After the look at various fan works, it’s time to get back to the professional works. This time out, Airwolf, specfically, the series’ fourth season.
Airwolf debuted in 1984 on CBS, were it ran until 1986, and starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini, Alex Cord as Michael “Archangel” Coldsmith-Briggs III, and, starting in the second season, Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy. Airwolf was part of a wave of TV series built around high-tech, almost super, vehicles. The wave had been building easily since 007 drove his heavily Q-modified Aston-Martin DB-V in Goldfinger, climaxing in 1982 with the film adaptation of Craig Thomas’ Firefox and the Glen A. Larson TV series, Knight Rider. In 1983, the film Blue Thunder was released to theatres and was centrered around the police use of a military helicopter. The following year, a TV series spin off of Blue Thunder aired as well as Airwolfe.
The difference between the two super-helicopter series was in their use. Blue Thunder still had the military/militarized chopper in police hands. With Airwolf, the one-of-a-kind helicopter was strictly military, and taken by Hawke as collateral to ensure that Archangel and the secret agency, the Firm, would keep their word in finding Stringfellow’s missing brother, St. John, who was Missing-In-Action in Vietnam. Airwolf also was moody, sombre, and serious.
A typical episode of Airwolf could go one of three directions. The first is Airwolf and its crew being given a mission by Archangel to complete, either flying Airwolf in on stealth or going undercover using Dom’s company, Santini Air. The second is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting involved in local affairs or machinations within the Firm. The third is Hawke following up on news of St. John or of a friend who might know of his brother’s location. No matter the initial direction, the climax would be a helicopter dogfight involving Airwolf and the villain of the episode. Once in a while, Soviet MiGs would be part of the fight, just to demonstrate how much Airwolf could punch up.
The series lasted three seasons on CBS. Ratings had been low despite attempts to bolster them, and the influence of Miami Vice could be seen as part of the changes. With other factors involved, CBS cancelled the series in 1986. However, the cable station USA Network was expanding to a 24 hour format and needed new programming, so it picked up Airwolf for second run syndication and commissioned a fourth season, airing in 1987. With the changes necessitated by the change of both network and production company, the fourth season is more a remake of Airwolf than a continuation.
With one exception, none of the original cast appeared. The exception is Jan-Michael Vincent, who appeared in the first episode of the season, “Blackjack”. The episode gave Stringfellow’s quest to find his brother closure, with St. John working for the Company as an agent. The new cast comprised of Barry Van Dyke as St. John Hawke, Geraint Wyn Davies as Mike Rivers, Michele Scarabelli as Dom’s niece, Jo Santini, and Anthony Sherwood as Jason Locke.
With a reduced budget, other changes occurred. The shooting location is most obvious. There are far more pine trees and much fewer deserts thanks to the move to Vancouver. Airwolf’s hiding spot got more detail as the series relied less on Santini Air exterior shots. Stock footage from the previous three seasons were used of Airwolf in action, though editing allowed for new ways to show the air battles despite the limitation.
The nature of episode plots tended towards missions for the Company, allowing for Locke to join the team in Airwolf. With all four members of the team capable of handling at least one aspect of flying the helicopter, either as pilot or flight engineer, the characters could split off to do more work on the ground, avoiding the lack of new aerial Airwolf scenes. There is still some in-fighting at the Company, in part because Locke is keeping Airwolf away from the agency for his own purposes.
The tone is the biggest change. The first three seasons, even with the influence of Miami Vice forcing its way in, was moody, dark without being grim, reflecting Stringfellow’s emotions. The action is stylized. The fourth season is a straight up action series, losing the mood of the previous seasons.
Why treat the fourth season as a remake? The time between being cancelled on CBS and being aired on the USA Network is under a year and the episode “Blackjack” hands off the series to the new cast. That would imply that the series continued. However, with a drastic change of cast and approach, the fourth season of Airwolf is closer to being Star Trek: The Next Generation than a hypothetical fourth season of the original Star Trek. Wrapping up String’s quest to find his brother was a nod to continuity, providing closure to the first three seasons. Afterwards, the series is more about using Airwolf on missions, a complete change from the original approach. Unlike ST: TNG, there wasn’t the time between the seasons to allow for a gap.
Season four of Airwolf is a unique case. It was meant to be a continuation of the series, but with the drastic change of cast, the fourth season became its own entity in the shadow of the original. It’s not a bad season, but it couldn’t live up to what had passed before it.
Continuing from last week’s discussion on adaptations surpassing their originals. it’s time to look at a specific example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The original Buffy hit theatres in the summer of 1992. Kristy Swanson played the titular character, with Donald Sutherland playing her Watcher, Merrick. The film was marketed as an action/comedy/horror movie, taking the elements of the typical slasher flick and flipping them around. Thus, the blonde cheerleader who would normally be one of the first victims of the slasher becomes the heroine, with her love interest, Oliver Pike as played by Luke Perry, becoming the dude in distress.
Los Angeles is in danger from a cabal of vampires led by Lothos, played by Rutger Hauer. One girl can save the city. Too bad she doesn’t know she’s LA’s only hope. Buffy Summers is a high school senior and a cheerleader, looking forward to her hobbies of shopping and her boyfriend, Jeffrey. Naturally, at Buffy’s school, there’s a schism between the popular and the outcasts, where Oliver and Benny (David Arquette) fall. Fortunately for LA, Merrick is searching for the new Slayer. The Chosen One, Buffy, isn’t as impressed, but her new abilities start manifesting. In addition, Merrick describes a dream that Buffy keeps having. She begins training under Merrick’s tutelage.
Oliver and Benny are the first of the school to run into the vampires. Merrick arrives too late to prevent Benny being turned into a vampire, but does rescue Oliver. Another of Buffy’s classmates, a girl named Cassandra, played by an uncredited Ricki Lake, is kidnapped by Amilyn, played by Paul Reubans, and sacrificed to the vampire’s master, Lothos, played by Rutget Hauer. Lothos has killed a number of Slayers in the past and has set his sights on Buffy. An encounter in the woods has Amilyn and his gang of vampires fight Buffy, Merrick, and Oliver, leading to Amilyn losing an arm and Buffy and Oliver getting closer.
Later, at a school basketball game, Oliver recognizes a classmate who has become a vampire. Buffy chases the the vampire and runs into Lothos himself. Lothos hypnotizes Buffy, but Merrick arrives in time to prevent anything further. Merrick is staked himself by Lothos, and dies. The Watcher gives Buffy one last bit of advice, to do things her way, not the old ways.
Shaken, Buffy tries to return to her old life. At school, though, her friends have turned on her, making her an outcast. Buffy realizes that her priorities have changed while her old friends are still fixated on shopping and the upcoming senior dance. Even her boyfriend, Jeffrey, has found a new girlfriend. Oliver, though, stays by her, understanding what Buffy is going through.
The senior dance is for seniors only. As per tradition, vampires cannot enter a building unless invited. The vampire army built by Lothos and Amilyn, though, consist of high school seniors, and each of them received a formal invitation to the dance. Buffy arrives in time to fight the vampires inside and outside. Oliver takes on his old friend, Benny, while Buffy first stabs Amilyn then goes after Lothos. Once again, Lothos tries to hypnotize her, but Buffy is ready with a cross and a can of hairspray. By using her keen fashion sense, Buffy defeats Lothos.
As mentioned, one aspect of the film was comedy. The movie was light entertainment, a summer popcorn movie that was common before the Blockbuster Era we currently have. Buffy was moderately popular but not a major hit. Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay for the movie, though there may have been some meddling by executives to get popcorn fare.
Five years later, Joss Whedon returns to the character with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. The pilot for the series was once meant for a potential sequel to the original film, but as the show continued, the link between the movie and TV series became nebulous. Ideas from the film appeared, but reworked to fit the new show.
The TV Buffy, with Sarah Michelle Gellar taking over the lead role, kept the horror and the comedy, but became far more darker and tense. The show first aired on the WB, owned by Warner Bros, and was a breakout hit for the fledgling network. In 2001, Buffy moved over to UPN, a Paramount owned network. Despite being on smaller networks, the show gained a following.
In the pilot, Buffy Anne Summers and her mother move to Sunnydale after an incident that resulted in the burning down of the gym at Buffy’s previous school. Buffy is hoping to be a normal girl, despite being the Slayer. All those hopes are dashed when Rupert Giles, played by Anthony Stewart Head, appears as her new Watcher. Sunnydale High sits on top of a Hellmouth and Buffy’s abilities are needed to prevent Hell from boiling out. Being the newcomer, Buffy starts out as an outcast in the school. She meets Xander Harris, played by Nicholas Brendan, and Willow Rosenberg, played by Alison Hannigan, who befriend her through common experience of being outsiders. Cordelia Chase, one of the popular crowd and a cheerleader to boot, represents what Buffy could have been. Cordelia eventually joins in with Buffy and her friends in fighting the evil lurking in Sunnydale.
Through the series, the cast grows, emotionally and numerically. Seth Green, who had an uncredited role as a vampire in the original Buffy, joins the cast as Oz, Willow’s boyfriend. David Boreanaz joins as Angel, a vampire who becomes romantically linked with Buffy. After Buffy is clinically dead but revived, a new Slayer, Kendra, played by Bianca Lawson, arrives. Unlike Buffy, Kendra was raised by the Watchers, and the difference between the two Slayers is evident. Kendra lacks Buffy’s ability to improvise, leading to her death and the activation of Faith, played by Eliza Dushku. Again, the difference between Buffy and Faith is evident. Faith didn’t have the support system Buffy did with her friends.
Each season carried a theme. The first season, set mainly in and around Sunnydale High, showed that high school was hell. By the time Buffy graduates in season three, she had prevented several apocalypses, saved the student body more times than they could count, and befriended many others. Season two shows how Buffy’s approach, while not always successful, had advantages over a strict teaching. The season also had Buffy fall in love with the wrong man, Angel. Angel was under a Gypsy curse; if he ever achieved happiness, the Angelus personality within would be released, causing untold tragedy. Season three shows the difference between the relationship Buffy has with Giles, the relationship the Council of Watchers would impose on Slayers, and the relationship Faith had with the Mayor, who was using the girl for his nefarious purposes. Season four was about change, with Buffy and Willow heading to university, Xander getting a job, Oz leaving because he’s a danger as a werewolf, and Cordelia leaving for LA with Angel for a spin-off series*.
The series became known for its writing, taking chances that wouldn’t normally be seen on the regular networks. “Hush”, a fourth season episode, took a show known for its snappy dialogue and made everyone mute, unable to speak, and was successful. “Once More, with Feeling”, from season six, was an all-musical episode, making /Buffy/ the second show to try that, the first being Xena, Warrior Princess.
How does the TV series stack against the original? The series built on top of ideas presented in the movie and gives them more time to develop. The implications of the Buffy-verse is shown to viewers. The result is a TV series that has more than its fair share of academic papers written about it, with over two hundred produced about various aspects of the show, from dialogue to characterizations to the metaphors of humanity used as the base of many episodes. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series has had comics, including Seasons 8 through 10, and games, including Eden Studio’s role-playing game of the same name. The TV series has far surpassed its original.
Next week, continuing the history of adaptations with the early years of the film industry.
* Angel, naturally enough. Set in LA, Angel was the head of a small private invesitgation company, specializing in the unusual.