  Less believable than the accent is Rocky’s behavior.  In the first five minutes of seeing this character, I hate him.  I hate him because he makes me feel dumb.  First, he invites David back to his apartment, and his every word and action sell him as being a boxer.  He can’t walk back to his apartment–he has to bounce like a fighter the whole way.  And he can’t be named Hank.  Despite there having been Hank Armstrong, Henry Hank, and many other boxers named Henry, this Henry wants to be “Rocky”.  Why?  Not because of Rocky Marciano specifically but because of “all those other Rockies”.  Like Balboa?  Who was in theaters the year before?

So it has hit me within Rocky’s first few lines that this script is lazy, but like an uppercut it’s hammered home when, during the run back to Rocky’s apartment, there just happens to be someone outside with a dead car that Rocky fixes instantly.  Immediately this entire story’s arc is completely evident.  I know every “what” and just need the “how”.

The laziness continues as Rocky, for no apparent reason other than he’s a good guy, offers David both a place to stay and a job.  While I do like David’s cover story of having been a medic while serving in Viet Nam, it’s far too convenient a way to integrate David into Rocky’s everyday life.  Through David we learn that Rocky is a terrible boxer but a really nice guy, and that gym owner Mr. Sariego is using Rocky to deliver mysterious packages across town.  Rocky thinks the packages are gambling related, but we find out the truth.

Hulk-Out #1:  David is keeping Rocky company on one of the deliveries, and they are ambushed.  The muggers from the first scene found out where Rocky worked and they wanted revenge.  They beat up David and push him into some garbage, then turn their back and gang up on Rocky, allowing David to conveniently transform unseen.

The transformation is very primitive compared to later seasons.  We get the white eyes, but they color Bill Bixby’s face with an animated green glow as they did in the pilot films.  Then the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) stands up–wearing very different pants…no seam down the front.  Hulk is still in his green wig and makeup with the large forehead and eyebrows as seen in the pilot, a look that evolves as the season goes on.

After knocking down the muggers, Hulk then leans over Rocky and starts to growl.  It’s an odd scene as the Hulk has never before threatened to any of David’s friends, but here are left to we wonder what Hulk might do.  But one of the muggers attacks from behind, and Rocky is left alone, save for the bag Hulk stepped on revealing Rocky has been transporting heroin for Mr. Sariego.

The rest of the Hulk fight is fairly entertaining.  The Hulk throws one guy through a car roof, crushes a garbage can lid, and then when the thugs try to run Hulk chases them through a brick wall!  It’s a shame the DVD shows so clearly that the bricks were just stacked, not mortared in any way, but my memory of Hulk is always running through walls and this is his first full-on Kool-Aid Man moment.   (Yes in Death in the Family he knocks out part of a wall, but that’s the part next to a window.)

After the fight we see Hulk transform back  into David with some fades, bad false eyebrows on Bixby, and the green glow again.  After returning to his human form, David sees the white powder on his feet, and has a memory of the Hulk stepping on Rocky’s bag.  So here we see that David at least retains some memories of what was done as the Hulk, in contrast to what we saw in the pilot movie.

Rocky doesn’t want to be used to run drugs, but in a moment that makes the character less sympathetic he refuses to go to the cops immediately.  First he decides to leverage this knowledge.  He confronts Sariego, who then offers Rocky a championship fight against champ Bill Cole–a fight that not only Rocky thinks he can win.  Worse, Sariego intends for the fight to actually kill Rocky. In the most silly plot twist yet, Sariego went to his heroin supplier to get a liquid that, when mixed with Rocky’s water, will cause Rocky’s already high blood pressure to spike.  That, combined with the exertion of the fight, will cause Rocky to have a heart attack and Sariego will be minus one snitch.

David overhears this nefarious and inane plot, so Cole, working for Sariego, knocks David out with one punch.  That was actually a twist I liked–we’ve seen David has to be beaten quite a bit to transform, so a boxer who can deliver a one-punch K.O. shows that David is not invincible.  When unconscious he could be hurt or killed without transforming.

But that one good idea for the plot is then quickly undone as the criminals first decide to wait until after the boxing match to kill David, and then think the only good place where they can hide their captive is, of course, in a wrestler’s cage hung in the rafters above the boxing match.  Not a closet, not the basement, not an office, but out in the open in a room filled with thousands of people.

Thousands of people, including Mr. Jack McGee (Jack Colvin), reporter for the National Register.  After the initial Hulk sightings, McGee came to Wilmington.  Due to the Register’s impressive sports section he ends up being convinced to cover Rocky’s fight.  Sitting next to an annoying boxing promoter, McGee shows no interest in the fight until

Hulk-Out #2:  David awakens in his cage, tied up above the fight.  Rocky is taking a severe beating and, knowing Rocky will die, David begins to transform.  This time we get the button-popping, seam-ripping transformation (but still the green blob on David’s face).  The Hulk then rips the bars off the cage and leaps into the ring in the best scene of the episode.

Colvin’s facial expression is priceless during these Hulk scenes.  While everyone else around him thinks this is all part of the show, Jack shows fear and recognition.  A smile plays across his face as if he can smell the riches he will get by breaking this story.

Cole, who knocked David out with one punch, hits Hulk in the ribs, and is slapped off his feet, into the air, out of the ring, and lands in the lap of McGee and the fight promoter.  While subtle, this is great comedic use of the Hulk, undermined only by repeated shots of Hulk mugging and growling into a fish-eye lens.

Sariego and his goon Wilt flee, and the Hulk goes after, but is stopped by the boxing promoter who wants to sign Hulk for a show.  For his enthusiasm, Hulk throws the promoter up in the rafters to dangle from a bar, which seems a bit extreme given the offense, but I think this is all now being played for comedy not action.

But Colvin again steals the scene.  Sitting next to the promoter he is always in frame, and Hulk even flexes and growls at McGee.  Colvin’s facial expression is not one of fear; he’s downright giddy to be seeing the creature again.  When Hulk runs after Sariego, everyone sits stunned except McGee, who chases after the Hulk.

Hulk knocks a door down on Wilt, and throws Sariego across the room, and by the laws of 70’s television that means the fight is over.  And truthfully I feel a bit bad seeing an old man beaten up by a bodybuilder, even if the old man was a heroin dealer.  It looks like Hulk may smash the man further, but they are interrupted by McGee, Rocky, and a dozen others who think they have the Hulk trapped in Sariego’s office.  So Hulk jumps through the window in a great shot, and runs off down an alleyway into the night.

The episode concludes the next day with David packing to leave and saying goodbye to Rocky and Mary.  In the chaos the police found out about Sariego’s drug dealing, and gave Rocky immunity in exchange for testimony.  Also, having faced a champ, Rocky realizes he’s no boxer.  He takes on the name of “Henry” and accepts the job as a mechanic.  But with Mr. McGee sniffing around, David must say his goodbyes.

So with McGee coming in one door of the gym, David walks out another as the Lonely Man theme plays.

For a first episode this sets the bar fairly low.  Plagued with silly plot twists, cartoonish characters, and a complete aping of the movie Rocky for a plot, this show is the epitome of what I consider 70’s television cheese.  But both Hulk-Outs are fulled with well shot action, and Jack Colvin steals the show (in slo-mo) with his performance here as McGee.  The final boxing scene is a lot of fun, but I can’t get past the set-up so I give this episode a mild not recommend.

 Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



February 29, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Return of the Incredible Hulk (Death in the Family) Review

While searching for his mysterious condition’s cure, David doesn’t shy away from battling a wealthy and powerful ranching family, a grizzly bear and, most importantly, his own temper in this action-packed two-hour movie. Gerald McRaney guest stars.

The Return of the Incredible Hulk
The Return of the Incredible Hulk
renamed Death in the Family for syndication)
Season: 1
Episode: 2
Air Date: November 27, 1977
Director: Alan J. Levi
Writer: Kenneth Johnson
David’s Aliases: David Benton,
David Benchley
Hulk-Outs: 4
•Fired from job and beaten
•Hit over the head with tin
water pitcher
•Attacked by a bear
•Trapped in quicksand

In November 1977, The Incredible Hulk premiered on CBS.  But just a few weeks later, a second pilot movie aired to gauge audience reception to the now-famous Incredible Hulk formula.  David Banner, on the run and searching for a cure, stumbles into a murder plot.  Julie’s stepmother and doctor are slowly poisoning the girl.  Can David and old coot Michael save the girl?  With such future TV stars as William Daniels (voice of KITT on Knight Rider) and Gerald McRaney (Major Dad), is this an Incredible series launch?  Listen to Jakob, Arnie, and Stuart’s review to find out!





Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Incredible Hulk – Pilot TV Movie Review

In this thrilling two-hour movie, Dr. David Banner inadvertently exposes himself to a high amount of gamma radiation and is horrified to discover that in moments of frustration and anger he is transformed into the incredibly powerful Hulk. Susan Sullivan guest stars.

Hulk smashes a car in the pilot movie
The Incredible Hulk
Season: 1
Episode: 1
Air Date: November 4, 1977
Director: Kenneth Johnson
Writer: Kenneth Johnson
David’s Alias: None
Hulk-Outs: 3
•Frustration changing a tire
•A Bad Dream
•Seeing his friend caught in
a fire

The Incredible Hulk has been a staple in Marvel Comics since his first appearance in 1962, but to many The Hulk is less known for his comic book persona than his portrayal by Lou Ferrigno in CBS’ hit prime time series The Incredible Hulk. Starring Bill Bixby as David Banner, a scientist who overdoses on gamma radiation, the series ran for five years, and it’s impact can still be seen through references in both the Eric Bana and Edward Norton Hulk film adaptations. Now, as Now Playing starts its next leg of it’s Marvel Comic Movie Retrospective, leading up to The Avengers, Jakob, Arnie, and Stuart are reviewing the television movie that started it all–The Incredible Hulk. Does this incarnation of the green giant make our reviewers angry? And would you like them when they’re angry? Listen to find out!


 Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Incredible Hulk Series Review Index

The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk TV Series
Seasons: 5
Episodes: 82
Air Dates: 1977 – 1982
Series Creator: Kenneth Gilbert
Stars: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Jack Colvin

In anticipation of The Avengers opening in May, 2012, Jakob, Stuart, and I are doing a podcast retrospective series of all the movies based on the Marvel Comics Superheroes at Now Playing.

With Now Playing’s current Incredible Hulk Retrospective Series I will also be looking back at every episode of The Incredible Hulk TV series that ran from 1978 to 1982.

Pilot TV Movies
The Incredible Hulk (Pilot)
The Return of the Incredible Hulk (aka Death in the Family)
Season 1
Final Round
The Beast Within
Of Guilt, Models and Murder
Terror in Times Square
The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas
Never Give a Trucker an Even Break
Life and Death
Earthquakes Happen
The Waterfront Story

Season 2
Married (aka Bride of the Incredible Hulk)
The Antowuk Horror
Rainbow’s End
A Child in Need
Another Path
Alice in Disco Land
Killer Instinct
Stop the Presses
Escape from Los Santos
A Solitary Place
Like a Brother
The Haunted
Mystery Man (1)
Mystery Man (2)
The Disciple
No Escape
Kindered Spirits
The Confession
The Quiet Room
Vendetta Road

Season 3
Blind Rage
Brain Child
The Slam
My Favorite Magician
Behind the Wheel
The Snare
Captive Night
Broken Image
Proof Positive
Long Run Home
Falling Angels
The Lottery
The Psychic
A Rock and a Hard Place
Nine Hours
On the Line

Season 4
Prometheus (1)
Prometheus (2)
Free Fall
Dark Side
Deep Shock
Bring Me the Head of the Hulk
Fast Lane
Goodbye Eddie Cain
King of the Beach
Wax Museum
East Winds
The First (1)
The First (2)
The Harder They Fall
Interview with the Hulk
Half Nelson

Season 5
The Phenom
Two Godmothers
A Minor Problem

Reunion TV Movies
The Incredible Hulk Returns
The Trial of the Incredible Hulk
The Death of the Incredible Hulk

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Comic Books, Movies, Reviews, Television, The Incredible Hulk TV Series Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Cougar Town Returns Feb 14

This Valentine’s Day, snuggle up on the couch, grab a glass of wine, and turn on ABC at 8:30 EST because Cougar Town is back!

I realize you may have other plans for that night which may involve a dinner out, but dinners can be rescheduled.  Cougar Town‘s return is an event worth staying in for.

Cougar Town is a sitcom created by Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel originally envisioned as a show starring Courtney Cox as a 40-something divorcee reentering the dating world by dating younger men–hence the title.  But as Cougar Town beings its third season it bares little resemblance to its original pitch line.  Realizing the strengths of the supporting cast the show has evolved to a concept much harder to sum up.  But despite the lack of a pitch line, Cougar Town 2.0 is one of the funniest shows on television.

Echoing Lawrence’s previous series Scrubs, Cougar Town has a strong supporting cast of characters.  All played by actors recognizable from previous works, the characters all have charm and wit but the chemistry between the characters allows for both laughs and genuine, touching moments.

The ABC sitcom Cougar Town has struggled in the ratings its first two seasons, and when the network announced their Cougar-less 2011 Fall schedule fans were worried.  While ABC assured viewers that Cougar Town would be back as a midseason replacement, the future seemed dark when ABC cut Cougar Town‘s season order from 22 to 15 episodes.  However the show never strayed far in fans’ minds as the creators Tweeted regularly giving updates on the show and even throwing parties that allowed fans to see Season 3 episodes early (and drink for free).

But now that the show is back the fan enthusiasm must stay strong, and Lawrence and Biegel’s fan push is continuing as well.  Lawrence wrote on his Twitter page that he is trying to find a sponsor to send bottles of wine to all fans who stay in Valentine’s Day and watch Cougar Town.  And Biegel said that any group of 25 or more who has their own Cougar Town viewing party will receive free penny cans, signed scripts, and maybe even some series stars to Skype with their fans.

Tips for throwing your own Cougar Town party

But a show this good shouldn’t need such gimmicks to stay on the air, and from the two episodes previewed at the Chicago viewing party, this season appears to be the best yet.  With plenty of cameos from Scrubs alumni as well as a season premiere surprise that is perfect for a Valentine’s Day airing.

I highly recommend you check out Cougar Town.

And if you absolutely must go out on February 14th, at least do yourself and your loved ones a favor and set your DVR!


When not reviewing TV for the Venganza Media Gazette, Arnie is a reviewer on the Now Playing Podcast, as well as co-host of Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys

January 17, 2012 Posted by | News, Television | , , , , | Comments Off on Cougar Town Returns Feb 14

How to throw a Cougar Town Party (and why you should)


Busy Phillips MCs the Cougar Town Viewing Party

January 11, 2012

Last Saturday night Chi-town became Cougar Town for an evening at the Racine Plumbing Bar and Grill in Lincoln Park.  No, older women were not out prowling for young men, but rather a bunch of fans of the low-rated critically-acclaimed TV series Cougar Town showed up for free drinks and the chance to meet some of the talent behind the show.

Cougar Town is a show from Bill Lawrence, who also created Spin City and Scrubs.  Plagued by a title that Lawrence regularly mocks on the show itself, Cougar Town has struggled in the ratings.  When ABC did not include Cougar Town in its fall 2011 schedule, fans became concerned despite ABC’s assurances that it would return to the air as a mid-season replacement.  A low-rated show going on hiatus is often the death knell of that series.

As we now enter the second half of the 2011-2012 television season, Cougar Town still has not had a return announced.  But that is not stopping Lawrence and the rest of the cul-de-sac crew from using social media and local gatherings to mobilize Cougar Town fans and fight for the show to continue.

The creators of Cougar Town have had a greater level of interaction with viewers than most shows.  In Season 2 they put a telephone number in the show.  If you called the number in real life, you’d sometimes be greeted by a voice mail, but some lucky callers could find themselves talking to some of the show’s creators or stars.

Now Lawrence is taking this interactivity on tour to major cities like Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.  Through Lawrence’s Twitter and Facebook pages fans were invited to come out, watch some as-yet-unaired episodes of Cougar Town, and mix and mingle with the show’s stars and creators.  And drink for free on Lawrence’s dime.

The Chicago party was hosted by Busy Phillips (Dawson’s Creek, White Chicks) who plays party-girl Laurie Keller, and series writer Melody Derloshon.  Derloshon worked the room well, introducing herself to attendees and sharing anecdotes about the behind-the-scenes goings on of a sitcom.  Phillips was also gracious to fans, stopping several times to pose for photos, and sharing stories about her co-stars  (In Season 3 when Dan Byrd, who plays Travis on the show, wears a helmet it’s due to the actor’s real-life aversion to washing his hair).  Phillips even showed grace when a somewhat creepy fan (also named Travis) seemed unable to separate fact from fiction, repeatedly pulling his shirt down to expose his chest and openly hit on the married actress.

Busy Phillips Poses with Cougar Town Fans

Busy Phillips Poses with Cougar Town Fans

Phillips also provided a running commentary during two episodes of Cougar Town shown to the partiers. The first episode shown was the Season 3 premiere which promises a surprise change in the show’s status quo.  The second episode of the evening will be the fifth episode of Season 3, one no Scrubs fan should miss.  That episode guest starred Sarah Chalke (Scrubs, Roseanne) as well as Sam Lloyd reprising his Scrubs role of Ted.  While hard to hear all the dialogue of the episodes, it seems like Cougar Town’s strongest episodes may be those yet to air.


Ted and his band from Scrubs


Phillips and Derloshon encouraged Cougar Town fans to be vocal with their support, and to use social media to spread the word about the show.  And, perhaps, have their own Cougar Town viewing parties when the show does return to the air.  And the Chicago party provided the perfect template for your own Cougar Town viewing party:

  • Start with plenty of alcohol.  The characters on the show are borderline alcoholics with the amount of wine they consume.  (Sadly the Racine Plumbing Bar and Grill did not have Big Carls for us to drink from, and our wine was sipped from mason jars)
  • Put out a Penny Can or two for people to test their aim on.  Don’t have a Penny Can?  You can buy the limited edition Blue Penny Can at Cafepress.  (The Green Penny Can is now sold out)
  • When people start to tire of Penny Can, have some Cougar Town trivia, such as the name of the town in which Cougar Town takes place.
  • Watch an episode of Cougar Town.
  • Continue to drink

The Cougar Town tour is set to continue with dates announced in Austin, TX as well as New York.  If in the area, it’s a unique opportunity to interact with television stars and creators, as well as get free drinks, and support the best show that’s not currently on television.

For future dates on the Cougar Town tour, follow the cul-de-sac crew on Twitter:

Bill Lawrence (series creator)

Kevin Biegel (series producer)

Nicki Maron (Lawrence’s assistant)

Melody Derloshon (series writer)

Cougar Town Writers

Busy Phillips (series actress)

Laruie Keller (the Twitter account of Phillips’ character on Cougar Town)


January 12, 2012 Posted by | Conventions, News, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blade: The Series – Post Mortem

Krista feat. Blade

Krista feat. Blade

As listeners to the Now Playing podcast know, I am a fan of all three Blade films.  Having the vampire hunter’s adventures continue on a weekly basis was an appealing proposition.  However, I never tuned in during Blade: The Series’ inital run because Spike TV was a cable station best known for lowbrow T&A programming like Manswers and Stripperella.  I ended up buying Blade: The Series for $8 at a closing Suncoast Video.  I knew the series had been cancelled, but wondered what adventures the writers had given the daywalker in his short TV life.  It took Now Playing’s Blade retrospective series for me to finally pull the shrink-wrap off my box set–and I wish I hadn’t.

I was surprised that Blade ended up being a serialized drama series.  I had expected it to be episodic like The Incredible Hulk or The A-Team, with each show pitting Blade against a new nest of “suckheads”.  In previous reviews I compared this series to Angel and Buffy and those were obvious, but smart, models for Executive Producer David Goyer to emulate.  I think it was the right choice to introduce a strong supporting cast of heroes and villains.

But this cast of new characters was not supporting — they were the focus of the series!  This seems to be a Goyer’s trademark, as Blade II and Blade: Trinity also sidelined the daywalker to showcase second stringers.  I thought a series titled Blade would star a character named “Blade”!  But this show would be better off entitled Krista or, were it a hip-hop song, Krista feat. Blade.  He’s just using a brand name to sell Krista’s story, much like Frank Mancuso Jr. did with Friday The 13th: The Series.  As a fan of Blade the character, this series is not what I wanted.  I was blindsided by the House of Chthon drama.  I imagine most Blade fans agree.

I will admit there was some Blade backstory shoehorned into this thing, sometimes more successfully done than others.  Perhaps the plan was to drip little bits of Blade’s arc into a season, but that seems like a mistake.  They scored a major casting coup by getting Richard Roundtree as Blade’s father, but he’s the one given the shaft after five minutes of screentime.

Try as I might, I never could get into Marcus’ conspiracy.   I’ve seen this type of story told better a thousand times.  Trying to make this series as much about a crime family of vampires as about the hunter was a misstep–and from what I can tell a misstep that Goyer never planned to correct.

I fully expected Marcus and the House of Chthon to comprise the entire Season 1 plot, but figured Blade would vanquish them in time to do something new in Season Two.  There are eleven other Houses to explore after all.  But no, Marcus and Chase were still out there to cause problems by season’s end.  Instead of following the Buffy formula, they tried to be Lost.  Well, they did lose!

Kirk "Sticky Fingaz" Jones

Jones didn't "Stick" as Blade

Admittedly, it would have been harder to make Krista an integral part of the plot had the enemy changed.  The show that began with Krista’s brother murdered in cold blood by Marcus, and her conflicting loyalties became the centerpiece of all storylines.  Too bad they trivialized her motivations for revenge with daytime soap opera storylines which had her screwing and possibly falling for the man guilty of the crime she wants to avenge.  If the creators were going to sideline Blade for other characters, they needed to be likable and strong.  Krista does not fill that bill, and while I have been (deservedly) harsh on Jill Wagner’s performance the writers did the character no favors.

I do hold these writers most responsible for the series’ many failings.  They seemed unable to pace the plots.  Characters like Detective Boone and FBI Agent Collins were given lengthy introductions but never get any payoff.  The way these characters were dropped is inexplicable, and frankly embarrassing.

The damning blow was the finale.  Ending on a cliff-hanger where Marcus reveals knowledge of Krista’s betrayal, I should have been incensed that I would never know more.  I think back to other cancelled shows that concluded with cliffhangers – Twin Peaks, The Dead Zone, Lois and Clark, and even Sledge Hammer.   In each of those cases I was furious at the unresolved plots.  I even called ABC executives at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night begging for more Twin Peaks.  With Blade: The Series I didn’t care.  I really didn’t want to see more of Marcus, and I certainly didn’t ever want Krista again.

Series writer Geoff Johns stated in a letter to Wizard Magazine that Blade: The Series was cancelled due to high production costs, not low ratings.  Indeed, Blade’s premiere episode was the most-watched episode in Spike TV’s history.  But those 2.5 million viewers had dwindled to less than 1 million by the time the season finale aired.  I envy those that turned it off.  Truth be told, had Blade been renewed for a second season I wouldn’t have watched.

This show was desperately in need of a (pardon the pun) revamp that curtailed the House of Chthon and brought Blade and his partners to the fore.  It was what worked in the best episode —Hunters, a mostly Krista-free hour where Blade and Shen got a chance to shine pursuing a tough and frightening vampire they vanquished by the end.

So my final advice is to skip Blade: The Series.  While television might have been the right place for the character to nest, this series did not deliver.  Hunters was light enough on the overarching stories that I can recommend that single episode for fans of Blade.  The rest of it deserves to be ashed.  Maybe the upcoming Blade anime series will give our daywalker a proper TV home?

Verdict:  Not Recommend

September 14, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | Comments Off on Blade: The Series – Post Mortem

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 12: Conclave

Original Air Date: September 13, 2006
Director: Alex Chapple

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series  You can watch this episode free at

House of Chthon Conclave

This is the conclave Marcus has worked for years to sabotage? Five vampires? I thought it would be hundreds. Did he really have to work so hard to just kill five vampires? Couldn't he have just done that by hand?

Here we are at the season finale (and unwilling series finale) of Blade: The Series–an episode entitled Conclave.

While this is the culmination of everything Blade: The Series has done, or ever will do, I will review it individually as I have all the other episodes.  If you want my overall “final thoughts” on the series, come back tomorrow.

In Conclave, after a dozen hours of show, the stage is set for Marcus’ attack on the purebloods.  Unlike all the past episodes of the series, Conclave doesn’t have an A-story, B-story, and a C-story. There is just the one final arc to quite literally bring down the House.

Despite the insane deadlines and his protests last episode, architect extraordinaire Tucker (Tom Butler) met every demand put on him by House of Chthon conclave organizer Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson).  The Aurora virus, which will kill only pureblood vampires, is ready.   Marcus, in preparation for being the first turned vampire to head the House of Chthon, is trying to forge peace between his right-hand vampire Chase (Jessica Gower) and his new vampire lover Krista Starr (Jill Wagner).  Marcus envisions a time soon where the three can rule in harmony when his plot, and the pureblood vampires, are executed.

As mentioned last episode, Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) doesn’t want to stop Marcus.  Marcus and Blade share a goal–kill vampires.  Despite that, Blade is obsessed with attending the conclave.  Blade’s partner Shen (Nelson Lee) tries to dissuade the daywalker from interfering, to which Blade responds, “Seeing is believing.”  While the mindset is consistent with Blade’s character, it feels like a lazy way for the writers to put Blade in the thick of action again without justifying the stakes.

However, Marcus must have read the script, as he sends Chase to ambush Blade’s lair.  Krista, despite her recent romantic feelings towards Marcus, fulfills her duty as Blade’s spy and warns him of the coming attack– only she’s too late.  Shen is captured and, in a scene reminiscent of Blade: Trinity, Blade sets off explosives hidden throughout his lair.  Most of Marcus’ troops are killed in the blast, though none with speaking parts.

Shen in Sunlight

Every character gets their moment in the light this episode.

Marcus and Chase presume Blade was also killed in the blast, but decide to pump Shen for information anyway.  Marcus, knowing of her experience in the Iraq War, asks Krista to do the torturing of Shen.  Krista tries to stall but eventually must apply a scalpel under Shen’s fingernails.  “I’m sorry”, but I feel like the one being tortured with this painful sight.

Wagner’s performance actually works for this scene – showing different emotions depending on who she’s facing.  We see her inner pain, while she pretends to be playful about it for Marcus.  That said, Wagner’s acting range for 11 episodes has never stretched farther than angst and so her Playboy Bunny of Death routinue doesn’t feel genuine.

Krista slips Shen the scalpel while breaking his finger, and later when he’s left alone the man is able to cut his bonds and begins his escape. Shen picks up a sword, then instead opts to arm himself with a pen (a “pen is mightier than the sword” visual gag?  Seriously?!)  He writes the guard a note and then takes him in hand combat after a tough battle that leaves him pretty bloody.  I kept wondering why Shen didn’t keep the sword and save himself a beating.  Shen opens the room’s window blinds and dusts the bodyguard, and again I wonder why he didn’t do this before hand combat.  Shen’s the brains of the operation, but he’s not showing that here.

Tucker Sex Scene

I really never wanted to see the father from Freddy vs. Jason have a sex scene. But now that I've seen it, it's burned in my mind.

Meanwhile Blade somehow deduces the Marcus’ association with the architect Tucker, shows up at his office, and finds the man about to get his groove on with a hot, naked, ready and willing Familiar that Marcus sent him as a thank-you.  It’s a sight I found even more repulsive than Shen’s fingernail torture, and was glad to see Blade interrupt by staking the woman to the desk and cutting out one of Tucker’s eyes.  He’ll use the severed eyeball to the retinal scanners at the conclave.

I have to pause and wonder why this scene was put in the episode.  Sure, another gratuitous titty shot may be appealing to Spike TV’s barely post-pubescent, testosterone filled base, but seeing the father from Freddy vs Jason ready to take the woman from behind was truly repugnant.  More, he pauses to get a condom, saying Tucker has “passed around” this woman.  Is this supposed to be a safe sex message, alerting viewers to be aware of diseased skanks?  Is it just another moment of raunch?  Misogyny perhaps?  I am dumbfounded.  But I’ve already spent more time on Tucker than Blade did, so we move on…

The episode moves to Toronto, where the House of Chthon Pureblood Council awaits Marcus’ presentation.  The purebloods have long, self-important speeches explaining how they manipulate tragedies, like the dropping of the H-bomb in Nagasaki, to their benefit.  Why is this relevant?  It’s not–the screenwriters are just stalling while Blade and Shen reunite and break into the complex.

The episode shows its foolishness when the two vampire killers use Tucker’s eyeball to bypass the retinal scanners and gain entrance to the building.  The eyeball is preserved in liquid that makes it revolve in the bottle.  Yet somehow the door opens with the retina facing the wrong way from the scanner.

The delays continue as Marcus gives a grand speech to the purebloods and reveals to them that Aurora never worked.  Huh?  Instead of being sneaky and poisoning the unsuspecting purebloods, he’s just going to stand there and announce his betrayal?  I fully expected this idiocy to be Marcus’ downfall, but the joke was on me.

The effects of Aurora

Aurora isn't pretty, but it is pretty gory for television.

It’s revealed that Chase was a triple agent who’s really aligned with Charlotte and the House of Chthon against Marcus.  The special air vents meant to deliver the Aurora poison were shut down, and replaced with a poison to choke Marcus (making me wonder why that wouldn’t also harm vampires.  Who doesn’t need to breathe?).

Suddenly, Blade barges in.  He throws the vial of Aurora into the air and shoots it while delivering the lame one-liner “Can’t have the party without the keg”.  The purebloods begin to writhe and melt away.  The effects are full of blood and prosthetics – one of the best, most horrific, visuals of the series.

That only leaves our final showdown a dozen episodes in the making — Blade versus Marcus.  Blade states the obvious: “I should have let them kill you” as the two engage in some swordplay and wire-fu.  While not even on par with Stephen Dorff’s blade-work from the original film, this stands as the best fight in the whole series.

Meanwhile Chase and Krista go at it in a series of spins and martial arts kicks.  Compared to the Blade/Marcus fight, this battle falls short.  Generic lines such as “Who belongs to who now bitch?” are given flat delivery, the editing is rapid to hide the actresses’ inability to fight, and often the characters’ faces are blocked by wigs and posts to hide the stunt doubles.  In the end, this entire secondary fight comes off like a commercial for Axe body spray, with two girls fighting over Marcus.

Chase and Krista's final fight

Chase and Krista fight...or discuss Krista's Minolo Blahniks, I'm not really sure.

The fight ends as Chase is thrown down a huge staircase, and the show’s limited budget again reveals itself–the fall looks like the same effect used in 1989’s Batman Jack Nicholson death.  Of course a fall is not enough to kill a vampire, but Krista doesn’t follow up with the death blow and returns to Marcus and Blade’s fight instead.

Shockingly, Blade and Marcus are evenly matched, despite the vampire never really seeming like a fighter.  Jackson sells us on Marcus’ physicality, and the wire-fu may be the best I’ve ever seen on television.  Unsurprisingly, Blade finally gets the upper hand and goes to deliver the killing blow–when he is stopped by Krista!  The distraction allows Marcus to get Blade down.  Shen enters, shoots Krista in the back, and Blade uses the distraction to dodge Marcus’ attack.

Krista and Marcus flee.  Alone in the conclave, Shen inexplicably chooses this exact post-fight moment for a heart-to-heart.  The sidekick claims the fight wasn’t worth it because they ultimately aided Marucus in his insurrection for the House of Chthon.  Blade feels that the death of five purebloods, and Krista’s cover kept, is a win.  That dubious proclamation ends Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones’ run as Blade.

As for Krista and Marcus, they escape back to Detroit and hide out in Blade’s abandoned lair.  Marcus believes Aurora will allow him to rule Chthon, though he believes Chase will come for vengeance.  He states: “Even if I watch her ash I’d still watch my back for the rest of my years on Earth”.  Wish I knew that a few episodes ago!

Blade vs Marcus

Blade and Marcus' final fight takes the show to new heights.

Krista has one remaining question: how did Marcus know the location of Blade’s compound.  The vampire reveals his full hand–he intercepted Krista’s phone call to Blade and knows she’s a double agent.  Fangs out, Marcus grabs her face and says: “How long have you been working for Blade?” as the screen cuts to black.  It’s a cliffhanger never to be resolved.

This episode had all the hallmarks of the Blade series–gratuitous nudity, innane character decisions, and lots of action (of varying quality).  In contrast to previous episodes, however, the Aurora plot finally moved forward considerably, though not in a satisfying manner.  I was left shaking my head at so many stupid character moments courtesy of Blade, Shen, and Marcus.  In Blade: Trinity a Familiar asks Blade “Why aren’t you smarter” – a line that kept running through my head this entire episode.  Even Shen and Chase, my two favorite characters of the series, make dumb choices in their moments in the spotlight.

Marcus confronts Krista

The final shot of the series--Marcus knows of Krista's betrayal. Will he kill her? The world will never know. Or care.

The quality and quantity of fight scenes in this episode made it my second favorite of the series after Hunters.  Taken on its own, this was a satisfying episode full of action and excitement.  But as a season/series finale it feels lackluster.  It felt like we were building to something big, but all that’s here are five dead purebloods.  I expected more.

As for the series as a whole?  Tomorrow on Stuart, Jakob, and I finish our Blade movie reviews as we look at Blade: Trinity.  Take a listen tomorrow afternoon, then come back here for my final thoughts on Blade: The Series.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 12, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | Comments Off on Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 12: Conclave

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 11: Monsters

Original Air Date: September 6, 2006
Director: Ken Girotti

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series  You can watch this episode free at

Charlotte and Thorne

Blade gets trapped in Charlotte's web.

When the TV series Lost was approaching its series finale, my wife and I would watch every episode faithfully and then discuss our thoughts on that episode with each other.  On the second-to-last episode my wife expressed disappointment in the episode; how so little happened and it seemed like filler.

Unfortunately that is a pattern I have found with lots of action and sci-fi television series.  When leading up to a climactic episode (usually during sweeps, often a season or series finale) there is far too often an episode that merely exists to set everything up, so that the final episode may be almost entirely devoted to the showdown.  All the pieces must be in place when we ramp into the final episode.

The problem with such episodes is they’re often extraordinarily dull.  The story arcs have been leading to this point for a season or more, so an entire episode just to remind us of what we loyal viewers already know comes off as filler and, worse, as poor writing.

There are also financial concerns to consider..  Series producers want their shows to go out with a bang, and leave the audience wanting more.  In television series the cost-per-episode is not consistent–sometimes they cheap out on one episode so they can spend more on the next, and these set-up episodes almost always feel like they were purchased at a Dollar General.

Which leads me to Monsters, the second-to-last ever episode of Blade the TV series….

I really had hoped for another standalone plot after previous episode Hunters, but I didn’t really expect it.  With only two hours left I figured we’d return to the uprising of vampire Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson) in the House of Chthon, and the rogue vampire Boone (Bill Mondy) coming to take revenge on Marcus.

Blade and Collins

After a season of searching, Collins and Blade finally team up to hunt vampires.

In some ways, that is what we get.  Our A-story starts off with House of Chthon elder Charlotte (Emily Hirst) and her goon Thorne (John DeSantis who played Lurch on The New Addams Family) flying back home.  Marcus’ aide Chase (Jessica Gower) had pretended to dish on her employer and given Charlotte the hilt to Blade’s sword.  However, hidden inside the handle was an explosive, which sends Charlotte’s airplane crashing to the ground when it detonates.  It’s presumed by all that everyone was killed on impact, but Charlotte and Thorne emerge from the wreckage and slaughter a small town to obtain the blood they need to heal their injuries.  How did they survive the crash in the first place?  The writers speak through Blade when he mutters “doesn’t matter.”  They just needed to get the plot set up!

News of the plane crash forces Blade to seek help from his new partner…FBI Agent Ray Collins (Larry Poindexter)!  It turned out the reason the coroner reappered a couple episodes back was merely to tip Collins off that Blade was somewhere in Detroit.  Based on that information, Collins walks right into Blade’s lair.  Through his FBI connections Collins is able to find out where the plane went down.  Blade doesn’t think Charlotte survived, but wonders if any records on the location of the House of Chthon conclave may have survived the crash.

Of course, this is a bit of a paradox.  Collins came to Blade wanting to stop Marcus, but Blade says he and Marcus have the same goals–death to vampires.  With the enemy of Blade’s enemy being Blade’s friend, Blade wants to let Marcus finish his plot..and yet Blade seems intent on knowing every detail.  But maybe that will be explained next episode?

Airplane Crash

Throw some burning cardboard around and pretend it's a crashed airplane. Isn't that what Lost did? No? Okay then.

But in this episode, what we get for the next hour are Blade and Collins searching the crash and following the trail of Charlotte and Thorne to a local school, all the while swapping war stories.  For a laconic hero, Blade is pretty forthcoming to Collins–both about methods to kill vampires and about Shen’s (Nelson Lee) backstory.  This gives me another peak into my favorite supporting character.  It turns out Shen is hunting a couple of vampires (presumably the ones who took his sister).  Shen’s agreement with Blade is when Blade finds the vampires, Shen gets the honor of killing them.

In response, Collins shares his backstory–he caught a serial killer, but an improperly executed warrant allowed him to go free and murder Collins wife and daughter.  Collins went rogue, executing the killer before he could have a second trial.  Since then he has used “unorthodox methods” to stop criminals.

It seems like Blade and Collins have a partnership made in vampire heaven, and the two work together in the school killing vampire townies in some lackluster fights.  Seeing the vampire hunters’ success, Charlotte traps Collins by pretending to be a scared child.  Perhaps due to the death of his own daughter, Collins falls for it and Charlotte bites him.

Blade and Thorne have the best fight in the episode (which isn’t saying much).  After dusting Thorne, Blade goes to confront Charlotte, who makes Blade the same offer Deacon Frost did in the first movie–join us, work with us.  Blade responds with his glaive and dusts Charlotte.

Charlotte's Death

Charlotte's death is a bright spot in this episode.

That is the first of two lackluster deaths.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad to see Charlotte go.  The character had promise, but the actress ruined it for me.  Every word she uttered thudded to the ground, and I’ve commented on it in each review where she appeared, so I will not linger on this topic.  I just hope I never have to see actress Emily Hirst in anything again.  However, it was an anticlimactic death for a character built up as a supposedly powerful foil for Marcus.

But that is nothing compared to what comes next.

Blade is reluctant to stake his new partner after bonding on the hunt, but Collins knows it’s necessary.  So Blade dusts the former agent.  Talk about an aborted plotline!  For ten hours I’ve watched Collins hunt rogue cop/vampire Boone across the country.  Now Collins is killed so arbitrarily in a school?  How can the show not give me a Collins/Boone showdown?  How can we not get the “you’ve been looking for me, here I am” moment?  But no, Collins is killed for no reason, accomplishing nothing in this series.  What a freaking waste of my time, and of a character.

Now Collins did lead Blade to recover items from the plane wreckage Shen is able to track to the conclave in Toronto, but that does not justify the length of this character’s arc.  It’s as purposeful as the easily-forgotten coroner telling Collins about Blade.  Finding the plane is a job for any minor character, not one who’s story we’ve followed the whole season.

This is poor, poor writing, and it angers me greatly.  Now maybe the writers aren’t entirely to blame–many things influence television show evolution, including actor contracts, reduced episode orders, and so on.  But given Blade only lasted one season I cannot imagine any of that happening here.  That the Boone/Collins storyline arced over the whole season and ended this way is just frustrating.  If this is the way the show would have continued, I am glad it was not renewed after this season.

As for our B-plot, following Blade’s House of Chthon undercover spy Krista Starr (Jill Wagner) and Marcus’ plan to kill all the Chthon purebloods, very little happens.  We see Krista and Marcus having some loving moments, and Krista is torn between her attraction to the kind, gentle Marcus with whom she makes love, and her disgust for the vampiric, violent Marcus who ruthlessly kills without remorse.  This is, of course, setting up suspense for the finale where Krista must surely choose sides once and for all.

Chase and Krista

I don't know if Chase is going to kiss Krista or kill her. I'd be up for watching either.

Meanwhile, Chase is becoming more jealous of Krista’s place at Marcus’ side and in Marcus’ bed–a jealousy fueled when Marcus gives Krista a locket once owned by his human wife.  There is a slightly erotic scene where I wasn’t sure if Chase was threatening Krista or hitting on her.  Chase stands close to Krista and kisses her on the lips, but also talks about how Chase sees Krista as “a hollow little girl playing hollow little games”.

And as for Marcus?  When he’s not enjoying a romp with Krista, he’s killing his familiar contractors.  Marcus demands a special air handling system be put in place but his favorite architect Tucker (Freddy vs. Jason‘s Tom Butler) threatens to quit if Marcus doesn’t scale back.  Marcus, realizing Tucker is too valuable to kill, threatens everyone Tucker knows if the work is not done.  Of course, Tucker acquiesces.  And the air system?  My guess is it’s the delivery mechanism for the Aurora virus that will kill the purebloods.  I wish the show would have kept its hand a little more hidden.

Blade meditates

Blade is ready for the final fight, and so am I!

As I said above, this episode is getting the pieces in place for the showdown; it’s unfortunate they had to spend a full episode of the series doing so.

But we end this episode with Blade meditating, then vamping out and roaring for no apparent reason, I hope it’s because the finale is coming, and Blade and Shen get to kick some ass.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 11, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | Comments Off on Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 11: Monsters

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 10: Hunters

Original Air Date: August 30, 2006
Director: Brad Turner

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series  You can watch this episode free at

Episode Ten opens in a nightclub, and immediately I’m reminded of the original Blade movie (sure they played New Order and this show can only afford heavy metal music in the public domain, but the comparison is still welcome).   Is this a vampire club?  Will Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) come in and ash everyone here?

Serial killer The White Prince

The White Prince - a killer plot that will hook you!

Party girl Jennifer is slipped a rufie and wakes up handcuffed in a dingy basement.  She’s the latest prisoner of The White Prince (Scott Heindl) – a vampire not connected with any of the Houses we’ve seen and has spent centuries feeding on and brutally torturing women.   Like we’re told he cuts open their stomach and dances on their intestines (sadly visions of the guy tilting his head back and doing the Snoopy Dance on a pile of guts are left strictly to our imaginations).  His face scarred from self-inflicted wounds, White Prince dons a poorly sewn mask (think Platinum Dunes Leatherface crossed with the David Cronenberg in Nightbreed) and films himself extracting all of Jennifer’s teeth.

Yes, coming completely out of left field is a stand-alone murder mystery episode that actually plays thing like a straight up horror tale – a rarity for Blade given how often it features action vampire over scary vampire.   And by breaking from the serialized storylines the show now gives new viewers a chance to get hooked.  I cannot imagine flipping through the channels, stumbling upon an episode like last week’s Angels and Demons, and being captivated by the multitude of new characters in a 19th century setting (and Blade himself relegated to a walk-on).  But Hunters is an ideal introduction for viewers late to the Blade series.  It certainly would make my Must-See TV schedule from this point forward (though admittedly we’re catching it two episodes from cancellation).

Another girl named Nicki goes missing, and concerned friend Daniel asks Shen (Nelson Lee) to take the case.  Shen, writing Nicki off as dead, initially refuses until Daniel accuses Shen of being Blade’s lackey who wasn’t so blase when his own sister was in danger.  It’s satisfying to get some character development for this sardonic co-star, and I’m happy to see Shen taking the spotlight this time.  It’s inferred that Shen came to hate vampires after his sister was…bitten? Killed? Abducted?  A thread for a future episode which may never come.

But this is Shen’s case now, with Blade, always up for killing vampires – playing second string.  There’s a great exchange between the two:

A victim of The White Prince

Classic horror cliches are used well here as Blade fights the vampire version of Buffalo Bill.

Shen:  You don’t think she’s alive do you?
Blade:  No
Shen:  Do you hope she is? Do you care?
Blade:  You do that for me

This sets up a good dynamic, showing that Shen is Blade’s conscience as well as his weapons maker.  Perhaps even more important, Blade knows it.

This story continues with some red herrings as Shen and Blade try to find out the identity of the White Prince’s Familiar, whom the men amusingly refer to as “a Renfield” (a nice callback to the original Familiar).  Blade and Shen use Nicki’s sister Bethany as bait, and she’s abducted by bartender Kurt (Dominic Zamprogna) to become the White Prince’s next victim.

I like The White Prince as a concept, but I’m lukewarm on the execution.  How quaint that he uses VHS to videotapes himself torturing the victims.  Sure, age-old vampires may not be up on the latest digital technology but you’d think in 2006 mini-CD or digital would be preferable!  His look worked for me at times.  He wore a stylized coat that actually allowed him to camouflage himself against the wall, and the mask was creepy.  That said, I was disappointed when the eventual unmasking comes.


This episode is Shen's chance to shine.

Masks really should serve one of three purposes in horror — 1) hide a killer’s identity so when the killer is revealed we have a shock (Scream); 2) hide something so grotesque we are revolted when we see it (Friday the 13th); 3) be spooky enough on its own that we are terrified (Leatherface).  There should also be an in-story reason for a character to wear a mask, such as trying to hide their own identity, or a psychological defect where the mask allows disassociation of the person from their acts (Michael Myers).

The mask had me guessing the entire episode.  While all signs pointed to the wearer being the White Prince vampire, I started wondering if perhaps it was a human serial killer emulating a famous vampire.  After all, why would a vampire torture rather than feed?  Maybe it’s Detective Boone (Bill Mondy), who is constantly hunted but we haven’t seen since the fifth episode?  Or maybe it’s a minor character from the House of Chthon?  Will it be someone from Blade’s past, or perhaps Shen’s?  Maybe even Shen’s sister?

Nope.. it’s just a vampire with a hang-up over self-inflicted scars.  Wow, what a let-down from what could have been a killer unmasking scene (pun fully intended)!  Blade unmasks and fights the White Prince, ripping the killer’s jaw off before dusting him.

Meanwhile, Shen keeps his focus on rescuing the girls, but is ambushed by Kurt.  This gives Shen a chance to shine in some hand-to-hand combat, and for me to actually be shocked when Shen is not content to just hand Kurt over to authorities after defeating him.  Instead Shen buries a straight razor in Kurt’s stomach and the way it comes off does not play as self-defense but murder.  A wonderfully ironic ending — Kurt helped the Prince so he could be immortal and instead died young.

The White Prince's Death

Hunters features some jaw-droppingly bad CGI.

Is the show posing a moral question here, or are we just to take Shen’s killing of Kurt the same way we do Blade dusting the White Prince?  This feels different for some reason, perhaps because Kurt leaves a corpse rather than flaming out in a fake-looking CGI shot.

But all told, it was a satisfying story that focused on our heroes for a change, rather than the villains in the House of Chthon.  A welcome change of pace that becomes only the second episode in the series that I would rate as “good”, and which usurps Sacrifice as my favorite episode of the series.

Hunters does include a few ongoing subplots for long-time viewers, with a B-story involving Krista (Jill Wagner) in detox after her feeding frenzy and copulation with House of Chthon power-player Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson).  Krista has fully rejected Blade’s serum and goes out on the hunt.  Blade quickly captures her, force-injects serum, and makes it clear Krista will get over her bloodlust and return to his side of the war on vampires or Blade will dust her.  There are several scenes of her fighting to get out, eventually breaking down the metal door that contains her and… stays put.  When Shen and Blade return at the very end of the episode, Krista has conquered her bloodlust and is ready to be Blade’s spy in the House of Chthon again.

And speaking of Chthon, in our C level story House elder Charlotte (Emily Hirst) is coaxing Chase (Jessica Gower) to reveal Marcus’ plans.  Of course we know Chase is siding with Marcus against the purebloods when she pretends to align herself with Charlotte and promises delivery of both Marcus and Blade.

Krista in detox

Krista was locked in a room this episode. Can we leave her there?

Mercifully the House of Chthon scenes, especially those featuring piss-poor actress Hirst, are short.  I am growing weary of this plot line that doesn’t hold enough twists to be stretched over a dozen episodes.  I was glad to get confirmation of my suspicion that the baby in a bag from last episode was a snack for Charlotte, who prefers the blood of hours-old newborns.  Ahh, if only she could act she might be a good villain.

For the first time in the series we have no sign of FBI Agent Collins (Larry Poindexter) and his new coroner partner, nor any reference to Boone.  The episode smartly focused on the White Prince story and was the better for it.

Two episodes left to go, I actually find myself hoping for another hour devoted to a self-contained story as fulfilling as the White Prince’s and then a finale wrapping up the House of Chthon/Boone storylines.  But we shall see.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 10, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 2 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 9: Angels and Demons

Original Air Date: August 16, 2006
Director: Norberto Barba

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series  You can watch this episode free at

I mentioned in the Blade movie review for Now Playing that I saw similarities between the character of Blade and the character of Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a vampire who had his soul restored.  Angel thus has all of the powers of a vampire, and uses those powers to fight other vampires.  Sure, there are some differences between Blade and Angel, but there are a lot of similarities too.

But in watching this latest episode of Blade: The Series I was not happy to be reminded of Angel’s own self-titled spin-off series.  There are some parallels between the two series–Marcus Van Sciver’s company is similar to Wolfram and Heart, and Blade and his friends fighting to take it down.  The two even have similar story structure with the episodic fights that lead to the larger story arc.  But if the differences before were subtle, this week’s episode made them abundantly clear.

Marcus and Damek in the 1800s

Filmmaking 101: If you have no confidence in your sets, your costumes, or your actors to sell the time period, make everything brown like an old timey photo.

One of the storytelling devices the Angel series used was showing flashbacks of the vampire characters from hundreds of years earlier when the characters were in their human lives or newly turned as vampires.  Angel, Spike, Drusilla, Darla, and others all had their backstories fleshed out through flashbacks.  I always felt these period-pieces were poorly done in Angel, and asking one-note actors like David Boreanaz to pretend to be old world characters with accents didn’t work either.  I hated those flashback episodes and always fought to pay attention.

And so I had a flashback of my own while watching Angels and Demons:  a flashback to watching Angel and hating that they were subjecting me to needless scenes from Angel’s early life.  Of all the things from Angel to copy, that is one Blade‘s creators should not have emulated.  Yet they did.

To be clear, I am not entirely anti-flashback.  Just two episodes ago in Sacrifice we got wonderful flashbacks to Blade’s childhood, but those flashbacks were given in a way that both served character and story.  By contrast, in Angels and Demons we get flashbacks to House of Chthon power player Marcus Van Sciver’s (Neil Jackson) human origins in the late 19th century, and what a mess these scenes are!

First, the performances are not convincing.  I’ve always felt Jackson was perfectly cast as evil businessman vampire Marcus, but playing a happy-go-lucky newlywed opening a feed store in the 1800s was not in the actor’s range.  (I really hope he honed his period-piece acting chops before filming 2013’s The Scarlet Pimpernel in which he is rumored to be the lead).

Second, the film style was annoying.  Perhaps the budget was not there to convincingly create sets that look like old-time Detroit, but to put the scenes through an obvious video-toaster level sepia filter is obnoxious.  It made the scenes ugly.

And third, while the flashbacks did tie into the modern day story, it was nowhere near as cleanly interspersed as Blade’s childhood was in Sacrifice.  For much of the episode I didn’t realize they tied in at all.  The framing for this week’s story was that Marcus’ newest protégée Krista Starr (Jill Wagner) was distraught over her role in the deaths of her mother and uncle last episode, and Krista works through her grief by getting drunk attacking humans.

Marcus is understanding but not exactly sympathetic as he tells Krista that all vampires suffer the deaths of the ones they used to love in their human lives.  To illustrate this point, Krista has an after-death experience in which she sees Marcus in his human life.

Marcus was turned by a Native American

Had the series continued, would the Native American Vampire plot been further explored? I'd love to see Goyer try to explain that.

With that lame a set-up I was really not happy these flashback scenes at all.  More, they confused me as we had seen Marcus being turned in the pilot as Krista’s first after-death experience, and I thought it took place in 14th or 15th century Africa with witch doctors and such.  Seeing natives in tribal headresses and Marcus sporting an old-world hairstyle I thought it was far earlier than the 19th century, and not in the USA.  Fortunately, the episode does address that dissonance.

However, the flashback got a bit more interesting as Marcus opens his store, and in walks Damek (Brent Stait) of the House of Armaya.  We saw Damek previously, blackmailing House of Chthon pureblood elder Charlotte (Emily Hirst), but now we see him as an old-school gangster vampire running a protection racket in 19th century Detroit.

Marcus is willful and refuses to pay, so Damek forces Marcus to watch as he rapes and bites Marcus’ wife Isabelle in a scene that actually shocked me.  I expected Isabelle to be beaten and disfigured, but the rape was graphic and extreme.  And when Marcus still will not bow to Damek’s request, Damek boxes Marcus up in a coffin and ships him…somewhere.  Here the episode doesn’t go into great detail, but I am taking it that the tribal people who turn Marcus are not African, but rather Native Americans who, with a black wolf, perform a ritual which turns Marcus into a vampire.

I can’t say I like the idea of American Indian vampire tribes, and I would have preferred something a bit more old-world, a bit more Anne Rice, which I had originally thought was Marcus’ background.  I also do not understand why Damek would punish an enemy by sending him to be turned immortal.  But I did like that Marcus has a long history with Damek, and an intense reason beyond the normal caste system for his hatred of pureblood vampires.

In the most trite of writing cliches, we see that in modern day Detroit the same Marcus/Damek dynamic is playing out again.  While Damek got everything he wanted from Charlotte in his blackmail scheme, he has gone to Detroit to visit Marcus and demand a cut of Marcus’ financials.  Why?  Because he can is the best answer the episode gives us, and that isn’t enough for me.  But it does shoddily create a parallel between Damek entering Marcus’ store in the 19th century demanding a cut, and Damek doing the same thing on a larger scale in modern day.

Damek's final moments

Marcus' burning hatred results in Damek's burning face.

And, as in the 19th century, Marcus refuses to give in to Damek’s demands, and the two engage in a bloody brawl.  I must say this fight has some truly great moments, such as Marcus holding Damek’s head in the burning fire, and Damek impaling Marcus with a fireplace poker.  The sub-par CGI effects, such as Marcus pulling the poker out, don’t lessen the fight’s excitement.

I wish the episode had gone into more detail about why Marcus chose this moment to kill Damek.  For nine episodes we’ve seen Marcus cow-tow to the purebloods while, in secret, working on the Aurora virus to kill them.  But now that the virus is almost ready, Marcus kills Damek hand to hand?  I would have liked to see the Aurora plot tie into Damek’s murder.  How easy it would have been to, instead of having a brawl, have Marcus offer Aurora to Damek?  As Marcus’ front for Aurora is that it makes vampires immune to silver, garlic, and sunlight, Marcus could have pretended to capitulate and offer Damek the opportunity to be the first unstoppable vampire.  Then Damek’s greed causes a painful death fitting for his character.

Don’t get me wrong, the fight between Damek and Marcus was good, but it was random.  The death by Aurora would have been a culmination of the plot so far.  Instead, we just see Marcus, after over 100 years of being subservient to Damek, taking a stand and fighting back physically with no explanation as to why.

I do love Damek’s last moments.  While Marcus has brooded for over a century about the way Isabelle was raped and killed, Damek just laughs saying “I don’t remember you, or whoever that whore was you say I killed”.  A nice, evil touch that works to put centuries of evil deeds in perspective.

And with that strike against the House of Armaya, Marcus sends his right-hand vampire Chase (Jessica Gower) to dust Damek’s driver.  And she does so in a very cool way–a swift roundhouse kick, her boot containing a James Bond-like blade, which cuts the vampire’s throat.

Krista and Marcus make love

Krista has gone from being under cover to being under covers.

Then, in their shared pain, Krista and Marcus then have tender vampire sex.  Well, tender may not be the right word, it’s actually really  violent–full of fangs, blood, and biting, but the musical score tries to make the scene seem tender and emotional. I have to say I didn’t see this twist coming.  The entire series thus far has been about Krista trying to get revenge on Marcus for murdering her brother.  If we had a better actress than Wagner in the role of Krista perhaps this would have been foreshadowed and come across as believable; instead it just comes off as a shock and felt arbitrary.

And while Krista and Marcus do the bloody deed, Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) is watching from outside like some creepy peeping-Tom.  Oh yeah, Blade!  This series is called Blade, not Marcus!  So where was Blade this episode?  Well, he had a few scenes.  Shen’s friend at the CDC diagnosed the Aurora as a virus designed specifically to kill only pureblood vampires, and there is some shaky scientific reason given as to why it’s developed in the wombs of human women (as revealed in Episode 6).  So Blade goes to the House of Chthon to investigate, and Shen hacks the security system cameras…only to have his hacking undone by episode’s end.

Shen gets caught

Given Whistler's fate in the films, I keep expecting Shen to have a lame death, such as being caught by a House of Chthon security guard.

Blade’s appearance in this episode felt obligatory and he really had no story to speak of, but there were some bright moments courtesy of Shen who I’m liking more and more as the series continues.  Shen is alone in the sewer, hacking into the Chthon security system when he is interrupted by a security guard.  Here, I really thought Shen might die.  His snarky attitude was one of the bright points of the series, and I would have been upset to see him go.  But surprise!   Blade is lurking, and pulls the guard into the ceiling then drops his dead body.  It was a fun bit of violence and I’m glad to see Shen live on.

Finally we get one scene of Charlotte, who becomes more convinced of Marcus’ betrayal when Charlotte’s spy Glynnis goes missing.  This scene is there just so we don’t forget Charlotte, though I keep trying to.

And we get two scenes of Agent Collins.  He is going back with his captain, when he sees a tattoo on the captain’s wrist–the captain is a Familiar.  Collins escapes and goes running to…some woman’s house.  This really confused the hell out of me so I had to stop the episode and do some digging–who was this woman?  It turns out her name is Jessica Ellis, and way back in episode 3 she Was the coroner who showed Agent Collins the van full of ashed vampires.  She was such a minor, functional character that I didn’t even include her in my episode summary, but now she’s back.

Do you recognize this woman?

Do you recognize this woman? I sure as hell didn't.

We had not seen her in 6 episodes, and for normal TV viewers this would have been a month and a half between appearances of this minor, generic character.  I even went to where they have all these episodes on demand and include the “last time on Blade” scenes that are not on the DVD.  In this episode’s recap there is no shot or mention of Ellis, so I imagine I was not the only one who was like “who is this?”

But the coroner has seen enough strange deaths, so she believes Collins’ story of vampires.  She tells Collins of Blade, who was last seen in Detroit.

Overall, this episode was pretty mediocre.  Still nowhere near the heights of Sacrifice, and with only three episodes left to go I am really hoping things escalate.  A little less backstory and a little more story would be a welcome change of pace.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 9, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 1 Comment

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 8: Turn of the Screw

Original Air Date: August 16, 2006
Director: Norberto Barba

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series  You can watch this episode free at

Krista and Glynnis fighting

How can Lisa sleep through all that noise?

After being treated to the best episode in this series, I had high hopes coming into Turn of the Screw, and the opening scene didn’t disappoint.  At first I thought it was going to be a recap of last episode’s conclusion, as we see Krista Starr’s mother Lisa (P. Lynn Johnson) lying in her hospital bed, as we saw last episode.  I had assumed that we would see a replay of last week’s final scene–Krista (Jill Wagner) choking her mother with a pillow, then Glynnis (Jody Thompson), the vampire spying on Krista, entering and discovering Krista’s collusion with Blade.  As the two women prepare to fight, FBI Agent Collins (Larry Poindexter) would enter and get visual proof that vampires exist, and the two vampires would turn their fangs on him.  Then, finally, the action would begin.

I thought all this as the camera held steady on Krista’s mother, but the scene was still.  And as I saw  Krista’s mom laying there, bleeding from her wrist, I found myself wondering “Where’s the pillow Krista used to choke her?  Is the choking coming?”  Then the episode shows its hand and it fooled me — the silence is broken by Agent Collins’ body being thrown over the body of Krista’s mom, and the episode begins where I wanted it to–with the vamp-on-vamp fight between Glynnis and Krista.

Krista leaves Glynnis shattered

Mirror, mirror on the wall will ash Glynnis after all.

And man what a fight it is!  The stunt men have their best wire-fu going.  Sure, some of it is sped up obviously to enhance the action, and it would still be sub-par for a Blade theatrical film, but this stands as the best fight we’ve seen in the series to date.  Glynnis hugs the ceiling to avoid Krista, and Krista wins the fight by smashing Glynnis with a full-length mirror.  Glynnis dissolves because, as Krista helpfully states, mirrors are backed with silver, and I’m left to Google “mirror, silver” to see if it’s true.  Sure enough it is!

Still, the fight ended exactly as I predicted, with Glynnis dead and Krista and Collins back where they were before.  I would have liked a game-changer; instead I got yet another Krista victory.

During the fight, newly-turned Lisa escapes the hospital room, thus setting up the plot of the episode:  Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) and Krista chasing after Lisa.  Blade’s security system had tapes of Krista stealing his serum, so he goes to confront his partner but quickly joins Krista in the hunt for Lisa.

Lisa's EMT Lunch

Vampires are scary. Old ladies are scary. Old ladies as vampires? Hysterical.

Not familiar with her vampiric nature, Lisa first goes to her bother’s house where the thirst overtakes her.  As she feeds on Krista’s uncle she has a vision.  Vampires often get visions of their makers being turned, and Lisa witnesses her daughter being turned by Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson).  As Marcus is a local celebrity, the confused Lisa heads to the head vampire’s office complex.

Krista and Blade spend the episode playing “catch-up.”  They find the body of Krista’s uncle, and while Wagner tries to display pain outside her acting range, Blade beheads the corpse lest it turn into a vampire.

When the two finally catch up to Lisa, she had already fed enough times that Blade’s serum held no power and there was no choice but to kill her.  Blade is, of course, ready to do the deed but Krista ends up taking responsibility for her actions.  Krista pulls the trigger putting her mother out of her misery as the screen cuts to credits.

And thus ends this week’s lackluster A-storyline.  A far letdown from last week’s Blade story.

Krista kills her mother

Krista should be torn up as she is about to ash her own mother. But Wagner's facial expression looks like she just ate some bad Thai food.

I was immediately disappointed when this episode started with Shen (Nelson Lee) asking if Blade would try to talk to his father, introduced last episode, and Blade responds “no”.  I was hungry for more Richard Roundtree, and this episode was fatherus interruptus.  Replacing it with Krista hunting her mother was a poor substitute indeed!

But this week’s B-storyline involves my favorite fanged fiend, Chase (Jessica Gower)!  Marcus’ right-hand-vampire is mostly healed from Blade’s planted bomb, with just some burns on the back of her neck, so Marcus sends her to Vegas to lowball a business deal.  Of course, this deal takes place in a strip club, and my “unrated” DVDs make up in one scene for the gratuitous titty shots that have been lacking the past several episodes.

At the strip club Chase is spotted by a pureblood vampire named Alex (Kavan Smith), who apparantly likes a challenge as Chase is the only clothed woman in the room.  It is revealed Alex and Chase had a relationship 60-some-odd years ago–a relationship Alex wishes to rekindle with some wonderfully kinky, violent vampire sex.  There are some great lines in this scene such as Alex saying “I have missed you” and Chase replying “I haven’t thought of you once” before cutting her breast for Alex to feed on.  With Chase it seems possible.

Chase and Alex

Chase and Alex look like they're having a bloody good time together. But what happens in Vegas...ends in Detroit I guess.

This plot then becomes muddled.  Chase tells Alex that since the bomb in Berlin, Marcus has lost faith in her, and she thinks she’s been sent to Vegas set up to fail.  Chase says she’d like to stay in Vegas, away from Marcus, and be with Alex.  Marcus then shows up, catches Chase in bed with Alex, and Alex throws some insults at humans-turned-vampires in general and Marcus in particular with the best one being that turned vamipres are “pieces of meat that got a reprieve”.

With the posturing out of the way, Alex then tries to pay Marcus for Chase’s freedom.  Alex views this as rescuing Chase, but she sees as being bought from Marcus like cattle.  Alex and Marcus toast to the agreement, but Alex’s blood drink was drugged, and when Alex awakens he’s strapped down to a chair and injected with the Aurora virus which causes him to die a slow, agonizing death–the final test for Marcus’ biological weapon against the purebloods.

Now I don’t know if Chase’s angst was real, or if all this was a plot set up to lure Alex so they could test the drug on a pureblood.  As written, the episode allows it to go either way.  You can see Chase enjoying the rough sex, and also hurt by Alex’s comments on turned vampires, so had he not been so callous would he still have died?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that Marcus wanting to use the drug on the purebloods was set up episodes ago, robbing this episode from any surprise when we see Aurora used as a weapon.  There was no suspense as Alex was injected, just a knowledge that he had been betrayed by Chase.

Alex dying from Aurora

With Aurora we get to see an all new way for Vampires to die. Slowly. And with lots of latex make-up.

The ambiguity of Chase’s motivations intrigues me, but the entire plot line was hampered as we had never seen Alex before.  Had this plot been executed against Frederick, Chase’s ex-husband, rather than newly introduced Alex perhaps the scenes would have had more weight.  As depicted, this story was diverting but not enthralling.

Finally, the C for the C-storyline stands for Collins.  After the fight with Krista, he reports the existence of vampires to his superior officer, Agent Sorenson.  As a result of this unlikely proclamation, Collins is put through the cliche of having his badge and gun revoked by Sorenson.  But Collins persists and Sorenson agrees to listen, and thus Collins’ story gets stalled for yet another episode.

And as the episode’s credits roll I feel let down.  I thought with last week’s tremendous episode Sacrifice the series may have hit its stride, but Turn of the Screw is back to the old game of inching forward the overall storylines but not providing any real development or payoff.

I did like the idea that Krista’s selfishness, her refusal to allow her mother to rest in peace, causes immeasurable pain as well as the death of Krista’s uncle.  It is well written, but by now my displeasure with Jill Wagner’s acting has been well documented and her performance yet again undercuts what could have been a great dramatic storyline.  The best writing can be hampered by the worst actress, and this isn’t the best writing.

While starting off with the best fight I’ve seen on Blade so far, the episode quickly falls back on its old habits, and I’m disappointed yet again.

With four episodes left, I’m left only with the hope that the House of Chthon-Marcus versus the purebloods-story must advance soon.  Right?

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 8, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 4 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 7: Sacrifice

Original Air Date: August 9, 2006
Director: David Straiton

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

Young Blade with a Sack Lunch

Teenage Eric Brooks eating a bag lunch.

Before I review this episode I wanted to share a revelation I had while driving to work this morning:  this is a series truly made for comic book fans, not just because it stars a comic book character but because it is written and paced like a comic book series.  Series runners Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer both have previously written for comic books so this type of storytelling must come very naturally to them.  But taking every episode of Blade as a single issue, I see all the elements that were common in every issue of a serialized comic book:  a fight or two, a few teases about a larger story or conspiracy, and a villain from a couple issues back returns to continue their role in the saga.  So the pacing and storytelling that frustrates me as a regular viewer of serialized television comes directly from Blade’s comic book origins, and I wonder if it clicked with the comic set.

I’m not sure this type of comic book pacing holds true for comics written today, with the intent of arcs being compiled and sold as trade paperbacks.  Not every issue stands alone in today’s comics, nor do they always contain a big fight.  However, in the 70’s and 80’s these conventions were expected.

Truly the two mediums should be somewhat similar in storytelling, but I think comic book audiences may be conditioned to be more forgiving than television viewers, and often pacing that works in the printed medium doesn’t work in a visual one.

But as I put to bed the pacing problems I had with previous episodes of Blade I actually now have the pleasure of reviewing my single favorite episode of the series so far — Sacrifice, a great tale about family, and in it we have two parallel stories.

Blade's father, stepmother, and their cop friend Flanigan

Blade's father, stepmother, and Flanigan try to keep Blade's hunger satiated lest they be his next meal.

Our primary story is Blade’s (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones), as it should be but often hasn’t been.  Steppin’ Razor (Bokeem Woodbine), the vampire from Blade’s past introduced to in Episode 4, is back and there is still some “Bad Blood” between the two.  Now, rather than attack Blade directly, Steppin’ Razor is murdering seemingly random people, including a cop and an elderly nurse. Flashbacks tell us these victims all have some kind of connection to Eric Brooks (Blade’s childhood identity).

It seems the past several episodes have really wanted to include Blade’s origin story with its chronicle of the House of Chthon.  Episode 4 had the Bad Bloods talking about Blade’s induction in the gang while Episode 6 showed Blade having visions of his mother while pregnant with him.  But the problem with both those episodes was the ham-handed way they tried to tell us about Blade’s past in a way that truly had little impact on the rest of the story.  It was information Blade fans may drink up, but any casual TV viewer would be turned off by the lack of story and excitement.

But in this episode, they successfully link Blade’s present with his past, and rather than having people talk about Blade’s childhood as they did in Episode 4, here they show us through flashbacks.  Admittedly this was a common storytelling device in the first three seasons of Lost, but Blade utilizes the storytelling technique very well here.

Young Blade (Eric Roberts) in Chains

Grounding a daywalker is a bit more difficult than an ordinary child.

We see Blade as a child (Jon Kent Ethridge) on the verge of adolescence, cared for by his father Robert Brooks (Colin Lawrence).  Robert knew of Eric’s vampiric nature, so when not supervised he would chain the boy up in a locked room and give him blood transfusions to stave off Eric’s hunger.

Robert’s aided in the cover-up of his son’s monstrous side by Viola (Robinne Fanfair), a nurse at a local hospital.  Viola steals bags of human blood from the hospital to transfuse into Eric after it is discovered cow blood made Blade ill.  Also helping is Officer Flannigan (Elias Toufexis), a local cop who helped keep Eric under control.

But as Eric reaches adolescence his hunger cannot be maintained.  He tears open a bag of blood with his teeth and drinks it, and vamps out when angry.  Desperate, Eric calls in help in the form of a vampire hunter Abraham Whistler (Adrian Mcmorran).

However, Whistler’s primary motivation isn’t to help Eric but to either kill him or turn him into a weapon that can aid Whistler’s war against vampires.  Hearing this through a door, Eric smashes his hand with a cinder block to escape his chains and runs away to his friend Mr. Taka’s convenience store.  However, the store is being robbed.  Eric defends Mr. Taka by killing and feeding on both robbers–Blade’s first kills.

His feeding is interrupted by Robert and Whistler, and one of the robbers fires off a shot, hitting Robert in the stomach.  Thinking his father dead, Eric runs away to not be seen again.

While being a flashback in this episode, this is a truly great, emotional story.  Here we get answers to questions that have to be asked, such as how does anyone raise a half-vampire without ending up in the news?  How did the thirst stay under control before Whistler came up with the serum?  But not only are those questions answered but we also have some wonderful emotions as we watch a parent covering up the crimes of a child, and a child trying to come of age and come to terms with what he is.

Blade after his first kills

Young Eric Roberts had a good ethic on hunting - he eats what he kills.

In addition, we get Whistler, and he has a grand entrance.  Sure, this is not played by Kris Kristofferson, it’s a much younger man, but he is given an incredible entrance and the fanboy in me buzzed with delight at seeing Whistler again.  While this does create some continuity problems with the first Blade film, where Whistler said he found Blade as a teenager on the street eating homeless people, it is worth it to explain why Whistler would know what Blade was and where to look for him.

And we also see Blade is the one who broke Whistler’s leg, attacking Whistler while escaping from Mr. Taka’s store.  Again, this is a very Star Wars-y “certain point of view” interpretation of when Whistler says his leg was injured by vampires, it adds a bit of redemption to Blade’s side of his partnership with Whistler.

If all of that wasn’t enough, the production values of these flashbacks are first rate.  The production team went through the trouble to get period-accurate costumes, hairstyles, and even background score music for these scenes.  And it feels real, never coming across as a parody like That 70’s Show.  So kudos all around for a wonderful flashback setting and story.

But even better, that story feeds into the present day.  What I don’t think I realized until this episode was that Blade was originally from Detroit; his coming to Detroit wasn’t just to hunt the House of Chthon, it was a homecoming after the events in Blade: Trinity.  Perhaps I should have gotten this more clearly when the Bad Bloods came in, but it was never driven home until now.

Young Whistler with Blade's parents

In case you thought Whistler hardened with age, even in the 70's he was ready to train Blade...or kill him.

But with Steppin’ Razor having survived his last fight with Blade, he is now making it personal, finding Eric Brooks’ friends and helpers and killing them one by one.  Flannigan and Mr. Taka are killed, but Blade and Shen arrive just in time to revive Viola, who Steppin’ Razor tried to drown at the nursing home where she worked.  Viola then points Blade to Razor’s next victim–Blade’s father.  With medical aid by Viola, Robert Brooks survived the shooting, and with Blade having returned to Detroit so did Robert, wanting to reconnect with his son.

Blade rushes to the abandonned apartment building where he grew up, and has a rematch with Steppin’ Razor.
And, once again, the series gets it right.  Steppin’ Razor wants to kill Blade and his father.  This is a fight with stakes (in both senses of the word!), and that’s something this show has been lacking in so many episodes where Blade slaughtered faceless vampires.

And the fight is well constructed, with Blade and Steppin’ Razor evenly matched, and when Steppin’ Razor dies with Blade’s sword to his chest it’s a triple surprise — first because Blade was not fighting with his sword, second because it’s Robert Brooks taking Blade’s sword and interrupting the fight, and third because to get at Steppin’ Razor he stabbed Blade clean through!

Robert Brooks, Steppin' Razor, and Blade

Someone should tell Robert Brooks that the best tactic to reconnect with your estranged son is not to literally stab him in the back, even if it is to save his life.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Blade’s father is played by Richard Roundtree!  The 70’s love continues as the original, and best, Shaft shows up as Blade’s older father.  This casting is so perfect in that Roundtree’s Shaft was the original bad ass, and now he is the father to a bad ass vampire killer.  It keeps with the 70’s vibe of the episode, and just makes perfect sense.  The only regret I had was that it was spoiled in the opening credits so I knew that bad mutha (shut yo mouth!) would show up in the episode; had they resisted the urge to put him in the credits it would have been even better still.

All of this makes for honestly a better Blade story than we got in three movies.  And in it, Sticky Fingaz does very well.  When reunited with his father, Sticky rides the perfect line, showing a character trying to keep emotions under control while completely denying his father, saying “My father was the vampire that bit my mother, you’re just the guy who got stuck holding the bag.”  It was dramatic, but it was also believable that Blade would want to hurt his father with words, even though we know Blade isn’t being totally honest after spending so much time trying to save his father.

Emotional resonance like this is something this series has not been able to accomplish in its first six episodes, and I’m so happy to have some now.  If the back six are all like this, the journey will have been well worth it.

Krista and her dying mother

To bite or not to bite, that is the question.

In the episode’s B storyline, Krista Starr (Jill Wagner) is dealing with her mother’s death from Leukemia.  While I wasn’t a big fan of this subplot when introduced last episode, here it worked very well, showing Krista’s dealing with the death of a parent in direct contrast to Blade’s discovery of a parent still alive.  That balance gives this story a weight that Wagner’s acting range cannot.

Krista, not wanting her mother to die, is faced with the choice of losing her mother or turning her mother into a vampire.  There are several scenes where her mother, delusional from pain medicine, is asked if she’d like to be with Krista “forever” and always saying “yes.”  With this permission, Krista breaks into Blade’s lair Mission Impossible-style crawling on the ceiling to avoid the security system.  When in, she steals several vials of the serum to control her mother’s hunger, and then bites her dying mother before suffocating her with a pillow.

Poor acting and poor plotting hurt this storyline, especially when put up against Blade’s story, but it does have a wonderful element of moral ambiguity, asking how far you would go to save a loved one.  Krista cries as she suffocates her mother, and if only Jill Wagner could act her way out of a paper bag perhaps the scene would have gotten me emotional as well, but that is apparently asking too much from an actress who got her start pulling pranks on Punk’d? This poor casting choice will haunt the series forever.  But she does gets one great moment this episode, which we will get to in a minute.

Babies eating babies

It's an epidemic, children eating children!

But first, speaking of bad casting, little Emily Hirst is back giving her best daytime-soap-opera performance as the evil vampire child Charlotte.  Her spy Glynnis (Jody Thompson) is still trying to find dirt on Detroit House of Chthon leader Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), and is learning the Aurora project, which promises to cure the Vampire weaknesses for garlic, silver, and sunlight, may never happen.  With this news, Charlotte tasks Glynnis with investigating Krista, and we the audience wonder if Krista’s secret alliance with Blade will be revealed.

We also see Charlotte given a baby in a bag.  I wondered if they’d make Charlotte truly evil, rather than just petulant, by showing her eating a baby, but all we’re given is the ominous line “I could eat you up, yes I could.”  Hirst’s delivery of the line is so flat that I don’t know if it was trying to be menacing, charming, or funny.  Is this baby a meal, or a subplot?  By pulling this punch, it’s apparent the vampires may have fangs but Blade: The Series does not.

And lest we forget about the final thread that weaves through Blade: The Series we get one scene of FBI Agent Collins (Larry Poindexter) as he continues to investigate crooked-cop-cum-vampire Boone.  As Boone has not been seen, Collins is now trying to find Krista, who was one of Boone’s open cases when the cop went missing.

Krista and Glynnis Vamped Out

Krista vs Glynnis? Krista and Glynnis vs Collins? Krista vs Collins vs Glynnis? You mean I have to wait to find out?!?!

But all these B, C, and even D level subplots end magnificently, and together.  Krista, shortly after killing her mother, is visited by Glynnis, who grabs Krista’s bag of serum.  Krista and Glynnis both vamp out and we think we’re going to get a great girl-on-girl vampire fight, and I’m pumped…when Agent Collins walks in, flashing his badge and shouting “FBI!”  And when both she-vampires turn their fangs towards Collins, giving him proof of what he suspected, the existence of vampires!  It is a total rush…as the screen cuts to black and credits roll, making the audience wait a week (or me one day) to see the conclusion.

I have enough experience with television cliffhanger endings that I dare not hope for this scene to result the total violent riot I imagine; the fight will probably be perfunctory and end with Krista and Collins in tact, and minor character Glynnis dying to keep Krista’s allegiance secret as this show has no problem killing the minor characters.  Still, the excitement of the moment was perfect and I find myself for the first time in the series greatly anticipating the next episode.  And perhaps now that Krista’s secret is at risk, and now that Collins has seen vampires in person, these subplots that were given one scene per episode can take center stage as we prepare for our end-of-season showdown.

Shen and Blade are on the case

Once again Shen is let out of the lair to investigate with Blade.

If all that is not enough praise, a couple more quick hits. First, more kudos to the writers for Shen’s dialogue in this episode’s opening scene.  He’s been Blade’s whipping boy for 6 episodes, and his snarky replies at the start of this show are reminiscent of Ryan Reynolds’ Hannibal King from Blade:  Trinity, especially Shen’s response when Blade complains about the A/C in the car not working:   “Maybe you should get a bad-ass summer-weight coat”

I also love that little Eric Brooks is a comic book fan, reading both Avengers and Hulk.  As the entire Now Playing Marvel movie retrospective was sparked by The Avengers, it was cool to see a shout-out.

Television shows often take a few episodes to reach their potential.  With Sacrifice it seems Blade: The Series found its footing at last, and I cannot wait until tomorrow to see where the series goes next.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 7, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 8 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 6: Delivery

Blade Slaps Vanessa

Blade is very old school in the "I'll slap the bitch unconscious rather than talk to her" kind of way.

Original Air Date: August 2, 2006
Director: Alex Chapple

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

This episode kicks off with Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) and the prisoner he rescued last episode, the pregnant Vanessa (Sonja Bennett), on a train outside of Paris. When Vanessa starts to scream for help, which is completely reasonable given that she’s handcuffed with a strange, stoic man who just injected himself with some drug, Blade takes the step of bitch-slapping her unconscious.

That shocked the hell out of me.  I mean, Blade has always been an anti-hero, but I know groups of internet folks that would start letter writing campaigns over this.  Even I, more forgiving than most, don’t know if that was cool for Blade to do.  But I have to give the series this:  it has shown time and again that it’s not afraid to take Blade to some risky places, and this may be the riskiest so far.  Later this same episode a vampire attacks Vanessa and Blade says “Don’t hit the pregnant lady” – not because he had an epiphany about what he did was wrong but because … we’ll get into that in a bit.

Blade is taking Vanessa to Paris to see a doctor who will examine what she is carrying, and perhaps tend to the concussion Blade just gave her, but House of Chthon vampire Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson) has sent teams of assassins to intercept and stop Blade.  The first of these assassins attack on the train, others attack in the Paris sewer, and I really wonder how Marcus’ trackers found Blade in those places.  The train I could almost see as Marcus somehow knew Blade was headed to Paris, and perhaps Marcus agrees with me in thinking Blade should avoids air.  But in the sewer?  How in the world could these assassins know exactly which sewer Blade would visit and when?  Is there some sewer in Paris that all the tourist vampires must see when in the City of Light?

Blade Vamprie Assassin on Ceiling

What a feeling...when you're vamping on the ceiling.

I was happy to see these assassination attempts as it meant some action for the show, and one part was truly inventive–a vampire coming at Blade while crawling upside-down on the ceiling of a train-car.  But unfortunately violence without story is a boring thing, and between the random attack locations and the nameless, faceless nature of the attackers it felt like dull video game sequences rather than great action scenes. The walk into a sewer to be ambushed was the most video game-like, as if Blade just hit a checkpoint and triggered a wave of attackers.  Also, the fights seem small in scope as the assassins attack in pairs.  In the movies we’ve seen Blade take out a hundred vampires in five minutes, so two don’t seem like very much of a threat.

But during the fights Vanessa and Blade form a bond, Vanessa even saving Blade from one terrible stunt-woman evil vampire on the train.

And while I don’t know how Marcus knew where the assassins could find Blade, the show does explain how Marcus knew to send them in the first place.  Congratulations to the screenwriters, you fooled me.  Last episode I bemoaned the death of sexy, fun vampire Chase (Jessica Gower) in a lackluster explosion.  Silly me to think a raging fire could kill such a character, as she is found burned but undead, and sent back to Detroit.  I would however like to know how she’s sent back to Detroit, as when she’s delivered to the House of Chthon’s medical wing she is still smoking from the fire.  Now, Blade had to fly (presumably coach, vampire hunting doesn’t pay well I’d assume) almost 16 hours, not counting layovers, from Detroit to Berlin.    Yet somehow Chase’s burned body gets from Berlin to Detroit while still smoldering.  Okay, let’s move on.

Chase is Smoking Hot

Chase is smoking hot.

Through blood therapies (and oxygen? Why would a vampire need an oxygen tube?) Chase begins the change from the Freddy Kruger latex-monster she was back to the sexy English vamp we’ve come to love, and she reveals Blade’s interference and his rescue of Vanessa.  To stop Blade and retrieve Vanessa, Marcus dispatches his pairs of assassins, and also sends Krista Starr (Jill Wagner) to Paris.

But Krista has some personal problems to deal with.  Her mother has been diagnosed with leukemia, and Krista’s uncle tracks her down to ask her to donate bone marrow.  The vampire is afraid she’ll infect her kin through the transplant, so she refues the request and her uncle accuses her of trying to hide a drug habit.  Krista’s Paris assignment is probably a welcome diversion from her guilty conscience.  Of course, as Krista is Blade’s undercover operative in the House of Chthon she cannot actually partake in killing the daywalker, so she kills the two assassins who accompanied her, and meets Blade at the doctor’s office.

Blade himself is also a bit distracted as he’s been having visions of his mother (Alana Husband) when she was pregnant and recently turned, saying how she wished she’d killed Blade in the womb.  Of course, the doctor points out Blade’s mother’s name was also Vanessa, so the proximity to a possible vampiric pregnancy would bring back these thoughts.

Krista missing an eye

Krista has a bad case of pink-eye. Perhaps if she treats it with Worcestershire sauce she'll turn into a zombie and Blade will have a new evil to fight!

Unfortunately none of these flashbacks worked for me.  Being delusions or visions or whatever, they carried little weight, and they didn’t provide me any more insight into Blade as a character.  I think the writer’s intent was to give us more of Blade’s back story, but there was no payoff to it.  More, it shows Vanessa Brooks vamped out and pregnant in the kitchen, whereas we know from the original Blade film that she went into labor immediately after being bitten.  Overall these scenes did not work for me, but perhaps this will come up again later.

The pregnancy story takes a big twist here, and once again I was mistaken in my prediction, for what Vanessa is carrying is not an army of pure-blood daywalkers, but actually nothing at all!  There is no baby in Vanessa’s womb, just a mysterious viscus fluid.  No one knows what the fluid is – only that it is not Aurora.

The doctor extracts all the fluid from Vanessa, and Blade arranges for Vanessa to go underground hiding from the House of Chthon.  Blade takes a small sample of the fluid for analysis, and Krista takes the rest to return to Marcus.

One great twist comes when Krista realizes she can’t return to Marcus without suspicion.  She has Blade cut her face with his sword, take out one of her eyes, and also mutilate her hand.  It’s a great touch that I didn’t see coming, even if it does lack weight since we know she will heal by next episode.

Marcus and not-so-sweet Charlotte

All the dramatic camera angles in the world can't improve Emily Hirst's performance as Charlotte.

We also get a scene that I actually liked of Krista wondering if she can continue to play double-agent, and realizing that this isn’t a mission with an end date but something that will go on perhaps forever.  It’s a great moment that actually served to drive home the emotional scope of Blade and her war on Marcus, though I wonder if she’s lost sight that her original objective was not death to all vampires, but just to avenge her brother.

Speaking of Marcus, he has problems of his own as Damek, head of the House of Armaya, has demanded a meeting with him and House of Chthon pureblood elder Charlotte (Emily Hirst).  Damek knows of the Aurora project and, worse, knows that over a thousand Armayan vampires were killed while being experimented on by Chthon scientists.   Charlotte thinks rogue vampire Det. Boone (Bill Mondy) spilled the beans of Aurora to the Armayans, but in the meeting it’s discovered that the leak was Sands, the vampire from three episodes ago.

Still, Boone is on the loose and we do get one scene of FBI Agent Collins (Larry Poindexter) still on Boone’s trail and investigating the shootout at the Louisiana funeral home.  Collins’ chief Sorenson calls to take Collins off the case, but Collins refuses and we’re given an insight that Collins’ investigation may be personal, related to the death of his family.

Blade fights in a French sewer

I believe this sewer is mentioned in Frommer's Paris guide as a Suggested Itineraries for Three Days

Overall this episode failed to impress me.  While my early reviews complained of there being no action, this episode had action for action’s sake and it was unfulfilling.  While I am hooked on the X-Files-like mystery of the strange amniotic fluid, Marcus’ grand scheme, and what will come of Boone and Collins, these are all the slow-moving subplots that weave through every episode but yet progress very little.  It’s these myth-building elements that have hooked me on shows such as X-Files, Lost, and Heroes, but the Blade mysteries honestly can’t hold a candle to the black oil, The Others, or Sylar.

If the overarching stories of Blade were more compelling, I’d be more engaged.  Likewise, if the larger arcs remained the same but each individual episodic story, such as the assassination attempts here or the Bad Bloods previously, were more entertaining then the show would be passable.  But right now, the episodic adventures are lackluster, and the overarching story minimal.

My only hope is that, as we approach the end of the season, the larger story arcs will come to the fore and (dare I dream?) have a satisfying payoff.

Current verdict: complete not recommend, even for Blade fans.  Pick up a comic instead.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 5, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 10 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 5: The Evil Within

Krista's vision

Do filmmakers really think audiences can't tell the difference between real night shooting and daytime shots put through a filter? Or do the filmmakers just not care?

Original Air Date: July 26, 2006
Director: Michael Robison

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

Again, this next episode of Blade continues where the last ended, with Krista (Jill Wagner) in the pool of blood at the house of Leichen having a vision showing where rogue vampire Det. Boone (Bill Mondy) is hiding.  And I can’t help but wonder if Krista sees her vision as we do–poorly filmed behind a darkening lens filter to try and make daytime look like nighttime.  In the vision Krista is visited by her dead brother, and then sees Boone saying he’s going to Louisiana where he is trying to make contact with House of Armaya.

With this information, Krista’s sire Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson) sends Krista and her vampire mentor Chase (Jessica Gower) to Louisiana to capture and kill Boone.  After they leave we see Frederick, Chase’s ex-husband and Leichen guru, has discovered one of Krista’s serum vials, leading the Leichens to believe Krista may be swayed to their house.  Frederick resists this idea, not wanting to upset Marcus, or perhaps Chase.

Chase and Krista lead several House of Chthon soldiers to Louisiana, interrupting Boone’s attempt to meet with one of the Armayaian pure bloods.  Several vampires of both houses die, and Krista’s attempts to save a human Boone took captive.  Boone wounds the human and runs, and when Chase walks in and sees the wounded human, she believes Krista stopped for a mid-fight snack.

Blade's Predator Vision

With such a drastic temperature change, wouldn't Vanessa notice her stomach skin is several degrees colder?

Boone hides in a bathroom and Chase shoots blindly through the bathroom door killing a vampire she believes is Boone but is actually a random Armayain.  But thinking their mission was accomplished, Chase and Krista return to Detroit.  But the human Krista saved is taken to a hospital, and interrogated by FBI Agent Collins (Larry Poindexter), who has been trying to find Boone, and helps confirm to him that vampires are real.

Meanwhile in Detroit Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) continues to follow his lead on Dr. Vonner, the gynecologist who committed suicide last episode.  At Dr. Vonner’s funeral Blade spots Vanessa, the waitress to whom Krista delivered a package back in Episode 3.  Using his infrared goggles, Blade realizes whatever Vanessa is carrying in her womb, it’s body temperature is too low to be human.

While following Vanessa, Blade has an altercation with a drug dealer and shatters a baseball bat in the dealer’s face.  I wonder if this was to set up a new enemy for Blade, or just filler.  Time will tell.

Chase returns to Detroit, and Marcus asks her to immediately take Vanessa to Berlin to keep her away from the purebloods, and as if on cue Vanessa is visited by Charlotte (Emily Hirst) – a pureblood vampire “child” and one of the rulers of the House of Chthon.  Charlotte knows Marcus is up to something, and is remaining in Detroit to keep an eye on Marcus.  Charlotte even recruits Marcus’ aide Glynnis to perform a full audit of all the activities of the House of Chthon.

Not-So-Sweet Charlotte

The actress who plays Charlotte has dethroned Jake Lloyd as "worst child actor I've had the misfortune to watch"

Blade tracks Vanessa to Berlin, where he infiltrates the nest and rescues Vanessa (though she thinks she is being kidnapped), and sets off a bomb which kills Chase.

And back at the House of Chthon, Krista continues her search for the Aurora vaccine.  After several aborted attempts at stealth, she finally loses patience and breaks the glass case to steal a sample for Blade.  But she is caught in the act by Marcus who confides in Krista that the vaccine is a ruse.  Aurora only works for a couple of days before vaccinated vampires have a negative reaction and decompose.  Marcus has a plan to use Aurora so he can rule the House of Chthon and offers Krista a spot at his side.  She agrees, but whether she’s resigning herself to her life as a vampire or continuing her deep cover we need to wait until the next episode to see.

I have to say Blade: The Series hits its stride with Episode Five.  It was action-packed and exposition-light.  Previous episodes would have spent fifteen minutes on Krista’s vision alone, but here it was under five minutes, and before we knew it they had gone to Louisiana to kick Boone’s ass.  And once in Louisiana we are treated to a huge gunfight, with vampires being dusted left and right.

Then later we have another action sequence with Blade in Berlin.   There is less action, but what action it has is more expertly executed.  We also see that Sticky Fingaz has been practicing his martial arts, or his stunt double got an upgrade, as we get a well-staged martial arts fight that is almost worthy of the Blade feature films.

This is the first episode of Blade that doesn’t feel cheap.  The hokey vampire ashings now take place behind warped glass or closed doors.  And they milk a hospital explosion from several angles, and even engulf Chase in convincing CGI fire.  Perhaps this is to the credit of a better director?

Chase Burns

My favorite vampire gets hot and bothered.

Even with all these improvements the episode still had several problems, the first of which is the introduction of Charlotte, the girl vampire who is Marcus’ superior.  Evil little children are nothing new; we’ve seen them done better in Children of the Corn, Village of the Damned, Pet Semetary, The Omen, and so many others.  And as far as evil vampire little girls, this is coming perhaps a decade too late after the theatrical adaptation of Interview with the Vampire where Kirsten Dunst stole the evil from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.  And sadly the little girl who plays Charlotte is no Kirsten Dust; she is wooden and her performance comes off not as powerful but petulant.  Between the hackneyed concept and the poor acting, this is a major misstep.

Another problem with this episode is the death of Chase.  I see how this could be considered a plus; killing major characters to keep the audience off their toes is a staple of such shows as Heroes, Lost, and The Sopranos.  But Chase was one of the most malevolently fun characters in the series and her death is a major loss.  More, it feels like her death was extraneous and unfulfilling.  She doesn’t get the glory of dying in a fight, nor is she even Blade’s target.  She’s collateral damage in an explosion she’s too inept to escape.  If Chase had to go, I would have liked it to be earned.  (Note: I learn later I fell for it, Chase survived this.  Kudos to the writers for fooling me)

Blade in the Airport

Do you think Blade pays for a checked bag or just carry-on? Does he read on the flight? Play on the Game Boy? These are questions I should not be asking.

And in the most head scratching moment, Blade flies to Berlin and we see him in the airport.  Does he fly coach?  Does he check his glaive? He’s given a cache of weapons by a Berlin airport security officer who seems to know of his reputation, but what if she didn’t?  The entire thought of Blade traveling internationally does not hold up.  We should have skipped that scene and just had Blade somehow arrive in Berlin; showing him travel raises questions better left unanswered.

Still, if I’m bothered by these things, it means the show has finally engaged me with its action and intrigue.  While I don’t like the little girl vampire, I am interested in Marcus’ fight with the purebloods and the strange dead fetus in Vanessa’s belly.

More, I think I’ve figured out two things – first, I think Marcus is going to use the vaccine to inoculate the purebloods only to have them be killed, giving Marcus rule of the House.  Second, I wonder if the vaccine Marcus is working on is the creation of half-vampire daywalkers.  After all, the creation of Blade came when his pregnant mother was turned into a vampire, and now we have pregnant women carrying dead babies that I presume will be vampires…an army of evil daywalkers could be quite the coup, though I know the series will not last the 18 years needed for the infants to come of age.

On to Episode 6.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 4, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 8 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 4: Bloodlines

Original Air Date: July 19, 2006
Director: Felix Enriquez Alcala

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

Blade and Steppin' Razor

There seems to be some Bad Blood between Blade and his old friend Steppin' Razor

With episode four of the Blade series we are given yet another episode of Blade that serves to deepen the characters’ backstory in the least interesting manner possible.

Now that I am one-third through the entire Blade run, I’ve come to a conclusion on where I sit with this series–it’s not good but it has potential, and some aspects of the show  I like well enough to keep coming back for more.  There are many television series that I’ve watched which fall into this category, some of which come to mind are True Blood, Smallville, Heroes, and the latest incarnation of V.  All of those were series that I watched religiously, but to which I never devoted my full attention, often keeping them on while I do other things, paying the show only half of my attention until a big moment occurs.

So given this, I can say that were I not watching this for Now Playing, had I just caught Blade when it was first run on Spike, I would have watched every episode, but not paid full attention.

However my duties for Now Playing don’t give me the luxury of being halfhearted,  so I watched this fourth episode of Blade giving it 100% of my attention, and not feeling rewarded for my efforts..

In this episode, our multiple storylines continue to progress at a snail’s pace, with the the hunt for cop-cum-vampire Detective Boone heading to the forefront  though Bill Mondy, the actor who portrays Boone, never makes an appearance.  FBI Agent Ray Collins (Larry Poindexter) meets Boone’s former partner Detective Gibbs.  The two search Boone’s apartment and find a book of the House of Armaya, but the text is in German.  Gibbs also delivers all of Boone’s open cases, and Collins notices the open case of Zack Starr, and his missing sister Krista (Jill Wagner).  To be continued I’m sure.

Krista in the house of Leichen

The house of Leichen, gonna make vamps sweat 'til they bleed.

Meanwhile, the House of Chthon is also on the hunt for Boone as the corrupt cop was aware of Project Aurora.  Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), the man in charge of the Aurora vaccine, asks Chase (Jessica Gower) to take Krista to the House of Leichen – a group of mystical vampires that have sworn off human blood.  The Leichens have what is described as the vampire version of a sweat lodge –  which allows bloodsuckers locate the whereabouts of the people they’ve turned.  Marcus hopes Krista can find Boone (whom she bit in the pilot) in this way.

Performing the ritual is Fredrick, Chase’s ex-husband.  Chase’s past marriage was mentioned in two of the first three episodes, so seeing him was no surprise.  What was a surprise was that he seems to be a nice vampire, warning Krista that Chase knows of Krista’s attachment to her former self.

But while both those plotlines have some motion this episode, there is no resolution and, for once, the focus of the episode is on Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) himself.

The episode opens exactly where the last one ended: Blade storming the obstetrician’s office.  However that plot is quickly (ahem) aborted as Dr. Vonner commits suicide as soon as Blade enters his office.

But as Blade leaves, he is hit by a truck and taken hostage by Reverend Carlyle and three unknown vampires.  Carlyle believes these vampires only want Blade’s serum, and he hopes they will also be able to convince Blade to stop helping ash dealers like Cain.  But the Reverend should know better than to trust three strange vampires, as we see they were only using the Reverend to capture Blade, and once that’s accomplished the vamps quickly kill the Reverend and reveal they don’t care about the serum–the vampires have a personal beef against Blade, for he is their sire.

We learn quite a bit about Blade’s past here.  As a child in the 70’s Blade was hungry and lost and came upon a street gang called the Bad Bloods.  The Bloods took Blade in, but in his hunger he fed on the gang members, turning them all into vampires.  The Bad Bloods became a gang of vampires terrorizing Detroit, feeding on their enemies and innocents alike.  In a bit of a revelation for Blade, we are also finally told the origin of Blade’s trademark tattoos–they are the markings of the Bad Bloods and all the members have them.

Shen in action

Shen finally gets out of the lair as he has to rescue Blade with this special gun that shoots serum instead of bullets. I don't see a lot of use for that gun, but lucky he had it lying around.

Years later Whistler found Blade and separated the daywalker from the gangs.  But as Blade’s legend grew in the vampire community, all twelve houses began hunting and killing any vampires sired by Blade.  These three Bad Bloods are presumably all that remain alive, and Blood leader Steppin’ Razor  (Bokeem Woodbine) hopes that he can trade Blade to Marcus in exchange for the surviving Bloods being made members of the House of Chthon.

Marcus reluctantly agrees to the deal but before Blade can be delivered he is rescued by Shen, who spent the episode tracking the Bad Bloods.  Shen injects Blade with his needed serum and Blade dusts two of the vampires, though Steppin’ Razor manages to escape.

This plotline had a lot going for it.  We learned a lot more about Blade, why he has his tattoos, and more of what happened to the daywalker before he was found by Whistler.  The story also gives Shen a chance to shine and actually leave the lair and engage in some detecting and some action as he sleuths out who kidnapped Blade, why, and where he is being held.

That said, while I did wonder about Blade’s tattoos, finding out they are gang markings is somewhat unfulfilling.  I had hoped there would be a vampire origin, or mystical origin, to his tattoos, similar to Harry D’Amour for those familiar with Clive Barker’s works.  Instead, they are just gang symbols, and human gang symbols at that.  What a letdown!

Also, while we learned a lot about our hero, there was just too much angst between the Bad Bloods and Blade.  Instead of rage and vengeance, Steppin’ Razor spends too many scenes talking about how they were wronged by Blade, or talking about how they planned their vengeance.  Instead of coming across as dangerous and unpredictable these speeches just make Razor seem like he is all talk.  Because of the poor writing and worse performance by Woodbine, I just wished for things to move along at a faster pace–a feeling that I could apply to this entire series.

A Bad Blood gets ashed

SyFy called. They want their original movies' special effects back.

And when Shen finally broke Blade loose for our few seconds of action this episode, I was struck by the worst effects I’ve seen since perhaps the original pilot.  Just after I praised Blade’s production values last episode, this time I am treated to uncomfortably close camera angles, and special effects that look like they were made on someone’s home Amiga for YouTube.

If the dusting effects weren’t bad enough, this is also the first episode without a gratuitous “titty shot”.  We do get to see the bare ass of Krista’s stunt double as she enters the pool of blood buck naked, but obviously actress Jill Wagner is above showing her breasts for a cable TV show.  And to that I say, good for you girl!  You may not be able to act worth a damn, but this show doesn’t deserve your nipples.  Good for you for recognizing this series for what it is and not allowing your morals to be bent for this.

Still, for all my gripes, my favorite character remains Boone and I hope he makes his way back to Detroit quickly, and with Steppin’ Razor now out there to make things worse for Blade I continue to hope this series may find its footing.  So while I’m not happy with the series, I continue to watch.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 3, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 9 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 3: Descent

Original Air Date: July 12, 2006
Director: Jon Fawcett

Blade Ep 3 - Descent


Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

Before I get into this episode’s plot and my thoughts on the continuing series, I want to take a moment to comment on the cinematography of this series.  During the director’s and producer’s commentary for Blade’s pilot episode, they kept discussing the digital high def cameras used for filming the series and I didn’t see the big deal.  They talked about how they could work with existing light, and I didn’t care; I thought they were just talking about cost savings when they should have been focused on character and story.  But in this episode I saw some really great looking use of light, color, and grain (yes, grain in a digital recorder).  I loved the “grim and gritty” look of this series, and the selective use of light really worked for it.  Perhaps it took a handful of episodes for the lighting and camera teams to really understand the power of this camera, perhaps this episode just had a more artistic cinematographer, but in this episode I thought it was one of the better shot things I’d seen lately.  For TV it’s astounding, and even for a film it would have been very well done.

That plus the par-for-television effects give this series some very good production values, which is something I hadn’t commented on before as only in this episode was I really impressed by the series’ technical aspects.

That said, on to today’s episode:  Descent.

Chase after feeding

Chase is quite fetching in her disguise for luring in recovering addicts. But is she okay to drive if she's always sucking on drunks?

Krista Starr (Jill Wagner) is recovering from her wound suffered in the last episode, which is healing slower than usual due to her refusal to eat human blood.  Chase (Jessica Gower) takes her out for a night on the prowl, feeding on some hapless AA members.

Krista is also tasked by Blade (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) to get a vial of Aurora, the vaccine that makes vampires immune to damage by the usual methods, though it is under lock and key and Krista tries several times unsuccessfully to obtain a sample.

Finally, Krista is tasked by Marcus (Neil Jackson in his only appearance this episode) to deliver a package to a wedding. We are never shown the package’s contents, obviously setting up a larger plot later.  The recipient, a waitress named Vanessa (Sonja Bennett), tells Krista to “thank the doctor” for her.

Blade, meanwhile, has finally tracked down last episode’s target, the ash dealer Cain (Caprica‘s Ryan Kennedy) and grills him for information.  Cain reveals he was the familiar of a vampire named Sands who had been taken hostage and undergone some involuntary experimentation, possibly related to Aurora.

Collins and the ashed tooth

I had never considered what happens to an amputated piece of a vampire when exposed to sunlight, but I suppose it makes sense that it turns to ash, even if it is a tooth.

Once they’ve captured the vampire, Blade, Sands, and Blade’s weaponsmith Shen (Nelson Lee) return to the secret lab where Sands was captive.  There they find several other vampires that were with Shen still trapped in the lab.  While dusting the vamps, Blade finds a scalpel left in one vampire’s body, and Shen is able to track that scalpel to the office of a local doctor.  Blade barges in, expecting a major fight, but finds himself in the office of a gynecologist with a waiting room full of pregnant women.

Finally this episode also focuses on the exploits of crooked-cop-cum-vampire Boone (Bill Mondy), who’s murders in Kansas have garnered the attention of FBI Agent Ray Collins (Larry Poindexter).  Collins discovers Boone’s yanked fang at the murder of a police officer, and matches the fang to a hole in the bag of the burned-out truck from which Boone escaped at the start of the previous episode.  Prints from the truck track to Det. Boone, and Collins watches as the fang dissolves to ash in the sunlight.

In addition to moving the plot along, this episode starts to explore our characters as well.  Blade’s Machiavellian moral ambiguity is explored as Blade endorses the exploits of ash dealer Cain, seeing Cain’s selling of ash (and, thus, creating amputee junkies) as the lesser of two evils when put up against a race of beings that feed on humans.  But despite approving of Cain’s methods, Blade steals some of Cain’s drug money to give to Reverend Carlyle (William MacDonald) who is not a true Reverend but gave himself the title after feeling a calling to help ash addicts.  Carlyle and Blade’s clash over Blade allowing Cain to go free does show that Blade’s methods, while effective, leave many humans to suffer and die in the crossfire of his war on vampires.

Krista examines her wound

The wound Krista sustained last episode is quickly explained away and forgotten.

While I did enjoy the focus on Blade and his methods, this episode was a mixture of character-piece and filler.  Truthfully, despite my paragraphs above, when the episode ended it felt as if nothing had really happened. Such is the case with television series; sometimes entire episodes are used to get the characters where they need to be for the next episode. Additionally, sometimes budget is such that episodes need to focus more on characters and less on effects and fights.  The result is an episode such as this one, which simply treads water, slightly escalating the situation while really not changing anything.

Were it not for the introduction of Collins, who I’m sure will be a major player later, and perhaps Sands, who lived and thus may return, I would call this episode “useless”.  As it is, while Descent helped to deepen the world Blade, it could barely hold my interest.

Again, it’s virtually impossible to judge a serialized TV series on an episode-by-episode basis.  If the series continues to deliver episodes like this one then it is slipping deep into Not Recommend territory as it simply doesn’t have characters compelling enough to make up for the lack of action; put another way, the series is dull.  But that said, if there is payoff later, it was nice to get to know our main characters a bit better, so I remain optimistic as I enter into Episode 4.

And perhaps best, I still am curious where this is all going and how it will all pay off.  I am excited to watch episode 4, though I’ve not really enjoyed episodes 2 or 3 very much.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 2, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 8 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 2: Death Goes On

Blade S1E2

Jones and Wagner compete this episode to see who can give the most one-note performance.

Original Air Date: July 5, 2006
Director: David Simkins


Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

The second episode of the Blade series continues every storyline from the pilot episode, while also introducing many new characters and twists to deepen the plot.

Crooked cop-cum-vampire Det. Boone (Bill Mondy) escapes his shrink-wrapped cage and dusts his fellow captives, on his way back to Detroit to get revenge on high-ranking House of Chthon Vampire Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), setting up what is sure to be a major showdown later in the series.

Meanwhile, Krista Starr (Jill Wagner) continues to deal with her transformation into a vampire, secretly using Blade’s serum to unsuccessfully quell her vampiric thirst, and her hunger causes her to even dream of feeding on her own mother.  She is both Marcus’ captive and object of desire, as her charismatic maker continues to try to seduce Krista to the dark side.  But Krista continues to play both sides by acting as Blade’s spy, secretly digging deeper into Marcus’ operations and learning of Aurora – the vaccine that makes a vampire impervious to garlic and sunlight.

Vampire Krista

Is it still an Elektra complex if Krista wants to eat her mother?

The Aurora project is in upheaval due to Blade’s interference last episode.  We are introduced to Winston Haupt (Adrian Hough), a leading member of the House of Chthon, when he arrives to ensure Marcus pulls up roots and moves the Aurora experiment from Detroit to the west coast.

As for our titular hero (played by Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones), he is perplexed by his fight with Fritz, the seemingly invulnerable vampire he fought in the pilot.  To investigate how Fritz could be unaffected by garlic and silver, Blade starts hunting down a group of ash-addicts who snort vampire ash to get high.  His investigation leads to an ash dealer named Cain.

Marcus is also seeking Cain.  Cain’s methods of harvesting his product include trapping and murdering vampires, including Winston.  As Marcus looks into Winston’s murder, the trail leads straight to the ash lord.

The climax of the episode comes at Cain’s ash lab–Marcus’ other favorite female vampire Chase (Jessica Gower) is leading a group of vampires, including war-trained Krista, to take out Cain, while Blade has been following one of Caine’s addicts to the lab.  But Cain is one step ahead of Blade, and detonates a bomb in his evacuated lab that kills all of Marcus’ vampire troops except Krista and Chase.

But as Blade is about to finish Chase off, Fritz ignores his orders to stay hidden and crashes a car into the Ash lab, itching for a rematch against the daywalker.  During the fight, Krista’s loyalties are tested.  Blade needs to capture Fritz to study Aurora, but Chase orders her to kill Fritz to keep Aurora’s secrets.  Krista chooses her cover over the information and beheads Fritz, falling on a stake and severely injuring herself in the process.Krista Ashes Fritz

The episode moves along quickly and the rematch between Blade and Fritz is welcome, though the fighting is still quick-cut and poorly choreographed.  It also falls prey to WWE conventions as, for no reason I can fathom, there is a large wire-mesh cage in Cain’s lab, allowing Blade and Fritz to literally have a cage match.

I’m starting to accept Sticky Fingaz more as Blade and I’m actually coming to like Marcus as the charismatic vampire leader.  But Krista’s one-note character, matched by an equally one-note actress, grates on me and makes me have no sympathy for the she-devil.  Several times I wished Chase would just give into her jealousy and stake Krista.

I do like the character of Boone and welcome his return to Detroit.  The actor’s energy really is a great wild card in the series, and his inventive self-mutilation by pulling out his own fang to cut through his body bag and free himself was very well thought out.

And the overall series plot is being revealed as knotted and intricate, and it has my full interest, despite seeming to be a retread of the reaper story in concept.  The House of Chthon is appearing to me like a mob family, and I’m enjoying the internal power struggles as the layers are peeled back for the audience.

The dialogue is also improving, as some lines this episode got a genuine laugh from me, such as when Winston goes to see Mina, a woman who sells vampires to humans as food.  Mina offers up a blonde from Illinois and we get this exchange:

Detective Boone

Boone is the most interesting character in this series, so it's a shame he only bookends this episode.

Winston: Carpet matches drapes?

Mina: Hardwood floor.

Winston: (Sarcastically) Kids.

But while the dialogue and overall story seem strong, the pacing is off.  We are being introduced to characters that seem important, such as Mina and Wiston, just to have them die 10 minutes later.  The writers do a poor job of telling us which characters are important and which are merely storytelling devices, and that is a problem.

Also, with the exception of the end fight, the episode is lacking in action.  Instead of the exciting and entertaining wire-fu we got in the Blade films, Blade the TV series is a soap opera for the testosterone set.

While I remain interested, I am by no means enthralled.  Two episodes in, the series is a weak recommend for Blade fans, a not recommend for everyone else.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 2, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 8 Comments

Blade: The Series – Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot (The House of Chthon)

Original Air Date: June 28, 2006
Director: Peter O’Fallon

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for this and the previous episodes of Blade: The Series.  You can watch this episode free at

The pilot episode of the Blade series has been released as a movie on DVD three times.  The first was right after the series was canceled, released alone as Blade: House of Chthon.  Then it was included as part of the Blade TV Series box set.  Now it is available as part of a Blade 4 Movie DVD Pack where you get the three theatrical films, as well as Blade: House of Chthon.

As such, it was given serious consideration for inclusion as part of the Now Playing Blade Retrospective Series.  While we normally shy away from TV movies, we did delve into some for Marvel and have more on the horizon, so this would be natural for inclusion.

But then I watched Blade: House of Chthon and I must say to all the folks who work at New Line/Warner Bros. marketing: shame on you!  How dare you pass this off as a self-contained film?  And more importantly, how dare you release it not once but twice as a stand-alone film and not give the rest of the series?

I want to make it clear right now — Blade: House of Chthon is not in any way, shape, or form a self-contained story.  When I sat down to watch it, I sat down intending to see a movie that would stand alone.  This does not!

Screenwriter David Goyer is the man I credit the most for bringing Blade to the big screen.  While directors rotated in and out of the franchise, Goyer was a constant who produced many drafts of each film and even stepped into the director’s chair for final installment Blade: Trinity.  He is also the one responsible for bringing Blade to television, bringing on his friend and writing companion Geoff Johns to help with the writing duties.

Despite his work on the Nick Fury film, I think Goyer is a gifted writer with a knack for genre films.  I’ll cover the Blade films more extensively over at Now Playing, but let me say I was excited to see Goyer’s name attached to the TV spin-off and hoped that meant a continuation of the quality we’d gotten on the big screen.  But in writing this pilot, Goyer was very smart — he knew that this Blade was a TV series, and what we have with Blade: House of Chthon is a pilot for a TV series, not a movie.

Jill Wagner is Krista Starr

Wagner plays new heroine Krista Starr, who seems to have only one emotion--petulance

Why do I keep hammering that distinction?  It’s very simple:  If you go to a Blade movie, you obviously want to see Blade.  Sure, in Blade: Trinity you may have gotten a bit too much of the Nightstalkers, but Blade was still the driving, central force.  In Blade: House of Chthon, the star is Krista Starr, played by current Teen Wolf star and Wipeout host Jill Wagner.  Krista is a Iraq war veteran who returned home to Detroit after her twin brother was murdered.  When the cops seem unwilling to investigate, Krista takes it on herself to find out what happened, and she discovers her brother was a Familiar to Marcus Van Sciver – a wealthy and charismatic vampire whose public face is that of a real estate developer helping to reinvigorate Detroit.

Also after Marcus is Blade, and his new weapons-maker Shen.  But this is really secondary to introducing us to Krista – her family, her motivations, and her induction to the House of Chthon by Marcus.  We get to watch Krista as she takes that familiar journey of going from “there’s no such thing as vampires” to accepting them, and discovering her brother’s role in their organization–a role that ultimately got him killed.

Unfortunately Wagner’s acting here is one-note and bland.  I’m not sure if it’s the actress or the script, but Krista is given one note to play, and she plays it repeatedly.  Whether arguing with corrupt cop Boone, rebelling against Blade, or fighting with Marcus, Wagner has a permanent sneer on her face and, despite her character’s supposed military background, she carries herself with all the menace of a beauty queen who’s lost her lipstick.

Randy Quaid - Vampire Expert

You know what the Bible says about movie stars taking bit parts in TV pilots? It's against it.

But Wagner is given one priceless scene when she seeks out info from local vampire expert Professor Melvin Caylo, played by erstwhile Uncle Eddie, Randy Quaid.  Quaid was almost unrecognizable in this role, looking a bit more puffy than I’m used to seeing him, and I wonder if perhaps he was just in Vancouver looking for an apartment should he ever need to flee the US when the call came up to cameo in this pilot.

But in the end, this pilot does exactly what it should–it introduces us to new characters, as well as setting up ongoing conflicts such as Marcus’ right-hand-woman Chase who is both jealous of Krista’s new place as Marcus’ favorite vampire, and also perhaps has an eye on Marcus’ position in the house.  We also meet Detective Boone, a crooked cop who is betrayed by Marcus and turned into a vampire.  And thus begins a story that will be played out over the course of the entire TV season.

In addition, this episode teases us with Marcus’ plans to engineer a vaccine that makes vampires impervious to their weaknesses, such as sunlight and garlic.  While a good hook, it seems to be a crutch that Goyer leans on a bit too often as this was the primary plot of Blade II and a more minor plot point in Blade: Trinity.  Yet it seems Marcus believes he is the first to try and create such a super-Vampire.  A reference or two to the reapers to tell us Goyer knows we’ve seen this before would have been nice. Instead it just feels like a weak retread of old plots.

And it seems Goyer is not just stealing from his own old script ideas, this pilot also sets up that vampire ash is a new street drug, which basically turns humans into Blade, having the strengths of a vampire.  This seems stolen directly from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Novel series, in this case replacing blood for ash, though Goyer does also give ash users a thirst for blood which causes many to eat their own fingers.

Sticky Fingaz as Blade

Kirk Jones may have "Sticky Fingaz" but he does not steal the show with his portrayal of Blade.

But with all of this, where is Blade?  Played now by Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones (and I don’t want to know how he got that nickname), Blade is a virtual non-entity in this pilot.  The opening in which Blade gets to rough up a couple people in poorly-choreographed fight scenes was tacked on in post production, producers perhaps realizing there was no Blade in this Blade series.  Blade cameos from time to time – coaxing Krista to spy on the House of Chthon or engaging in the poorly staged climactic fight.  But any fan of the character is bound to be disappointed by how little their daywalker hero is featured in this first episode.

Jones, inheriting the character from Wesley Snipes, does about as much with the character as Snipes did–a lot of glowering and not much true acting.  But without Snipes’ blackbelt to back him up the only battle this Blade might win is a rap battle, so we are left with quick-cut poor action when we get Blade at all.

So do I recommend this Blade TV pilot?  My initial reaction to it was “absolutely not, this is awful” but that reaction was based on false expectations.  From the marketing I expected this to be a self-contained Blade movie, similar to so many two hour TV movies that eventually become series, like the original Incredible Hulk pilot or the pilot to Knight Rider.  But having had time to digest and, yes, watched this again with those expectations reset, I say that it’s impossible to give this a ranking as it’s two hours of a 12-hour saga.  I certainly don’t recommend this as a stand-alone movie, do not watch this if you never intend to watch the rest of the series, but as a single installment in the series?

Well I guess I’ll have to watch the rest of the series to see if it pays off, because given the structure of this pilot it’s all or nothing; the pilot does not work as a movie.

You can hear Arnie, Jakob, and Stuart review all the Blade films on the Now Playing podcast!

Read Arnie’s other Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave


September 1, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Comic Books, Reviews, Television | , , , | 16 Comments

Introduction to the House of Chthon

On Now Playing, the movie review podcast, Jakob, Stuart, and I are reviewing the three theatrical Blade films.  However, several people have expressed interest in the supposed “fourth Blade movie”, Blade – The House of Chthon.

Blade House of Chthon DVD Cover

Despite all appearances, this was never intended to be a movie.

Truth be told, there is no fourth Blade film.

The confusion is completely understandable.  In 2007 Warner Bros. released the pilot to the Blade television series on home video, and as the series was already cancelled they named the DVD Blade – The House of Chthon.  Later, as part of a series of “value bundle” DVDs, a DVD was released claiming it contained “4 Film Favorites”:  Blade, Blade II, Blade: Trinity, and Blade – The House of Chthon.

But despite clever marketing, what is being billed as House of Chthon is not a movie, nor was it ever intended to be a standalone film.  The video was developed with the title “Pilot”, the customary title to the first episode of most television series.  Pilots are usually filmed prior to shows having been picked up by networks.  In the case of Blade, the pilot convinced Spike TV to order 11 more episodes.

In years past pilot episodes for one-hour adventure shows could be considered self-contained movies.  The pilot episodes for Knight Rider, The A-Team, and even Star Trek: The Next Generation served as both, giving audiences a self-contained story while introducing new characters and new situations which can continue into future episodes.  The presumed pilot for the Generation X TV series, a movie that aired once on the Fox network, also falls into this category.

In the past twenty years however, television has changed and stand-alone, episodic television has been replaced with serialized stories–for example, compare The Incredible Hulk, where every episode stood alone with David Banner in a new town, to Lost, which built upon its own mythology to the point new viewers had difficulty understanding what was going on.

But the pilot episode for Blade, and the entire Blade series, falls more into the latter category–a serialized action-drama with a single story arc that encompasses all 12 episodes.

As such, there is no way for Now Playing to review the first episode of this TV series without watching all twelve episodes.  But starting later today you will be able to read my reviews of all twelve Blade episodes, posted one per day, here at the Venganza Media Gazette.

Want to watch?  You can watch the entire Blade series free at

Read Arnie’s individual Blade TV Series reviews:

1 Pilot
2 Death Goes On
3 Descent
4 Bloodlines
5 The Evil Within
6 Delivery
7 Sacrifice
8 Turn of the Screw
9 Angels and Demons
10 Hunters
11 Monsters
12 Conclave

August 31, 2011 Posted by | Blade - The TV Series, Reviews, Television | , , , | 14 Comments