Worst to Best
The Incredible Hulk
Season One

Prev 2

6 The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas

A cost-cutting episode, whereby "Las Vegas" is rendered via stock footage and back projection, and even Bill Bixby's considerable acting skill is taxed as he has to pretend he's in an urgent highway cab ride while clearly in a studio. A decent episode, though there's a perfunctory feel to proceedings, with various plot strands underdeveloped and routinely wrapped up. Perhaps the oddest element is that David has work as a shill for a casino, and has no moral compunction over this line of work. The high point comes when Jack McGee finally confronts the creature, and begins to understand that not only is it not evil, but also witnesses it about to change...

5 747

In covering the first season of The Incredible Hulk I feel that I've maybe been a little hard on the series. However, while I hope that later seasons improve, it's hard to deny that this childhood favourite hasn't aged well. Formulaic scripts, bland direction and disinterested performances from some of the guest cast all make for very "cookie cutter" television that probably isn't as good as you may remember.
     747 is one of the better episodes, though it's riddled with contrivance. David just happens to sit on a plane next to a man with a coffee fixation, who in turn greedily takes a coffee before it's offered to him. Said coffee is drugged (by airline staff who are looking to steal Egyptian artefacts in the hold) and the passenger falling comatose alerts David's suspicions. If such a plot sounds convoluted, then the real payoff comes at the end, where David is forced to land the plane himself, and uses his willpower to avoid changing into the Hulk, staying for several moments in a half Hulk/half human state. Sadly, each episode features a "pre credits teaser", showing you highlights from the forthcoming episode, many of which are hugely spoiler insensitive: scenes as far as 42 minutes into the runtime are shown to the viewer before the opening credits have even taken place.

4 The Beast Within

The episode to feature the aforementioned diamond smuggling operation, whereby Banner gets involved after travelling to a zoo lab to conduct experiments upon himself. Although such a set up is very "samey" - there are crooks that want to rough him up, a female colleague who's attracted to him, and Jack McGee is on his trail - this is a thoughtful, leisurely-paced episode that's an easy watch.
     The biggest point of contention is a shallow one, but also valid: at the centre of the episode is a gorilla, played by a man in a suit. Two years before The Incredible Hulk began there was a now largely-forgotten TV show called The Ghost Busters, featuring a man in a gorilla suit, there to provide laughs for small children. If anything, the improbably-named "Tracy" was far more convincing than what we have here, and it's a full testament to Bixby's sincerity that he's able to play it with a straight face. It looks ridiculous, and, as they couldn't have used a real gorilla, then the sensible alternative should perhaps have been....... not to write a story that featured a wild gorilla in the first place.

3 Terror In Times Square

Whereas too many of the episodes were guilty of using stock footage, this instalment really does place the Hulk in Times Square. If series were judged solely on their budget then it would condemn at least half a dozen of the programmes previously covered in "worst to best" articles, yet it makes an episode feel more "special" when it's clear they threw a few dollars at it.
     Here David works in an arcade which is under threat by protection racketeers. If there's a complaint, it's that the various characters are a little too broadly sketched; the villain couldn't be more of a bad guy (he even wears a black hat) while the good guys are so lovable they're practically made out of marzipan and kittens. Yet there's an emotional investment in their plight, so much so that Lou Ferrigno bending what is obviously foam rubber, or various bad sound dubs, can't detract from the rewarding payoff.

2 Earthquakes Happen

Arguably the most interesting of season one's regular length episodes, this tale uses footage from the 1974 movie Earthquake, but uses it to enhance the narrative rather than supplant it. Although there's perhaps no real sense of genuine drama in the Earthquake scenes (1970s US TV has a particular look and style that hasn't aged well), it's a break from the typical formula.
     Here there are no Mafiosi gangsters or drug traffickers, and the person causing the chaos is David himself. His irresponsibility is upped to its greatest level, as he takes the place of an investigative doctor to study whether a nuclear plant site could withstand an Earthquake. Seemingly uncaring that his actions could place millions in danger, David uses forged documents solely so he can operate the site's gamma radiation equipment to rid himself of the Hulk.

1 The Incredible Hulk
(Pilot Episode)

The initial series pilot, which appeared to have a greater budget and respected the intelligence of the audience to a greater degree. There's a certain manipulative, saccharine quality on display - this is an episode that opens with a soft focus kitten montage, after all - but it's hard not to get choked up at the climax. There, David Banner, (Bixby, as ever, as charming as a cat playing a fiddle) comes to terms with the fact that he'll never know if a dead female colleague really loved him. Said female colleague had actually confessed she did... but to the Hulk, and Banner has no memory of the Hulk's actions after he changes back.
     There's a striking and thoughtful purpose behind this 91m pilot, as Banner investigates how humans can tap into reserves of strength, driven to obsession after his wife was killed in a car crash and he was powerless to save her. What's saddening is that while none of the first season is actually bad, this is the only episode that's genuinely great, standing leagues above the other episodes in this ranking.

Prev 2