The Incredible Hulk: Season 1
July 24, 2006
Kenneth Johnson, Kenneth Gilbert, Alan Levi, Larry Stewart,
Starring: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Jack Colvin, Susan Sullivan, Gerald McRaney, Loni Anderson, Brandon Cruz, Andrew Robinson, James Sikking,
“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” This classic, prophetic line, spoken in the opening credits of The Incredible Hulk T.V. show by Dr. David Banner (Bixby) was always a prelude to our hero getting angry at someone or something and hulking out to everyone’s favourite, not-so jolly green giant. For anybody who grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was into comic books, this show was a staple of their T.V. diet. While not very faithful to its source material, it was one of the few live action T.V. shows based on a comic book and was part of a mini-boom of such adaptations both on the small screen and in movie theatres (that also included Richard Donner’s Superman starring Christopher Reeve).
Banner leads an idyllic life with his loving wife, Laura. The soft focus montage that opens the two-hour pilot episode effectively establishes their close relationship. One sunny day, they’re out driving in the country and out of the blue become victims of a tragic car accident that kills Laura and leaves Banner emotionally scarred.
He is a research scientist dedicated to tapping into that hidden reserve of strength we all have and that often comes out in moments of stress commonly known as adrenaline. Late one night, Banner finds the crucial component that could unlock that hidden reservoir of strength: gamma radiation. So, he decides to be guinea pig and bombard himself with a large dose of gamma rays.
It proves to be too much and Banner soon discovers that whenever he gets extremely upset his anger causes him to transform into a very muscular green being that is later labeled the Hulk (Ferrigno). This transformation is portrayed as a kind of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde personality split; although, in the pilot episode there is also an allusion to Frankenstein’s monster when the Hulk comes across a little girl playing by a lake. He startles her so that she falls into the water. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster however, he manages to save her.
After a freak accident destroys all of Banner’s research and kills his loyal research partner (Sullivan), he becomes a fugitive, a nomad on a quixotic journey through the United States (much like The Fugitive T.V. show). Each episode sees him helping out people when he can, either as Banner or as the Hulk, all the while trying to find a cure for his horrible curse. Hot on Banner’s trail is Jack McGee (Colvin), an investigative journalist for the National Register, a tabloid newspaper. He pursues the good doctor with the intention of proving that he is in fact the Hulk.
Bill Bixby is absolutely heartbreaking as the tragic Dr. Banner. He is wracked with guilt over the death of his wife. Bixby brings a quiet dignity to the role and comes across as a very sympathetic figure which was a large part of his appeal on the show. The actor also brings a riveting intensity to Banner, a man driven to redeem the horrible accident that he feels responsible for.
Aside from the dated 1970s fashion, the Incredible Hulk also relies on the realism that was in vogue at the time and applies it to the super hero genre, going to great lengths to ground everything that happens – even Banner’s transformation into the Hulk – rooted in reality. Due to technological limitations at the time, the show was not very faithful to the comic book. There are little, nagging details like changing Bruce Banner’s name to David Banner, and also significant alterations, like making the Hulk vulnerable to bullets and being unable to leap great distances. The Hulk’s strength is also limited, unlike in the comic book where it grew in proportion to how angry he got. Obviously, some of these things would have been quite difficult to portray at the time.
While the pilot episode is of top notch quality, subsequent episodes vary in quality, often relying on stock footage to compensate for time consuming or expensive shots. This may also explain why we don’t see the Hulk fighting any comic book foes – instead we get to see him slug it out with a bear in one episode and a very fake looking gorilla in another. The only thing that saves some of these episodes is the solid acting from Bixby. The best ones end up featuring the antagonistic relationship between Banner and McGee, culminating in a showdown (of sorts) in Las Vegas.
The first disc features an audio commentary (that is actually taken from a previous DVD release) on the pilot episode by writer/director/producer Kenneth Johnson. He says that Bill Bixby was his first and only choice to play Banner and took some convincing to do the show. He also praises how deep the actor got into the character so early on. Johnson talks about his original intentions for the show – the desire to merge the comic book with elements from Les Miserables and Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde to create a psychological drama. Aside from the fashions, he feels that the show holds up pretty well. Johnson delivers a solid track that features analysis of the look and style of this episode while also commenting on its themes in an informative way.
The last disc includes “Stop the Presses,” an episode from season two with Pat Morita guest starring.