It’s Not Easy Being Green:
Two Seasons Of The Incredible Hulk TV Series
Between the time The Hulk was a popular comic book character and a less-than popular movie, The Hulk was a wonderfully entertaining television series.
Seasons three and four of The Incredible Hulk TV series are currently available on DVD. The third season DVD even features a brief preview of the new Incredible Hulk movie — or as many Hulk fans like to call the new film, “Hulk II — The Apology.” In the brief movie preview, Incredible Hulk film star Edward Norton and the film’s producers mention the basic premise of the TV series — a scientist on the run, trying to find a cure for becoming a big green monster — will be an important theme of the new movie. In fact, most of movie preview features Edward Norton’s character on the run from the military.
In The Incredible Hulk television series, the scientist, called David Banner (he’s Bruce Banner in the comics and in the new movie) was not on the run from the military, but from an investigative reporter working for a national tabloid.
The TV series (1978-82) was created back in that magical era when investigative reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein or Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes were actually respected for uncovering deception and presenting the American public with the truth. These days the investigative reporter seems a quaint, old-fashioned idea like children having a summer lemonade stand or Congress actually upholding The Bill Of Rights.
By the third season of The Incredible Hulk, Bill Bixby (who played the ever-tormented Dr. David Banner), Lou Ferrigno (as a grunting Hulk who never actually hit anyone), and Jack Colvin (as investigative reporter Jack McGee) had all settled comfortably into their roles.
The breakdown of a typical Hulk TV episode was simple: David Banner is trying to find a cure for changing into a mean, green, demolition machine called “The Hulk” by the press. As Banner quietly works toward a cure, he encounters some trouble that changes him into The Hulk whenever he is angry or afraid. The Hulk, who was not as strong as his comic-book counterpart, would dispatch those who annoyed Banner by picking them up and chucking them like a baseball. After the Hulk appears, the investigative reporter shows up chasing the latest “Hulk-sighting” and tries to find the creature. The reporter thinks The Hulk killed David Banner and Banner wants to maintain that deception until he can eliminate his unique medical condition. Banner eludes the reporter and is seen just before the closing credits hitchhiking to another town, while the show’s theme song “The Lonely Man” echoes sadly in the background.
From this simple premise, there were some impressive episodes. One of my favorite season-three episodes was called “My Favorite Magician.” The guest star was Ray Walston, who played an ill, less-than-impressive stage magician called Jasper The Great. By season three the show was confident enough to throw in some humor and there is a great semi-slapstick sequence that features the Hulk flinging wedding guests and throwing a hapless groom into a towering wedding cake. But the coolest part of this episode was reuniting Bixby and Walston who had starred together in the TV series My Favorite Martian a decade earlier (1963-66). To add an extra bonus joke, the series Bixby starred in just before The Incredible Hulk was called The Magician (1973-1974).
Other memorable third season episodes include:
Homecoming — This is one is sort of like watching an episode of The Waltons where the Hulk shows up. Banner visits his father and sister for Thanksgiving, works to keep a crooked real estate developer from seizing the family farm, tries to save the crops from some form of blight, and must resolve an old conflict with his dad.
The Broken Image — Honoring a long television tradition that includes series as diverse as Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island, inevitably, in ANY TV series that lasts more than one season, a person will have a conflict with someone who looks exactly like them! In this episode, Banner is pursued by both cops and criminals due to mistaken identity. It seems that Banner looks exactly like a small-time crook named Mike Cassidy. As an extra complication, when McGee discovers Cassidy he begins to think Banner may still be alive.
A Rock And A Hard Place — Banner is forced to become an FBI informant against a gang of thieves because the FBI is aware Banner is still alive. Yet, Banner can’t help the FBI because one of the thieves knows he’s the Hulk. So Banner has to play both sides of the law against each other.
The fourth aeason of The Incredible Hulk featured some of the best episodes of the entire series. In fact, if you can only watch one season of Hulk episodes, these are the shows you’ll probably most want to see.
My personal favorite from the fourth season is called The First, a two-part episode where The Hulk actually finds a worthy adversary. Banner tries to rediscover the work of a scientist who was conducting solar radiation experiments similar to Banner’s gamma radiation experiments. He discovers the scientist was able to cure his lab assistant from a terminal medical condition in the 1950s — but the “side effect” was the assistant changed into a green creature much like The Hulk. However, the scientist found a cure for the Hulk-like condition and stopped his assistant from becoming a monster.
When Banner begins to recreate the experiments, the assistant — a small arthritic guy who has been the target of local bullies for decades — uses Banners efforts to become the creature again. This creature is not as buff as the Hulk (the creature is played by actor Dick Durrock who later played Swamp Thing and was obviously not the body builder Lou Ferrigno was), but he is tall, has fangs, and has a predisposition for murder that The Hulk lacks.
The assistant finds that changing into the creature again cures his arthritis and as an added bonus, allows him to beat people to death who bully him. Naturally, Banner tries to use what is left of the original “monster cure” serum to save both himself and the assistant — who doesn’t particularly want to be saved.
Season four is just full of great Hulk episodes, but some of the best from that season include:
Prometheus — This two-part episode is a favorite of series fans and the story contains elements that would appeal to fans of the comic book. Exposure from a meteor locks Banner midway in his transformation, leaving him a creature that is half Banner/half Hulk. This creature is then captured by a military group called Prometheus, who think the creature is an alien from another world. It’s interesting to see the Banner/Hulk personalities both meshing and conflicting.
Dark Side — Banner’s experiment to control the Hulk backfires and creates a more dangerous and violent Hulk — a Hulk that may actually be able to kill. Ferrigno gets to do some serious mayhem in this episode, instead of playing the Hulk as a confused, sympathetic monster.
King Of Beach — Ferrigno actually gets to show his acting chops in this episode where he plays a restaurant owner/bodybuilder who enters a body building contest to save his business. Unfortunately, some of the other contestants are sleazebags and trouble looms. This is a cool episode because it gave Ferrigno something to do other than just pose and grunt.
The Harder They Fall — Banner is paralyzed from the waist down in a car wreck. While worrying that he may never walk again — making it hard to find a cure and elude that pesky reporter — Banner must also rely on the Hulk to stop a bank robbery.
In many ways, The Incredible Hulk was probably the best comic-book based TV series until Smallville. Without using modern computer-generated images, green-screen special effects, or even a lavish production budget, The Incredible Hulk managed to entertain TV viewers for five seasons and several TV movies after the series was cancelled. The series offered something that even the newest FX technology can’t create — they gave the Hulk a heart. The TV series made the big green guy a sad, misunderstood creature stuck in a world that didn’t understand him. The new movie may make the Hulk more terrifying, but it will be difficult to make the Hulk as sympathetic and sad as he was portrayed in the classic TV series.