Currently Watching: Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk
June 25, 2013
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The thing that is most striking to me about the old Incredible Hulk show is that for any given episode, they have maybe about five minutes of special effects for the whole thing. That’s it. How on earth do they fill up the rest of the time…? Well, everything else is about pacing things up to that point with whatever they had on hand: cars to wreck, futuristic science equipment, and attractive seventies women.
You have to wonder how the behind the scenes conversations went, really. I can imagine someone getting the gig and being all excited about the chance to do the Incredible Hulk for TV and then… slowly realizing just how restrictive the medium would be. There could be no titanic battles between the Hulk and the Silver Surfer. There couldn’t even be a crazed General Ross using tanks and jets to hunt down the Hulk in the desert. No, Ross gets replaced by… a pesky tabloid journalist?!
Ultimately, the show has very little to do with comic books or power fantasies or even strength. It’s about loneliness and pain. It’s about a guy that’s been to his own funeral wandering from town to town… and every time he starts again to make new relationships and connections, events inevitably conspire to bring out the Hulk… and then he wakes up and it’s all gone.
The signature scene of this series is not the classic transformation sequence. No, it’s the picture of Bill Bixby wandering down a road, trying to hitch a ride: a guy with nowhere to go… and a wake of unintended destruction behind him. This… with a very minimal, melodramatically sad piano score tinkling away. That’s what the Incredible Hulk is. And whatever tragic pain it is that I carry with me on the long defeat that is my life… I can at least take comfort in the fact that this is going to be left alone: there will be no skanky amped up reboot of this series. One corner of my childhood is still safe from those meddling money grubbing executive types….
(Although… if they could just get Benedict Cumberbatch to play Dr. David Banner….)
Update: The people who put the show together actually seemed to have hated the comics and wanted to be taken seriously for tackling important issues like child abuse and alcoholism. See here for a rare Us magazine article from the early days of the show.