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Series / Highway to Heaven

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Highway to Heaven, spiritual predecessor to Touched by an Angel, ran from 1984 to 1989 on NBC, and told the story of a probationary angel named Jonathan (played by Michael Landon, who also created the series, was executive producer, and directed most of the episodes in addition to writing several of 'em) and his human companion, a bitter, retired ex-cop named Mark (played by Victor French). Unlike Landon's previous shows, Highway to Heaven takes place in a contemporary setting, as Jonathan and Mark travel the country as itinerant workers, receiving assignments from an entity known as "The Boss", whom only the angel Jonathan can hear, with their mission being to deliver love, understanding, and humility to those they encounter. Typical episodes stressed moral, Christian themes; though many episodes dealt with common human failings, such as egotism, bitterness and greed; some episodes addressed such topics as racism and cancer.

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Sadly, this was also Michael Landon's final production during his lifetime, as he became wrought with a fatal progressive pancreatic cancer brought on by smoking and stress. Some of the stories in the series deal with a not-so-subtle acknowledgment of this mortality and parallel Landon's acceptance of his impending death.


This series contains examples of:

  • All Myths Are True: Turns out that some fake Santas (the ones who go out to stores and such on Christmas) are actually the real person. Who's a friend of Jonathan, as it happens.
  • An Aesop: Quite a few, one of the most prominent of which is: "Everyone, no matter who they are has Hidden Depths."
    • Another, frequent one is that, while The Power Of L Ove won't solve every problem, it'll make those problems a lot easier to deal with.
  • Badass Pacifist: Jonathan, who never goes farther than pushing or throwing someone-and that's only arrogant who swing first. Occasionally, someone will punch or shoot him, and he'll usually just No-Sell it.
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  • Batman Gambit: Jonathan sometimes pulls these on people-however, he's always benevolent.
  • Benevolent Boss: "The Boss" is portrayed as one.
  • Big Eater: Mark loves his snacks. It's a Running Gag.
  • Call-Back: "I Was a Middle-Aged Werewolf" has a call-back to the previous Halloween episode, and even has a Cameo appearance of the Devil.
  • Celebrity Paradox: In "The Squeaky Wheel", Mark points out Michael Landon's star on the Walk of Fame to Jonathan. Puzzled at Jonathan's not knowing the actor's name he says, "You know...Little Joe...Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie..... Or, that's right, I forgot, you've been dead for 40 years."
  • Drugs Are Bad:
    • The opening of "For the Love of Larry," which also features a thoroughly hilarious sting operation.
    • In "As Difficult As ABC," where Jonathan and Mark pretend (briefly) to be drug dealers.
    • "In With the "In Crowd"" has Jonathan and Mark pretending to be cops working as backup for an undercover narcotics officer who infiltrates a high school to stop a drug ring. In this episode, the effects of overdosing and the addictiveness it can hold are much more deeply explored.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: In episode 4x13, when a drug dealer's car explodes when it runs into what looks like a trash bin.
  • Friend to All Children: Jonathan is always this, and Mark to a lesser extent.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Jonathan can veer into this sometimes: He'll give everyone a second chance, sometimes even a third or fourth...but boy howdy, can he be scary if you're determined to be bad.
  • Halloween Episode: One Halloween Mark makes a deal with one of the Devil's minions to give up his soul in exchange for a sick child getting better, confident that his friend the angel can get him out of it before it is time to collect. Too bad the powers of angels and demons cancel each other out....
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: They do have a few Vitriolic Best Buds moments, but Jonathan and Mark are very much this. So much so that Mark genuinely worries about Jonathan earning his wings and never seeing him again. As it turns out, once Jonathan's off probation, he still travels around with Mark.
    • Michael Landon and Victor French were a real life example, and their friendship added a lot to the chemistry between Jonathan and Mark respectively.
  • Hidden Depths: Mark Gordon. He's an ex-cop, smarter than he sometimes seems, has (as of series 4 episode 3) delivered a baby three times, shows himself in 3x17 to be a pretty good dancer, is repeatedly shown and described as a good mentor, and travels around the country helping people.
  • Knight Errant: Jonathan Smith.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Both Jonathan and Mark maintain pretty much the same clothes throughout the show, unless they're on a job that requires specific clothing, such as bellhops.
  • Meaningful Name: There's a character in the series 4 Christmas episode named "Mr. Grinchley." No prizes for guessing what he's like.
    • Turns out, when Jonathan was human, his name was Arthur. As in, the noble, kind mentor and leader.
  • The Mentor: Jonathan yet again, to pretty much everyone.
    • A couple of episodes feature cops that Mark used to train.
  • Mundane Utility: Sometimes Jonathan used his powers for simple things. Mark would sometimes lampshade this and call out Jonathan for showing off.
  • Never Learned to Read: In "As Difficult As ABC," a basketball player has to drop out of college because he can't read.
  • Nice Guy: Santa Claus, of course. He shows up in 4x9, and is furious that Santa is being used to sell weapons.
  • Noodle Incident: Several, one of which involved Mark getting a stomachache at the diner "Gabriel's Horn."
  • No-Sell: A couple of times, someone tries to shoot Jonathan. It doesn't work.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Angels look just like humans, and sometimes are dead humans as well. They do have supernatural knowledge and are implied to be able to teleport, use telekinesis, grant wishes, and basically have a broad range of powers.
  • Out-Gambitted: How Jonathan deals with the demon in the above Halloween Episode.
  • Parents as People: This appears in several episodes, to different extents. A common motif in this show is the parent (usually the father) who works hard to make money for his family...but spends so much time working that he doesn't have time for his kids.
  • The Power of Love: Love really does conquer all, especially if there's a helpful angel in the wings.
  • Reality Ensues: Not every Jerkass can make a Heel–Face Turn. Sometimes they'll remain Jerkasses, even after an angelic influence. But that shouldn't stop you from trying, and doing your best.
  • Running Gag: Every once in a while, someone will make an Accidental Pun about Jonathan's heavenly nature, such as "he's a Godsend" or "thank Heaven you're here," or something like that. Mark will occasionally get in on this, and even Jonathan at one point joins in.
    Mark: I hate working with paint; it always makes me sneeze.
    Jonathan: Yeah, but look who's here to say "God bless you."
  • Shipper on Deck: Jonathan inevitably ends up as one for whatever couple(s) are having trouble that week.
  • Shooting Superman: Don't try to shoot Jonathan. Seriously, don't.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: played realistically, with plenty of cynics, but they're usually proven wrong. Jonathan himself is very idealistic, with Mark slightly less so.
  • Smug Super: Jonathan occasionally likes to show off to Mark.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Seldom does an episode pass without at least a little occurring between Mark and Jonathan. Other characters occasionally get in on it too.
  • Spoiled Brat: The duo encounter several of these, sometimes with a Freudian Excuse.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Jonathan, being able to teleport/fly very fast, pulls these all of the time.
  • Straight Man and Wise Guy: Mark and Jonathan, respectively.
  • Swapped Roles: In at least two episodes, Mark has —or thinks he has — the 'stuff'.
  • The Trickster: Jonathan loves messing with Mark by being a Smug Super. He rarely goes into full-out Troll territory, though.
  • Twist Ending: One episode featured a dog, named Boomer, that was desperate to get help for his family after they are trapped in their car after crashing in the woods. After the standard amount of drama, Boomer is finally able to lead Jonathan and Mark to the site of the crash. When Jonathan mentions how Boomer helped lead the way, the father mentions that there's no way that could have happened; the dog was Dead All Along. Adding to the Wham factor is that Jonathan is as utterly shocked as Mark is; cut to the heavens where we see an angelic Boomer looking down on his owners.
  • Values Resonance: Most if not all of the themes it tackles, such as drug abuse, parental neglect, prejudice (especially racial) and school bullying, are still incredibly relevant today.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Mark and Jonathan, sometimes.
  • Walking the Earth
  • Woobie of the Week: Show premise.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: Jonathan and Mark reform a crooked used-car dealer in an episode called "Another Song for Christmas."
  • You Look Familiar: in one episode, Pa Cartwright is an old actor who swears he saw God in the audience of his play.

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