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Case Number 07130

Buy Highway To Heaven: Season One at Amazon

Highway To Heaven: Season One

A&E // 1985 // 1200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Lacey Worrell (Retired) // July 6th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Lacey Worrell made a killing in real estate by buying property in Purgatory right before that big Heaven/Hell bypass road was put in.

Editor's Note

Our review of Highway To Heaven: Season Three, published September 13th, 2006, is also available.

The Charge

Jonathan Smith isn't your average helpful handyman…

Opening Statement

…he's actually an angel among us! What began as a farfetched idea for a television show turned into one of the most beloved family dramas of the 1980s. In addition to star Michael Landon's roles on classic, long-running shows like Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie, it cemented Landon's reputation as one of the 20th century's most influential, beloved, and recognizable television figures.

Facts of the Case

Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon, Bonanza) is just an ordinary guy who hitchhikes around doing odd jobs. But is he really that ordinary? It turns out that he is an angel sent by God to help people on Earth work out their problems. After Jonathan assists a crusty ex-cop, Mark (Victor French, Little House on the Prairie), in the pilot episodes, he and Mark become best friends on a mission: to help as many people as they can, one family at a time. This collection features all 24 episodes from Season One on 7 discs.

The Evidence

Let's face facts, folks. Give the character of Jonathan a pitchfork, a sweat-stained hat and some suspenders, and set the time back 100 years, and you would have Pa Ingalls. Jonathan may wear a nondescript bomber jacket and faded jeans, but make no mistake about it: he and Pa could be one and the same character.

Pa was never afraid to make his opinion known, and neither is Jonathan; he can moralize with the best of them. Each of the wayward mortals he encounters has some big lessons to learn, and Jonathan is not above shoving it right in their faces when they fail to get the lesson he is trying to teach them. Providing some sorely needed balance, Mark is the perfect friend and foil to Jonathan, offering sarcastic comments and often failing to "get" what he and Jonathan are trying to do, but always coming through in the end like the trusted pal and genuinely caring soul that he is. Mark's methodology may be different than Jonathan's, but his intent is always the same.

Some standout episodes from this season include:

• "Highway to Heaven" (parts 1 & 2)
In these pilot episodes, Jonathan is working in a retirement home as a handyman, where he encounters Mark, who is related to one of Jonathan's colleagues. This episode establishes the grudging friendship between the two men.

• "The Brightest Star"
Jonathan and Mark help a bratty, über-famous child star who is having problems at home, thanks to her pushy stage parents' troubled marriage. (Carrie Wells, who plays the child star, also did a remarkable turn in a 1985 television remake of the classic horror film The Bad Seed.)

• "Hotel of Dreams"
A fun episode about a rich young man who prefers keeping company with livestock to helping his father run a successful urban hotel. When the young man leaves the farm behind and becomes more involved in the hotel business (with Jonathan and Mark as newly hired bellhops, naturally!), he finds himself in a love triangle with a sweet cleaning lady and a snobbish former classmate. Mark also helps a young boy living in the hotel connect with his absent, overworked father.

• "Song of the Wild West"
A teenage girl possesses a remarkable singing talent, but her overprotective single father fails to reveal the truth to her: that her mentor and idol, a washed-up country singer, is actually the girl's natural mother.

Highway to Heaven is part of a dying breed of family dramas that parents can watch with their children without having to worry about nudity, foul language, or adult situations too mature for young children. Add into it the bittersweet fact that both lead actors, already so beloved by the world as Charles Ingalls and the gruff Mr. Edwards, are now long deceased, and watching Highway to Heaven in the present day is a welcome touch of nostalgia.

As a DVD release, this collection is very, very well done. Any Michael Landon fan will savor the generous documentary, something that is rare on TV releases. Fans of Highway to Heaven are fortunate that the entire season is being released; many shows—such as another, more recent family drama, Providence—are only released as special collections, meaning that some episodes do not make it to DVD. The picture and sound quality on this release, however, leave much to be desired, because they are no improvement over what one would expect from a TV broadcast.

TV Land reruns Highway to Heaven, but as with any rerun, there are commercials to deal with, as well as the annoying fact that not all episodes in a season make it to air for whatever reason. I wasted an entire summer watching TV Land patiently, waiting for the episode of Fantasy Island where Annette Funicello's ventriloquist dummy comes to life and starts controlling her, and they kept skipping over that episode! It's enough to drive a cheesy-'70s-television lover insane!

Speaking of Fantasy Island (come on, how many times do you hear that in a review these days?), I contend that Highway to Heaven follows a classic TV formula that works every time. Well, at least most of the time. Because Jonathan and Mark travel from town to town, they are sure to run into diverse people and situations they can influence. It worked for The Love Boat, which welcomed new "passengers" on each "voyage." It worked for Mr. Roarke and Tattoo on Fantasy Island ("Smiles, everyone! Smiles!"). And Highway to Heaven wasn't even created by Aaron Spelling! Shows that allow the main characters to interact with guest stars each week keep the formula fresh…look at Murder, She Wrote, and even today's Las Vegas.

Highway to Heaven is no exception, and it is great fun to watch early footage of actors like Helen Hunt (As Good as it Gets) in the 2-part episode "Thoroughbreds," who was transitioning from prolific child actress to leading lady. Another interesting trivia fact from this particular season is that Hunt and Michele Greene, who is the main character in the episode "Song of the West," played friends in one of the best, so-bad-it's-good TV movies ever, The Miracle of Kathy Miller, where Hunt plays an aspiring long-distance runner who is sidelined (temporarily) by a nasty car accident.

Although Season One lays a firm groundwork for the episodes to come, this show truly hit its stride in the second season, as many shows do, with one of its signature episodes that many fans remember to this day: Jonathan helps an overweight girl who suffers some pretty graphic and brutal humiliation at the hands of her classmates. Season Two is scheduled to be released at the end of August, 2005.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Is it a pun to mention that this show does preach quite a bit? The moralizing is heavy-handed; subtlety is not this show's, or Michael Landon's, strong suit. Viewers may find it redundant that there is a great deal of terminal illness and tragedy in many of the episodes; cancer, paralysis, leukemia, car accidents, illiteracy, more paralysis…But, obviously, if the characters were all doing well, they would most likely find Jonathan's and Mark's looming presence even more annoying than they already do!

Closing Statement

Whether you are a fan of the show or have yet to discover this mid-'80s gem, give Highway to Heaven: Season One a try. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the straightforward stories. 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.

The Verdict

Given the subject matter of the show, Judge Worrell defers to her Higher Power on this one. But for the mortals on earth, it's pretty good stuff that has stood the test of time.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 65
Audio: 65
Extras: 90
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 1200 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• All Ages
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Feature Length Documentary: "Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love"
• Outtakes
• Text Biographies of Michael Landon and Victor French

Accomplices

• IMDb








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