When Stephen J. Cannell created this show, he knew nothing about the clichés of the superhero genre. But he knew that he didn't like those "Ralph saves the world" plots.
Instead, he considered Ralph "great" because he was at his best when dealing with personal, everyday, human interest issues. "Fire Man" was a perfect example, and definitely one of the best episodes of the entire series.
It's a simple plot that gets more complex as it goes: Tony is framed for arson, and the case is made even more stressful for Ralph and Pam, because some of the torched items happened to be Federal property. The whole point of the episode is best summed up by a scene in the police station. Ralph goes into his do-gooder-speech schtick, insisting that Tony is not guilty, and therefore has nothing to worry about. Tony disagrees vehemently, shouting, "I'm gonna be doin' TIME, man, TIME!"
That one scene tells me that writer Lee Sheldon has an issue with the justice system. It sounds very 60s-ish, yet still fits.
The episode is leavened by Bill's one-liners. (You may recall in the pilot episode, Bill asked, "If I'm not supposed to be in charge, then why did our friends from the Twilight Zone put me aboard?" To which Pam suggests, "Comic relief?" She was right. He does just that.)
Look for one hilarious little detail: In rescuing Tony, Ralph climbs up from a manhole to stop an unmarked police car, bare-handed. Bill knew nothing of this when he told Ralph about Tony.
Ralph asks, "He got away?" Bill answers, "Ah, those vice squad dummies ran over an open manhole or something, busted the axle!" The expression on Ralph's face is priceless.
Pam insists, "What about 'Presumed innocent until proved guilty'?" Bill answers, "Ah, don't give me any of that garbage!"
I was surprised to find, on a different website, reviewers giving this episode a low rating. I don't know why. It's definitely one of the best.
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