Judge David Johnson wonders who would win in a fight between two '80s TV icons: Airwolf or Webster?
Our reviews of Airwolf: Season One (published July 6th, 2005), Airwolf: Season Two (published February 14th, 2007), Airwolf: Season Four (published February 1st, 2011), and Airwolf: The Movie (published August 18th, 2011) are also available.
(Guffaw guffaw guffaw!!!)
The final season of Airwolf before it morphed into a godforsaken abortion of a series reinvention flies onto a five-disc set and "The Lady's" swan song is bittersweet, friends.
Facts of the Case
Season three brings the same crew that flew Airwolf into the teeth of the Communist/hillbilly/psycho-industrialist threat last season for another dose of air-to-air warfare. Pilot Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent), co-pilot/tubby father figure Domini Santini (Ernest Borgnine) and token female costar Caitlin O'Shaughnessy (Jean Bruce Scott) team up with cyclopic super-spy Archangel (Alex Cord) to do battle with a wide assortment of villains, who may have different motivations but share one thing in common: helicopters armed with missiles that can't shoot straight.
Five discs, 22 episodes, explosions bigger than Borgnine's eyebrows:
"Dom, give me a Maverick." Those words, often followed almost immediately by an exploding helicopter, would be uttered for the last time. Following this season, CBS would jettison Airwolf due to its flagging ratings, presumably its big budget and allegedly Jan-Michael Vincent's increasing trouble with alcoholism. The USA Network would retool the series, clean house as far as cast goes, and generate a bastardized version of the show featuring recycled stock footage, Precambrian CGI and bottom-feeding production values. So in a way, consider season three a stay of execution.
These final 22 episodes are pretty good, though I didn't love them as much as the batches from the first two seasons. Highlights abound, sure, and more than a couple of episodes recapture that red-blooded Airwolf bad-assness that so enamored me to the series and, later, to the DVD releases, but on the whole, this installment is easily String and pals' least aerodynamic outing.
What jumped out at me to greater effect this go-round was the amazing amount of gaffes. For a big-budgeted prime time series there were way too many mistakes. For example, catching sight of the filming crew in the reflection of Archangel's blacked-out glasses/eye-patch was a common occurrence, so much so that the producers eventually moved toward a more opaque lens. Likewise, you could always depend on catching shadows from the camera operator's helicopter during the aerial combat scenes and during a segment at a water park, a POV shot from the top of the waterslide was partially obstructed by the cameraman's thumb. And Vincent must have really been feeling under the weather this season because his stunt double showed up for just about everything. Now there were certainly a few instances where he was needed—and indeed some of the more outlandish stunts performed this season are noteworthy—but a stunt double to carry a guy from a helicopter? Really?!? Add to it, Vincent's double was at least 15 years younger, ten pounds lighter and five inches taller.
Like any season of television (except, of course, for the second season of Small Wonder), not every episode is gold, and this season's clunkers are even more rickety than the other seasons. There are a handful of "very special" episodes, including one where Hawke learns a valuable lesson about the wheelchair-bound ("Tracks," also notable because of its ridiculous villain, a senile old mountain-man who shoots arrows at paraplegics because he thinks they're going to poach his wildcats), a show featuring a mentally-challenged child who is a genius artist that eludes professional kidnappers ("And a Child Shall Lead") and two episodes dealing with Hawke's possible nephew, the bastard offspring of his long-lost M.I.A. brother St. John ("Half Pint" and the '80s-licious season finale where Hawke embraces fatherhood and a slicked-back drugrunner coiffure, "Birds of Paradise"). There are a lot of ham-fisted lessons to be learned here. As one of the surefire signs a show is running out of creative gas, the season also sports a few gimmick episodes: "Annie Oakley" puts the gang in leather chaps and spurs for a Western-themed jaunt and "Fortune Teller," a show based on Archangel's kidnapping forces Dom and Hawke to depend on…a psychic?!? Add to that laser beams, brainwashing and a submarine fight (!) and you've got yourself a season with plot devices and outlandish villains stuffed up its exhaust pipe.
However, that's not to say I'm hating on the season. There is plenty of righteous action gristle to chew on, including a great hostage show ("Desperate Monday"), two sweet nuclear encounters ("Where Have all the Children Gone?" and "Kingdom Come"), a prison break ("Break-In at Santa Paolo") and a most-excellent face-off between Airwolf and…another Airwolf ("Airwolf II")! Plus, you can bank on at least seven minutes worth of air combat to cap off each show, starring another parade of poseurs thinking they can take out Airwolf with their whack missile lock and end up getting blown into tiny BBQ bits. These sequences, while repetitive and peppered with re-used footage (how many times has that exact pile of dirt exploded?), are still a lot of fun to watch and when that theme kicks in, itÂ's good times. Good times.
The DVD releases continue to be bare of anything besides the shows, presented in a no-frills, full frame treatment. The lack of extras continues to disappoint.
The season reveals a drop-off in storytelling and the action does smell same-old, same-old, but I'm still an honorary Airwolf pilot and will eagerly proclaim the value of this chest-thumping, manly action show.
Compared to what's to come, not guilty. Oh, and @#$% you Nicaragua!
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