Comfortable and Furious

Airwolf and Cheap Beer: A Journal, Episodes 1-4

Hello! It is time to watch a lot of “Airwolf” and drink some beer. Let’s start with some fun “Airwolf” facts:

  • Airwolf is a kinda-sorta “Magnum P.I.” spin off, in that “Magnum” had helicopters in it and the creator of both shows, Donald P. Bellisario, thought, “we should do a show that has even more helicopters in it” and, for this, was paid millions of dollars. True story.
  • Jan-Michael Vincent was the highest paid actor on television, or “TV,” pulling down $200,000 an episode. Even though “…wolf” wasn’t a major hit and wasn’t a JMV star vehicle, this salary was justified because he was so hot.
  • The primary reason I’ll be watching “Airwolf” with a few cheap beers instead of with some “Knight Rider” grade vodka is this video.
  • The real helicopter used for Airwolf was a Bell 222. After “Airwolf,” it was used as a medical helicopter in Germany, until it crashed and everyone on board died.
  • Reid Rondell, Jan-Michael Vincent’s stunt double, was killed during filming when his helicopter crashed.
  • Bellisario often gives his characters the same birthday he has!

For starters, I’ll be putting away a couple of bottles of Steel Reserve, which claims to be a “high gravity lager” or something, but is actually malt liquor. While I do enjoy finer beers, I need to save money to buy more rat traps and all of the beers below the dog piss line are pretty much interchangeable. Yeah, Bud tastes better than Steel City, but I don’t actually enjoy the taste of either product, so I look at it like toothpaste. All toothpaste tastes bad, so I buy the one that gets my teeth clean for the least amount of money.

Episode 1: Sweet Britches

Although all of “Airwolf” is readily available online, I skipped season one and will be starting with the second season. Lest you think that I take copping a buzz and watching “Airwolf” lightly, I’ll have you know that I did some preliminary research. Quote Wikipidia:

To increase ratings the studio wanted to add a female character which happened at the start of the second season in the form of feisty Caitlin O’Shannessy (Jean Bruce Scott) and for the series to move away from its quite dark and moody tales of international espionage into a more domestic and straight action-oriented affair. Airwolf became more streamlined, domestic, and self-contained. The moves by CBS ultimately proved unsuccessful, however, and production cost over-runs remained high.

That sounds pretty damn enticing. And I’ve paused the first episode literally eight seconds in because my decision has already been vindicated. In the first eight seconds of “Airwolf,” season 2 I’ve seen: 1) Airwolf 2) A crooked Southern sheriff 3) A LION and 4) a sniper. Yes, yes, it’s one of those 80s TV preview segments meant to keep you tuned in for the whole show and thus is something of a highlight reel. This does nothing to mitigate the fact that a crooked Southern sheriff and a lion are in the same episode of a show about a deadly helicopter. The intro isn’t even over yet and “Airwolf” has already mopped the floor with its approximate equivalents on contemporary TV, like “CSI.” Or I guess, “JAG.” I’ve only seen “JAG” one-time and don’t remember it very well. The story of how I came to actually watch an episode of “Jag” is a fascinating one, deserving of its own episode of “Airwolf,” but too personal to share.

So, the hick minions of the corrupt Southern Sheriff try to shoot down Airwolf with a shotgun and, when that fails, conclude that it’s a UFO. “It wuz al-li-ens sherrriff!” And yes, I’m still in the preview section. On to the opening credits.

Episode one is still pretty great at the 15-minute mark. String’s buddy has busted out of the evil Southern sheriff’s jail and summoned String for help. Like any good friend would, String takes his combat helicopter down to Texas, with his partner. In case you’ve forgotten, his partner is Dominic Santini, played by fucking Ernest Borgnine. There’s a scene of some cowboys on an African safari which is totally out of place with everything else so far, but I have a hunch that this is where the Lion comes in.

Best Evil Southern Sheriff line (spoken to a highway patrolwoman): Meter maid, you go sticking your butt in where it’s not wanted and it’ll get kicked, no matter how cute it is.

It’s better for the delivery, which stretches the sentence over about fifteen seconds of screen time. Also, now that I’m seeing it again, the Texan who thinks helicopters are UFOs is played by Tackleberry from Police Academy.

As it turns out, the cowboys are not on Safari in Africa, but on some private hunting preserve in Texas where you get $15,000 for shooting an ocelot. It’s never totally clear who is paying a fortune to illegally import large animals from Africa, then paying other people to shoot them, but Borgnine unwittingly parks Airwolf on the preserve, suddenly finds himself surround by lions, then interacts with them in a humorous fashion.

One thing that is quickly becoming apparent is that “Airwolf” is far darker than its contemporaries. For example, a pair of scenes runs like so. The evil sheriff has captured the sassy highway patrol lady and decides to have some of his cronies over to the police station to gang rape her. It’s implied in such a way that a child wouldn’t catch it, but it’s very clear to anybody old enough to know that a group of men taking turns with a woman doesn’t mean they are beating her up.

Sheriff: Bring the boys over, they’ll take that feistiness out of her.

Deputy: Do… you have to do that sheriff?

Sheriff: When you got a pack of hounds, you gotta throw them some meat once in a while.

So true. Subsequently, the guy who runs the hunting ground is chasing JMV with some rube who’s on a hunting trip and Borgnine flies past and flips over their jeep. The tourist breaks his neck and the safari guy gets eaten by a lion. In case you don’t know where the story is going, the Sheriff is firing on the military gunship with his rifle, which prompts String to pause for a minute and mutter, “don’t make me do this sheriff” because he is a good guy and reluctant to kill anybody. But seeing as how the Sheriff is… posing no threat to him whatsoever, what choice does he have? String fires about 1,200 rounds of heavy machine gun fire into the police station in like four seconds and then blows the whole thing up with a rocket.

Episode 2: Firestorm

This one is comparatively low key. Another hapless bumpkin mistakes military aircraft for a UFO (this show is part of the cover up!) although this time, it is Borgnine’s friend, who is a war scarred alcoholic living alone in the desert. It turns out that, as is so often the case in the world of 80’s TV Action, some kook has set up a private army within the borders of the United States for no particular reason and without anybody really noticing. In this case, the kook is a deranged, discharged general who prances around with a riding crop.

The crazy army tries to start WWIII by launching a small nuke, at Russia I suppose, while the general spouts about a “first strike,” though he obviously doesn’t grasp the concept (it requires more than one missile [/comic book guy]). The drunk calls attention to the private army because he thinks the helicopters that they fly around the desert for no reason are UFOs. He then helps JMV blow up the nuke and kill everyone in the army. Contrary to expectations, preventing nuclear holocaust does not cure the alcoholic and Borgnine finally gives up on trying to rescue his friend, leaving him to drink himself to death in the dessert. Yikes.

The best Borgnine line comes when he wants to do some maintenance flights with Airwolf because he misses it.

JMV: What the hell do you do with a man who falls in love with a machine?

Borgnine: (widens eyes and laughs maniacally for ten full seconds)

Episode 3: Moffett’s Ghost

Our boys are using Airwolf to ferry some sort of peacemaking guy to secret meetings with Russian scientists and this is somehow slowing down the arms race. This is the first mission of the season to take place under the direction of the FIRM, so it also marks the first appearance of Archangel, that mustachioed weirdo who has the eye patch glasses, the white suit and hat, and the cane. Like Tom Wolfe, but not as much of a tool. If “Airwolf” was a bigger hit and had its rightful place among our cultural furniture, that would be a nice Halloween costume. His assistant looks eerily like a young, female Condi Rice, and is a similar character, except she is working for peace. There’s another super villain, this time of the quasi-Nazi variety, who is trying to get all up in Airwolf from beyond the grave. He is is Moffett, the man who created Airwolf and he is angry about being dead. More people die.

Apart from the darker themes (and remember, I chose season two because it was supposed to be lighter and more mainstream than season one) it’s becoming clear that the basic filmmaking of “Airwolf” is a cut above “The A-Team” or “Knight Rider.” I won’t actually make an argument for this, because it would be fucking boring. Also, the acting is superior–JMV is unquestionably a splendid piece of man ass, but he he is a pretty good actor too, and Borgnine has been voted the greatest man of his generation in every credible poll–and you can see that the vision for the show was a more sophisticated and adult 80’s Action TV program.

The creators foolishly bet on the intelligence of the American audience, which explains why the show never caught on to the extent that the others did. I’m not saying “Airwolf” is “The Wire,” of course. I’m just saying it’s not as thoroughly witless as “The Dukes of Hazard,” and so we rejected it. Also, Caitlin wasn’t as hot as Daisy, though looking back, Daisy wasn’t actually hot, so much as sluttily dressed. I know what you are thinking, but I’ve already patented the rights to “Airslut.” Also “Airbeowulf.”

Best Borgnine Line: I feel better with a thumb and four fingers on the stick.

Episode 4: The Truth About Holly

The Texas cop chick (Jean Bruce Scott) is awkwardly reintroduced as the permanent Airwolf chick, Caitlin. Basically, she just shows up and says how hard it was to track String down, as though this were perfectly normal and she just hangs around until Borgnine hires her part-time for Santini Air which leads to her piloting a super-top secret military helicopter on a regular basis. JMV is almost killed “rescuing” Borgnine’s niece, an Argentinean skank who’s grown tired of sucking off some Mexican drug lord she deliberately ran off with and who now wants to go home. The Mexican drug lord’s last name is Aarons. Everyone gets to be helicopto-stuntmen in a movie and JMV dresses up like Indiana Jones! Hawt!

Best Borgnine line: Hey! Sure, a good number of Jews died in the war. A lot of people died in the war. But there weren’t much more than six million Jews living in Europe at the time, let alone killed in so-called concentration camps. The so-called Holocaust is a fabrication of the Jewish media/banking complex.



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