Hip spy shows with covert agencies within agencies--like Alias
--are missing only one thing: A super-duper armor-plated helicopter with "nuclear-tipped shrike missiles." In the action series Airwolf,
a mysterious national security agency called the Firm constructs a "Mach-one-plus chopper that can kick butt," only to have it stolen by the nefarious scientist who designed it (David Hemmings, Blowup, Barbarella
). Desperate, the Firm turns to Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael Vincent), a soulful, cello-playing, art-loving, eagle-watching, guilt-ridden master pilot. Hawke refuses to help unless the Firm searches for his brother, who went MIA in 'Nam. Of course, he succeeds in his mission, but until the Firm fulfills its side of the bargain, he keeps the chopper--but also agrees to fly covert missions in exchange for tips about government efforts to retrieve Airwolf.
This elaborate setup proves surprisingly durable. The combat scenes in Airwolf are clumsily edited, but the scripts--though firmly in the cheesy techno-thriller vein of Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy--are pleasantly zippy. While Vincent may have gone on to a straight-to-video career (appearing in such sterling titles as Hidden Obsession, Indecent Behavior, and Animal Instincts), hes a persuasive and sexy pilot; he's got the same kind of rangy, athletic physicality that makes Kevin Costner convincing as an athlete. Add to this mix the ever-zesty Ernest Borgnine (Marty, The Wild Bunch) and it's clear why Airwolf outlived the similar series Blue Thunder. Most episodes feature international skullduggery with foreign agents trying to steal Airwolf and sell it to the Soviets or Libya, but there are enough clever details to keep you from objecting to the larger absurdity of the all-powerful helicopter. Guest stars include Shannen Doherty (Beverly Hills 90210) and David Carradine (Kill Bill). It's too bad Hemmings didn't become a regular; his sadistic, lecherous traitor gave the two-hour pilot some real juice. --Bret Fetzer
Created by Donald Bellisario (JAG
, Magnum P.I.
was among the many action-adventure shows of the 1980s that garnered a cult following. Jan-Michael Vincent stars as the improbably named Stringfellow Hawke, a Vietnam veteran still troubled by the disappearance of his brother during the war. Secret government agent Archangel (Alex Cord) approaches Hawke with a unique offer: to help him recover and then become the de facto pilot of the powerful, top-secret helicopter known as Airwolf. With that proposal the series begins chronicling Hawke's adventures, along with his sidekick Dominic (Ernest Borgnine) as pilot of the advanced aircraft.