Monday, September 26, 2016

Further Viewing: The Incredible Hulk "Proof Positive"

"You're like an alcoholic when it comes to the Hulk, and the way you're gonna be cured is to give him up entirely."
--Pat Steinhauer

After we discuss an episode, we often end up watching others from the same series. In the case of The Incredible Hulk, I went looking for the one element missing from "747"--hard-nosed reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). The only regular character on the show besides David/Hulk, McGee spent the series pursuing the Hulk story for tabloid rag the National Register. In the pilot, David utters the immortal line "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" to McGee, which appeared in the opening credits each week. From the beginning, McGee has run-ins with David and the big Green guy, but he can't get the proof he needs to bust the story wide open (even what amounts to a publicity still of the Hulk running through Times Square can't persuade nonbelievers). Too bad he didn't take a certain airline flight.

In my own search for McGee, I hit the jackpot with "Proof Positive" (season three, episode 13). He doesn't just play an important role. The episode steps away from David's wanderings to focus its attention on McGee and his hard-boiled life in Chicago. In fact, Bill Bixby doesn't even appear in this episode except in flashbacks. A double plays David in the climactic chase, and the Hulk-out features still photographs.

The episode opens in a dream sequence of McGee and the Hulk in a desert. McGee awakens in a sweat in his studio apartment (adorned with African masks). After a stock-footage tour through Chicago, meet crusty, wild-eyebrowed Register editor Mark Roberts (Walter Brooke) and office weasel Garland (Charles Thomas Murphy). Garland clearly has it out for Jack and reveals to Roberts that McGee has missed an important interview with a politician's assistant, who's taken her story to a competitor. It turns out McGee has missed a number of scoops his pursuit of the Hulk. That might change, however, as Roberts explains that the publisher, on a four-month honeymoon with wife number ?, has sent a replacement, his daughter Pat Steinhauer (Caroline Smith).

When McGee and Roberts meet with her, she lays down the law. She wants to make the Register respectable. No more stories about UFOs and green giants! Hard news only and stop underestimating their loyal housewife audience. How does and old-school hack like McGee handle this edict? He argues, then goes to the roof of the building and starts throwing file photos off it. A co-worker spots him from the ground below and warns Roberts and (call me) Ms. Steinhauer. Roberts tells the co-worker to call the rescue squad and police and to "Get a photographer out there!" We've already had indications that McGee suffers some kind of Hulk-related PTSD--his dream, envisioning the Hulk smashing Ms. Steinhauer's glass desk--so the audience believes he might throw himself off the roof. Instead, he uses the threat to try to negotiate with Ms. Steinhauer. If he can prove the Hulk exists, she'll let him keep the story.

Of course, she backs off once back in her office, telling him every story plays the same way (in unintentional comic book Hulkspeak): "Hulk sighted, Hulk destroys, Hulk disappears." She tries to convince McGee the Hulk represents some psychological problem ("Don't tell me," McGee sneers, "you minored in psychology") while McGee regails her with stories of episodes of old (for not appearing much in the actual episode, the Hulk appears a lot--we might get more Hulk destruction in this episode than any other through the virtue of recycled clips). He tells her he's "tried everything from the obvious to the obscure" and how much the Hulk has damaged his life--he barely noticed when his girlfriend left, and he hasn't voted in two years! He also meditates on the apathy of witnesses: "They all think he's part of the show, or they don't want to get involved."

The episode continues this back and forth about the Hulk's validity and McGee's obsession. After another desert-themed dream, McGee awakens, and not long after, Ms. Steinhauer calls him at home, using the alcoholic metaphor and urging him to try other stories for a while. He gives it a go (even getting permission to call her Pat), but Garland taunts him with a lead from Gary, Indiana. McGee considers it, even calling the airline to purchase a ticket (more on this later) but decides against it after flashing on images of Pat instead of the Hulk. In a noir-lit late-night meeting at the office, he confesses this to Pat, suggests they might feel things for each other. They don't resolve anything, but home, Jack gets a call from the Gary, Indiana, tipster. He can't resist and ends upquitting has job and booking a flight the next morning, where Pat meets up with him.

Will she finally believe him? Will he take down the Hulk with a tranquilizer gun? Will they address their feelings? I won't spoil any more, but the climax involves goggles, hardhats, a furnace, and a tumble down stairs.

As a kid, I probably hated this episode. What kid wants to watch a show about newspapers? On the other hand, it does include a lot of Hulk footage, and I give credit to the producers for recognizing that they couldn't focus 100% of the show on McGee. As an adult, I enjoy it quite a bit and in general tend to enjoy when a show (or a comic) takes time out to spotlight a supporting character. McGee, a character who usually ranges from annoyance to villain, becomes a human being driven in a similar way as David. Now he falsely views the Hulk as a murderer, but he also seems after some truth rather than glory. Pat (call me Ms. Steinhauer) proves a good foil, driven by her own desire to prove herself not just in a man's world but as a rich man's child given a job through privilege. The show sticks to its themes, and Colvin gives his usual fine, slightly sweaty performance as McGee. You believe his obsession, even sympathize with it even if it leads him to damage his life and sometimes say rude things to Pat. In a remake today, would the roles reverse somehow? Would McGee find himself a reporter forced to follow the story by a click-bait-driven editor, or could it play the same way--McGee pursuing the click-bait while a new editor wants to buck the trends and focus on "real" news?

Some final random thoughts:
  • The rooftop scene loses a few points because the view includes rolling California hills and what looks like farmland. Remember, this episode takes place in Chicago.
  • Ooh, that Garland!
  • Choice dialogue one: 
Roberts: Do you take [your coffee] black?
Pat: No.
Roberts: Learn.
  • Choice dialogue two:
Roberts: He's on a flight to Gary.
Pat: Gary, Indiana?
Roberts: Gary, Indiana.
Pat: We sound like a Broadway musical.
  • At one point, Garland rattles of some fact sheets to Roberts, asking whether to keep them. They include the Gary, Indiana, tip (no), a cauliflower diet ("Cauliflower? No."), and a "Schneider follow-up." I'd like to believe this has something to do with Schneider from fellow CBS show One Day at a Time.
  • If you don't know your geography, Gary, Indiana, lies roughly an hour outside of Chicago. As I write this, it would take an hour and four minutes (54 without traffic) to an hour and twelve minutes (51 without traffic) to drive from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago (the airport McGee uses) to Gary Chicago International Airport. I obsess over this stuff the way McGee obsesses over the Hulk (don't get me started on how it takes twenty minutes to get anywhere in the D.C. area on Homeland).

  • Finally, in doing a little research, I learned that Jack Colvin performed in a comedy duo with Yvonne Wilder in the mid to late 1960s. They appeared on many of the variety shows of the time and performed a farewell show at Carnegie Hall, yet the Internet has little useful information on them, but you can learn more at the Jack Colvin Archive. They later reunited on 1980s sitcom Gimme a Break. Below, you can watch a video of their first TV performance on The Hollywood Palace in 1964.


  1. I think while this episode is full o'cliches, I also love the spotlight on Jack McGee. In fact, I am stunned that it doesn't carry at least a "Story by Jack Colvin" credit.
    I like how this one tries to at least explain A) Colvin's obsession with the big green guy and B) the fact that there are so many Hulk sightings all over the country and yet there can still be Hulk skeptics (I find that hard to buy even considering this was taking place in the less-interconnected 1970s/early 1980s).

  2. I find it hard to but because of that one photograph of him running through Times Square. That's no vague, grainy shot like Bighfoot or the Loch Ness monster.

    1. With presumably thousands of alleged witnesses, like people who claim to be at Woodstock: "Oh, yeah, sure, YOU were there when the Hulk rampaged through Times Square."