The Best in 80's TV on DVD! (Courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment)


What with the remake and retread craze at an all time high, I can definitely picture some halfwit second rate comic actor taking up the mantle for William Katt as the next “Greatest American Hero” in a big budget mediocre action comedy. Almost like a lame version of Superman, “Greatest American Hero” is never quite sure what it wants to be. Sometimes it’s an honest to goodness tale of a humble man being given an amazing power allowing him to fight crime and save the world. Sometimes it just takes a step back and laughs at itself for all the right reasons. William Katt gives a surprisingly dignified performance as a local school teacher Ralph Hinckley tasked with teaching a very rowdy and violent special education class.

As fate would have it, Katt and his class happen across a reckless FBI agent Bill Maxwell who almost runs him down in the middle of a field trip during the night when they’re stranded on the road. Hinckley and Maxwell are witness to a major event as a UFO beams down… a suit to them. Not just any suit, but a super suit! They ask Hinckley to take the suit and save the world or it will disintegrate. Why? Who knows? Lacking any apparent fashion sense, Katt dons the alien super suit forced to team with the Maxwell and the result is wacky and ridiculous.

Especially when Katt looks very awkward in his costume nine times out of ten. The Stephen J. Cannell series has become something of a running joke for pop culture enthusiasts since its premiere on television known for its ridiculous premise, and the theme song “Believe or Not” which went on to become a hit pop single outshining the actual series itself, and is known by younger audiences for being lampooned in an episode of “Seinfeld.” Until now I’d never seen the series, but it’s about as hokey as you can imagine, especially for a premise that seems to borrow from the Green Lantern heavily. I think it will only be appreciated by folks for nostalgic purposes happy that it’s finally on DVD and little else. It’s yet another memory from the eighties that’s better than the actual product itself.

There’s not much of an explanation throughout the series why it takes a suit to save the world when they’re revealed to be able to beam down a dead man to pass on their message to the main characters, and why the suit looks so lame in the first place. Even Hinckley hates the suit upon discovering it. The rest of the show involves Hinckley stumbling and bumbling, struggling to be a legitimate hero holding the fate of the world in his hands while Robert Culp mugs and grimaces as Maxwell, Bill Maxwell is the go to guy for information on crime waves who always seems to be approaching his character as if he can’t believe he’s being paid to act this stupid. Even though he’s the resident straight man. Clearly, it’s a show you’ll tap your foot to after the theme song is over, and perform any chores while this plays in the background–as was probably the case when the show premiered in 1981. I may sound like a youngen when I ask this, but after watching the entire DVD set I have to ask: Did anyone really enjoy this show at all when it came on television? Seriously? Even kids? Really?


Since I was always in school during the week, most of my television viewing was on Saturdays and Sundays sitting in front of a grainy television without knobs adjusting my cheap antennae, and switching back and forth between “A-Team” or whatever Chuck Norris crap action flick they were giving on a local network. While perusing stations I’d always be treated to commercials for “Hunter,” an apparent branch off of Dirty Harry that I fondly remember watching clips of but never actually sitting down to view for myself.

Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer are the no nonsense man and woman police officers of the show who are no nonsense (aren’t they all?) and are about as rich in characterization as a paper bag with a happy face drawn on the side. Dryer and Kramer have enough chemistry and palpable sexual tension to ensure they always keep audiences attention in spite of the fact they dole out cheesy one liners like they’re reading from an encyclopedia of action movies. Dripping pure eighties kitsch and style, “Hunter” season two pegs the two cops investigating a modeling agency that uses, abuses, and exploits its models and kills them off, which is rattling the duo anxious to discover why they’re doing it and how they can stop them once and for all.

Most of the series just revolves around Hunter and his sidekick staking out cases, interrogating shifty eyed suspects, and bending the law to meet their standards which usually results in some intense shoot outs. And there’s the obvious running theme that these two are basically married and in love but are too devoted to their jobs to ever really recognize it until one of their lives are in jeopardy. Perhaps someone will find value in this series, but I was bored out of my skull, and this is coming from someone who has a high tolerance for procedurals. The show’s energy is lax nine times out of ten and I never could figure out why Hunter and his gal pal should have been rooted for or were even spotlighted in the first place. There’s no actual charm or charisma to the series so I can’t put my finger on why anyone would want a copy of this on DVD other than remembering when it was on television.


Doomed to be remade in to a feature length film headlined by Jonah Hill as an action comedy, “21 Jump Street” is without a doubt one of the most bad ass cop shows ever created. I mean it. You can mock it, you can chortle at its eighty kitsch, you can groan at its far-fetched premise of thirty something youths posing as high schoolers, you can just throw whatever you want at it, but at the end of the day “21 Jump Street” is bad ass and you’re insane if you fail appreciate its value. Bringing back a flood of memories thanks to its hard rock theme song (sung by star Robinson) that recalled a time where I sat with my dad (a bonafide eighties fanatic to the bone) and brother to watch these young renegades kick all sorts of criminal ass.

Season two follows the adventures of the rogue youth cops who operate on the fringe of the authorities led by their paternal chief who commands a small team of insanely cool young cops made up of the sexy and sassy Holly Robinson, the smoldering Dustin Nguyen, the smart alleck Peter DeLuise, and instant legend Johnny Depp. The most raucous moments of the show always involve Depp and DeLuise as an eighties version of Butch and Sundance who riff and bounce dialogue off one another with genuine laughs and make a natural pairing on-screen. Season two is a time where Depp managed to become the primary character thanks to his increasing charisma and gravitas on-screen where he seemed to grow more than his co-stars, but oddly enough he’s not the most interesting character of the ensemble.

This is “21 Jump Street” at its finest with the eighties mod squad going to work on cases that revolve around local high schools. Though the plots are far-fetched, the show takes itself much more seriously than its reputation declares as some of the episodes are rather engrossing. “In the Custody of a Clown” is a bit of a precursor to “Gone Baby Gone,” where a young boy is kidnapped outside of his high school by a masked man. As his divorced parents battle one another struggling to figure out who kidnapped him, the story gets bittersweet as we learn he’s been abducted by his grandfather who promises him happiness away from the fighting and bullying. Featuring the late Barney Martin, and 80’s child veteran Joshua John Miller, this is a rather heartbreaking episode with yet another conflict of interest among the squad.

There isn’t exactly a fluid sense of continuity within the narrative as all the episodes are basically self-contained and any sub-plot with our officers is in direct correlation with the case at hand. For example in “Two for the Road,” Captain Miller is busted for drunk driving which causes a stir in his unit. While occasionally campy and extremely preachy, the show can be quite exhilarating, especially when it comes to two parters like “Besieged” when the jump team infiltrates an underground drug ring after the death of an infamous drug dealer which explores DeLuise’s character’s confrontation with crooked cops, Depp’s relationship with an aspiring drug boss, and Robinson’s attempts to save a single mom hopelessly addicted to drugs.

There’s also “After School Special” involving Miller and Hoffs who mesh in to a local high school plagued with students all being dealt firearms by a thug. The episode’s tension becomes more and more hectic when a teacher literally loses his marbles after returning to school from a gun shot wound inflicted by an erratic student. Another great episode revolves around a literal race war in a school where the Jump team are forced to look at one another in terms of color for once and argue about this inevitable riot and double standards. Sadly, the caveat to this series is that Nguyen, who possesses an understated appeal and charm, tends to take a literal backseat to his three co-stars, all of whom grab on to the bigger plots while he can sometimes just walk in to a scene for a few bits of dialogue and disappear for greater portions of the episodes doing and contributing seemingly nothing to the arcs. What keeps the show interesting is that these young characters can often get too deep undercover and gain a sympathy for their suspects which keeps their mentor Captain Fuller on his toes and struggling to bring them back to duty time and time again.

This is later explored when the series jumped the shark once DeLuise’s brother came on board replacing him and inevitably leaving when joining a cult.  While occasionally filled with hammy performances (especially by DeLuise who just chews the scenery on more than one occasion), and some of the preachiest episodes in existence, “21 Jump Street” is still a damn good cop series to this day that influenced future titles like the stellar “Veronica Mars,” and the not so stellar “New York Undercover.” Fans of Johnny Depp who’ve yet to see his star making role in this still hip and entertaining cop show would be advised to check this out as soon as possible; especially since he’s never above dressing in weird costumes during the course of his stay (he even dresses as a middle aged woman in the first episode), or bending his personality; an interesting foreshadowing to his film career. Even before Depp became a brand name onto himself, he was my favorite character as Hanson, and “21 Jump Street,” many years later, is still one of my favorite eighties shows of all time.

All of the featured complete series DVD’s can be found at Mill Creek Entertainment!