Michael Landon must have had an angel for an agent. How else can you explain the odds of having three successful series? He was on NBC from 1959 to 1989. He started out as Little Joe on the Bonanza and became Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. After two shows about frontier families during the mid-1800s, Landon finally took a contemporary role that lacked family ties. Jonathan Smith wasn’t merely any drifter on the road with fantastic hair and a winning smile. He had a secret that allowed him to change lives. His secret is explored in Highway to Heaven: Season One.
“Highway to Heaven” is a two parter that brings Jonathan to a retirement home in a quiet town. He lands the job of a handyman without providing any references. How? Because the previous handyman that was fired had references. What good are they? He also promises to work the first month for free to prove his good intentions. Naturally he gets hired without providing a social security number with this offer. The old residents of the retirement home feel rejuvenated by Jonathan. There’s something magical about him. The only person that thinks something is wrong about the new guy is Mark Gordon (Victor French), the administrator’s brother. He wears an Oakland A’s baseball cap and is a major skeptic. Ultimately his probing ways expose the fact that Jonathan has a major identity secret. He’s not merely a drifter, but an angel on probation. He must go around the country to help people to earn his wings. Eventually Mark agrees to join him on his journey. Each week the Boss gives him a troubled soul to fix.
Episodes go for the heart with the angel doing his best to make people have emotional changes. “To Touch the Moon” brings together a trouble teen with a talented kid dying of leukemia. “Masked Rider” has a boxer being forced to throw a match. The angel gets old people to battle a street gang. “Banker and the Bum” brings a life change that might end up being the title of the next Rich People reality show on CBS. Ned Beatty (Deliverance) plays both roles. “Another Song for Christmas” warms our heart with Geoffery Lewis, the man who wasn’t Robert Pine. “Plane Death” involves the smuggling of drugs in large model airplanes. Keep an eye out for an extremely young David Faustino (Married….with Children). The evilest man on TV, Wil Wheaton appears in “One Winged Angels.” Shame Jonathan didn’t realize Wil was Satan Jr. like Sheldon Cooper knows. “Thoroughbreds” goes for the tears hard when a woman elopes only to discover she’s not only pregnant, but dying of cancer. Can her personal angel pull her out of this difficult situation?
Highway to Heaven: Season One is a squeaky clean inspirational series that doesn’t get much airplay anymore in a TV world clogged with police procedurals, reality shows and bratty teen moms. Landon’s angel wants us to believe in the goodness of people. Most of the episodes dip into a rich creamy schmaltz. Nobody gets completely shafted by the Boss. The series proved people overcome tremendous odds with the assistance of a warm smile and amazing hair.
“Highway to Heaven” (two-parter), “To Touch the Moon,” “The Return of the Masked Rider,” “Song of the Wild West,” “One Fresh Batch of Lemonade” (two-parter), “A Divine Madness,” “Catch a Falling Star,” “Help Wanted: Angel,” “Dust Child,” “Hotel of Dreams,” “Another Song for Christmas,” “Plane Death,” “One Winged Angels,” “Going Home, Going Home,” “As Difficult as ABC,” “A Child of God,” “A Match Made in Heaven,” “The Banker and the Bum,” “The Brightest Star,” “An Investment in Caring,” “The Right Thing” and “Thoroughbreds” (two-parter).
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers appear to have been taken from a video master. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo. It’s a quiet show so you’ll have to crank up the volume.
Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love (103:09) is a feature length documentary made by his children. He had a huge family.
Outtakes supposedly has a few minutes of blooper, but the review copy went straight to “Thoroughbreds” Part One.
Cast Biographies are text coverage of Michael Landon and Victor French’s lives.
Highway to Heaven: Season One returns the heartwarming joy of Michael Landon as an angel seeking his wings. It’s the perfect final role for the actor. He looks like he wants to bring goodness into the world. Victor French brings just enough gruff to make it not too heavenly. The episodes are 45 minutes long. This is the perfect boxset for someone who wants a nice TV show to watch on TV instead of the nightmare of Jersey Shore.
A&E Home Video presents Highway to Heaven: Season One. Starring: Michael Landon and Victor French. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 7 DVDs. Released on DVD: March 29, 2011.
Tags: Bonanza, Michael Landon