The Incredible Hulk: Season 1
There is a theme that has persisted in literature for centuries, the duality of man’s nature. In the 1880’s there was Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about a scientist that discovered a way to unleash the darker inner self of man. For those of us that grew up in the late fifties and early sixties Marvel comics took basically the same story and created the Incredible Hulk. Some sixteen years this well loved comic would find its way to American television. David Banner (Bill Bixby) was a well respected MD/PhD whose work investigated hidden strength in people. He was fascinated with stories of mothers able to lift a car off of their trapped children. His theory is we all have great strength that is brought out by stress. His dedication verged on obsession after the death of his wife in a car accident while Banner looked helplessly on. While investigating people that exhibited incredible boosts of strength he noticed that sun spot activity resulted in higher than normal gamma radiation levels. So, he decided to bombard himself with gamma rays but instead of the desired results he found that he would become a monster when he became angry. Thus the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) was born. Whenever Banner became angry or hurt he would grow to a huge size, turn green and have the strength of dozens of men. The creature is blamed for the death of David Banner and a tabloid reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) is searching for the monster, one step behind the now fugitive Banner. There has been a lot of the television Hulk committed to DVD, the pilot episode, several of the made for television movies but now we fans have the entire first season on disc.
Usually when a comic comes to a weekly television series a lot of changes are in store. All too often this all but destroys what made the comic popular in the first place. Fortunately, with the Hulk even though the basic plot was completely different from the comic it held together on its own. The basic duality of man theme is explored in a different fashion but in this case the changes worked. One main difference was incorporating elements from another television classic, the Fugitive. Each episode had Banner on the run, usually aimlessly drifting around the country. There are times when he reads about some research that may provide the means to cure but more often than not he is only passing through town after town. This provided a means for the series to explore more human problems and not rely on the creature as the focal point of the show. Banner was basically a good hearted man that hated to see people being exploited. Most of the towns he winds up in have a convenient beautiful damsel in distress that Banner can help. For example in the episode "The Beast Within’ Banner meets Dr. Claudia Baxter (Caroline McWilliams) whose genetic research in a local zoo may hold a key to curing him. When her life is threatened Banner has to sacrifice his chance at being normal to save her. In ‘Never Give Trucker an Even Break’ Banner meets up with a female trucker, Joanie (Jennifer Darling) who pulls the well intending Banner into her plot for revenge. In the episode ‘Of Guilt, Models and Murder’ Banner awakens in a room with a dead model. He is immediately afraid that his worse nightmare has come true and he has killed someone while in the form of the creature. One episode reunites Bixby with a former co-star from ‘The Courtship of Eddie’s Father’. In ‘747’ Banner is on a plane that is about to crash. The only hope is a young boy, Kevin (Brandon Cruz) is left to bring the plane to a safe landing. When the hydraulics fail Banner turns into the Hulk and uses his strength to guide the plane. In most episodes an added element of danger comes from McGee on the heels of Banner. As the season progresses McGee starts to put some of the pieces together much to the growing chagrin of Banner.
Due to the format of the series Bill Bixby has to basically carry the whole show. The great news for the audience is he was the perfect choice for the role. Bixby had the every-man quality that made every performance a joy to watch. He could infuse a little humor in a tense episode while maintaining the overall dramatic impact of the story. One of the challenges of his role was playing a very smart man force out of the security of his research lab and into the real world. Although Banner is a doctor and a scientist he never comes across as demeaning towards others. Banner is trapped not only by his curse but also by the isolation of stable friendships and his research. He is a man that always lived by means of his intellect but now has to face the darker, physical side of the Hulk. Bixby’s portrayal of David Banner infuses humanity into the series and helped to elevate it above the campy mess this series might have been. Lou Ferrigno is painted green, given clothes to rip and bounds about as the Hulk. Rumor has it that Bixby took this former professional body builder under his wing and gave him acting lessons. Ferrigno actually emotes as the Hulk making him the object of sympathy for the audience. The best thing about this series is the stories did not depend on the transformation into the Hulk. Sure every week the Hulk got to throw around the ba guys but the story depended more on the situations that Banner found himself.
Universal has worked hard to become the best studio around for bringing classic television to DVD. With this season set they out did themselves. Many customers have complained about the use of double sided discs for season box sets. This season is presented in four single sided DVD, thank you for listening Universal. All ten episodes are present here as well as the pilot television movie, ‘A Death In The Family’ and an episode from season two, ‘Stop The Presses’. The full screen video is reasonably well preserved considering the age of the material. The color saturation is sometimes a bit low but overall the color is acceptable. The Dolby two channel mono comes across better than the reruns you can see on the Sci-Fi channel. This is a great show for the whole family to enjoy together. I only hope that Universal doesn’t wait too long before bringing out the remaining seasons.