Next to the original Wild Wild West, The Green Hornet was probably my favorite TV show as a kid. It didn't last long, but boy did it make an impression on yours truly. As with Walt Disney's Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, I loved the fact that Van Williams' Hornet played the bad guy to do good... and it didn't hurt that a young actor named Bruce Lee was along for the ride as his sidekick, Kato.
Several years ago, Hollywood churned out a misguided Wild Wild West movie. I doubt anyone much remembers it now. Anyway, I avoided it like the plague. Nothing against Will Smith -- who I thought was great in I Am Legend -- but there was only one James West for me, and only one Artemus Gordon. So I stuck with Robert Conrad and Ross Martin when that movie came out, and I'm sticking to Van Williams and Bruce Lee at present. To tell the truth, I haven't even seen the trailer for the new Green Hornet movie. I'm avoiding that the same way I'd avoid a bucket of smallpox. If other folks enjoy the movie, fine. For me, I just don't want it messing up the memory of a show I really loved.
Recently, I had the chance to reconnect with the original episodes. That was great fun for me, and my opinion hasn't changed about the series... or about the episodes where the Hornet plays the stone-cold badguy to get those who've done wrong. Lately the series has turned up on SyFy for a couple of marathons, and you may be able to catch it that way. Or, like me, you can join the long-suffering crowd waiting for a spiffed-up off boxed DVD set from official sources, and (as the Hornet would probably do) gaffle your action and enjoy 'em where you can find 'em in the meantime.
And while I'm at it, here are six of my favorite episodes. Watch for 'em!
BAD BET ON A 459 -- SILENT: Crooked cops plug the Hornet; he's in bad shape. He and Kato have to fake a hit on newspaper editor Britt Reid (the Hornet's secret identity) to cover up the gunshot, then catch the bad guys while the Hornet's bleeding like a stuck pig! Probably my favorite episode, and the scene where Kato appears with a pistol in the offices of the Daily Sentinel is definitely a series high point.
THE RAY IS FOR KILLING: For my money, this is the best episode featuring the Black Beauty. It pits the Hornet's rolling arsenal against a laser beam. Lucky for the Hornet, the Sentinel's science editor is up on the latest NASA technology... it ain't quite bug repellent, but rather a kind of Laser Beam Off backed by throwaway science so flimsy you'd only buy if you were nine when you saw this episode. Which I was. In fact, I still remember sitting there as a kid with my jaw hanging in my lap as the Hornet and Kato raced into the storm drains under LA with the Black Beauty smoking, its hood melting... and a fistful of bad guys dead ahead behind a murderous laser beam, all of it playing out in living 26" Magnavox color with Al Hirt's great Hornet theme song blaring across a tinny speaker the size of a teacup.
TROUBLE FOR PRINCE CHARMING: This episode moves like a bullet -- a fun story with a little bit of a sixties Princess Grace riff going on and the usual court intrigue double-crosses. In short, it's an episode with a lot of kick... and the last two by Lee are definitely one his best moments in the series.
THE HUNTERS AND THE HUNTED: Native spears, poison darts, jungle snares... the baddest big game hunters ever outfitted by Banana Republic are after the biggest game of all -- the Green Hornet and Kato. Yep, it's "The Most Dangerous Game" in less than thirty minutes... with the best Fred Flintstone wannabe gangster ever along for the ride!
THE PREYING MANTIS: The famous martial arts episode. Kato vs. Mako in a Chinatown rumble! Kato's darts! Iron fans! Three-section staffs! The Hornet calls out Mako with an old school smackdown that puts a nail in the all the talk, and then Kato steps in and goes to work as only Bruce Lee can.
INVASION FROM OUTER SPACE: Cheeziest episode EVER, but fun. Watch out for Jiffy Pop aliens, especially if they're after an H-Bomb!