When the 1978 version of The Incredible Hulk hit the airwaves, I was still a kid. Technically, I wasn't even in grade-school yet. But I remember watching the re-runs when I was in 3rd grade.
So when I came across The Incredible Hulk, from 1978 on Netflix a while back I thought it'd be a fun to watch an episode and laugh at how bad it was. I was feeling somewhat nostalgic, but had low expectations.
I chose the pilot episode to start with, and then watched an episode from each of the following seasons. I've found that often times a show is best in its 1st or 2nd season, and the pilot episode is often quite different from the rest.
In this, The Incredible Hulk was no different. However, I was quite simply blown away by the pilot episode and to watch more.
The tone and quality was completely different than I was expecting. It was a compelling storyline, and the concept was treated as serious science fiction.
I later read that Ken Johnson (the producer) wanted to treat the concept as a serious one, and eschew the comic book theatrics. It was an interesting idea and not just to me, but also to the series star, Bill Bixby.
Bixby and Johnson, united in art.
According to the IMDB entry on The Incredible Hulk (1978):
"Although he (Bill Bixby) initially declined the part of Dr. David Banner in 'The Incredible Hulk' because of its comic book origins, on reading Kenneth Johnson's script for the pilot episode, he was persuaded to change his mind (and agreed to remain involved with the series for as long as Johnson was to be involved). "
The result of this decision is, what I feel, to be one of the more interesting interpretations of Stan Lee's comic book creations: The Incredible Hulk.
Spawned from a successful television movie (which was released as a theatrical film in Europe) The Incredible Hulk was a successful television series which ran on CBS beginning in the Spring of 1978 and continuing for about 5 seasons.
The series became an international hit and its catchphrase, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry", lives on today in merchandise and modern retellings of The Incredible Hulk - Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk, and the 2008 movie.
Made for TV Movies
The 1978 version of The Incredible Hulk also spawned 3 full length television movies at the end of the 1980s: The Incredible Hulk Returns (1987), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk(1988) and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990).
The Trial of the Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk Returns
The Death of the Incredible Hulk
The Lonely Man, piano theme
Gems among the mundane
As I continued watching the episodes, I felt like a television archaeologist. I was unearthing something from the past, both my personal past and television's past. Sometimes what I unearthed was little more than a remnant of common pottery like so many others already unearthed; uninteresting and undistinguished. But sometimes, I found a real gem.
I still found most episodes enjoyable, if only for the wow factor of scenes from a bygone age. The cars that would roll by, the sodas for sale, the hairstyles and clothing were all scenes from my youth. And that theme! From the moment I heard the first poignant notes of The Lonely Man piano theme, a rush of memories came flooding back.
Yes, many episode are formulaic, but there are some great episodes that work well despite the formula. And besides, few series last as long as The Incredible Hulk without falling into some predictable formula - especially back in the late 1970s and early 80's.
Behold! David operates an artifact from an ancient society!
I don't want to give you the impression that The Incredible Hulk is only worth watching as a trip down memory lane. It's not. Many of the episodes still hold up quite well, and still make for excellent drama.
Make no mistake - this is not The Incredible Hulk of Hollywood. This series was a look at the story of The Incredible Hulk as serious science fiction, more than comic book action/adventure.
From the start, Kenneth Johnson and Bill Bixby sought to portray what it might be like if The Incredible Hulk was real. They created a believable premise of David Banner, physician and scientist, who accidentally overdoses on Gamma rays in an impatient pursuit of science. In doing so, they also crafted a sympathetic character who then has to deal with the repercussions of his overdose in the real world.
The result is a version of The Incredible Hulk in the form of a classic Greek tragedy.
11 Standout episodes that are still good today
I've chosen what I believe to be the 11 best episodes of the original series. These are episodes that either focus on the core of the story, David Banner - doctor, scientist - trying to un-do the effects of his gamma radiation overdose, or they're just excellent stories about people and relationships.
Many other episodes largely feature David as a hapless victim. A cliched pacifist scientist, set up for a fall when some local rednecks or bullies decide they don't like him.
- Of Guilt, Models and Murder
- Earthquakes Happen
- The Lottery
- The Psychic
- Dark Side
- The Harder They Fall
I want to leave you with one final thought, before I head off to review each of the episodes on the list above.
Bill Bixby once said in an interview in the New York Post, in 1978, that:
“We’re approaching this very seriously. I knew when I took it that the title would be misleading. But it’s a quality show. I feel if people would watch one episode it would take away any doubts. Anyone who knows my work, I ask them to trust me in this venture. I really believe in it.”
When I watched the series as a kid, I looked forward to the moments when Lou Ferrigno's Hulk was on screen. I never realized the depth of character and story that Bixby's portrayal as Dr. David Banner brought to the show. Why would I? I was a kid, after all. But I think that's a big part of the success of the show. Kids loved the Hulk, and adults had thoughtful, and compelling stories to draw them in.
I hope you enjoyed this labor of love, and may decide to give the show an hour or two of your time. You never know, you may make a few discoveries of your own...
Stan Lee discusses "The Incredible Hulk" TV series
NOTE: Stan Lee references Bruce Banner in place of David Banner because the original character was named Bruce Banner. Ken Johnson changed the name to David for the television series in honor of Johnson's son, David.
The Incredible Hulk Intro (1978)
Joe on July 29, 2016:
But "The Lottery" does?....
M. Beck (author) from Parts Unknown on May 20, 2015:
I think that "A Child in Need " is a different creature. It's fine melodrama for the period and tackles a heavy topic, but it didn't feel like a Hulk episode. I admire Bixby and the team for making it, but I don't think it brings much to the table in terms of the Hulk story and its themes.
David on May 16, 2015:
you forgot to mention the episode " A Child In Need" which is a gem in itself