Highway to Heaven (1984) Retro TV Review

By: Karl Stern (@wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

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I guess when it’s your time to go this is a pretty good way of doing it. Highway to Heaven (1984) was an NBC show which ran into it’s fifth season starring and produced by Michael Landon of Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza fame. The show was a feel good prime time show following the exploits of Michael Landon’s character Jonathon, an angel sent back to Earth to atone for some unrevealed mistake in Heaven. In episodes one and two of season one he meets his series sidekick Mark (Victor French) who is a former police officer, rough around the edges, who has fallen on hard times. The duo then travel America at the command of “The Boss” doing good deeds and helping people through difficult times.

The show is really over the top do-gooding and skewed toward an older audience. Virtually every episode was a morality tale where Jonathon would try to show people the error of their ways and lead them to correct situations in their own life with the help of a little divine guidance.

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The show is bitter sweet in that both Michael Landon and Victor French died soon after the series ended. The cancellation of Highway to Heaven in 1989 ended a twenty-five year relationship between Michael Landon and NBC. Several episodes of the fifth season were never aired and no series finale was ever taped leaving several plot points unresolved. Most of the episodes, however, were self contained and the only real continuity that flowed episode to episode was the friendship between Jonathan and Mark as every episode featured a different cast of characters as they traveled the country helping people.

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Michael Landon died less than two years later on July 1, 1991 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 54. Victor French died shortly after Highway to Heaven ended on June 15, 1989 of lung cancer, ironically also at the age of 54. Victor French’s character Mark occasionally smoked cigarettes in the series which often prompted the angel Jonathan to chastise him as Jonathan had died as a human of lung cancer in a strange and bitter twist.

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While the show was clearly a drama with heavy emotional elements, Highway to Heaven also featured some comedic moments between the characters of Jonathan and Mark. Of course, Michael Landon and Victor French had worked together previously on Little House on the Prairie where French’s character Isaiah was somewhat a comedic character. Victor French also starred as one of the lead characters in the short lived comedy series Carter Country (1977) after having worked in Westerns during most of his early career.

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Highway to Heaven could be a little sappy and heavy handed at times but had it’s heart in the right place. The chemistry between Michael Landon and Victor French can not be understated and the series is certainly worth watching, at least for a few episodes, for some good, family friendly, feel good television.

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