Have Cheetah,Will View #400 – “Airwolf” The Complete Series *(1984)

Its 11:10 pm
cold/dark/Death Squad,baby!

 

 

 

   400 reviews,how about that?? The cheetah and I have finally hit the 400 mark. Did I think we would actually be doing 400 reviews when we started,hell no….I thought maybe we would get to 100 or else just review something when we felt like it. I never intended for the blog to become a review blog and I’m very glad that it isn’t. I think its actually pretty quirky,obscure indie and retro films,cool interviews,some poetry and even some personal reflection once in a while. All in all,not a bad ride and I’m having a fun time doing it.

millcreek
I have been saving my 400th review for a TV show I loved when it came out in 1984 on CBS and that is “Airwolf” which starred Jan-Michael Vincent,Alex Cord and Ernest Borgnine with Jean Bruce Scott joining the show in its second season.
I like to thank our pals at Mill Creek Entertainment for hooking the cheetah and I up with this boxed set. And I have to agree,”Aircheetah” would have been a better title…..but what is done is done.

    The show was created by Donald P. Bellisario,who along with Stephen Bochco and Stephen J. Cannell,was pretty much all the great action drama shows of the 70s and into the 1990s.
Airwolf debuted on CBS on 22 Jan 1984. The basic plot was that crack test pilot Stringfellow Hawke (Vincent) and his friend/father figure Dominic Santini (Borgnine) were asked to recover an advanced combat helicopter called “Airwolf” which had been stolen by its creator,Moffatt. 

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Michael Coldwater-Briggs aka Archangel (Cord) who was badly wounded when Moffatt stole the copter has a history with String when they both worked for an elite US government intel group called “The Firm”. He comes to ask for String and Dom’s help and they begrudgingly give it. They manage to recover Airwolf but at great cost to both String and Archangel. 

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Instead of returning the helicopter,String hides it,he wants The Firm’s help in finding and bringing home his missing brother Saint John who was captured in Vietnam.  Instead of being upset Archangel agrees but he asks that String use Airwolf on cases of national security and while he’ll publicly be “looking” for Airwolf,The Firm will be actually helping them by supplying logistics,weapons and tech support.
Each week String and Dom would be either asked by Archangel for help or stumble across someone in trouble which almost always involved Airwolf facing off against another aircraft. 

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While the first season was as a mid-season replacement and only featured 12 episodes including its 2 hour pilot episode,seasons 2 and 3 were full seasons of 22 episodes. The network also asked for a female presence and Jean Bruce Scott joined the cast in season two.
Now it had been decades since I had last watched the series and I remember that CBS had cancelled the show because of failing ratings and combined with the million dollar an episode costs,it was deemed too expensive to keep on the air.

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Of course now we know that Vincent’s addiction also played a huge role in the show getting the axe. A fourth season was filmed but it was poorly made and the budget of the show was so low it couldn’t afford to show any new shots of Airwolf in flight and depended on recycled shots from the first three seasons. The fourth season,which aired on the USA Network actually got an 24 episode order so the show could be sold in syndication.
In looking back at “Airwolf” after all these years,I will say that while the acting and a pretty good roster of guest stars held up,the effects looked obsolete even the show aired. There were far too many recycled/stock shots used and it hurts the action. The various planes and choppers that Airwolf had to face on a weekly basis always seemed to have weapons way beyond what they could legitimately carry and still conduct a dogfight. You never felt String was in any real trouble unless faced with a jet fighter,only then did the action put you on the edge of the couch.
“Airwolf” was a violent program,I mean I knew the bad guys always got dealt with but holy crow,I doubt any show with only 55 episodes had heroes who killed as many baddies as Airwolf did!! String and Dom even attacked and sank a Russian nuclear submarine and I always wondered how Archangel was able to cover THAT up!

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The main cast was very strong and the chemistry between Vincent,Borgnine and Cord was great. Scott felt forced and just really seemed to be there while the real female star power was handled by the lovely Deborah Pratt who played Archangel’s assistant. She also was married at the time to Bellisario and when he left the show,Marella was written out as well which was a real shame. 

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The back and forth between the three leads is a lot of fun to watch. Dom’s father figure often clashes with Archangel’s because of the past pain The Firm has caused String,while String knows just how hard Archangel really does care about both him and his missing brother. Dom and String sometimes clash as well when Dom thinks String is pushing himself or Airwolf too hard. The acting stayed well throughout the three seasons that Vincent,Cord and Borgnine were the leads.

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I think one of the reasons that ratings may have started to tail off was because of the limited amount of stories that the show could produce. After all there are only so many spies,terrorists and third world countries you can show before the show becomes stale. In looking back at the episodes,I think it would have helped if the writers had taken Dom and String away from the helicopter a little more.  Having the team solve some more ordinary cases and without the high body count may have extended the series a little longer with the cast,CBS may have stepped in to try and get Vincent’s alcoholism treated…..
My five favorite episodes of my rewatch were as follows:

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“Shadow of the Hawke” This was the pilot episode and it really established the show extremely well. All three main actors were really quite good and Vincent was allowed to show Stringfellow’s  lethal side when the man who created Airwolf not only steals it but also kills the The Firm’s agent that Archangel sent in to recover it.
Let’s just say that they are STILL looking for enough remains to fill a thimble.
Australian director David Hemmings played Dr. Moffett,the man behind the machine.

“And They Are Us” When Dom and String are asked for help in trying to keep the peace in a small African country,they run across String’s former commander who has become a mercenary and is the leader of the rebel’s elite gunship squadron.
String tries to help his former friend regain the honor he once had….Christopher Stone,who guest starred on just about everything played String’s former commander.

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“Severeance Pay” Comedian Arte Johnson does a rare dramatic turn as he plays Larry Mason who has worked for The Firm for over 20 years as a “reader”. When he and friend retire,they find out that because they were hiredas contractors only,they are not entitled to any benefits from the US government. His friend dies because of the news and Larry Mason wants some answers and to warn The Firm that they have a high ranking Russian mole sharing intel. 

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“Mind of the Machine” Archangel asks String and Dom to fly a Airwolf flight simulator for Dr. Robert Winchester (David Carradine) who helped create the helicopter. But a KGB agent has an different agenda.

“The Horn of Plenty”  One of the most infamous and best “heavies”,Richard Lynch stars as a deadly master criminal who has designs on Airwolf and kidnaps Stringfellow and threatens to kill him if Airwolf isn’t delivered. Dom and Archangel come up with a rescue plan but when String interferes with it,questions are raised.

Now you’re probably wondering where can you get your own copy of “Airwolf” and I’m happy to tell you that you can go to the Mill Creek Entertainment website and order it directly from them.
The complete series,including the really bad fourth season is included. Sadly there are no special features included in this set.
I really liked Jan-Michael Vincent as an actor and it was really sad to see the way his life went to shit before he died last year at age 73. I hope he found the peace in the afterlife that he didn’t find here.

The cheetah and I both gave “Airwolf” two big thumbs/two paws and a Sunburst straight up. And here is a little secret,when I first went online in the 90s,I often used the name “Archangel” as a screen name.  This was because I thought Alex Cord was such a badass on the show…..
You can read more about the Airwolf helicopter by going here.

Comments are welcome……..so please feel free to drop one. 

6 thoughts on “Have Cheetah,Will View #400 – “Airwolf” The Complete Series *(1984)

  1. Congrats, Mr. 400. Impressive!
    Another show we were captioning for a while. It was fun, for sure, but I think you’re right about the story lines going stale after a while and no thinking “out of the box” was happening.
    Very sad about Jan Michael Vincent’s life of drugs and alcohol. I looked him up to see if there were any details about his early life that might have led to this. One weird thing: a lot of people in his families (men) were bank robbers. Maybe that doesn’t help one’s mental state consciously or unconsciously. And it didn’t help that his father was an alcoholic. Success–big or small–obviously does not kill the demons inside us….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!!
      I admit,watching the show was really bittersweet for me because of the choices Vincent made in his life,he should have had a long and fruitful life and career and its disheartening to see him piss it away. But he did leave us some body of work and for that,I’m grateful to rediscover it all over again.

      Like

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