Based on the true story of World War II hero Greg "Pappy" Boyington, and Marine fighter squadron VMF-214 aka "The Blacksheep" Black Sheep Squadron took quite a few liberties with the truth on its way to making an interesting show that the family could watch together.
With Robert Conrad playing lead, the show featured an ensamble cast in its weekly fight against both the Japanese and the tightly run Marine hierarchy. Most episodes featured at least some combat filmed with the real live F4U Corsairs, the venerable WWII fighter the Japanese called "The Whisling Death" all filmed in glorious color. Just watching those planes fly a few minutes out of every hour is almost worth sitting through some of the silly stories.
Overall, the series was good but aimed mostly at kids. It's too bad because Pappy Boyington's real story, his struggle with alcoholism and his time as a prisoner of war in Japanese hands, has far more real drama in it than series TV would allow. This is ripe for a serious re-make by HBO that could really take it to the next level.
For one, there is no "Congressional Medal of Honor," and it is not "Won," it is received- it's not a lottery, ladies.
Given the context of the times (post-Vietnam, mid-1970s rabid hatred of and disrespect towards the military), at least the show is vaguely pro-American, but if you read the real story in books like "Once They Were Eagles" by VMF 214 veteran Frank Lawton, you see why the real Black Sheep were outraged that Boyington took Hollywood's money to trivialize their story.
These men were serious professionals, but the show makes them out to be insubordinate drunkards. And if one actually speaks to a real live WW Two Pacific theater Veteran, the idea that they had beautiful nurses in skin tight polyester flight suits at their beck and call ("Pappy's Lambs"), is obscene.
Boyington was not suave, tall and handsome like Robert Conrad, he was an angry, alcoholic bastard, short and stocky- actually the actor who plays "Lt French" looks more like him, short, pudgy, stocky. Boyington was hardly a smooth leading man type like Conrad, but he was a good leader and great pilot who welded men into a winning team.
As a veteran, watching these Hollywood pretty boys in tailored polyester 1970s disco jumpsuits and ragged hair more appropriate to Woodstock, it's painful to watch- but when I suspend my disbelief and watch it like the 10-year-old kid I was back in 1979, it can be fun.
I should cut it a break in that, given that most 1970s TV and movies portrayed service men and veterans as druggies, alcoholics, wife beaters, ticking bombs, this was, for the time- a semi-positive portrayal of the military.
If you are interested in the true story, start with Walton's book, he was there.
Being the daughter of a career officer in the Marine Corps, I would naturally have an interest in this series. That and the fact, my Dad, knew Greg"Pappy" Boyington. Boyington was a kind, decent, man, and one one hell of a pilot. Sure, the series took great leeway with the material in Mr. Boyington's book, but the essence of the American fighting spirit was still there. "Pappy" took a bunch of total misfits and made them into one of the best fighter pilot squadrons in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. These pilots were renegades and rebels and "Pappy" was just the man they needed to lead them. They would and did fly into hell for him. Robert Conrad was a perfect cast as "Pappy" and Robert Ginty was always a personal favorite of mine as Lt. T.J.Wiley. The first season of the series was by far the best. The second season had the addition of "Pappy's Lambs" and this was for pure ratings and finally ended up destroying any creditability the show might have earned. Still, I enjoyed the series and would recommend to this day for the entertainment value alone!
This was a pretty good television series. As is normal with good television shows, this one did not last long enough. This is a show that I would suggest watching if you get the chance. Check the bargain bins at Wal-Mart, the online movies sites (Amazon.com and such) and all of the cable channels that run old shows. Nick at Nite and TV Land are great for theses kind of shows. They will even do a week long spot for shows that only had 6 or so episodes. Then you have your super stations. They run a bunch of old shows too. All in all a pretty good show that did not get a good enough chance. Sometimes it is a simple as the show it is up against. Look at Law & Order. It is one of the longest running shows on TV. They moved it to go up against Lost. After about 2 weeks of getting pounded in the ratings it was moved back to it's original time slot. Shows like this should be given more of an opportunity.
I remember eagerly waiting each week for this show to come on TV. My dad worked for the Air Force, so I had a real interest in the planes and air combat. Of course the interaction between Pappy and his superiors was always a scream. You could always count on him to find a way around their orders--usually with positive results in the end.
By the middle of the first season, Pappy's group of rag tag misfits developed into a well-oiled fighting machine. The climax of each episode left the viewer on the edge of their seats. Truly one of the best World War II TV shows at that time.
I really love this show and never forget the night I turn it on my tv and told I father I was watch Black Sheep Sqaudron. Then the next week he found out what kind of show it was and the whole family was watching it.
My family was in the service from Air Force to The Navy. My sister and I were not able to join the service. I pretend I was on base 214 and that Col. Lard and Gen. Moore was watching me, not like a kid. lol This is one of the reasons why I watch this becuz at the time I liked the Marines. I love watching TJ, Boyld and Jim flying through those skies shooting down the Japs. lol
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