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THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Season Five

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Jack Colvin
Directors: Michael Vejar, Bernard McEveety, Chuck Bowman, John Liberti, Michael Preece
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, full-frame 1.33:1
Studio: Universal
Features: Behind the Success featurette, gag reel, trailers
Length: 339 minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2008

Violence doesn’t usually work, at least not for me.

Episodes *** ½

The television show The Incredible Hulk ran for portions of five seasons during the late 1970’s into the early 1980’s.  Well-scripted and generally well-received by audiences, the show took the original comic book premise of a green, super-strength, crime-fighting leviathan and adapted it to real-world settings.  In the show, scientist David Banner, through experimentation to tap into humanity’s hidden strength, inadvertently altered his own metabolism such that during periods of extreme emotional stress or pain, he would metamorphose into an angry, green giant.  The monster was the Id to Banner’s Ego, a brutal Hyde to Banner’s rational Jekyll.

The television show modeled itself after The Fugitive, a 1960’s television series.  Ever searching for a cure, Banner was always on the run, moving from town to town and job to job under a false identity; he could never stay in one place for too long for fear that his secret would be discovered should he “Hulk-out.”  Banner was also relentlessly pursued by a Jack McGee, an investigative reporter who would stop at nothing to track down the Hulk.

The Incredible Hulk proved to be a ratings hit but was also an expensive show to produce.  When a writers’ strike hit the television industry in 1981, The Incredible Hulk was one of the unfortunate victims.  Seven episodes of Season Five had been filmed in anticipation of the strike, but the show could not recover from the interruption caused by the strike and so was soon canceled.  Thus, the fifth season of The Incredible Hulk is a sadly incomplete affair, one that leaves unresolved the show’s central dilemma - would David Banner ever control the raging spirit that dwelled within him?

The original run of the show never answered that question.  But at least the network allowed the remaining episodes to be aired sporadically throughout the 1981 season, and those final episodes have been assembled together here for the first time on DVD.

1) The Phenom

You ever been alone?  Nobody pulling for you?

While hitching a ride to Miami, David Banner tags along as moral support for a prospective young pitcher during his try-outs.  But, Banner soon learns from a friendly if inebriated sportswriter that an unscrupulous local agent has set his eyes on the young pitching phenom.  Outstanding moral figure that he is, Banner must try to not only sober up the writer but also to stop the young pitcher from making a bad mistake.

Anne Lockhart of Battlestar Galactica fame guest-stars as a two-bit floozy hired by the agent to help him con prospective young ballplayers into bad contracts.  This episode is also a fun one - the Hulk does batting practice and has a lop-sided face-off with the baseball team costumed mascot!

2) Two Godmothers

Consider him like all the others - armed and dangerous.

David Banner has a new job delivering linen to a women’s penitentiary.  When a trio of lady convicts hijacks his van by force, Banner is forced to come along.  To complicate matters, one of the women is pregnant, and everyone must get out and walk across hot, arid desert lands when the van breaks down.  Meanwhile, a take-no-prisoners posse has been formed to track down the fugitives, innocent bystander Banner included!

3) Veteran

Nothing changes.  That’s what I learned in Nam.  Nothing changes.

David Banner befriends Hewitt, an unstable Vietnam War vet with post-traumatic stress.  Hewitt has a serious grudge against his former squad leader Cole, a murderous bastard who is now a corrupt and aspiring politician.  Cole may be a no-good scumbag, but when Banner discovers that Hewitt may have vengeance on his mind, he has to do something to prevent his friend from trying to take the law into his own hands!

4) Sanctuary

Someone who still believes in miracles!  Good for you!

In a border town church run by headstrong nuns, David Banner has found employment doing odd jobs around the garden.  One day, the nuns offer sanctuary to an injured young boy; when he turns out to be the key to freeing the town from the grasp of a local racketeer involved in the illegal immigrant trade, the nuns resort to desperate measures to save the boy and help the town.  In this episode, Banner impersonates a priest, and the appearances of the Hulk restore the scared townspeople’s belief in miracles.

Diana Muldaur, who had previously guest-starred as David Banner’s sister in the classic Season Three episode Homecoming, guest-stars again as a sister of another kind (no blood relation this time).

5) Triangle

Who are you to interfere in my life like that?

The remaining three episodes, starting with the poignant “Triangle,” can be found on Disc Two of this two-disc box set.

David Banner has embarked on a new career path as a lumberjack in Jordantown, essentially a company town run by the head of the lumber company himself, Mr. Jordan.  However, when Banner romances a young lady for whom Mr. Jordan has very specific plans, he is given the old heave-ho right out of town by a pair of Jordan’s thugs.  Now, Banner can either meekly accept his fate and flee...or risk life and limb to return to town and rescue his new love, Gale!

“Triangle” is a rare episode in which David Banner falls in love.  It also marks the only appearance in Season Five for intrepid reporter Jack McGee.

6) Slaves

Evidently, I...uh...picked the wrong road.

While hitchhiking, David Banner and a stranded girl are picked up by a seemingly dim-witted driver who turns out to be anything but.  This mysterious driver takes his passengers to a ghost town and then through trickery forces them into white slavery to dig for gold.  This quirky episode is tinged with The Avengers-like eccentricity and odd characters.  However, the overall premise is a bit gimmicky and makes Slaves the weakest of the Season Five episodes.

7) A Minor Problem

Without treatment you could die!

David Banner goes from one ghost town to another!  This episode, with Twilight Zone eeriness, opens in a yet another strangely deserted town.  Banner has arrived for a new job as lab assistant only to find no one around at all.  But soon, Banner quickly discovers the dangerous reason for this abandoned town and is forced into a desperate race against time, a few violent looters, and some nasty surprises to save his life.  Thank goodness for the Hulk’s fast regenerative powers in this episode!

Originally, show creator Kenneth Johnson had hoped to open Season Five with an episode in which Banner would donate his own blood to save the life of his dying sister.  The sudden cancellation of The Incredible Hulk eliminated the possibility of filming any such story, leaving only the remaining seven existing episodes, which have a mid-season, stand-alone feel.  While none of these episodes advances the overall story arc of Banner’s ongoing search for a cure, at least A Minor Problem ends the series with a bang and even a few genuinely frightening scenes for the Hulk itself.

This last original episode of The Incredible Hulk aired in May, 1982.  Eventually, the show would spawn three TV movies (basically mildly disguised, back-door pilots for possible series involving Marvel Comics superheroes Thor and Daredevil) and even a pair of big-budgeted theatrical movies unrelated to the television show.  Despite their budgets, the new Hulk movies never truly captured that perfect blend of pathos, drama, and action that formed the emotional core of the television show.

The theatrical films were basically special effects-laden action flicks.  The television show, however, was in essence a serious drama series and succeeded because it made audiences care about David Banner.  We felt the sorrow and weariness in his heart and hoped that he might discover a cure for his dreadful ailment (even if that meant no more entertaining “Hulk-outs”).  Of all the myriad superheroes television shows that have come and gone, The Incredible Hulk was arguably the most rewarding, as it was firmly rooted in real-world settings and centered around a sympathetic “lonely man” to whom audiences could relate.

Video ***

There is a bit of grain, emulsion damage, and sporadic evidence of dust and debris, but the show looks about as good as any old television show can.  Occasional stock footage used in the episodes is understandably grainy with diminished image definition.  Overall, the transfer is fine despite the lack of any significant restoration.

Audio ***

Audio is presented in monaural and should be adequate for viewing, even if it is not particularly dynamic or aggressive.  Best of all, who can ever get enough of that famous and melancholy “Lonely Man” Hulk theme?

Features * ½

This box set sports an attractive 3-D holographic cover art.

Aside from previews for the films The Incredible Hulk and Hellboy II, there are also previews of the television shows 30 Rock, Coach, Life, Miami Vice, Heroes, The Office, Psych, SNL, Magnum P.I., Battlestar Galactica, The A-Team, and Knight Rider.

Behind the Success: The Story of the Incredible Hulk (18 min.) is the only significant supplemental feature.  It can be found on Disc Two.  With anecdotes from Kenneth Johnson, the show’s creator, and various writers, this documentary offers a nostalgic look at one of television’s finest superhero shows.

Lastly, there is a gag reel (5 min.) with funny moments involving Bill Bixby, Jack Colvin, and various female co-stars.  It is worth watching, although some of the clips appear quite worn-out.

Summary:

The fifth season of The Incredible Hulk was shortened by a writers’ strike, but at least fans have these seven final episodes of this classic television show to enjoy!

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