January 7, 2012

Street Hawk, episode 9: "Hot Target"

In the desert, a suited man in a limo meets a suited Charles Napier in a helicopter. The suited Charles Napier (Charles Napier) is John Slade, and he's all set to sell the other man an anti-tank laser weapon, but the buyer balks and backs out of the deal when Slade kicks the price up. When the buyer threatens to spread word to other potential buyers that Slade doesn't stick to his word, Slade uses the laser to blow the man and his car to bits. Jesse, out on a test run with Street Hawk, witnesses the explosion and follows the helicopter. Street Hawk gets close enough to record the chopper's ID numbers, but loses it when the road ends at a sharp cliff.

At the Command Center, Norman matches the ID to Marpell Industries, where he has a contact in the form of an old flame named Mona Williams (Joanna Kerns). While Jesse heads to work, where he finds out he has just one day to put together a speech honoring Altobelli at an awards luncheon, Norman builds up the courage to call Mona and arrange a meeting.

Jesse and he arrive at Marpell Industries where Mona tells them CEO Mr. Marpell has pulled a Howard Hughes, locking himself in his highly secure suite, leaving all operations under the oversight of John Slade and his security staff. Mona had been developing a surgical laser, but all her funds where shifted by Slade to the anti-tank weapon. Jesse tries to sneak up to Mr. Marpell's penthouse, but he's nabbed and Norman and he are thrown from the premises. When the two drive off, Norman finds his brakes have been cut, and they jump from his station wagon just before it sails off a cliff and goes splat.

Jesse works on his speech with Rachel while Norman pours through computer files, linking Slade with Gene Frankfort, an ex-major suspected of arms dealing. When he finds a picture, Norman recognizes Frankfort as Costa, one of Slade's security heads. Sneaking back into Marpell Industries with the hopes of rescuing Mona, Norman is discovered by Frankfort, then rescued when Mona takes a beaker to the man's head. She digs out Frankfort's keys, refusing to leave unless she takes Mr. Marpell with her. They make their way up to the penthouse where they discover all of Mr. Marpell's orders have come from recordings of his voice. Slade bursts in and confirms Mr. Marpell is dead. When Norman reveals he's a federal agent, Slade has the two tied up until later. But not before Norman uses a computer to get a message out to Jesse.

Jesse and Rachel arrive at the awards luncheon, only for him to skip out after getting the page from Norman. Jesse suits up at the Command Center and races out, arriving soon after Norman and Mona free themselves with her surgical laser. Slade and his guards start chasing everyone around, Street Hawk taking out the jeeps of thugs and Slade blowing stuff up with the laser. Street Hawk eventually takes Slade out and races off as the police arrive.

As the dust settles, Norman and Mona decide to hook up. At the awards luncheon, Jesse shows up just in time to deliver his speech.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Commander. What can I say that hasn't already been said?........... Skipper! What a guy!"


"So, what's the joke?"

"Oh, uh, the joke. There's these two hookers and a police commander--"

"Jesse! The Mayor and his wife are going to be there."

"Okay, okay. There's one hooker and this police commander--"
Now, before Tony even mentions White Guys in Suits, I have to exclaim that one of those men is Charles Napier, and you could dress Charles Napier in a little schoolgirl uniform with floppy clown shoes and he'll still be Charles Napier, a manly man so manly he can shatter an engine block with his jawline. And, hey, I really like his storyline, too, as he's a corrupt security head who killed his company's CEO and secretly runs the whole joint by concocting a tale of the dead man actually just being a Howard Hughes recluse. If I have one issue, it's that the company can in no way realistically sustain itself with its current business model as, once you've sold off a few anti-tank lasers, they'll be broken down, reverse-engineered, and mass produced for armies all over the globe inside of a year. And then there's the growing doubts among the employees over unanswered questions, shifted funds, or sudden disappearances. Hell, they go so far as to cut the break lines of two random dudes, so who knows how many of their own people they've bumped off. The story is missing the looming revelations of this, the concept that Slade and his grunts are on the verge of cutting and running and burning the whole place down behind them to hide any evidence that could hunt them down.

And then there's the laser. Tony, you've finally got a superweapon that's more than a match for Street Hawk, an easily transportable high powered beam that blows the shit out of vehicles with a single quick zap. Surely, this is a force to be reckoned with. Sadly, we never actually see it used against Street Hawk. In the opening scene, it's packed up and in the air by the time Jesse arrives on his bike. In the big climax, Slade is chasing Norman around with the laser instead of focusing his attention on Street Hawk, and just as he's finally swinging it around to our hero on wheels, he's getting one of those wheels straight to his jaw (likely with some serious damage to its rim - this is Napier's jaw, after all) and the threat is quickly neutralized with a rocket. A rocket that doesn't kill the person standing right next to the engulfing explosion of the laser in what really should have been another tally on my Body Count checklist.

So, yeah. There's a few problems. The story is built on a solid foundation and is never entirely undone, but it does fumble a bit in the final act. Yet I don't entirely care because we get a plot all about Norman. We've seen him fumble around back when he fell madly in puppy dog love with Cybill Danning's cleavage, but his relationship with Mona is much more gripping because their connection is on an emotional and intellectual level, as well as physical, but it has the baggage of them breaking things offs because they didn't want to endanger their individual career paths. Thus, Norman's futzing isn't just about reconnecting with the hot lady he used to party do math with, but a genuine anxiety about revisiting an ultimately painful chapter from his past and the fear that they'll once again go their separate ways once the mission is complete.

And as the cards fall and they find themselves captured by the enemy, you can see the connection and chemistry between these two as they bounce ideas off one another and work together to escape, up to the part where he forces her under a car so he can draw Slade's fire and maybe save her live by sacrificing his own. In the end, these two kiss, fully connected once again. Their careers are still there, but both are willing to overlook them for the moment so they can take in one another. I don't know if it was ever meant to last as Joanna Kerns doesn't appear in any of the remaining four episodes, or if she was intended to return again should the series pick up the second half of the season, but I'm hoping nothing comes along to contradict this reunion because I'd like to believe Norman actually got the girl, while Jesse is still slipping from fling to fling.

And Jesse? Jesse suddenly finds himself the comic relief sidekick. He's Norman's wingman, getting a laugh out of his friend's squirming crush and throwing in a punchline when the car goes off the cliff. During the big climax, sure, he ultimately saves the day, but he's dicking around with guards in jeeps while Norman is the true target of Slade and the anti-tank laser. Oh, and there's this great bit where Jesse is at the Command Center, doing his darndest to interpret the complex controls of Norman's computer console, his friend potentially dying while he's trying to open the damn door. And then there's Jesse's B-plot with the speech. Rachel and Altobelli are once again wasted, and the whole thing is there for no other reason than to end the show on a freeze frame of Jesse grinning like an idiot with two thumbs way up.

One random thought that's very important:
  • Editors, be aware of your stock footage. Immediately after Norman's station wagon sails off the cliff and smooshes into a pancake on the stone below, we cut to an establishing shot of the Command Center, where Norman's station wagon, fully intact, is parked in its usual spot in front of Jesse's car. Major slipup.
This episode has a strong plot, a strong villain, a strong weapon, a strong romance, a strong part for the second fiddle character to play as the lead himself takes a turn as second fiddle, but it has just enough flaws to keep it from elevating to the level of true perfection.


William Shakespeare once said of Charles Napier, “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus; and we petty men walk under his huge legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.” Needless to say, Noel, any concern I had about the attire of our villain went out the window the minute I realized it was wrapped around the rock-hewn form of Mr. Napier.

I have a few issues with this episode, chief among them is credibility. Asking us to believe that our heroes could actually defeat Charles Napier is bad enough. Asking us to believe that they could defeat Charles Napier armed with a B.A.L. (Big Ass Laser)? Come on! That’s like spotting Michael Jordan a “P” in a game of Pig. Being serious for a moment, yes, our villain is finally armed with a super-weapon instead of a Ponzi scheme, but, as Noel said, it’s never used against Street Hawk. You go through all the trouble of building this prop and, instead of matching it techno y techno vs. the show’s super-bike, you use it to chase an unarmed scientist through a parking lot? Look, it’s a great moment where Norman is allowed to get his hero on, but it’s a wasted opportunity to merely have Street Hawk show up and sucker punch Napier and his B.A.L. without a high speed shootout first. Maybe even have it inflict severe damage to Street Hawk so that Jesse - or, better yet, Norman - has to defeat the bad guy with brains instead of bombs. It’s a frustrating trait with this series that I call “Microwaving the Steak”, wherein the show takes good ingredients and improperly cooks them. Last week, it was the heist of a cache of money aboard a doomed ship by a team of mercenaries that oh by the way forgot to ever actually put the ship in harm’s way and whose said mercenaries looked like a Village People tribute band. This week, it’s the super-laser that could end up in the wrong hands, only we never see those hands as the weapon never makes it off the grounds of the laboratory to threaten the city or the world at large, the botched final showdown which is the frustration cherry on the disappointment sundae. Street Hawk is, in so many ways, superior to fellow 80s super vehicle series Knight Rider, but the latter did a far better job in this department with the likes of G.O.L.I.A.T.H. and K.A.R.R. When it came to epic showdowns and blowing shit up, you just couldn’t beat Knight Rider . If you could somehow fuse the two into some sort of unholy Frankenshow... the mind boggles.

I’ve got a few other minor quibbles about this episode - Hyper-thrust on rocky terrain? No. Just... no. And why would Altobelli choose Jesse of all people to introduce him as “Commander of the Year”? - But it’s nothing fatal thanks to one thing: The Napier Factor. After weeks of forgettable foes, character and actor alike, we finally get someone with a real presence. Napier’s Slade is woefully underdeveloped, but the man creates more menace with a mere glance than all of the previous villains combined. I’m still not convinced the laser beam wasn’t shooting out of Napier’s eyes and not the gun. Also there’s Joanna Kerns. I can’t recall ever seeing her outside of her role as the too-hot-for-Alan-Thicke Mom on Growing Pains, but unlike the parade of vapid and forgettable “Girls of the Week” to this point (Sybill Danning excluded), Kerns comes across as a real person and not a pretty girl reading notes cribbed on her hand. I’ve felt that Smith, at times, and particularly Regalbutto, have had to “act down” to the female guest stars, but you just sense that there’s a professional trust between Regalbutto and Kerns and, as a result, their performances feel authentic rather than stagy. And the real treat is getting to see Norman front and center. Noel called Jesse Norman’s wingman in this episode, which is a perfect description, and much to Smith’s credit, he seems to relish it, giving perhaps his loosest and most charming performance yet.

I’ve got my own B.A.L. (Big ass list):
  • The character name of the would be buyer at the beginning of the episode is “Alfred Molina”. I kid you not.
  • We’re introduced to the Street Hawk beeper for the first time. Before, you had to play phone tag if you wanted to get a hold of Jesse, with Rachel often taking the message (sadly, that's usually her only meaningful contribution to episodes), so someone finally decided it might be a good idea if the government agent who rides a hi-tech motorcycle was outfitted with the kind of technology available to even the lowliest drug dealers of the era.
  • I’m starting to wish I’d kept a “Cheesy 80s Freeze Frame Ending” count, which would undoubtedly be at nine by this point.
For the second week in a row, the series takes another step, albeit a shaky one, away from the standard WGIS plot. The questionable execution is frustrating, but it still gets enough of the little things right to make it a winner. Well, not a winner-winner. More of an under-8 soccer, "everybody gets a juice box and an orange slice" winner.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "Murder is a Novel Idea".

If you'd like to watch along with us, the entire series is available in a DVD set which can be purchased through Amazon US, Amazon CA, or Amazon UK.


NoelCT said...

...yes, our villain is finally armed with a super-weapon instead of a Ponzi scheme...

That joke is perfect for Automan, but it doesn't apply to Street Hawk. Not a single one of the WGIS plots has revolved around money laundering or investment schemes. Not. A. One.

Maybe even have it inflict severe damage to Street Hawk so that Jesse - or, better yet, Norman - has to defeat the bad guy with brains instead of bombs.

Yes! Absolutely! Hell, have Street Hawk all shorted out and wrecked, Jesse at the mercy of the BAL, then Norman saves the day with Mona's occular laser, blinding Slade, who, in his shock, swings the BAL down to the jeep he's standing on and BOOM villain and weapon are blown sky high.

Tony Williams said...

That's a fair point, however "Ponzi scheme" has become my WGIS catch-all for any sub-standard threat posed by middle aged white men in business attire.

Hell, have Street Hawk all shorted out and wrecked, Jesse at the mercy of the BAL, then Norman saves the day with Mona's occular laser, blinding Slade, who, in his shock, swings the BAL down to the jeep he's standing on and BOOM villain and weapon are blown sky high.

Now you're talkin'!