NPF: ESSENCE OF EIGHTIES

NPF has taken on a regrettably serious tone lately. Let's get back to having a few ha-has.

One of my colleagues is a devotee of terrible 1980s action movies (I believe his favorite is Road House, from which you can see every punch and kick condensed into a single 10 minute video). He recently sent me this clip of the opening sequence from the short-lived TV series Blue Thunder, which is based on (and uses copious amounts of stock footage from) the film of the same name. It is basically Airwolf, which defeated it in an epic ratings battle for the "Shows about helicopters" market. For reasons that will become clear in a few moments, I think this may be the finest of all TV intros:

A few things.

1. 22 year old Dana Carvey. Regardless of his age, role, or station in life, I cannot see Dana Carvey and think of anything except a) "It's sucking my will to live!" and b) Strom Thurmond, the best part of the single greatest cold open sketch in the history of Saturday Night Live. Also, Chris Farley was essentially born to play Howell Heflin ("That's a good mooovie, jurrdge.")

2. Dick Butkus is cast as "Ski" Butowski. Attorneys for the network vetoed the writers' initial choices of "Stereotype McTypecast" and "Polack J. Polackson" as ethnically insensitive. I don't know anything about the character, but I bet that beneath his gruff exterior lies a heart of gold and a softer side.

3. There's an actor named Sandy McPeak. I can't even.

4. The "Turn around and make a serious face into the camera as we put your name on the screen" intro. You don't see that one very often anymore, do you?

5. The theme song. Good god, the theme song. It's like they boiled the 1980s, collected the vapors, and distilled a pure, concentrated Eighties Essence…and made a song out of it. Horn section! Sound effects! Muted, Boss-distorted guitar lead/solo! It reminds me of that song Mark Wahlberg's character recorded in Boogie Nights after his porn career melted down.

If there is anything more ridiculously 80s than this, I don't think I can handle seeing it. (Small Wonder excluded. That…that is its own category. It has no competition.)

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36 thoughts on “NPF: ESSENCE OF EIGHTIES”

  • Like, like, like. Actually, SNL clip was even better—it's amazing how many of those guys are still national players (or were until very recently); and it was *really* weird seeing Al Franken playing a senator on TV…

  • Ah the 80's action film genre. They all have the same elements in one form or another: Right-wing anti-Communist(war movies) or anti-Liberal(cop movies) messages. Over the top action, violence, and explosions. Veiled, or not so veiled homoeroticism.

    Anyway, I have a funny anecdote about Airwolf. I was quite young when Airwolf was on the air. At that age(about 4-5), you have no concept of how TV shows work, and you tend to judge every show by it's theme song(e.g. If the opening is animated, you assume it must be a cartoon). So I see Airwolf's opening and I'm like "FUCK YEAH!" You've got this helicopter flying all over the place with this awesome 80's techno theme song in the background. Then the show starts. I'm thinking, "WHY THE FUCK ARE THESE PEOPLE JUST STANDING AROUND? WHY IS THE HELICOPTER NOT FLYING AND SHOOTING THINGS?" One of the biggest disappointments of my young childhood.

  • One of my most scarring experiences on the early internet was being pointed to a Small Wonder fan-fiction site.

    Grown men obsessed with the idea of a perfect little robot 12-year old girl who could be programmed to uncomplainingly…do things. Dead God.

  • Without bothering to look it up, I still feel 99.9% certain that the writer of the theme also had a hand in writing the A-Team theme.

    Also, what Arslan said.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Oy!
    Without a doubt, that was one of the worst shows – EVAH!

    And you didn't need to watch a single episode to know that. Conversations around the water-cooler at work (yes, kiddies, we had real water-coolers where people would gather and talk, instead of now, where everybody sits in their cubicle, sucks on their favorite brand of water from a plastic container, and either e-mails, IM's, or tweets, their opinions) told you how epically bad it was.

    On the flip side – "Miami Vice" was totally cool, with a lot of video editing, and great New Wave and "Top 40" music.

    It was the 80's version of "I Spy," featuring a white/black cop duo, only in this case, they were chasing drug-dealing super-villains in hot sports cars and cigarette boats, with a lot of slinky beauties as wallpaper.

    Too bad it "jumped-the-shark" fairly early on.

    And in later episodes, it didn't just "jump-the-shark," it was reaming the shark up the @$$ while giving a reach-around to an alligator.

    Hint to viewers of American TV drama's:
    The writers have no more ideas, and the series is done, when the 2nd relative of one of the stars is kidnapped or killed, and they have to figure out who did it.

    Actually, the 1st relative is the real give-away – but usually that's fairly well-handled because of the novelty.
    The 2nd one means the show is shot, done, over, finis – and everyone's now just mailing it in from now on out.

  • Mr. Prosser says:

    I don't remember this show at all. I do remember the movie with Roy Scheider and the plot that actually presented some of the worries of corrupt government and an incipient police state. Obviously TV land didn't worry about that.

  • Blue Thunder was hilarious. First, because it was such an atrocious adaptation of the movie–the movie was kind of dark, and the whole point was that this super-copter WAS A BAD IDEA. It's like making a tv show out of the movie "Christine," where two loveable teens and their magic car solve crimes. Hell, you could have had Dick Butkus play "Ski" Butowski, tough but loveable mechanic in "Christine: The Series."

    Second, Blue Thunder got beaten by its own rip-off, Airwolf. If you're a tv show based on a helicopter movie, and you get beaten by a hastily cobbled-together ripoff of that same movie, well, that's kind of funny.

  • The one thing I (barely) remember about this show is that it always seemed like the copter's low fuel warning alarm went off in the middle of a chase / mission / whatever, causing the pilot to break it off and go refuel.

    That and "whisper mode."

    Airwolf was far superior. The original, not the one where Stringfellow Hawk's brother escapes Vietnam (or wherever) and takes over piloting the overhauled copter that shot incredibly poorly rendered and unrealistic laser beams.

  • Number Three says:

    Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith in the same show? Awesome. Funny thing–Back in the 1980s, I knew several gentlemen of Polish descent, and they were all extremely proud of their Polish heritage, even in a semi-ironic way. So a Polish-American with a "Polish" nickname, that's pretty much spot on. (To this day, one of my friends uses his "Polish Power" when he needs an extra boost.)

  • I went to college in the 1980s and had one rule for my roommates….no TV in the dorm room. Thirty years later I am glad I did that. (I wish I could talk my wife into the same deal now.)

    Anyway, by avoiding TV and top40, I missed a lot of the tripe and crap that people rail against nowadays. When I think about culture in the 1980s, I think about the Clash, Talking Heads and 1985 Chicago Bears.

  • As a four-and-five-year-old, I too sang/hummed/was temporarily obsessed with the "Airwolf" theme — it came into my head flawlessly while reading this. And I do similarly remember when I finally saw the movie Blue Thunder that it was not exactly in favor of the helicopter, but I owned an official Blue Thunder helicopter toy tie-in, just about the right size for G.I. Joes (which must have been the point), and ignored anti-militarism for the fully rotating gatling gun in the nose that was SO COOL. In Airwolf's defense as a ratings juggernaut, it DID feature Ernest Borgnine. Both of those things no doubt made me the chardonnay-swilling elitist liberal I am today.

  • All action show themes derived from the A-Team, and Mike Post is the mother sauce.

    For a richer, milder, longer-lasting 80s experience, may I recommend TJ Hooker? A cop show featuring William Shatner jumping onto a variety of moving vehicles, a shirtless Adrian Zmed (Romanian playing Italian) vying with Heather Locklear for hairstyle dominance…serving up Police Academy realness, but sadly lacking in the Bubba Smith department. (RIP, Bubba.)

    Match it with hours of WWE exposure, and it's the perfect transition piece to groom you for Walker, Texas Ranger.

  • "Airwolf had Ernest Borgnine. What more could you ask for?"

    A guy with an eyepatch. And they had that, too!

  • I love that they couldn't come up with better names for Butkus and Bubba than Butowski and … Bubba.

    That's some top notch writing that is.

  • Rick Massimo says:

    I love that they couldn't come up with better names for Butkus and Bubba than Butowski and … Bubba.

    I want desperately to think they did that because they couldn't get Bubba to answer to any other name in character.

  • Ah, the 80's. My home decade.

    When I think of the TV of the times, in addition to the A-Team and Family Ties, what sticks in my mind most are the commercials for Levi's, Pepsi, and AT&T.

    And let's not forget New Coke and Max Headroom. A TV show ahead of its time, or a cheesy commercial-turned-bad-satire? Heck, why not all of the above.

    The most 80's movie of the decade? Check out a teen comedy called "Can't Buy Me Love". It wasn't the best or funniest of the high school comedies, and it didn't have the star power of the Brat Pack, but damn, it hit every single 80's cliche over the course of the plot.

    Polish Power in the 80's was a real thing. Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II were good inspirations for Polish-Americans to take pride in their heritage. But there was a curious dichotomy in popular culture. A Polish-American from the Midwest was always a burly, hard-working, never-give-up blue collar guy. One from the Northeast was typically a smart but socially inept nerd.

    Of course, for the best commentary on the 80's as they were happening, two words: BLOOM. COUNTY.

  • I was already deep into adulthood by that time, and have no recollection of any of this stuff. I think after Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, TV had little further to offer me, other than comedy and sports.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNZ8n1ovcbw

    Except, of course, for 77 Sunset Strip and the Untouchables, which put the capstone on it; and I haven't watched a TV drama since — Maverick clearly not being a drama.

    I wasn't until the Clinton impeachment that I became political. Now I mostly watch MSNBC. Opps, sorry — NPF. My bad.

    JzB

  • Hmm..I'd never actually seen any of Blue Thunder before. I have to say at least BT doesn't look as much like a traffic copter than Airwolf. Another interesting thing to note is that the 80's were known for a string of crappy action shows involving some kind of high-tech vehicle. You have Knight Rider, this, and Airwolf. Am I leaving anything out?

  • Dana Carvey at SNL for me will always be Bush I in the debate with Dukakis. ("You have 30 more seconds Mr. Vice-President.").

    Airwolf, check; Small Wonder, check; TJ Hooker, check.

    I don't know what it was, but it strikes me that there were number of real oddities on TV for that decade, especially given the limited number of channels. Add to Small Wonder, BJ and the Bear and Manimal. (Admittedly, that last one wasn't around long, but I was there for it.)

  • "If there is anything more ridiculously 80s than this, I don't think I can handle seeing it."

    I don't know if it's *more* ridiculously 80s, but I submit for your perusal the clip for Toto's "Rosanna". It's ridiculously 80s.

  • JimCat: I see your Can't Buy Me Love and raise you a Valley Girl. At least the movie title comes from the 80s, and to me it's a toss up between that or Heavy Metal for best soundtrack ever. Can't beat roll credits to Melt With You.

    And remember, "If they attack the car. Save the radio!"

  • "Airwolf" was a show about helicopters? No kidding?

    I was certain the woman's movement had finally progressed far enough to give some female producer sufficient influence in Hollywood to put Jan Michael Vincent on the screen for an hour each week so that every other woman in the world could watch in hopes of another "Buster and Billie" moment.

    Well, ya learn something new every day.

  • nielson actually polled me about blue thunder before the show went on

    "do you think a crime-fighting helicopter is realistic?"

    "um, no …"

  • to jimcat at 12:13 p.m.

    the max headroom pilot kicked television ass.
    must be the american pilot, though. the english pilot was a waste of bandwidth.

    matt frewer was kicking ass in those days. max headroom AND doctor, doctor. a great comedy series which i cannot find on tape or dvd

  • I was a huge fan of the movie Blue Thunder when it came out (it was the cool helicopter, not the cool anti-tyranny theme), but I confess I don't even remember the TV show…
    I do remember the Airwolf pilot, tho, and that was actually not bad; much darker & the chopper's capabilities were somewhat more plausible. It explains how the guy got the eyepatch, but not how you hide a giant hollow mesa from the government.

    What Arslan said. Cool music, snappy editing, shit blowing up? This show's gonna kick ass! But it's really just about a boring fat guy, a dude who can't act, and the same stock footage of the chopper over and over and over…

    In the "Valley Girl vs Heavy Metal" soundtrack contest, I hafta go with VG, by a nose. They were both awesome (yes, kids, once upon a time Sammy Hagar was cool.) but VG just introduced me to too much great music (Bonnie Hayes's "girls like me", and The Flirts "Jukebox" being two of my faves)

    For me, the pinnacle of 80's videos will always be The Greg Kihn Band. Check out the Flirt's video of "jukebox" on YouTube for a pure example of 80's fashion, as well…

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