A&E // 1986 // 1200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // September 13th, 2006
A probationary angel sent back to earth teams with an ex-cop to help people.
Judge Lacey Worrell concluded her review of Highway to Heaven: Season One by saying: "And let's not forget the fact that this show paved the way for current favorites, such as the incredibly syrupy Touched By an Angel and the long-running family drama 7th Heaven." In fairness to Highway to Heaven fans, this is where I must start my review of Season Three. The thing is, I detest Touched By an Angel. 7th Heaven isn't high on the list either, particularly if you take Jessica Biel out of the mix. Perhaps I was compelled by a dose of Little House on the Prairie nostalgia, or maybe I was bamboozled by A&E's history of delivering fine boxed sets of great shows. Whatever the case, no intervention is divine enough to explain why I thought I'd be a good audience for this set. I like edgy over family-friendly, complicated over straightforward, vague over spelled out. And I detest moralizing.
Even with that cat-and-water relationship in mind, I was shocked at how distasteful I found many episodes of Highway to Heaven: Season Three. Preachy doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. From the "retarded kids are as good as you and me" opener to the "read the Bible, it can protect you from bullets" finale, I felt like I was being bludgeoned by the giant mallet of morality. At first I was amused, then disgruntled. Of course, fans of the show love its straightforward take on morality and spirituality; embrace its open expression of Christian virtues in an entertaining form. If such television suits you, enjoy the show with my compliments. I will throw Firefly on for the hundredth time and wonder why it didn't get three seasons.
Fortunately, some of the episodes toned down the rampant moralizing enough for me to glean what the fuss was about over this highly popular series. Dick Van Dyke applies his inimitable talent to a homeless man with a great heart. Ironically, my favorite episodes were ones that are likely footnotes to real fans of the show. For example, I honestly enjoyed "Heavy Date" for its sweet love story and the hilarious supporting performance by Peggy Pope as a faux-suicidal mom. Like every other episode in this set, it is emotionally manipulative, but in a way that didn't get my liberal hackles up.
Whatever side you may fall on, we can all agree that the celebrity spotting is very fine in this season. Leslie Nielsen (the aforementioned millionaire saved from a bullet by the Bible) and Robert Culp represent the spy spoof set, while James Earl Jones and Dick Van Dyke class things up. In a stunning twist of casting, skin queen Shannon Tweed even shows up (clothed, for those curious). A heavenly host of guest stars lends interest to even the most excruciating episodes (such as the gag-inducing "For the Love of Larry," wherein a dog leads our heroes to the site of a wrecked car at the bottom of a ravine.)
The acting in this season is highly inconsistent. The first few episodes are veritable acting wastelands. The kids in the Special Olympics are the best actors in the first part of the season, even allowing for the emotional exploitation. They come across as more honest and engaging than the rest of the cast, including the charismatic duo of Michael Landon and Victor French. The ship rights itself somewhat later on, with mediocre performances carried by high spots from the aforementioned guest stars and camaraderie between Landon and French. Contrary to reports on Amazon.com, the infamous "I Was a Middle Aged Werewolf" doesn't roll around until Season Four. Too bad...I was looking forward to seeing Landon in this infamous comedy episode. For the record, the episodes that are on this set include:
* "A Special Love (Parts 1 and 2)"
* "For the Love of Larry"
* "Another Kind of War, Another Kind of Peace"
* "That's Our Dad"
* "Love at Second Sight"
* "Love and Marriage (Parts 1 and 2)"
* "Code Name: FREAK"
* "Man to Man"
* "Jonathan Smith Goes to Washington"
* "Oh Lucky Man"
* "Basinger's New York"
* "All That Glitters"
* "A Song of Songs"
* "A Night to Remember"
* "A Mother and a Daughter"
* "Normal People"
* "The Hero"
* "Parents' Day"
* "A Father's Faith"
* "Heavy Date"
* "Ghost Rider"
* "The Gift of Life"
A&E's presentation is not as impressive as in some of their other fine sets. There is no subtitling or closed captioning. The transfer is soft and bleary, with washed-out colors and noticeable dirt on the print. The stereo track has fine separation between the channels, even if the mix sounds harsh in places. The primary extra is a retrospective on Michael Landon from those who worked with him and knew him best. I may not appreciate this show as much as its core audience, but by all accounts Landon was a generous man who did not let Hollywood dictate his actions. The interviews are consistently flattering to his memory, which is to be expected, and is not as annoying as it sounds because they recall his specific actions under trying circumstances.
The heart of the matter is this: What is your tolerance for "moral of the week" television? If you delight in thinking through the conundrums surrounding large amounts of cash dropping into your lap, or are touched by exploring the plights of people suffering from leukemia/cancer/mental retardation/mental illness, this season is a smorgasbord of emotional and spiritual sustenance. If you prefer to think about such issues for yourself and don't appreciate your path being highlighted with huge spotlights and glowing neon halos, Highway to Heaven: Season Three might irk you. Let your conscience be your guide.
Review content copyright © 2006 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1200 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with Cindy Landon, Kent McCray, Susan McCray, and Dennis Korn
* Text Biographies of Michael Landon and Victor French