austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Breaking me out of the spell I was in

I borrowed the first DVD of The Greatest American Hero, the stirring inspiration for the 1982 feature The Puma Man, and saw the show for the first time in a quarter-century, nearly twenty minutes since the theme finally stopped playing in my head. Growing up I thought the show was cool and didn't know why other people might not think so; now, I kind of understand others' dissatisfaction with the series. This was, though, my first time seeing the two-hour pilot so I could finally understand the subtleties of the premise (``Oh, the aliens gave him a super-suit and he lost the instruction book!''), and it had two regular-season episodes as well.

There is a new Greatest American Hero movie threatened for release next year, and I'm not optimistic given the fraction of movies based on TV shows that are worth anything. But it's not a bad notion: if my friends make up a representative sample, then the major neurosis of my generation is the lurking fear that we're not actually qualified or competent for the jobs we hold or the responsibilities we have in society and any minute now someone might find us out. If you accept the idea that pop culture success flows from addressing widespread social neuroses then a product about a person with superpowers and sudden new responsibilities and absolutely no idea what to do with them ought to play very well.

I've seen it argued the show was successful initially because its theme of a ``guy who doesn't know how to use his superpowers'' matched the American late-70s malaise of a superpower that didn't know how to do simple things like beat up Iran, and that the show faded quickly because the promise of Ronald Reagan's presidency showed the country could still triumphantly run away, cowering, from terrorists in Lebanon. I don't think that's so, even given the questionable chronology I put up there.

The bigger problem -- and if I get my notes together I'll go over the pilot in loving detail -- is that after some reasonably fun antics in the first episode in discovering a basic starter kit of powers and then saving the President of the Whole Entire United States from the sorts of trouble Presidents always get into in superhero stories, the regular-season episodes settle into small California towns where elaborate conspiracies to conspire conspiratorially and occasionally murder henchmen have been going on for years, only to have the conspiracy unravel when Our Heroes stop in for gas. You know this as the plot that somehow sufficed for a lot of shows that weren't trying too hard to be for adults in the 70s and 80s. It's great when he's trying on a new super-power, but to save the soul of the Deputy Mayor of Palmview Beach?

Trivia: On 19 September 1930 the last steel for the 85th floor of the Empire State Building was set in place, about two months ahead of schedule. Source: Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City, Neal Bascomb.

Currently Reading: 1927: High Tide of the Twenties, Gerald Leinwand.

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