The Greatest American Hero—Season 1

greatest american hero season 1 dvd cover episode guide list
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 6/10

Above average writing for a rather goofy idea

Visuals are pretty bad, bad Ralph stand-in


Just put it on!

Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) is a single father going through a divorce and battling his wife for custody with his lawyer and girlfriend Pam Davidson (Connie Sellecca).  Bill Maxwell is a by-the-book FBI agent out for a big score.  When Ralph takes his class of troubled students for a desert fieldtrip, Ralph runs into Bill, and they both have an alien encounter.  Ralph is left with an extraterrestrial suit which gives him powers.  Unfortunately, Ralph loses the instructions and doesn’t know how the suit works.  As Ralph tries to learn to fly, use superhuman powers, turn invisible, and use mental projection powers, Bill is trying use Ralph to bring in criminals, and Ralph is just trying to keep his life together.


Hey, Close Encounters called and they want their spaceship back!

The Greatest American Hero—Season 1 was a half-season and aired from March 18, 1981 to May 13, 1981.  The pilot was nominated for Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for a Series.  The theme song “Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981 and continues to be referenced in pop culture like Family Guy and The Forty-Year-Old Virgin.

I loved The Greatest American Hero when it premiered.  It popped up in a time when crazy TV shows like The Greatest American Hero had a better shot of surviving.  I can remember waiting for the radio to play the song (and being little I always thought The Hill Street Blues theme was going to be “Believe It or Not”…yep, they actually played more TV music on the radio).


It really bothers me that they did not continue a systematic search of the desert for this manual…come on!!!

The series went through a lot of changes in the course of its three year run.  This season is really focused on Ralph’s life.  He has a kid (who eventually just kind of disappears) and a class which also disappears.  After this season, Connie Sellecca is mostly a no-show in Season 2 due her pregnancy (originally she was only planned for the pilot episode).

The biggest change occurred while the season was on.  Originally, Ralph was named Ralph Hinkley…then John Hinckley made an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.  The series changed Ralph’s name Ralph Hanley, and a scene where Pam’s parents arrive a well-time plane engine muffles his last name (which is kind of amusing).  The name did however turn back to Hinkley in Season 2.


Being a super-hero is FABULOUS!!!

The series does look pretty cheesy by today’s standards (and even back then).  Ralph’s flying scenes are poorly chromakeyed and the stand in for William Katt just looks like a skinny guy in an oversized blonde afro wig…I think only Little House on the Prairie or The Incredible Hulk had worse stand-ins…it is obviously not Katt.

The Greatest American Hero is still nostalgia.  The theme song was my first “real” 45 that wasn’t a hand-me-down record or a storybook record.  This season is a bit more developed than following seasons, and if you are going to watch one, a short eight-episode run might be all you can handle…but you’ll still be singing “Believe It or Not” by the end.

The Greatest American Hero—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:


“The Greatest American Hero”

1.1       The Greatest American Hero Airdate:  03/18/81

Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) is a teacher and a single dad fighting for custody of his son Kevin (Brandon Williams).  His students are some of the roughest kids in class and led by Tony Villicana (Michael Paré), but Ralph has also caught the eye of Tony’s girlfriend Rhonda (Faye Grant).  When Ralph takes the students to a trip to the desert, they run into a by the books FBI agent named Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp).  Ralph’s van dies, and Ralph and Bill are visited by aliens who through Bill’s dead partner warn Ralph and Bill of a threat to the world.  Now Ralph and Bill are being forced to work together with the help of Ralph’s love and attorney Pam Davidson (Connie Sellecca), and Ralph’s only hope is a suit he cannot work.  A rich investor named Nelson Corey (G.D. Spradlin) is targeting the President of the United States in the hopes of getting his Vice President (Richard Herd) in power…will Ralph, Pam, and Bill be able to stop him?


“The Hit Car”

1.2       The Hit Car Airdate:  03/25/81

Ralph and Pam plan to do a special performance of Taming of Shrew with Ralph’s class.  When a call girl named Starlet Wild (Gwen Humble) plans to testify against Johnny Damanti (Gianni Russo), she calls Bill Maxwell to be her special escort.  Now, Ralph, Pam, and Bill must get Starlet to court safely, but is Starlet playing her own angle when a mysterious hit car shows up to do her in?


“Here’s Looking at You, Kid”

1.3       Here’s Looking at You, Kid Airdate:  04/01/81

Ralph discovers another of the suit’s powers as he tries to deal with invisibility and recover a stolen military weapon being auctioned off to the highest bidding foreign power.  Pushed by Bill to get the weapon, Ralph finds he can’t remain visible which causes problems with plans to meet Pam’s parents (June Lockhart and Bob Hastings).


“Saturday Night on Sunset Boulevard”

1.4       Saturday Night on Sunset Boulevard Airdate:  04/08/81

Bill finds he can’t pass his bi-yearly polygraph test without revealing information about Ralph or the suit which leads to suspension.  Ralph finds that his students are considering dropping out and tries to find a way to motivate them to stay in school.  When Bill learns about a pair of Russian defectors who are on the run, Bill decides he and Ralph have to locate them to get Bill out of the lie detector case…and Ralph recruits his students to help.


“Reseda Rose”

1.5       Reseda Rose Airdate:  04/15/81

Bill and Ralph are out to make check-ups on FBI possible Communist agents while trying to balance time with his son (Dave Shelley) and Pam.  When Ralph’s student Rhonda Blake finds her mother Reseda Rose (E.J. Peaker) is missing, Bill and Ralph uncover a plot that involves stolen papers and a possible Soviet attack.


“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”

1.6       My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys Airdate:  04/29/81

Ralph and Bill apprehend suspects and Ralph almost kills a busload of tourists…leading Ralph to put up his costume.  When Bill’s former army buddy Lieutenant Tracy Winslow (Jack Ging) reveals he intends to pull a heist and get out of the police force forever, Bill must decide if he can bring him in.  Meanwhile Ralph finds a bonding moment with his son who asks him to take him to see John Hart…the Lone Ranger who inspired Ralph as a child.


“Fire Man”

1.7       Fire Man Airdate:  05/06/81

When Tony Villicana is picked up by police while working a repo job, he’s accused of being the arsonist who burned down a federal records building.  Tony runs from police and looks to Ralph and Pam for help…but the FBI including Bill are on his trail while the real arsonist is still on the loose.



“The Best Desk Scenario”

1.8       The Best Desk Scenario Airdate:  05/13/81

Things are going well for Ralph and Pam.  Ralph has been elected temporary vice-principal by the students, and Pam is offered a partnership in her law firm.  Bill is feeling his mortality when a friend his age dies and a new young boss is brought in.  When Pam learns that her boss is involved in something illegal, Bill and Ralph investigate…putting Pam in danger!

[easyazon-block align=”center” asin=”B003BGZ61S” locale=”us”]

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response