This week, as part of a short series hypothetically remaking TV shows from the 80s. The gap between original work and remake appears to be about 30-40 years, so the shows will fall into that gap. Since Lost in Translation took a look at Airwolf a few weeks ago, specifically the fourth season as a reboot, it’s a good place to start.
A quick refresher: Airwolf starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini, Alex Cord as Archangel, and Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy. The titular helicopter was a one-of-a-kind prototype, capable of punching up to the point of taking on jets. Hawke, in order to put pressure on Archangel and the Firm, a spy agency, takes Airwolf for himself after recovering it for the Firm. The deal is that the Firm find Hawke’s brother St-John and Airwolf gets returned. The fourth season saw serious changes to the show as it switched networks, studios, shooting locations, and even cast. The fourth season did wrap up Hawke’s search for his brother, bringing in Barry Van Dyke as St-John, but the series ended with the last episode of the season.
Airwolf was one of two TV series featuring high-tech gunships, the other being Blue Thunder, based on the movie of the same name. Why Airwolf and not Blue Thunder? The latter might not work well today when the issue of the militarization of police looms large. Remaking the original Blue Thunder film would take a deft hand today and may work better in film to get the point home instead of speading the message over weeks of episodes. Airwolf, however, remained in the realm of the Cold War. Several of the original episodes of Airwolf had Archangel using the helicopter and her crew as a promoted pawn for endgames in the Great Game.
The link to espionage work is the key. While the Cold War may be over, there’s still Cold Border Skirmishes happening. There’s room for writers to work with; there’s always dictatorships threatening liberty. The original series had a melancholy mood to it, which will need to be carried over. The show was dark for its era; turning the remake into a dark and gritty version ignores that Airwolf is already moody. While the Eighties sitcoms were light, the dramas explored aspects that series in previous decades didn’t, the big event being the fallout of the Vietnam War. Sure, M*A*S*H spearheaded the way in the Seventies, but used the Korean War as a proxy. The Eighties were a time of opening wounds to start healing them.
The big stumbling block is establishing proper backgrounds for the characters. String was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam War, meaning a roughly ten year gap between losing his brother and the pilot episode. In the past ten to fifteen years, the main conflicts for the US have been in the Middle East with the invasion of Iran and the invasion of Afghanistan. The latter is much more the quagmire that the Vietnam War was for the US, so we can have String serving there. However, his brother, St-John, is more likely to have run into a improvised explosive device (IED) than being left behind during an air evecuation. The fourth season, though, gives an out.
St-John is military intelligence, working for the Firm or possibly the rival agency, the Company. He’s also active in Afghanistan, where he’s able to meet up with String from time to time. However, when String’s tours are over, St-John remains behind, and eventually contact is lost with him. In the meantime, String is working for his friend/mentor/father figure Dom Santini, who in the origina; was also a veteran. Dom served in WWII and Korea, or thirty to forty years before the start of the series. The Eighties, though, had more covert wars than overt, thanks to the threat of nuclear annihilation. The War on Drugs was going strong, with the CIA working on destabilizing Latin American countries. Here comes the Firm again, and how Archangel works in. Dom was one of the pilots ferrying in agents with Archangel being his contact.
Airwolf itself is still a high-tech stealth helicopter. The capabilities of computers have expanded since the Eighties, so Airwolf could be capable of far more than shown in the original. The pilot could be used with the same beats, with String holding Airwolf as collateral to force the Firm to find St-John. Plots can follow similar found in the original, just updated for today. Adding the Company as a rival allied agency can introduce some added conflict that can emerge from time to time, with hints about St-John woven through.
Casting is important. String needs to be someone capable of being moody yet capable of being a regretful killer. The original series showed that he would give his opponents a chance to surrender before shooting them down, with a few exceptions. Dom needs to be a mentor figure. Archangel is the equivalent of 007‘s M. Can some characters be gender-flipped? It’s harder with Stringfellow and St-John, mainly because the names don’t flip well. Dom and/or Archangel could, though, and having a woman as a mentor figure would be an interesting change.
Airwolf has potential for a remake. For a series that was centered around a high-tech vehicle, the show’s focus was on the characters. The series is ripe for a remake today.