Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When Rick Springfield met the Hulk

I certainly would not call it a science fiction show.

I'm sure many would try, though. That classification tends to, in media culture anyway, become a sort of slush pile for any work of fiction that in any way departs from reality. In the 1970s, this would have included any of the superhero-based shows such as Wonder Woman as well as the Spider-Man and Captain America movies. The Incredible Hulk TV series got lumped in as well. That show has been on my mind as MeTV is showing it in reruns on Saturday nights.

The series departs from the comic book in many ways but that's to be expected. Not only did the limited special effects capabilities of the times hinder a full rendition, but the very medium of television means you're going to get something different than the comic books. That's just how it is. So in the TV origin story, David Banner (yes, his name was changed from Bruce for the TV series and there are competing explanations given for this...Google it) is not caught at ground zero of a gamma bomb detonation. He is self-subjected to enormous amounts of radiation in a machine, trying to "tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have." Naturally, this leads to him becoming the Hulk whenever he gets angry.

Actually, this show has much more in common with The Fugitive than anything else. Banner, played by Bill Bixby, roams from town to town as a hitchhiking vagabond, never able to stay in one place for too long as his inevitable transformation into the Hulk causes problems. Along the way, Banner meets people in trouble and helps them out as best he can. This allows for Bill Bixby, who was quite a good actor, to demonstrate his range and play the role with true humanity. The problem I have is that it really isn't a Hulk story when he's getting mixed up with convicts on the run, labor problems on the docks, rookie baseball players embroiled with crooked agents, and little kids just needing a friend. Sounds like Kojak could probably handle most of that stuff and the Hulk is unnecessary.

Take for example the episode I just saw. In it, Banner runs into two San Francisco cops who are brothers. One, played by TV journeyman Gerald McRaney, is seeking revenge for the death of his father at the hands of a criminal. The younger brother is played by none other than Rick Springfield. That's right. The rocker responsible for "Jessie's Girl" and "Don't Talk to Strangers." I knew that he had numerous TV roles (notably for ESE readers was Battlestar Galactica), just didn't know he crossed paths with the Hulk. Anyway, Springfield advocates for peace, not vengeance, as he is a martial artist hanging out in an ashram. The two brothers don't see eye to eye and the Hulk is somehow involved.

For Hulk purists (and I'm not necessarily one), this diminished scope renders a deleterious effect to the source material. One reason for the scaled down storylines were the aforementioned limitations on special effects. There was no way they could depict the Hulk as being as big and muscular as he was in  the comics. So they went with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who while massive, is not the size of the comics Hulk. No one could be. In fact, this change combined with Bill Bixby's portrayal of Banner lends this version of the Hulk as being closer to an amalgamation of the Universal Monsters than the comic book counterpart. Seeing Bixby as Banner, it's hard not to think of Lon Chaney Jr as Larry Talbot, fearing his next transformation into The Wolf Man. Ferrigno as the Hulk draws obvious comparisons to Frankenstein's misunderstood monster, but those similarities have been there since the Hulk's inception.

Well as a former theater professor of mine once said, "it's a show." It's diverting, it's entertaining, and that's more than I can say for many TV series of this day and age.

After all, where else are you going to see Rick Springfield appear opposite the Hulk?

That's Springfield c. in the ashram, Mako at l. and Bixby at r.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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