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Cowboys and Indians ... with missiles
As a young teenager at the time, Airwolf was compulsory viewing for a generation who wanted their "Cowboys and Indians" to have amazing gadgets and whizz-bang explosions.
In many ways, the show was essentially Knight Rider in the skies: similar comic-book technology, a central character who was essentially a loner, and echoing the concept of one man making a difference.
But in other, important ways, it was thematically very different from Knight Rider, Street Hawk, The A-Team and other action shows of the time. For one thing, the premise of the series is built not on a desire to help those in need, but by Stringfellow Hawke's possession of Airwolf for essentially selfish reasons (as leverage to try to find his MIA brother, St John). And then there is the dark edge provided by basing the series firmly in an 80s Cold War context, complete with Soviet espionage and Central American dictators, not to mention the enemy within. Sure, The A-Team constantly referred back to Vietnam and the team's status as fugitives, but it was generally done with a light touch and was rarely central to the plot itself. With Airwolf, the intrigue was key to the tone and direction of the show - although this was (ill-advisedly) diluted as the series went on.
With hindsight, the Cold War setting clearly dates the series, many of the stories are creaky and contrived, and much of what Airwolf does is clearly implausible even with today's technology. But that's really not the point. Airwolf was rip-roaring fun, it tried to tell interesting stories without relying solely on the big action sequences, and it didn't sugar-coat everything by miraculously ensuring nobody died. Sometimes it failed, but often it succeeded admirably - and on a TV budget to boot.
For UK readers, DMAX (Sky channel 155) have just started (Jan 2008) daily re-runs of Airwolf. Set your Sky+ box for this blast from the past - we may even get the re-tooled, re-cast (and sadly vastly inferior) fourth season, which to my knowledge has never previously been shown in the UK.
Leg Work (1987)
A lost gem
The series aired (briefly) on ITV in the UK before disappearing without trace. I remember it as being fresh, different (not one but two female leads in Margaret Colin and Frances McDormand) and brave (I distinctly remember one episode showcased AIDS at a time when it was still a taboo subject, especially on US prime-time TV).
The show didn't have the crash-bang-wallop of high octane cop shows like Hunter. It didn't have the flashy car and stunts of Knight Rider. (Claire McCarron did own a Porsche which she had received as payment from one of her clients, but it was forever in the repair shop.) And it didn't rely on the hackneyed cliché of buddies-who-aren't-really-buddies from different sides of the track, as employed most tenuously in Hardcastle & McCormick. What it did have was a solid premise, engaging characters, good, straightforward stories and was very much rooted in the real world. (Would Magnum PI or Simon & Simon have done an AIDS storyline? I don't think so.)
Would it have been the greatest TV show ever if it hadn't been prematurely cancelled? No. But did it have the potential to be a strong, strikingly different addition to the genre alongside the almost exclusively male-led PI/cop shows of the era? Absolutely.
Very few people missed Leg Work when it vanished from the US & UK schedules. I was one of them.