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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 2:16pm | IP Logged | 1  

Well, I finally just finished watching this series on DVD, after having started over a year ago.

When I was a kid, my only real access to the show was in the form of the three reuinion movies--which I'd taped off of TV--and the pilot movie, which I frequently rented from the video store. Other than that, I'd occasionally get glimpses of episodes on cable and such.

It's been a real pleasure to finally see the entire series, and to understand how it evolved.

As an adaptation of the comic book, the show theoretically shouldn't work. Pretty much everything has been changed, even our hero's first name. Yet, despite all of the changes, the TV show really captures the essence of Lee and Kirby's creation--the schism between reason and rage, Banner's search for a cure, and the destructive effect that his curse has had on his life.

Despite writer-producer Ken Johnson's disdain for the source material, he somehow managed to capture what makes the comic work, and made that work for a mass primetime audience. And, until SMALLVILLE came along, the show was the longest-running series based on a comic. It wasn't even cancelled for a good reason, like a big ratings decline.

Therefore, it works as an adaptation for me. Really, it's a different beast than the comic version, but it is interesting enough in its own right. The comic and the show are two different interpretations of the same brilliant core idea.

 

My single favorite episode is still the pilot, which I feel is one of the best pilots I've ever seen. No other episode quite so deeply explores the personal demons of Dr. David Banner.

Although the show could be rather formulaic, the trinity of Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, and Jack Colvin gave even lesser efforts dignity and emotion. Bixby, in particular, was the heart and soul of that show. Although David Banner is not really the same as the comics' Bruce Banner, Bixby still brought the right balance of intelligence, compassion, and pathos to that character.

I found myself engaged even by the weaker and more absurd episodes, which is something that surprised me. And, of course, the great episodes are really great. Off the top of my head, favorites include "Married", "Dark Side", "The Psychic", "Bring Me The Head of The Hulk", and "Mystery Man".

The opening title sequence is one of the best ever, I think. That opening pullback shot of DANGER perfectly sums up the character. And Joe Harnell's haunting Lonely Man theme is unforgettable. The complete scores to numerous episodes are available online. I need to get them!

http://yhst-76230688982511.stores.yahoo.net/joe-harnell.html

 

On the one hand, I'm glad that the series didn't get any sort of conclusion, but on the other hand, Johnson was hoping to give it some kind of satisfactory wrap-up, and that would have been nice to see. There are a number of plot threads going back to the pilot that never got any resolution--aside from whether or not Banner would be cured. In particular, the whole subplot where McGee slowly puts the pieces together was carefully developed over five seasons, but never got a resolution.

Unfortunately, the follow-up movies are a huge disappointment, primarily because by this time, Marvel was looking to develop more TV shows, and used the reuinion movies as backdoor pilots.

The Incredible Hulk Returns, aside from the zaniness with Thor, is the one that's closest in tone and style to the TV series. This is likely due to the fact that it was written and directed by Nick Corea, a key player in the series. It's the only post-series movie to feature the opening credits, Jack McGee, and Banner's standard "You be good to yourself, my friend" parting line. It's certainly my favorite of the three because of its connection to the feel of the series.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is a darker and deeper entry, although a bit "blah". The Daredevil elements aren't particularly good, and there are leaps of logic that pull one out of the story (where does Banner's beard go when he transforms?), as well as the notable absense of a final Hulk-out.

The Death of the Incredible Hulk has perhaps the best story structure (since no other Marvel characters have been shoehorned in), but this one always depresses me because of the ending. It's bad enough to actually kill the Hulk--but to do it in such a goofy way--he falls out of a plane????

It's a pity that the proposed Rebirth/Revenge of the Incredible Hulk movie wasn't made due to Bixby's untimely death.

All three reuinion movies have their problems--and even some inconsistencies with the series, but it was kinda nice to see them in their proper context--something I'd never done before. As a kid, those movies were really all I knew of the TV series. Now, having seen the entire series right before watching them again, it was a very different experience.

 

This will always be a favorite show of mine. As Ken Johnson has noted, it got formulaic and silly at times, but its batting average was still pretty solid.

Thoughts? What do you like or dislike about the show? Do you feel it's a good adaptation of the comic? What are you favorite and/or least favorite episodes? What are your thoughts on the reunion movies?

 

Cue the Lonely Man theme...

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Joe Hollon
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 2:20pm | IP Logged | 2  

This show is no doubt one of the dominoes that tipped over eventually leading to my becoming the huge comics fan I have been for the last 20+ years.  Way before I ever read a comic I watched this show.  I was even the right age to be watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood when he went to visit the set and see how they transformed Lou into the Hulk.  I was fascinated by that.  Probably the most memorable episode of Mr. Rogers too! 
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 2:22pm | IP Logged | 3  

I just watched that bit on the 'Net recently. Very sad to see Bixby talking about his son, knowing that he died not too long after Rogers' visit.

Edited by Greg Kirkman on 25 November 2009 at 2:22pm
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Michael Todd
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 2:25pm | IP Logged | 4  

I grew up watching that show and now own all of the seasons and movies on DVD, it is the only comic related show so changed that I can stomach. Funny bit of trivia though, Larry Hagman turned down the role of David Banner, it would have been a different show had he accepted the part.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 2:30pm | IP Logged | 5  

Imagine Hagman as Banner and Richard Kiel (who WAS originally cast in the role, and shot a few scenes) as the Hulk. That would have been interesting!
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John Byrne
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 2:42pm | IP Logged | 6  

Stan has said that the Spider-Man TV series failed because they tried to do
the comic, while the Hulk's succeeded because they didn't.

I'd call that a pretty fair assessment.

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 2:48pm | IP Logged | 7  

Of course, that's in no way a slam against the source material. It's an understanding of the practical reality of translating genre material to TV during that period.

Trying to do the Hulk comic on TV with the budgets and effects available in the 70s would probably have been a fool's errand. The stripped-down, multi-layered approach was the only way to go, really.

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Albert Matthews
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 3:47pm | IP Logged | 8  

I used to feel cheated if an ep didn't have Mr. McGee. (Which is why the last two TV movies aren't as satisfying.) And then there was that one weird ep that focused entirely on McGee and didn't have any Bill Bixby.
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Michael Todd
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 3:49pm | IP Logged | 9  

I rather liked the episode with the other older Hulk.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 3:57pm | IP Logged | 10  

"The First" is enjoyable, but the thing that bothers me is that it "de-uniques" the Hulk ("Kindred Spirits" also did this by establishing a pre-historic Hulk).

So there's another guy who developed the exact same condition as Banner long before Banner did?

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 4:02pm | IP Logged | 11  

I used to feel cheated if an ep didn't have Mr. McGee. (Which is why the last two TV movies aren't as satisfying.) And then there was that one weird ep that focused entirely on McGee and didn't have any Bill Bixby.

++++++++++

That would be "Proof Positive", which used a double for Banner's brief appearance at the end, since Bixby was unavailable. Thus, it was a clip show written around McGee for that reason.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 5:27pm | IP Logged | 12  

"The First" is enjoyable, but the thing that bothers me is that it "de-
uniques" the Hulk ("Kindred Spirits" also did this by establishing a pre-
historic Hulk).

So there's another guy who developed the exact same condition as
Banner long before Banner did?

De-uniquing of the Hulk in the comics has been pretty stupid. She-Hulk
squeaks by, by being a blood relative, but others who got zapped with
gamma probably should have died.

In the TV show, tho, the de-uniquing was in place from the first episode.
Banner was investigating instances where human beings had shown
unexpected and tremendous strength under stress. He connected it to
gamma rays, then accidentally overdosed himself. Since it had been the
gamma that caused the aberration in the previous cases. the Hulk was
not really truly "unique" from the very beginning.

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 5:34pm | IP Logged | 13  

This is technically true. The result of Banner's overdose indicates that there are many, many potential Hulks out there. As the later episodes proved!

It should be noted, though, that the abnormal DNA discovered in the people being studied, which worked together with the gamma rays, is what produced the super-strength. So at least that means that not just ANYONE could become a Hulk in the TV show's universe.

It could also be possible that there was some other unique quirk in Banner's genetic makeup that allowed the radiation to produce the Hulk, but then that takes things into the "Banner was fated to become the Hulk because he already had MPD" coincidence-type territory.

 

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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 25 November 2009 at 5:51pm | IP Logged | 14  

I loved this show! I was very young when it aired and it got me into comics and is the reason the Hulk is my absolute favourite comic character! I still think people don't realize how much a well-done, all-ages TV show and Saturday morning cartoons turn young children onto comics.

The show's character arc of having Jack McGee turn from bitter reporter stuck working for a tabloid, into someone who cares and sympathizes for "John Doe" was well done, he has a face-to-masked face confrontation with Banner in Equinox that points out the good doctor is kind of wrong about going on the run. Yes the Hulk was innocent in the two deaths he was accused of, but David Banner should have asserted this in court, instead of running.

It was heart-breaking to me when the show was cancelled and not having some sort of resolution to dangling plots was such a shame. The bigger issue to me was not whether David Banner could be cured, keep that unknowable so the future is open, but could he prove the Hulk never killed anyone, and would Jack McGee help David once the truth of who "John Doe" was came out. That would have been all the resolution I'd need.

The reunion movies were terrible to me and frustrating because they could have provided closure for the TV show and solved some long-dangling plot threads, but instead did nothing. (and they were crappy with less of a budget and hulk-out special effects than the Tv series!)

 



Edited by Marc M. Woolman on 25 November 2009 at 5:53pm
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Daniel Gillotte
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Posted: 26 November 2009 at 3:15pm | IP Logged | 15  

Hated this show as a kid. I was a comics reader and was excited for the show, but could not stand the changes that were made. I wanted my Hulk on tv and I wanted BRUCE Banner and I wanted supervillains! While I understand what is being said about the adaptation, I just feel like this show is exactly what is wrong with the tv/ movie mindset with comics. And, as I recall as a kid, I found it really boring, a true crime for a show about the Hulk!

edited to add: post 1 2 3 4


Edited by Daniel Gillotte on 26 November 2009 at 3:15pm
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Matt Reed
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Posted: 26 November 2009 at 4:06pm | IP Logged | 16  

Couldn't disagree more, Daniel.  I loved it.  A family staple, one of the few shows we watched together every week.  While it is slow watching it by today's standards, that was par for the course in the 70s.  There's no hour long drama from that time period that doesn't have a pace that feels glacial now.  That said, I still enjoy it.  Can't watch a ton of episodes back to back, but I can pop a couple in everyone once in a while and connect to the characters.  Perhaps it has a lot to do with nostalgia, but I also think it's a pretty smartly written series as well.
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Michael Todd
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Posted: 26 November 2009 at 6:12pm | IP Logged | 17  

You know Matt that may be one of my problems with modern shows, I like my shows to have a much slower pace than what modern TV has to offer, my brain is on 33 1/3 not 78 RPMs.
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Matt Reed
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Posted: 26 November 2009 at 6:25pm | IP Logged | 18  

I get that.  Personally, I like the pace of modern television.  Favorite hour long dramas that I watched in the 70s and 80s are often a chore for me to get through now.  There are exceptions of course.  I love the pace of the original TWILIGHT ZONE.  Very slow compared to today, but it works for the show in building mood and atmosphere.  THE PRISONER and STAR TREK hold up incredibly well for me.  I can watch a marathon of either one and not be bored at all.  But on the whole shows like STARSKY AND HUTCH, QUINCY, EMERGENCY, THE MOD SQUAD, MCMILLAN AND WIFE, among many, are hard for me to watch because I've gotten so used to the quick pace of current television.  All that said, one of my favorite current television shows is LOST and it's decidedly not a quick paced show at all.

Curiously, I'm the opposite when it comes to movies.  I think modern movies are far too fast, sacrificing story and character for flash and effects.  I really enjoy small movies that take their time developing the story they want to tell.  I'll take BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, THE WRESTLER, and UNFORGIVEN over TRANSFORMERS, GI JOE, and T4 any day o' the week and twice on opening night.

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 26 November 2009 at 11:31pm | IP Logged | 19  

Watching numerous Hulk episodes back-to-back, I found myself a little too in-tune with the routine. Drama for 25 minutes, Hulk-Out, Drama, for 15 minutes, Hulk-Out, Lonely Man theme.

I particularly like Hulk episodes that break from the formula in some way, or focus on different characters or aspects of the concept.

There almost seems to be a pattern of "villain of the week" episodes and "mythology" episodes (in which Banner attempts a cure, or McGee gets more clues), kinda like THE X-FILES.



Edited by Greg Kirkman on 26 November 2009 at 11:32pm
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Jason Mark Hickok
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Posted: 27 November 2009 at 9:21pm | IP Logged | 20  

This show is one of those "influential" shows from my youth.  Really enhanced my wanting to get more into superheroes.  I just rewatched the series within the last year or so and found that I still enjoyed it a lot but for completely different reasons.  Wonderful show in my opinion and shows that if things are done right you don't have to follow a comic book 100% to get it kind of right.
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Shaun Barry
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Posted: 27 November 2009 at 9:56pm | IP Logged | 21  

Loved it as a kid, never missed an episode, and am also going through the DVD's.

As well-loved as Bill Bixby is, I feel he still doesn't get enough credit as David Banner.  Put this character on TV today and you'll get some absolutely dreadful navel-gazing.  Bixby found just the right moments to laugh, joke and smile as Banner, which made him all the more endearing.  He was immensely likeable.  At least Edward Norton tried to go this route in the 2008 movie, and it's a big reason why Eric Bana in near insufferable in HULK '03.

(And Lou Ferrigno can out-act a CGI Hulk with both biceps tied behind his back.)

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 27 November 2009 at 9:58pm | IP Logged | 22  

He was Emmy-nominated for the role, but never won. A shame.

And then Mariette Hartley came in for one episode and won an Emmy!

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 28 November 2009 at 4:27pm | IP Logged | 23  

Ah, Mariette Hartley... Speaking of navel-gazing...

 

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Michael Andrew Gonoude
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Posted: 28 November 2009 at 4:39pm | IP Logged | 24  

Ah, yes, Mariette...yum, yum!

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Eric Smearman
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Posted: 28 November 2009 at 5:52pm | IP Logged | 25  

Can't think of too much to add to the above but I loved this series, too. And I recall the episode, "Married" with Mariette Hartley had my whole family in tears!
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