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Airwolf: Season 4
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Airwolf heads to the skies for its stunning final flight in all 24 episodes in the fourth season of one of the most action-packed adventure series ever made. Piloted by Stringfellow Hawke’s long-lost brother, Saint John (Barry Van Dyke), the stage is set for air battles unlike anything seen before. Joined by a new crew comprised of Dominic’s resourceful niece, Jo (Michele Scarabelli), rebellious Major Mike Rivers (Geraint Wyn Davies), “Company” agent Jason Locke (Anthony Sherwood) and Newman, Locke’s mysterious supervisor and F.I.R.M. agent (William B. Davis), Airwolf faces down its greatest challenges yet: from the threat of nuclear meltdown to contraband weapons and radioactive clouds. It’s explosive action from start to finish in the show that took adventure to new heights.
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When "Airwolf" went off the air in mid-1986, a fourth season based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada was quickly concocted in order to boost the series into a full syndication package (where 70-80+ total episodes were required at the time). USA Network, in conjunction with Universal Studios, then aired this new "Airwolf" in January of 1987 through the end of the summer. The last few minutes of Episode 24 ("Welcome to Paradise") made absolutely no effort to create any sense of a series closure, so presumably a fifth season was at least possible. While that obviously didn't happen, the fourth season at least proved that it could often match up with its far more expensive predecessor.
Kicking off the 4th season is the transition episode, "Blackjack," where Jan-Michael Vincent makes a final appearance as surly master pilot, Stringfellow Hawke, who is soon seriously injured in a helicopter explosion that kills co-pilot Dominic Santini (no Ernest Borgnine here, just a quick cameo by a padded stand-in). Meanwhile, String's long-lost brother, St. John (newly cast Barry Van Dyke), has been sending him secret messages from a prisoner camp in the Burmese Highlands, initially unaware that Col. Ray "Blackjack" Bouchard is scheming to use the captive Hawke to steal Airwolf by setting up a deadly trap. Newly introduced are affable Major Mike Rivers (Geraint Wyn Davies), Dom's niece Jo (Michelle Scarabelli), and Archangel's replacement, Jason Locke (Anthony Sherwood), who quickly put the puzzle pieces together and rescue St. John rather easily. This entertaining yet implausible installment is personally my season favorite, especially Vincent's poignant, final on-screen moments as Stringfellow Hawke leaving his character's ultimate fate as suitably ambiguous.
Among the show's numerous retroactive changes, you are supposed to believe that the now-departed Archangel (he's off somewhere in the Far East) apparently knew all along where deep-cover St. John really was while manipulating String to control Airwolf for his own agenda. All in all, once spelled out, this premise mostly works. Still, it may be hard to swallow that, as sophisticated as Airwolf is purported to be and how only an experienced test pilot like Stringfellow Hawke could even fly her in the original series; this new quartet instantaneously all can fly Airwolf with apparent ease. Hence, I suppose a few trained chimps could also probably fly Airwolf now, too, with a little practice, but let's leave it as a loose plot contrivance.
New star Barry Van Dyke, though not the most naturally charismatic lead, is pretty solid with his Harrison Ford-esque persona as St. John. Able and witty support comes from Geraint Wyn Davies as co-pilot Mike Rivers, while Michelle Scarabelli and Anthony Sherwood's efforts make this "Airwolf" far more a cohesive ensemble piece than it was simply as a star vehicle for Vincent and Borgnine. As for the formulaic scripts, yes, they are often clichéd and sometimes poor imitations of the original series, but, considering the program's obviously limited budget, they are still entertaining and are not as bad as you might think (at least, not all of them). Also, yes, the new optical special effects (like Airwolf's cheapo laser beam) are beyond hokey. Frankly, though, these amusing moments are at least worthy of some good chuckles. On the plus side, in addition to the lush Canadian scenery, the recycled aerial shots of Airwolf are still terrific to see and help compensate for the show's deficiencies.
In the end, my only suggestion is to first preview "Airwolf: Season 4" online wherever you can find it before making an informed decision as a consumer.
Rating: 7.5/10 (After a quarter-century, this underrated version of "Airwolf" is finally ripe for re-discovery by a new generation).