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Both David and the Hulk go the distance for a mentally challenged young man who is goaded into driving a defective car in a demolition derby.
On the back of each DVD in The Incredible Hulk box set is a brief description of every episode. I have been posting these descriptions at the top of each review. However, this one had me truly worried. The Incredible Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) befriends a mentally challenged man? Given the changes in attitudes towards the mentally handicapped in the past thirty years, I was honestly apprehensive about this episode. With the production values of 70s television and the perfunctory life lessons that are often inserted as an afterthought to the on-screen action, I truthfully expected Ricky to be a cringe-worthy.
The preview before the show started didn’t help. It shows mentally-challenged Ricky getting yelled at and he responds “Maybe the big green man did it.” Then it shows Ricky sitting behind the wheel of a race car making engine sounds like a child. Almost every line in the preview is someone shouting “Ricky!” with a different inflection. I am prepared for the worst.
Fortunately the episode was not as embarrassing as I had expected. It’s merely bad, accented by some truly awful moments.
The episode opens with stock footage of stock cars racing. Clearly in the lead is Buzz Deter (guest star James Daughton, Greg Marmalard from Animal House) and it looks like former champ Sam Roberts (guest star Gerald McRaney) will have to settle for second. Sam is fighting hard to regain the lead, but his “unsportsmanlike” driving causes him to spin out on the track, and in the spin his door gets jammed shut.
He screams for his pit crew to come get him out, but the first on the scene is Ricky, Buzz’s mentally challenged brother. Why he’s out in the middle of a race track is beyond me, and given his size I don’t think he was the fastest to get to Sam’s car. In his attempt to be helpful Ricky works his fingers into the car door frame and uses his weight to pull, prying back the door slightly. At this point I’m especially worried, please don’t tell me this boy is mentally challenged and as strong as the Hulk! Fortunately that is not the case.
Sam, in the car, establishes himself firmly as the episode’s villain as he yells “Someone get that retard out of here.” Hearing that voice is when I first realized Sam is played by Gerald McRaney (Major Dad) in his second guest-starring role in The Incredible Hulk. Previously he was Denny, the foreman and Julie’s suitor in the second pilot episode The Return of the Incredible Hulk (aka Death in the Family). In 1978 McRaney was not a known actor. Sporting the thick beard he wears in this episode I doubt even the casting director would remember he had a bit part in a previous episode, let alone a television viewing audience that had not seen his previous episode in almost a year.
Far less recognizable is Mickey Jones who plays Ricky. A character actor who I’ve seen a dozen times in TV guest star roles such as this as well as in the movies Sling Blade, Total Recall, and Tin Cup. Only when I looked him up in IMDB did I realize I have just one memory of the man–he was the sheriff-slash-mechanic in Vacation who takes all of Chevy Chase’s money after he drives off a cliff. He has a trademark Captain Lou Albano beard in most of his roles, but as Ricky he’s clean-shaven making him unrecognizable.
Ricky looks about to get in some trouble from Sam when David (Bill Bixby), dressed in pit crew coveralls, comes and escorts Ricky away from the crash. David has hitchhiked his way from Utah to Nevada and gotten a nondescript job at the racetrack where he cleans up, repairs soda machines, and helps fix cars.
David introduces himself to Ricky, and notices the mentally challenged man wears a large pin on his shirt that says “Ricky.” Here my first moment of horror sets in. Ricky explains the button was a gift from his brother. “I have to wear it all the time or I might get myself lost,” Ricky says, and thus we have the first inkling of Buzz’s character.
Truthfully I’m not sure what to make of Buzz this episode. Trying to put myself in the head of writer Jason Summers, I think Buzz is supposed to come off as a caring brother who simply doesn’t have the resources or training to care for a mentally handicapped individual. To me, however, Buzz comes off as an ill-tempered jerk who worsens the stigma of the learning impaired. He makes Ricky wear a button which I take to be a mentally handicapped version of a scarlet letter. Then whenever Ricky deviates from Buzz’s orders in the slightest of ways Buzz flies off the handle shouting at his brother. In the calmer moments he tries to tell David “Ricky’s retarded. People just won’t understand” but I think Buzz doesn’t understand either. Buzz is so set on winning the Daytona race and buying a house for his fiance-slash-mechanic Irene that I wonder where Ricky fits into Buzz’s world view.
In truth, Ricky doesn’t. Buzz wants to win enough money to be able to afford to put Ricky in a home. David starts to preach about state homes and programs that can give Ricky the care he needs now. Buzz says Ricky has been in and out of hospitals, but David is referring to more specialized care. As I watch this conversation I become quite uncomfortable. First, as in Life and Death David is preaching about personal matters that are really none of his business. Second, that David is constantly pushing people towards government funded programs is sending a weird political message that the show is ill-equipped to discuss. Finally, that the one thing both David and Buzz agree on is that Ricky needs to be locked away in a home and not able to live in society is really off-putting. I am no expert in caring for the mentally handicapped, but Ricky seems beyond functional to me. I know of many organizations that teach the mentally challenged how to function, get their own homes, work jobs. But getting Ricky to stand on his own two feet is nobody’s objective–getting him “proper care” (meaning: out of Buzz’s hair) is.
While the portrayal of Ricky is not offensive, David and Buzz’s plans for the man are.
During all of this we also find out the background of Sam Roberts and his brother Ted. The two are partners in racing, Sam drives the cars and Ted fixes them. They were offered a job as “PR Reps” for Allied Tires, a job Sam turned down because he was on a winning streak. Now, I could see Allied Tires wanting Sam and Ted to be a spokesperson, possibly used in some advertising, but they continually use the term “PR Rep”. A PR rep is who you use to communicate to the media, to handle advertising, external communications, and such. If Allied Tires had a Bridgestone-Firestone type situation with tires blowing up and killing people it is the job of the PR Rep to issue statements like “We are looking into the situation.” I cannot see these two gearheads as PR Reps, they are thugs who party until 4 a.m. then get up and race cars and drink beer. But their dream of the good life, either as racing champs or PR Reps, was stolen when Buzz showed up and started to win every race.
Buzz goes on a date with Irene, leaving Ricky alone for the night to watch horror movies. He’s watching the Universal classic Wolf Man and I think for sure that Ricky will see David transform into the Hulk but no one will believe the boy. Unfortunately this doesn’t pan out in the least. Instead, the moment Buzz is gone Ricky sneaks into the garage. Ricky is infatuated with race cars, and he hops behind the steering wheel and starts the car. With the car in neutral, he floors the gas and pretends to be racing, all the while making revving sounds verbally. I don’t know why he had the engine running and was making “grrrr, grrrr” sounds, but I guess it’s because it’s the writer’s view of the mentally challenged. More, it is simply uncomfortable to watch a 37-year-old man (Jones’ age when this was filmed) performing these scenes this way.
Due to the exhaust from the car being trapped in the closed garage Ricky soon passes out from the fumes.
David happens to be right outside the garage, having been tasked by the Roberts Brothers to fix a broken soda machine. Hearing the engine he tries to get into the garage, but Ricky locked the door from the inside. David tries to break in using a shovel, but it slips and jams his hand.
Hulk-Out #1 Hulk breaks down the door with ease and rushes to the front of the car. Around him we see smoke that is supposed to represent the exhaust from the car, and perhaps it is dry ice on the set but the way it moves it appears to be a very poor animation. Additionally, the smoke appears green, perhaps a nod to the Hulk?
Now with the door down Ricky would likely be fine. It’s a large garage door that would vent the area quickly, but Hulk is never satisfied with the simple fix. He first goes to the front of the car and smashes down on the roof, obviously crushing something important as the car stops immediately. Then Hulk goes to the driver’s side of the car, tears out the seat belt, and carries Ricky outside.
The mentally challenged man wakes up almost immediately and starts coughing, but his near-asphyxiation is quickly forgotten when he sees the Hulk standing over him. And Hulk is all up in Ricky’s face, clearly invading the shorter man’s personal space. “You’re…green! How can you be green?” Ah, the writer’s mind of the mentally challenged, too innocent to be afraid of a giant half-naked green man.
But Hulk’s response is very odd. He responds with a growl, but am I mistaken or did Hulk just say his first word? Much like a baby first intoning “da da”, Hulk’s first word might be a word or it might be a series of noises that my mind is turning into a word, but damned if the Hulk didn’t just growl the word “Green.” It’s no “Hulk is strongest there is” but it’s a start.
His throat burning, Ricky goes for a soda, but as David never had a chance to repair it the machine steals his money. Hulk retaliates by ripping off the front of the soda machine. Don’t make Hulk thirsty, you wouldn’t like him when he’s thirsty.
Ricky takes the soda he paid for, then offers a grape soda to Hulk. Of course, since no “good” character in the series must ever be seen doing anything unethical Ricky leaves the money for Hulk’s soda in the machine. However I notice no one is leaving money to replace the soda machine’s missing front door.
Ricky then gives Hulk a lesson in how to open a can of soda. “See I can teach you because Buzz showed me. People used to laugh at me before I could do this.” It’s an insane moment. I get the writer’s intent–it’s showing that Hulk has an even more childish mind than Ricky, and that Ricky is so kind he will immediately become the big brother to Hulk teaching him to open a soda. And I do understand this is supposed to be amusing to see Hulk doing something as everyday and mundane as drinking a cola, but the humor is not clicking for me. Seeing Hulk dribble down his chin, infantilizing Hulk and Ricky both, feels very wrong to me.
The only positive thing I can say about this scene is that I forgot pull-tab soda cans existed, and it takes me back to my childhood.
I do wonder about the wisdom of giving Hulk a sugared soda. Since we are treating Hulk like a child, many parents of small children won’t give their kids soda due to how it causes hyperactivity and restlessness. I really hoped the episode would go in weird directions, with Hulk rampaging on a sugar high, but instead he just slowly wanders off. We see his shadow grow smaller and I think it’s the best Hulk to human transformation we’ve seen yet.
After the commercial we return to see Buzz yelling at Ricky again. Buzz’s car is smashed, as Hulk is wont to do, and no one believes Ricky’s story about “the big green man.” The story makes Buzz even angrier, calling it the first time Ricky has ever lied to him. Truthfully I think the writer is again cheating. It doesn’t matter who smashed the engine, big green man or Ricky, had Ricky not been playing behind the wheel it never would have happened. Second, the car has obviously not moved, and it was smashed from the top. Does Buzz really think Ricky is strong enough to crush a car? Even kindly garage owner Mac says “Ricky’s strong, but is he strong enough to crush a car?” but Buzz refuses to acquit his own brother just calling it “weird”.
I likely would have gone through the entire summary without mentioning Mac were he not played by Gordon Jump, one of the iconic Maytag men who rose to fame as the “big guy” Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati. The second WKRP star to appear on Hulk, Jump filmed these scenes before WKRP premiered, and as WKRP was not a quick success he likely was not recognized by many Hulk viewers when this was first run, but to see him play such a bit part was shocking to me having grown up with the man as a TV star.
Mac offers the less-than-helpful suggestion that Buzz should “enter the car in the demolition derby” but Buzz and Irene are convinced they can make it race-worthy by Saturday. Feeling guilty for Hulk’s damage, David offers to pitch in as well. He is sent to get parts for the car and to cheer Ricky up David takes him on the errand, promising that Ricky can help Buzz fix his car.
In this scene David asks Ricky “did the green man hurt you?” Ricky says “No” and David seems relieved again…or is it more? Maybe I am reading into this scene as I think David should have learned long ago that Hulk is not a killer, but I think when Ricky says he wasn’t hurt David is bemused, not relieved. It’s like Bixby is portraying David as learning the Hulk’s pattern. He’s not as worried about the Hulk really hurting innocents. I hope the writers catch up to Bixby soon.
On their outing David takes Ricky on a side-trip to a park. There David lets Ricky roam on his own and examine the sculptures. Ricky is tentative and unsure if it’s okay to go on his own and the scene has the feeling of a domesticated animal being released in the wild. But rather than run away, Ricky runs towards sculptures and fondles them. He rubs the tummy of a cherub, just feeling everything. The acting is bad, with Jones squinting and making the most extreme “dumb happy face” he is capable of, and the score is worse trying to sell me on sweetness I don’t feel. David has a huge smile cross his face. He’s clearly seeing something I am not. What I am getting from the scene is once again a creepy feeling watching a 37-year-old fondle statues. What I am supposed to be getting from this scene is that Ricky has an affinity for art, specifically sculpture. It’s not as useful as being able to take Ricky to count cards in Vegas, but it’s a step towards Ricky’s happy ending.
Returning to the race track David again corners Buzz and tells this man how he should treat Ricky. Were I Buzz I think I’d tell David where to stick it. Daughton was 27 when this episode was filmed, so assuming the character is about the same age I think Buzz has far more experience with Ricky than David, who’s been in Ricky’s life for a few days. David says Ricky has a great feeling for art. “Maybe he lost something at birth, but maybe he gained something else.”
Buzz continues to argue the point, but now we get an important scene. We know it’s important because the music tells us so, and because everyone stops what they’re doing to just watch Ricky in this moment. Ricky sees two screwdrivers hanging on the wall out of order, and is able to on his own figure out how to rearrange them from largest to smallest. It’s such a saccharine scene that I wonder if later in life when Bixby was a director of Blossom he would return to this moment to get inspiration on how to stage the “very special episodes”.
But seeing that Ricky can order things small to large Buzz relents. He won’t let Ricky use a welder, but he gives Ricky some epoxy glue to glue some scrap metal together “but don’t get it on your fingers or your eyes, and always wear gloves.”
For the first time in this entire Hulk series, I wonder where is Hulk?
He will return, thank God, due to a plot by the Roberts brothers. They have called to beg for the PR Rep job, and have been told if they win Saturday’s race they can have the job. (Is it one job or two jobs? I really don’t understand the entire PR Rep goal.) They think the race is theirs with Ricky and Hulk damaging Buzz’s car, but Irene is too good a mechanic and Buzz is taking the car for a test drive. Seeing Ricky with the epoxy, the Roberts out some in the car’s gas tank and ruin the carburetor.
Again Buzz blames Ricky for the damage. While Ted and Sam did set Ricky up for just this, it would be nice just once to see Buzz not jump to the worst conclusion about his brother. Irene can fix it but she needs parts and time. Then we get a montage of Irene fixing the engine, Ricky helping but moping, Buzz and David fixing the car, full of trumpet and piano music. It’s truly terrible, and ends with Buzz asleep while the other three have pulled an all-nighter to fix his car. Sure, on the one hand the driver should be well rested, but on the other hand it’s a dick move. One last part is needed to get the car ready so Irene and Buzz head off in a beat up family truckster (I’m sure Ricky could have fixed the truckster if needed, but not the race car!).
But once Ricky is left alone the Roberts come in and lie to Ricky, telling him that regulations won’t allow Buzz’s car in the race and the only way for Ricky to help Buzz is to drive the car in the demolition derby. They tell Ricky comforting lies, that they are his friends, and that Ricky is a good enough driver to win. As Ricky has always wanted to be a race driver, and he wants to help his little brother, he is pretty easily convinced.
As he starts to drive the car out David comes in, but Sam hits him from behind with a wrench. David is knocked unconscious before he can transform, and Ricky, mistaken for Buzz by the race announcer, enters the demolition derby. Also entering the derby is Sam, who is gunning for Ricky specifically to finish off Buzz’s car permanently.
The demolition derby begins and we are treated to more stock footage. I have discussed in previous reviews when stock footage used enhanced the episode or detracted from it, but in no previous episode has the stock footage been so seemingly out of place. I don’t know where the footage originated, but it appears to be a demolition derby in the 60s, completely out of date even when this episode first aired. Cars straight out of American Graffiti smash into each other, and I swear I saw Herbie the Love Bug in there somewhere. None of the cars in frame with Sam or Ricky look anything like the cars in this footage, and between that and the poor method of editing that shows random crashes without any connection to our characters it really felt arbitrary. More, the stock footage of the stands shows crowds of people, but in new footage showing the announcers it looks like the bleachers at a high school football game. If any effort was made at all to match the footage it failed completely.
Having never raced before, possibly never even driven before, he is looking like he might win the derby, and Mac says Ricky is driving better than anyone else; driving like he was trained to do it. Now I fear that we will be told that Ricky’s true skill is driving the demolition derby and the episode will end with Ricky a champion demolition derby driver. Thank God that didn’t happen either.
Irene and Buzz return to find David just coming to and Buzz’s car missing. They soon find the car in the demolition derby, but their worry for the car becomes secondary when Irene reveals the part they needed was a coupling for the fuel line. The car is leaking gas and if Ricky’s car gets hit he’ll be killed. Only Ricky’s beginner’s luck has kept him alive so far.
While Irene and Buzz stare and gape, David grabs the first car he sees and races to Ricky’s aid. I don’t know where David found this purple car to drive into the race or if cars are just sitting around during these derbies, but David is soon in the derby.
But David is too late. Sam repeatedly rams Ricky’s car and it catches fire. David’s car also gets sandwiched, trapping David inside. He can’t get out, cant escape, and shouting “Ricky” in his half-hulk voice we get white eyes and
Hulk-Out #2: In Never Give a Trucker an Even Break we saw Hulk transform in a car in the most lackluster way. Here they do it right…Hulk tears the steering wheel off the column. Then, the doors trapped by cars, he tears open the roof and leaps out. Plus with the car being purple it’s the closest we’ll come to Hulk wearing purple pants until Trial of the Incredible Hulk.
When Hulk enters a demolition derby, Hulk wins. Hulk flips a car and chases after Sam. Usually Hulk rescues the innocent then punishes the guilty, but here the order of operations is reversed. Growling menacingly he flips Sam’s car. This could have killed the person, but we see Ted rushing to the car and pulling Sam out, Sam is okay.
Then Hulk gets to Buzz’s car and again tears out the seat belt. I’m wondering if Hulk is thinking “Hulk tear this out before! Who put this back here? Hulk smash seat belt repairman.” Hulk grabs Ricky and runs away as the car explodes, and I wonder if this is the creation of the “I’m too cool to look at the explosion” shot.
Setting Ricky down Hulk growls and flexes for several seconds. He finally runs off when Buzz, Irene, and Mac come to Ricky’s aid. Ricky says “The big green man came back” and now Buzz and Irene know he’s telling the truth. Aww.
Ricky sees that in the race he lost the button Buzz gave him, and Buzz says “You don’t need it, not any more.” Double aww.
And Mac, running the race track, tells the Roberts Brothers to pack up and get out, they’re finished for what they did to Ricky. I guess their PR Career is over, perhaps they can try social media?
The episode ends and we see Ricky is back at the sculpture park, but now he’s sitting at a table creating a sculpture with other mentally challenged adults. I’m not sure if the clay Ricky sculpted was supposed to be Hulk; it has as much resemblance to Ferrigno as the bust of Lionel Richie has to the singer in the video for “Hello”.
We find out Ricky has been admitted to a boarding school for the mentally challenged. I don’t know if the sculpture park was on the school grounds or if the school was on a field trip to that same park. Intellectually I know that the director is being economical reusing shooting locations, but narratively this is nonsense.
More, as I stated, I continue to question the happiness of the family looking on and saying “I think he’ll find what he needs here” while they tuck him away in a facility away from his brother, the only family he has left. But the writer thinks it’s a happy ending so David and Buzz think it’s a happy ending so we are supposed to think it’s a happy ending. I’m not so sure.
David goes to say goodbye to Ricky, and Ricky says “You won’t visit any more?” David says he can’t, but he will write. Ricky says “Misses James can read them to me and pretty soon maybe I can read them myself.”
Then David, tan jacket in hand, walks off as a crane shot lifts higher and The Lonely Man theme plays on.
The most ironic thing about this episode? By having two pairs of racing brothers, Summers had an opportunity to create a story that shows a healthy fraternal relationship contrasted with an unhealthy one. Showing Buzz and Ricky to be a team that no one could break, while evil Ted and Sam constantly bickered and sabotaged each other, would have been genius. But instead Summers does just the opposite! Ted and Sam are great brothers. They take a little anger out on each other when they lose the races, but the whole episode they have each other’s back and work as a great team. Meanwhile Buzz doesn’t trust Ricky, often can’t be bothered with Ricky, and his actions, if not his words, show he thinks of Ricky as a burden. Given the alternatives, maybe Ricky was better off in the home after all.
The episode honestly was not as cringe-inducing as I’d expected it to be. I feared something incredibly politically incorrect and possibly unintentionally mocking the mentally handicapped given how attitudes have changed in 30 years. But while I do question the “happy ending” of tucking all mentally challenged people away from society in a home, I think it was handled pretty well for the time, but not well enough for me to truly believe Ricky as a character, nor care about him.
The episode could have been saved by some good Hulk action scenes, but Hulk merely flips a few cars, rescues the same person from the same car twice, and drinks a grape soda.
More, am I the only one disappointed that Ricky’s last name wasn’t Jones?
While not as bad as I’d feared, I still can not recommend Ricky.