Review for Street Hawk: The Complete Series
They cancel all my favourite shows! Well, most shows wind up cancelled anyway, so perhaps I should have added 'prematurely' as well. Most recently, I've had to say goodbye to the rebooted Knight Rider, Dollhouse, and a show that was right up my street, Defying Gravity. But it's a pattern that has repeated all of my life now, with shows like Matt Houston, the original Battlestar Galactica, Space Above and Beyond, Highwayman, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Blue Thunder, and Best of the West never making it past the first season. Some shows did get a decent bite of the apple, but were constantly surfing the wave of cancellation. It took Quantum Leap four years to wipe-out, as did Farscape, and Babylon 5 actually rushed its ending into season 4, and then an unexpected renewal gave the writers another season to fill. Perhaps the most famous cancelled series of all is Star Trek, and then there is Baywatch. No, bear with me. Baywatch actually died after season 1, and it's season 1 that I love. It had characters, it had storylines, it had great music and great cinematography, and no one loved it. So they ditched the storylines and characters, inserted Pamela Anderson and hours of slow-mo silicone and the rest is history. I couldn't take it; I gave up after four or five years of that. It's always the bottom line. I like the concept shows, but concept shows cost more money, so they are the first to be canned.
It's pretty cutthroat now in the world of television, the recession has resulted in some pretty fierce battle for airtime, and with reality TV cheap to produce, it means that a lot of shows fall like flies when it comes to totting up the bottom line. Just outside Hollywood is a graveyard where the dead shows are buried, only for cult TV fans and DVD producers to try and resurrect them. There was a recession on in the eighties as well, and even without reality TV, shows were axed with ruthless brutality. And as per usual, they always went after the shows that I loved the most. The hero with the technological piece of kit was a mainstay of the schedules back then, and while battle was joined in the sky between Airwolf and Blue Thunder, the streets were left to Knight Rider, The Littlest Hobo and Street Hawk to contest. I'm lying about The Littlest Hobo. But of all the tech-shows of the period, I loved Street Hawk the most. Even now it's more golden in my memories than it is in reality. I still have the second novelisation Cons At Large on my bookshelf, and besides, Street Hawk got a comic strip in Look-In. Once a show has managed that, it has arrived. It's up there with Knight Rider and Dukes of Hazzard. My memory assured me that there were three or four seasons of Street Hawk, at least. So when The Complete Series of Street Hawk was announced, I pounced on the review discs… Thirteen episodes. Just thirteen episodes before it was cancelled. I'd pay good money to kick a Hollywood exec up the backside!
Street Hawk fulfils the 80's action hero stereotype. One man can make a difference, as long as he has the right vehicle at his command. Jesse Mach was a motorcycle cop of unparalleled ability, until a run in with a drug dealer destroyed his knee and left him with a desk job in public relations. You can't keep a man like that down for long, especially when he's been targeted by a government project to pilot an All-Terrain Attack Motorcycle in the urban environment, to prove its peacekeeping and crime fighting capabilities. Everyone thinks it's a good idea, except the brains behind the project, Norman Tuttle, engineer extraordinaire. Norman thinks that Jesse is too reckless, but his superiors have spoken, and so it is that Norman reluctantly approaches Jesse with an offer. A new crime-fighting vigilante takes to the street, and an unconventional partnership is born.
The thirteen episodes are presented across 4 discs, and there are some juicy extras as well to be had.
1. The Pilot
His best friend is murdered, and he's left for dead in the desert, but worse is to come for motorbike cop Jesse Mach. His knee destroyed, he's left in the police's PR department, and he learns that his friend's case has been passed on to Internal Affairs, where it has quickly been buried and forgotten. But Federal Agent Norman Tuttle has an offer to make, revolutionary surgery can repair Jesse's knee, if he'll agree to pilot a new urban pacification prototype. Street Hawk is a radical new motorcycle, capable of speeds up to 300mph, amazing acrobatics, and armed with lethal and non-lethal weaponry. But it will have to be a secret; Jesse will have to maintain the pretence of being a limping PR cop by day, so that he can be a masked vigilante by night. First on their target list is a drug smuggler whose modus operandi is to steal the best quality confiscated drugs from police lock-up. But Jesse still wants to nail the guy who murdered his friend.
2. A Second Self
Street Hawk is already making an impression on crime in the city, although when a car thief ends up dead as a result, it's the wrong impression. A crooked dealership steals flash cars to order, and the dead thief was the owner's brother. Now the owner wants revenge, he's setting a trap for Street Hawk, and he's hired in professional help from the outside. At the same time, Jesse's friend Kevin Stark is in town. The two of them used to ride the competition circuit together, and they take the time to reminisce and have a friendly race or two while Kevin isn't at work. You see he's been hired by the owner of a car dealership…
3. The Adjuster
It seems a simple job, a stakeout of a warehouse, and the arrest of a couple of thieves, and the fence they try to hawk their stolen jewels to. But Elkins is no simple fence, he's wanted in New York, and it isn't long before a rock-chewing, hard-bitten, thug of a New York Cop is in town to take Elkins of the LAPD's hands. Detective Joe Cannon wasn't expecting the mild-mannered accountant to give him the slip, and it then falls to Jesse to partner him until the fugitive can be recaptured. It's hate at first sight. But Cannon isn't exactly what he seems.
4. Vegas Run
Typical! You're a Vegas showgirl who falls in love with the wrong guy. The wrong guy turns out to be a mobster who doesn't take too kindly to you testifying against him, so you go on the run to Los Angeles, to hide out with your kid sister. Except the mob goons get there first. Just when the bullets are about to fly, a cop and his nerd best friend rescue you. Then it gets really weird.
5. Dog Eat Dog
Jesse's under orders from fellow PR cop Rachel to obtain the services of rock star Deborah Shane for an infomercial. The problem is that she doesn't like cops. But when there's blackmail going on at RJ Records, and she becomes a witness to a murder, she'll have to rely on the cops to save her life, well, one cop in particular.
6. Fire on the Wing
There's a hi-tech protection racket in operation now. Warehouses from various companies are being set alight in arson attacks, with no evidence being left behind, and even Street Hawk with its Hyperthrust velocity is unable to catch the perpetrators in the act. It doesn't help when the business sector is stonewalling the police. Chief among them is Will Gasner, whose distrust of the police is paranoiac. But it doesn't stop him trying to poach away Rachel from the PR department, while his daughter Diana is a lot friendlier towards Jesse.
7. Chinatown Memories
The crime syndicates in Chinatown are on the verge of a civil war, and all because of an ivory statue. It doesn't help that the statue has been stolen by one Joe Ching, who wants to return it to its proper place in Shanghai. It's not the sort of situation that the police can blunder into, and when Jesse's ex-girlfriend Lily shows up, asking for help, he realises that he needs Street Hawk's delicate touch. With this old flame re-ignited, this may just be the time to retire from the vigilante business, but there's something that Lily is keeping secret.
8. The Unsinkable 453
It's not much of a prison break when no one escapes, and an attack on a prison bus just seems like a monumental screw up. Street Hawk knows better, having seen one man make his escape, but when that same man dies in prison a few days later, Jesse realises that he can't investigate through regular police channels. But his isn't the only investigation, as Rachel is getting closer to Street Hawk's true identity.
9. Hot Target
Street Hawk interrupts an arms deal that's in the middle of turning sour; when the potential buyer of a multi-million dollar anti-tank laser balks at the price rise, he gets an intimate demonstration of its abilities. The problem is that Marpell Industries makes the laser, a formerly peaceful and philanthropic medical research company. But Jesse and Norman have a way into the secretive company, Norman's ex Mona works there as head of research, and Norman wants to know how she could be involved in something so nefarious.
10. Murder is a Novel Idea
Street Hawk is working a jewellery heist, but the police have bigger problems. Famed crime-writer Stephanie Craig is about to release her first work of non-fiction, where she claims to name the murderer of Rosemary Farelly, citing police incompetence 20 years previously. Norman's a massive fan, but Stephanie used to work for the police, and she and Jesse had a thing once upon a time. The trouble is that certain people aren't all that thrilled about the forthcoming book, and are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the murderer's identity from being divulged.
11. The Arabian
Racehorses are worth a lot of money, certainly worth more than a human life, at least for one unscrupulous owner. It's not good for business when an $8 million horse has to be put down, so an insurance scheme is hatched. But the owner hasn't counted on the insurance agent being a PI, and he hasn't counted on the intervention of Street Hawk.
12. Female of the Species
Heir to the wealthy and powerful Cavanaugh family, Steve Cavanaugh is in town, and with his arrival comes a host of death threats, and a full FBI protection team. It isn't enough to stop an assassination attempt at the airport, only Street Hawk can manage that, and Jesse finds himself in the middle of a turf war between Agent Menlo and Commander Altobelli. The terrorists keep on coming, but for some odd reason, they keep missing the target.
13. Follow The Yellow Gold Road
There's a bunch of thieves carrying out a series of gold heists that Street Hawk can't keep up with, Jesse gets a taste of his own medicine when the Citizens Action Group start dealing out vigilante justice of their own, even claiming Street Hawk as a friend, and Jesse's out there alone, with no Norman for back up, as the phone company have dug up all the cables that link the command centre to the outside world.
Street Hawk gets an NTSC transfer from Fabulous Films, which is a bit of a disappointment (probably because this very same package will be released in the US in July). Street Hawk was one of those early-mid-eighties shows that were shot on film, and there's no reason other than financial that a film-PAL transfer couldn't have happened. As it is, those of us still using 25-year-old televisions from the period of the show will be out of luck. The image is a mixed bag, although generally clear and sharp throughout. There is a smidge of print damage, but not as much as you would think from a show of this vintage. I guess Street Hawk didn't see a lot of reruns. Occasionally the image softens a bit, as if switching to a videotape source, but by and large this is pretty decent quality and very watchable. The effects have dated the most, with Hyperthrust looking laughable now, although not as ridiculous as the back flip in the pilot episode.
Hark your minds back to the summer of 1985, when TVs were still available in wood, had curved screens and channel knobs to twist, and a sole speaker existed at the side of the cabinet to adequately relay the tinny mono sound from the analogue transmission. The Street Hawk boxset tries its best to replicate that, with a DD 2.0 mono English soundtrack, but it hasn't taken modern technology into account, where even the most basic of televisions give it a clarity and dynamic range that it just didn't have back when originally broadcast. Of course that means that Tangerine Dream's electronica soundtrack sounds better than before. I can't say the same for the pop music in the show that delayed this set's release. It was music clearance issues that were the sticking point, and it seems that not all the music could be cleared. Certainly one Bruce Springsteen track in an early episode sounded more like it came from the Matalan cover-version playlist.
I received just the discs for Street Hawk, no packaging, which means I can't comment on the eight-page booklet that will come with the final retail release. The discs get nicely animated menus that offer more of that memorable theme tune.
There are synopses for the episodes, but you'll have to go to Episode Select, then Chapter Select for the episode that you are interested in, to find the synopsis tucked away discreetly in a corner. There ought to have been an easier way to find them.
The remaining extras are on disc 4. Well worth a watch is Street Hawk: The Making of a Legend. This documentary lasts 41 minutes, and in it Rex Smith (Jesse), Joe Regalbuto (Norman), and Jeannie Wilson (Rachel), share their reminiscences of making the show. It's presented in widescreen, which squishes some of the clips of the show, but it's a small grumble, the anecdotes are more than worth it.
Of great interest is the Unbroadcasted Pilot. There are usually reshoots, re-edits and alterations made between filming and broadcast, and this version of the pilot episode is actually 4 minutes longer than the show that we all saw. There is at least one deleted scene, several extended and alternate scenes as well. The effects shots are different too, with Street Hawk originally equipped with a blue taser, instead of a red laser, and some poorly animated jump effects that were thankfully replaced with practically shot stunt work. Also altered is the music, in this version, 60 seconds of Van Halen went out to be replaced with about 5 seconds of Kenny Loggins. I think I prefer the temp track originally used. The downside is that only an unloved VHS tape could be found of this version, and it has Prop. MCA #3965 tattooed across its midriff for the duration.
There are dozens of images to flick through, publicity stills, action shots, bike designs and the like. There's also an interesting section on the bike restoration. Apparently someone found the original Street Hawk bike and spent wonga on bringing it back up to broadcast quality standards. It's in Cumbria if you want to take a look.
There are biographies for the three main cast members, and it's all rounded off with the Series Synopsis, putting into text what voiceover man gave us at the start of each episode.
Once again I'm assailed by the duality of vision caused by rampant nostalgia. Looking at this show fresh, with my thirty-something perspective applied to its eighties simplicity, I have to say that it really is a bit of nonsense, much like a lot of the action entertainment television of the period. This was the era when shows like this, The A-Team, Knight Rider and so on were firmly aimed at the younger demographic, and depth of writing and consistency of plot really weren't a major priority, as long as they got the requisite number of stunts in. There's something achingly stereotypical about Jesse's reckless nature and propensity to have a new girl on his arm every episode, there's something just as stereotypical about Norman's nerdish-ness, Altobelli's shouting police commander, and indeed all the other characters we encounter in the show. Seen through a 25-year lens, it seems like a parody of itself. But then my inner 12-year old takes control, and reminds me that this is the best television ever created. It's awesome, it's brilliant, it's great entertainment, it's got cool stunts, the bike is brilliant, and the characters are fun. It doesn't take a lot of persuasion before that little kid convinces this older, cynical reviewer that he's right, for I have to admit, beneath all the nitpicking and criticism, I had a blast watching these episodes. It's not just nostalgia either, as after 25 years, I couldn't really remember any of the stories, so it was almost as if I was watching them for the first time, with only a familiarity with the characters sparking nostalgic warmth.
It did get me wondering why I was enjoying the show so much, after all, attempts to find that same wonder and excitement with shows like Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team and Knight Rider all failed miserably for me. Yet Street Hawk hasn't exactly dated the same way. It certainly aren't the special effects, with the A-Team corkscrew car flip used to excess in these episodes, and Street Hawk's hyperthrust looking pretty laughable now. Oddly, the simple effect of just speeding up the film is still a lot more appealing in the nighttime scenes, and with the Tangerine Dream soundtrack, is certainly more enjoyable than that 3-minute compressed train journey that the BBC used to fill dead air once upon a time. The show still holds up when practical and in camera stunts are used, and in Street Hawk that is a surprisingly large proportion of the effects work. It could be the music, although I am well aware that eighties electronica is something of a marmite proposition. Personally, I thing that Le Parc by Tangerine Dream is one of the best opening themes of the era, but I expect many will be laughing derisively in my direction at that statement.
What really does appeal in this show, and what has stood up strongly to the test of time, is the central relationship between Jesse and Norman, an odd couple pairing if ever there were one. Jesse is the freewheeling, reckless playboy, who is looking to extract as much fun as possible out of life, while Norman is the consummate nerd, the meticulous engineer, overworked, devoted, professional and anal. The two should rub each other the wrong way, and initially they do, but as the series progresses, they develop a respect, and eventually an affection for each other. It's bromance in the truest sense of the word, and it's what still makes the show so strong even after all these years. The rest of the cast slot in well around that, with Rachel being a potential real-world partner for Jesse in the police PR department (the shame of such a short run was that so many of these characters were never developed as far as they ought to have been), Altobelli was the stereotypical police commander, but played with energy and flair by Richard Venture. Another interesting character that never got enough screen time was the resident CSI Bernie, whose brusque and world-weary scientist was balanced by a comical eccentricity. Again, the character never really had the chance to develop.
Another charming thing about this show are the guest stars, and with Christopher Lloyd putting in a powerful performance as a drug dealer in the pilot episode, it certainly gets the show off to a great start. Also in the pilot you may recognise Robert Beltran, who later went on to play Chakotay on Star Trek Voyager. Being an anime buff, I got a buzz out of seeing Richard Epcar as a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cop in the same episode. He's gone on to voice characters in anime like Ghost in the Shell, Naruto, Robotech and many more. Of course most interest will be in the second episode, A Second Self, which features perhaps the second significant role for one George Clooney, years before he hit the big time in Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
Another thing that surprised me was how technologically prescient Street Hawk was, although not with the laser armed motorcycle. Yet in one episode, Norman wishes that someone would hurry up and invent the Internet, when he has to sift through a bunch of magazine articles and newspaper clippings by hand. He also introduces us to his car, which has an alarm, not unusual even in 1985, but it also has a tracker installed to tell him where it goes if it is stolen. All of that before the invention of GPS. A later episode introduces a laser designed for eye surgery, although it looks like it escaped from an episode of Battlestar Galactica.
But with the smart comes the dumb, and as with many shows, Street Hawk changed in concept from pilot to series, not just in the casting. In the pilot, Jesse was to maintain his pretence of a cripple to avoid suspicion of his being Street Hawk, and the bike was strictly a non-lethal weapons platform armed with a rubber bullet gun, and a laser (which could be set for stun, but never was). By the time the series proper was filmed, the bike had machine guns and rockets as well, and Jesse lost the limp and the cane. Also, for a clandestine operation, Jesse was remarkably open about having an FBI agent for a new best friend, and even used the office phone to call him about Street Hawk business. Then again, Clark Kent maintains his cover with a pair of glasses.
Of all the heroes with gadgets shows from the eighties, Street Hawk has stood the test of time best of all, probably because of its shorter run. Most of the other series would resort to more and more gimmicks to keep things as fresh as possible, KITT getting a new upgrade every couple of episodes (by the end of the run, the car was hovering on water), Boy George in the A-Team, it got pretty desperate in the end for some of the shows. Street Hawk never had the opportunity to fall, even though this run of thirteen episodes does have a dud or two (The Arabian is pretty dire). The good still by far outweighs the bad in this show. If you are a genuine eighties aficionado, then you simply must have this series, but you know, I think even today it will turn the heads of the young pre-teen male demographic. Street Hawk is Good and Cheesy! Hyperthrust Cleared … 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Go!