This review contains moderate spoilers.
Although it ultimately only ran for a few episodes, 'Street Hawk' was released with big publicity here in the United Kingdom. The TV world already had other very successful "super vehicles", the most famous being 'Knight Rider', but also 'Airwolf' (and 'Blue Thunder', but that never really caught on so much in the U.K.). So when ITV purchased 'Street Hawk', they made a big deal out of it, giving it a lot of promotion before it began broadcasting (Thursday nights in my local ITV region, Thames).
I am a huge collector of vintage TV, particularly that from the 1980s, and at one point had around 2000 episodes of various shows on VHS (no life!), but I actually hadn't seen 'Street Hawk' in around 25 years. Shows like 'The A-Team' (my all-time favourite by the way, I even run my own detailed web site about it!) and 'Knight Rider' were popular enough to merit a number of repeat runs (albeit out-of-sequence and hacked up), but for whatever reason (partly due to it's short life, maybe), 'Street Hawk' never graced our screens again the U.K., and so I was never able to make video recordings of any of the episodes by the time I could afford my own videotapes.
I believe it did finally turn up on satellite channel Bravo (which I don't have) a couple of years ago, and I actually purchased a 'private' off-air copy of this run on DVD, along with a few episodes of other shows I was after. But the quality of the recording (shoddily converted from an old VHS tape) meant that I never really sat down to watch the episodes. Then, a year or so ago, the series received a welcome release on DVD. This DVD set has been sitting on my shelf for a little while, and as part of my "time to sit down, re-watch and review all those old classics" project I seem to have given myself, tonight I finally sat and watched the Pilot.
Part of me... no, a LOT of me... was worried that it would not be as good as my memory recollected. Even "back in the day" as a kid, even though I loved the series, I knew it wasn't as slickly produced as aforementioned likes of 'Knight Rider' or 'The A-Team'; and I was worried that the series would now just come across as a lame cash in on the success of 'Knight Rider' and 'Airwolf'. ...But I shouldn't have worried, as it's is still a terrific watch!
This Pilot does have a real corny "b-movie" feel to it, but I mean that in a GOOD way, and not even in a modernistic ironic way. Yes it's corny, but hey, this was an era when TV was FUN, not like most of the daren't-break-a-smile fare we get so much nowadays.
The Pilot sets the scene for the series well. It has an interesting story that moves along at a good pace, which thankfully means there aren't any stretched out weaker moments, as so many Pilots / feature-length offerings often suffer from. Of particular highlight is the motorcycle chase, of Street Hawk pursuing the two villains also on motorcycle, through the city and down into the tunnels below. (However, I did wonder what happened to these bad guys after they were caught; they seemed centre to the whole crime spree, but just disappeared after this.)
As injured motorcycle cop Jesse Mach, Rex Smith about gets by. To be honest, it does feel at times as if he's trying a little too hard, like the lead in a highschool play, but I think this is much down to Smith's relative lack of television experience (before this, he mostly worked as a singer).
But my favourite, both as a child and now, is Joe Regalbuto as Norman Tuttle. Such a wonderfully staid, nerdy character – and from an era of TV when nerds really *were* nerds, not the "cool" nerds we get now. He's a really fun character, and comes second only behind Thom Bray's wonderful Murray "The Boz" Bozinsky in Stephen J. Cannell's 'Riptide' in the "great TV nerds of the 1980s" category, that I have just decided should exist as a recognised group.
Jayne Modean plays Sandy McCoy, the Police Public Relations officer whom the injured Jesse must now work with; her role was replaced by a similar character, Rachel Adams (Jeannie Wilson), for the regular series.
It is also interesting to see Christopher Lloyd as "head bad guy" Anthony Corrido. Lloyd is a very varied actor, and this role is a stark contrast to arguably his most famous role, the eccentric, lovable Doc Brown, in 'Back to the Future' (incidentally my all-time favourite movie) that he would next work on after this role.
Regarding Corrido, this is one of my only real gripes about this Pilot, as we are led to feel he is such a menace, yet it never feels to be fully explained what he is up to in sufficient detail (we get some patchy hints about stealing drugs impounded by the Police).
The other spot for cult TV & movies enthusiast is Robert Beltran (playing Jesse's parter and best friend Marty Walsh, who is killed), who would go on to co-star in 'Star Trek: Voyager' in the 1990s-early 2000s.
But other than a couple of very small niggles, I found the Pilot to be very enjoyable. I love the idea, far from 'Knight Rider' always being the hero of the day, that the Street Hawk is considered by the authorities to be a vigilante, and thus disliked by them. (The only other thing I really did pick up on was the rather abrupt ending, as if something more was lost in post-production editing.)
There have been several versions of the 'Street Hawk' Pilot over the years, including several different versions on video release in various countries. The main variant is a version sold to the Canadian home video market, where Street Hawk's firepower is displayed differently (like blue electricity instead of a red laser beam), as well as a couple of dodgy matte effects of Street Hawk jumping that were removed from the regular version, and a couple of minor deleted scenes. This seems to have been from an earlier, pre-broadcast version of the Pilot, and makes a welcome appearance on the extras of the DVD release.
All-in-all, I shouldn't have worried about 'Street Hawk' seeming so terrible all these years later – it's great fun. Yes it does (going from this Pilot, at least) have a real "b-movie" feel to it, but that's all part of the appeal. I really enjoyed watching this Pilot again after all of these years, and look forward to the rest of the episodes. For sheer enjoyment factor, I give the Pilot 10/10.