The A-Team and The Greatest American Hero

The A-Team (1983-1987)
The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983)
Type: Shared Reality

   This one is all thanks to Captain Bellybuster. Nope, not kidding.

   This one starts on The Greatest American Hero. The Greatest American Hero was a riff on the superhero genre. Ralph Hinkley, played by William Katt, was a good hearted high school teacher. Bill Maxwell was a tough as nails right wing FBI agent. One night, in the middle of nowhere, both their vehicles having mysteriously stalled, these two strangers found themselves confronted by a mysterious U.F.O. The aliens inside gave the two of them a magical red super suit. The suit gave its wearer tons of super powers: flight, invulnerability, invisibility… Ralph was to wear the suit and the two of them were to use it to make the world a better place. Also thrown into the mix were Ralph's girlfriend/lawyer Pam Davidson and Ralph's class of misfit students. Oh, almost forgot. The suit? It came with an instruction book on how to use the suit and all it's powers. Problem is Ralph lost the instruction book the very night he got the suit. So he couldn't use the suit to its full potential, having to discover its various powers as he went. In particular he almost always flew like he was out of control and about to crash.

   Season two of the show brought a seminal episode that would change television forever. Buying this? No? Okay, well it did bring an episode called Captain Bellybuster And The Speed Factory. Bill Maxwell is alerted to a load of drugs being smuggled out of California in a delivery truck owned by the Hamburger Heaven fast food chain. The man who phoned in the tip was none other than the man who played Hamburger Heaven's mascot, superhero Captain Bellybuster. Captain Bellybuster also alerted a newspaper reporter so that the reporter could be on scene to photograph the bust. Only the drug smugglers discovered they had a leak and pulled the drugs out of the truck. Instead of photographing a drug bust, the reporter ended up getting pictures of Ralph flying around in the suit, exposing his secret to the world. It turns out the creators of Hamburger Heaven were involved in drug trafficking. In the end Captain Bellybuster helped our gang expose the drug ring. Then they used Captain Bellybuster to help explain the pictures of Ralph. It was Captain Bellybuster in the pics. Because a skinny, flying William Katt looks just like big fat, can't fly Chuck McCann. At the end of the show it looked all over for Hamburger Heaven but due to the publicity he got for bringing in the drug dealers, Captain Bellybuster was poised to get a job as mascot for some other chain restaurant.

   What a difference a year makes. One year later Hamburger Heaven was thriving and Captain Bellybuster was still their mascot. One year almost to the day, they popped up again on an episode of The A-Team.

   The A-Team told the story of a military unit from the Viet Nam War who, framed for a crime they didn't commit, took to the underground and went to work as heroes for hire, helping those in need. Hannibal Smith was their man-with-the-plan leader. Templeton "Face" Peck was the handsome smooth talker. B.A. Baracus (played by Mr. T) was their wheelman and muscle. B.A. also had a huge fear of flying. This meant every time they flew, the team had to trick B.A. into taking a sedative. Murdock was their insane in the membrane pilot. Murdock was also the only member of their team not on the run from the law. Between missions, Murdock usually resided in the mental ward of a V.A hospital.

   The A-Team episode Til Death Do Us Part had the guys saving a woman from a forced wedding. The bad guy had murdered her rich father so she would inherit his wealth. Then he would marry her and take over all her holdings. This bozo already owned the local cops and almost everything else in the Texas town where he lived so the team had it's work cut out for them. They also needed to swipe a secret tape the girl's father had made that likely proved who his killer was. There plan essentially was to break the girl out of her wedding, get her temporarily married to Face, steal the tape and then fly everyone out of town and present their evidence to non-corrupt cops.

   One problem with that plan. That flying part. The roads were all blockaded so they had no other choice. Only B.A. don't fly. So an extra bit had to be added to the plan. Having saved the "bride" the gang hid out in the woods while Hannibal ran off to get them some food. He returned with a big bag of food from, where else, Hamburger Heaven. Murdock was disappointed to find out he had not been bought a Happy Meal - oops, I mean a Bellybusting Surprise Pack - but was thrilled to discover Hannibal had bought enough food that he had gotten a free Captain Bellybuster hat for Murdock. For the rest of the episode Murdock was crazy with talk about Captain Bellybuster. They even named checked the Tummy Tingling food line that was established on The Greatest American Hero. The whole reason for the burgers was B.A. Given a burger and suspecting a trick, B.A. forced Murdock to trade burgers with him and then made Murdock eat. Murdock ate and immediately passed out. Assured he had avoided the trap, B.A. ate the burger he had taken from Murdock and he immediately passed out. Then Murdock stood back up having only pretended to be drugged. The team loaded B.A. into the chopper and made good their escape (with more complications along the way of course).

   I'm both impressed and disappointed with Hamburger Heaven. On the one hand, they overcame a drug scandal while still just a fledgling Los Angeles based chain and within a year had expanded out to have restaurants as far away as Texas. On the other hand they really need to work on branding. The Hamburger Heaven bag Hannibal shows up with is the most generic thing I have ever seen. Just a bag with really plain text saying Captain Bellybuster's Hamburger Heaven on it. Likewise, Murdock's hat looked like a cheesy winged novelty hat common from that time with Iron-on lettering on it. They couldn't even fit the full name on the hat. Instead of "Hamburger Heaven Captain Bellybuster" it said, "Burger Heaven Capt Bellybuster". Come on! If the chain is going to make it all the way to the east coast they need to step it up a notch.

   One final note I can't help adding. It is weird to see how the real world can effect how we see a TV show. On The Greatest American Hero, for big chunk of it's run Ralph Hinkley found his name changed without explanation to Ralph Hanely. Watching today it just seems pointless. The reason for it was that while the show was airing a man named John Hinkley shot President Ronald Reagan. I have to mention that but that isn't even my main point. In the Captain Bellybuster episode there is another bit that plays utterly different now than it did then thanks to another real world incident. At one point in the show, Ralph and his friends go to talk to the reporter who photographed Ralph only to discover the man has been murdered. Hearing sirens and not needing further trouble, they run for it. Pam and Bill take off in Pam's white car while Ralph stays behind to distract the cops. Once he's done, Ralph flies after them and drops into the back seat of the car (his flying had much improved). Now, at this point Ralph delivers a joke based on a then famous series of rental car ads where a certain celebrity would literally fly into his car. So, running from police investigating a murder in a white car, Ralph drops into the back seat and says, "Just like O.J. Simpson." I laughed out loud but not for the reason I think I was supposed to.

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