REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


“Second Thunder.” An episode of BLUE THUNDER. ABC, 6 January 1984. Rastar Production Inc and Public Arts Inc in association with Sony Pictures Television. Cast: James Farentino as Frank Chaney, Dana Carvey as “Jafo” Wonderlove, Sandy McPeak as Captain Braddock, Bubba Smith as Bubba, Dick Butkus as “Ski” and Ann Cooper as J. J. Douglas. Guest Cast: Richard Lynch. Executive Producer: Roy Huggins. Co-Executive Producer: David Moessinger. Producers: Jeri Taylor and Donald A. Baer. Teleplay by David Moessinger and Jeri Taylor. Story by Fred McKnight. Directed by Gilbert Shilton.

   There are very few reasons to remember this series unless you were a young person during 1984 and enjoyed watching helicopters and explosions.

   The success of the film BLUE THUNDER in 1983 led Columbia Pictures (owned by Sony) to adapt the idea into a TV series. ABC bought the idea and scheduled it as a mid-season replacement for Friday at 9 to 10pm (Eastern).

   According to TVTango.com, the first episode “Second Thunder” received the ratings of 17.9 versus CBS’s DALLAS (25.4) and NBC’s Movie THE JERK, TOO (9.6 overall). The series was quickly cancelled with only 11 episodes filmed and aired.

   The most positive part of this was that one of television’s most creative producers, Roy Huggins, came out of semi-retirement to executive produce (showrun) the series.

   However, Huggins did not last long. As he explained, “The people at ABC wanted to produce the show. I wasn’t being allowed to produce the show, so I quit. I had the same argument 35 years ago when I started television. These people weren’t even born then.” (ROY HUGGINS: CREATOR OF MAVERICK, 77 SUNSET STRIP, THE FUGITIVE AND THE ROCKFORD FILES by Paul Green, McFarland 2014)

   The series attempted to mimic the film’s style but not its substance. There was a key difference between the two as the TV version approved of the idea of local police possessing top military hardware while the movie’s had the opposite view. Oh, and one of the character’s nickname “Jafo” bowed to TV censors and the f stood for “frustrated” (“Just Another Frustrated Observer”) rather than the stronger f word used in the film.

   The first episode “Second Thunder” featured a drug smuggler with a grudge against Blue Thunder’s pilot Frank. The bad guy P.V.C. is willing to kill as many people as necessary to get Frank to meet him in a shoot-out in the sky. Frank is willing, but his Captain won’t let him because it is not by the book.

   Currently all eleven episodes are available to view on You Tube, but BLUE THUNDER was released on DVD in 2006. Here is “Second Thunder.”

   The problems of this episode and the series overall are obvious – lack of budget, bad writing, and a cliché cast of characters. You know what you are in for when the helicopter Blue Thunder is the most interesting character.

   In this episode, James Farentino came off smug and annoying as the self-centered rogue pilot Lt. Frank Chaney. Dana Carvey was tolerable as the too cute character “Jafo,” the navigator and computer expert. As if Carvey was not enough humor the series featured the comedic relief team of Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, two ex-football players in real life and in character, who manned the “Rolling Thunder” a giant van that supplied ground support and offer something to go with the helicopter should any toy company be interested.

   Sandy McPeak offered nothing new playing the by the book grumpy Captain Braddock who dislikes Frank and exists only for gratuitous character conflict. Only Richard Lynch gave a nice performance as the cliché villain with a less than sane sense of humor.

   While TV series have starred helicopters before (WHIRLYBIRDS (Syndicated, 1957), CHOPPER ONE (ABC, 1974), etc), the season of 1983-84 featured two, BLUE THUNDER and CBS’s AIRWOLF. The latter was the more successful of the two with viewers. BLUE THUNDER may have had the better helicopter but AIRWOLF offered more interesting characters, relationships that interested the viewer and better stories.

   Granted the series was aimed at a young audience but the writing was horrible by even kid TV standards. The script was burdened by too many amateurish writing errors such as characters that told us what was happening as if this was radio and we couldn’t see.

    “Here they come with the bomb,” Jafo announces as we watch the bomb squad arrive carrying the bomb.

   Somehow they resisted labeling that device as “The Bomb,” but every gadget used in Blue Thunder had a button that would light up with its name so when Frank told “Jafo” to use some gadget such as “whisper mode” a button lit up with “whisper mode” on it.

   The villain’s name P.V.C. was pointless when the intent was it to be mysterious. The writers made the mistake of having Captain Braddock comment about how mysterious it was but then never answered the mystery. The villain’s end would insult the intelligence of a comic book reader. (It did mine.)

   Weak acting with bad characters and inept writing, you would think they would at least get the star’s scenes right. But even the air action with Blue Thunder was flawed by a lack of budget that forced the use of too many reused shots and footage from the film.

   Toss in bad production values such as cheap sets and locations that had been overused by THE A-TEAM and you give up trying to find any redeeming value to this TV series.

   And it was not just this one episode; for example in the last episode “The Island” Bubba and Ski take their positions behind barrels marked petrol for their gun battle with the bad guys.

   Thanks to the DVD and the helicopter there are several reviews of BLUE THUNDER on the Internet, yet none I found mentioned Roy Huggins.

   I wonder what kind of series BLUE THUNDER would have been if ABC had let Huggins have his way. It is interesting that the next series Huggins would work on was NBC’s HUNTER when Stephen J. Cannell asked him to take over after the disastrous first season. One of Huggins first changes with HUNTER was to feature less action and focus more on developing the characters. Funny, that is just what BLUE THUNDER needed (and some decent Huggins approved writers).