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The ABCs of tabloid reporting spell trouble when a newspaper story on the Hulk includes a photograph that could expose David.
For many episodes I’ve commented on the dour nature of The Incredible Hulk‘s second season. I have repeatedly called Hulk an action series, but truthfully for most episodes the tone has felt far more in line with Little House on the Prairie than contemporaries like Charlie’s Angels.
Remember the old adage “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it”? I get it in Stop the Presses.
We open with establishing shots of San Diego and the “happy” theme music we’ve heard in several previous episodes. Not only is David (Bill Bixby) in America’s finest city, San Diego also houses the headquarters of the National Register tabloid newspaper. A shot of the newspaper’s office building shows that it was established in 1969, by no means a long-standing bastion of information. Plus there is a sculpture on the outside (likely not done by Ricky) that looks like a Picasso with long arms, pert breasts, and a hole in its head. Really the more I look at the sculpture the more foul it appears.
This one shot gives me more information on the Register than I’ve had in the other 20 episodes combined! For instance, we now know that Hulk-obsessed reporter Jack McGee (series regular Jack Colvin) is working for a newer newspaper. The writers of previous episodes have been unclear about the Register, sometimes making it sound like The Enquirer with its tales of Bigfoot and Farrah Fosset, but then other times the Register is out covering real news like nuclear reactors and legitimate sporting events. Plus there’s the Disco Dude competition.
But as we cut inside, we see McGee is bringing some of the hard-hitting journalistic ethics to his role as he refuses to use photos taken by Charlie (played by Art Metrano who would go on to play Mauser in the Police Academy series), a freelance paparazzi in a loud striped jacket. Charlie works for Joe Arnold (former Bionic Woman regular Sam Chew Jr.), a Register reporter with questionable ethics who “turns local filler into big story.” While currently covering a triple murder, Arnold’s primary stories are exposées on restaurants with unclean conditions. As McGee’s editor Mark puts it, “Our readers like to see us as the guardian angels of the restaurant eaters.”
But the real reason Mark is darkening McGee’s desk is to take him to task over his weekly creature report. The Hulk hunt is too expensive with plane tickets, wrecked cars, and the ten-thousand dollar reward with nothing new to show for it. Jack is given an assignment to cover a fortune tellers’ convention and to drop the Hulk story until he has something more than an out of focus photo.
Now given that the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) has been anything but subtle, running down the field of a televised football playoff game with 75,000 attendees, storming through a crowded race track, interrupting a heavily attended demolition derby, and other such major events I think there must be some great footage of Hulk out there. Especially from the football game, the sports reporters with their long lenses should have glamour shots of Hulk lining their walls. To think that the Hulk is considered a myth like Bigfoot and Bat-Boy after being seen by literally hundreds of thousands of people is a stretch, and that McGee is the only reporter in the country trying to get the story a bigger stretch still.
But when McGee sees the cover story of that day’s Register is of a gorilla brought down by a tranquilizer gun McGee gets a thoughtful look that can only mean a new plot to find Hulk.
Meanwhile down at the studio backlot David is working at Bruno’s pizza joint as a dish washer–and he’s not very good as owners Jill Norton (Julie Cobb, who would go on to play the mom on Charles in Charge) and Karen Weiss (Mary Frann, who would go on to play Bob Newhart’s wife on Newhart) tell each other, and us. But while not much of a dishwasher David has his benefits, getting the restaurant’s liquor license straightened out and helping Jill do the books. And it’s also implied that Jill hired David out of an attraction to the kind drifter–an attraction that Karen shares, flirting openly with the dishwasher.
We quickly realize this is a “wacky restaurant'” as Karen is taking photos of their customers and the restaurant for their “wall of fame”, and one owner is telling their pizza chef Fred (Happy Days’ Pat Morita) that he is using too much garlic while another owner claims there is not enough.
Morita is a bit of stunt casting for Hulk. He had been running an all-American burger joint on ABC for years, so I suppose having him as a chef at a pizzeria is typecasting. But Morita does not play Fred like Arnold, the delivery and mannerisms are completely different. Of course Morita’s eventual claim to fame will be as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid but here we see his trademark humor as he delivers great reaction shots to the two women flirting with David. He also gets great lines, saying that with them both interested in David “They’ll be flinging ravioli at each other before this is over.” This episode already has the tone of a sitcom, and Morita’s comic timing suits it perfectly.
But the novelty of this sitcom setting is actually working for me early on. It’s fun to see Bixby in this Jack Tripper-esque role. Bixby rarely is allowed to lighten up as David, and here, playing off Morita and the target of the two attractive women’s affections, Bixby is all charm and smiles. It’s too rare we get to see some of his comedic roots in Hulk and it’s a welcome sight.
We also find that Jill used to be a reporter for the Times but never made much of herself with the small-time stories she was assigned so she opened her own restaurant. This is important as later in the episode we need someone to provide exposition for the audiences about newspaper printing practices, and here she is!
But Jill is about to get more of the press than she can handle as Charlie and Arnold have Bruno’s set in their sights for their next story. Their restaurant cleanliness stories that Mark bragged so much about are all faked by the two unscrupulous journalists. They pick joints that cannot afford lawyers as targets, and newly opened Bruno’s is next on their list. Charlie sets a fire in Bruno’s dumpster, then the two put rancid meat and other garbage around Bruno’s kitchen. Fred and David come in and catch the two “reporters” getting their story, and Arnold snaps some very clear pictures of David before running off.
Fred thinks that Arnold’s story is the end of Bruno’s. It will take years and insane lawyer fees to prove Arnold faked the story, and by then the customers will have been run off by the supposed “health hazard”. But David’s concerns are deeper as the shots of him will surely be seen by Jack McGee and many others who believe David Banner to be dead. His concern causes Jill to wonder if David is a fugitive but they have the more immediate concern of keeping their restaurant open.
The two women go down to the Register to try to talk Joe Arnold into having the story killed but the reporter is less than receptive. The two women make a scene but are unsuccessful in convincing Arnold or his editor to not run the story, so David takes matters into his own hands.
That night David goes to the Register after hours as the fortune teller’s convention arrive to be interviewed by Jack. David integrates himself in the group, pointing at a random name on the list, but soon finds himself on a crowded elevator with McGee. It’s a well framed shot with David clearly visible to the camera though surrounded by the fortune tellers, and David covering his face with his hand as McGee enters.
But while I enjoy that bit, this is the first of many places where I think the episode strays too far into sitcom territory. Harnell’s silly musical score during this scene seems more fitting of an episode of Bewitched than Hulk. The writers also introduce a recurring gag about a fortune-teller who repeatedly incorrectly guesses people’s astrological signs and when she’s corrected she shouts “I knew it!” This comedy is a bit broad my tastes and while it may have fit in with the sitcoms of the 70s humor is very timely and often does not age well.
Plus the scene is only there for the humor it provides, it does not advance the narrative one iota. It does introduce Sam, the Register’s security guard, but the sight of McGee chases David away before the dishwasher can abscond with the pictures.
The next day Arnold’s story exposing Bruno’s dirtiness is in the paper, but David is lucky–the photo used of him is the one where he had covered his face. But it’s not over yet as Karen and Jill lament that “next week there will be another story and more pictures.” I doubt that even a tabloid like the Register could turn a dirty pizzeria story into weeks of coverage, but it’s enough for David to worry that the next picture printed will show his face.
At the Register the next day we see Arnold having a meeting with Geller from the Health Department. Geller is giving Arnold an “unofficial warning” about his continuing to write that the Health Department is slacking off. Arnold shows Geller some of the staged photos and Geller replies “A little garbage, some moldy cheese. Your readers may not have anything better to worry about but we do. Come see us when you bust some real offenders. Maggots, cockroaches, real filth, that’s when we get involved.” Personally I’d like to think the Department of Health would prevent me from eating moldy cheese as well as maggot-laden meat, but I guess not.
Geller’s speech gave Arnold some new ideas and he and Charlie head back to Bruno’s, this time with a jar full of cockroaches. Sneaking into the kitchen they start to stage their photos, but are seen by David. David slyly takes Arnold’s camera and snaps pics of the reporters planting the evidence. Charlie and Arnold give chase and Charlie, a former wrestler, starts to beat up David, slamming him into walls, and finally shoving his face into a pizza.
Fred must have again used too much garlic as David’s eyes go white.
Hulk-Out #1 Charlie throws David under a table and, hoisting up his plaid pants, ignores the dishwasher, never seeing his clothes rip or his skin turn green. But soon Hulk is there in the kitchen roaring at the two reporters. Charlie says “I ain’t gonna wrestle this guy” and tries to run, but Hulk slides a large freezer in front of the paparazzi to trip him, then Hulk throws the former wrestler through a screen door, never to be seen again. Arnold snaps some pics of Hulk and runs away, as Hulk also runs down the alley
Later at the Register Arnold is confronting McGee about the Hulk pictures snapped at Bruno’s. McGee had taken the photos from the file cabinet in the hopes “the brass” would be impressed by the pictures and allow him to resume his weekly Hulk report, but it did not.
McGee then confronts Arnold over his journalistic ethics. Arnold reveals his motives saying, “There’s only a handful of reporters in this country that make big money, and I intend to be one of them” and “you want me to do it straight the way you do and end up with nothing?” But McGee is a hard-boiled, ethical tabloid reporter and doesn’t take to Arnold’s cheap shots.
Back at Bruno’s we see Karen, Jill, and David trying to move the freezer back in place. Pat Morita is not helping as, sadly, Fred has called in his resignation. I’m a bit upset as I liked the energy Morita was putting into his small role, but his time on set must have been limited as he never returns to give more patrons bad breath.
As David tries to clean up the kitchen, Jack McGee comes in to talk to the girls about the Hulk. The girls try to do a quid pro quo–McGee gets Arnold’s faked photos and they’ll give McGee their Hulk story, but McGee says “Those photographs are logged and dated. I’d have to steal them. It’s a violation of ethics.” Technically, Jack, even if they weren’t logged I’d think stealing them could be an ethical violation; that said, letting photos you know to be fake destroy a small business may not be entirely ethical either. Jill asks what anyone working at the Register would know about ethics, and McGee looks stung but not shocked by their statement.
At an impasse he leaves saying “I honestly wish I could have helped.”
David meanwhile has found some of Jill’s photos that had been developed, including one shot of Arnold making a pizza in the kitchen. After McGee leaves, David makes a big show of the photos, saying “Those photos were taken on Monday, the same day Joe Arnold showed up.” Now, while these photos are 3.5″ x 5″ pictures, David is able to make out the time on the wall clock and read the headline of the newspaper Fred had hung in the kitchen, all supposedly proving the picture was taken of a perfectly clean kitchen less than an hour before Arnold’s fake photos. Never mind that the newspaper could have been saved and hung and the picture taken later–according to Karen the receipt for the pictures being developed “proves” the photos’ authenticity.
These photos could force the Register to print a retraction, but they’d need a copy of the Register‘s photo log. Karen says “We can’t just walk in there and take it,” then, sitcom style, her face breaks into a large smile as she realizes what she said and adds, “can we?” I smell a heist afoot!
Meanwhile McGee has tracked down the big game hunter from the Register’s front page. Remember that minor subplot? I probably wouldn’t have either. McGee is interviewing the hunter, asking about the tranquilizer darts used for big game, ensuring there are no ill effects of the tranquilizer dart. The game hunter with his proper British accent is happy to show off his new rifle and darts that could put an elephant to sleep.
All these various plot lines come together that night when David, Karen, and Jill go to the Register. Jill enters the lobby wearing a very sexy dress bearing cleavage to get security guard Sam’s attention. She says she’s there to see the publisher, Robert Steinhauer, and walks around the far side of the guard’s desk keeping the guard’s eyes while David and Karen sneak past and up the stairs. The amusing part is the guard doesn’t want to hit on Jill, as was their plan, but instead adopts a paternal attitude, offering the girl some of his wife’s hot soup from a plaid Thermos.
David and Karen call down, pretending to be Steinhauer, asking Jill to be sent up. The elderly guard gives Jill a talk about how the publisher may be a big shot but the guard wouldn’t let his daughter date the newspaper mogul. Jill smiles and rejoins her partners in crime. The three then start to rifle through the Register’s photo logs (kept in a filing cabinet that has a lock but, typically, isn’t locked) finding the shots of Bruno’s that are timed and dated.
They are ready to leave but Jill notices the run sheet on the wall shows the Bruno’s story is the front page of the next edition, which has already gone to press. Jill, with her journalistic background, knows all about the press and tells Karen and David the photos chosen are already imprinted on the plates, and the only way to stop the story is to steal the plates. David looks at the photos and sees the shot of his face is circled for use, so the three go off for the plates.
We then see McGee at his desk late, with the large rifle he got from the hunter by his side. Sam is making his rounds and offers Jack some soup (God, Sam, enough with the soup already! I’m sure your wife makes great soup but what will you eat if you give soup to everyone around?) McGee is putting pins in a map trying to determine where Hulk will appear next, and I’m thinking McGee would have as much luck consulting the fortune tellers he interviewed the night before.
David sends the two girls down telling Jill “You look lovely but you’re not dressed for fast getaways,” plus if only one person goes into the print shop only one person will get caught. I think to myself that if only one person goes in no one will see that one person Hulk-out as well.
David sneaks into the printing presses, which is either a location shoot or the most elaborate set I’ve seen on this show in a long while. David cuts the power in a shot that is imaginatively lit, a single light on David’s face after the lights go out. As the workers and Sam the guard, go to investigate the circuit breaker David sneaks into the press to grab the plate. David doesn’t know where the plate is, but he has plenty of time–he locked the door to the circuit breaker and bumbling, old Sam has dozens of keys to try.
This scene reminds me of a video game, as looped lines urge Sam to hurry up and find the key. There’s a few seconds pause, then another looped line trying to urge Sam along. It’s uncanny that such a trope would be used in a media other than a game, as it’s rare in media that there are long enough pauses in the action for such an event, but it provided me with a smile here.
Finally David finds the plate and starts to pry it from the drum. Just as he removes the plate, careful to not make any sound, Sam unlocked the doors and the workers turn the power back on. David tries to get out but in his attempt to be stealthy he doesn’t notice his jacket is dangling precariously close to the spinning press (don’t worry, it’s not his trademark tan jacket about to meet its untimely demise, it’s a new denim one). The coat gets caught and pulls David toward the press. Fighting with the coat his hand gets caught in the press and the pain is too much.
Hulk-Out #2: Hulk is able to easily extract his hand from the drums, moving the rollers backwards in doing so. He roars loudly over the sound of the machines, then smashes the machine, stopping the presses. He pulls out a heavy drum, and also happens to step on the plate David was trying to steal, denting it. Hulk throws the drum and knocks over shelves of printing ink.
But coming to stop the hulk is Jack McGee! The reporter was talking to Sam when Hulk revealed himself, and McGee ran down with the rifle. He shoots Hulk in the leg, but Hulk isn’t stopped. He runs at McGee and pushes the gun down, causing McGee to shoot himself in the calf with a dart. Hulk then crushes the gun and runs away as McGee, drugged, tries to follow but can barely make it down the stairs.
Hulk is lost and reaches a dead end of 500lb spools of unprinted news paper. Hulk’s vision is getting blurry and he is getting weak from the dart, but he musters enough strength to push down the rolls and run past.
Finally Hulk finds a quiet place to sit and the reverse transformation occurs. We see a face from Ferrigno to Bixby in the silly large eyebrows, to Bixby just in the contact lenses, but the green glow is gone so, while rudimentary, it’s less cheesy than previous transformations.
Human again, David pulls the dart from his leg. Then finds himself face-to-face with Jack McGee!
But McGee is drugged, his vision so blurred he cannot see any details. Saying “Who are you? Help me.” McGee passes out and David escapes.
And in the coda we are back at Bruno’s. Jill and Karen are there, but David is not. On the wall is a news headline that reads “Restaurant Stories Exposed – National Register Seeks Help” and the women say they are back in the black. But Jill says “The place sure has lost a lot of its magic since he left. I mean men like David just don’t come into a girl’s life very often. David was so special.” Karen says if she ever sees him again she’ll give him a piece of her mind for leaving without notice, but Jill has David’s number: “We’ll never see him again. Another town, another name. Wasn’t he wonderful?” and Karen replies “he was perfect”.
The whole time the two girls are holding a photo of David as they reminisce, but then we get the punchline–the picture is of David’s back, and there’s no way to make out his face.
And we end, as we always do, with David walking down the highway (hey, where’s the tan coat? Maybe in the bag) as The Lonely Man theme plays on.
Thus ends The Incredible Hulk: Three’s Company edition where a misunderstanding causes two girls to go on a wacky adventure with a guy who’s not all he claims to be. With amusing characters scattered around like Sam the guard and Fred the cook, this is a drastic change of pace for Hulk. While I am very appreciative for an episode that is not morose, I do feel the pendulum has swung a bit too far the other way. The comedy in Stop the Presses is too broad, too wacky, and in this episode I was hoping for some great McGee/David cat-and-mouse like we got in The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas. Instead there is virtually no suspense, just jokes.
Still, while not every joke hit, the episode was an amusing diversion aided by fantastic performances. As Karen and Jill, Frann and Cobb exhibit amazing chemistry and timing, the type it usually takes actors years to establish. I wish the characters were a bit more different (I got confused who was Jill and who was Karen halfway through the episode) but they were a joy to watch on-screen and could easily have led a Laverne and Shirley type spin-off. Morita is underutilized in this episode, I wish they’d filmed one scene of Fred returning to his job at the end, but also provides a great energy and timing. All of this gives Bixby a chance to show his comedic chops, and while this episode may have too much garlic I still give it a solid recommend.