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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.


This series contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: "Help Wanted: Angel" starts with a pair of elderly men who want to make a movie. That gets swept aside and forgotten when Mark falls in love with Stella.
    • "With Love, the Claus" starts with a man claiming to be Santa speaking out on how his image is being used to promote toy guns. Halfway through the episode, the plot changes to a Courtroom Episode about whether or not he's really Santa.
  • Abusive Parents: Plenty of these; most often the Standard '50s Father.
  • 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 Love won't solve every problem, it'll make those problems a lot easier to deal with.
    • 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.
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  • Armor-Piercing Question: Jonathan specializes in delivering these.
  • Badass Pacifist: Jonathan, who never goes farther than pushing or throwing someone-and that's only arrogant jerks who swing first. Occasionally, someone will punch or shoot him, and he'll usually just No-Sell it.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The final episode "Merry Christmas from Grandpa": Mark and Jonathan have shown each of the men a Bad Future and hopefully scaring them straight, but when Mark asks if it'll do any good, Johnathan says he doesn't know and that all they could do was try.
  • 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.
  • Came from the Sky: In "Close Encounters of the Heavenly Kind", Jonathan and Mark come across a crater made by a meteor. All that's left of the meteor, however, is a tiny piece.
  • 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."
  • Church of Saint Genericus: Even though God, the afterlife, and angels are all depicted as real, it's not quite clear which religion is true in this universe. While occasional nods are given to Christian beliefs in some episodes, other episodes challenge or question traditional Christian dogmas.
  • Dead All Along: A stray dog named Boomer follows Jonathan and Mark around and is trying to get them to rescue his Humans who were in a car accident. Once they find them and credit Boomer for alerting them they find Boomer dead in the wreckage.
    • Technically, Jonathan.
  • 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.
  • Gainax Ending: "It's a Dog's Life". Mark seemingly falls to his death but then wakes up in bed, implying the whole episode was a dream (or at least the fall was). He goes into the bathroom to tell Jonathan and finds Jonathan the dog in a bubble bath. Mark gives the audience a confused look, roll credits.
  • 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.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: In an episode notably devoid of violence (unlike Michael Landon's other series), there were a couple of instances. The most notable of this very-rarely invoked trope comes in Season 2'S "The Torch," an episode where a Holocaust survivor's son is killed when he is shot by a Neo-Nazi. Later, the instigator of the attack and his right-hand henchman are killed in the former's basement when his son accidentally sets off a Gatling gun (which the Neo-Nazis were planning to use at a peace rally).
  • 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.
  • Nice Hat: Mark wears an Oakland Athletics baseball cap.
  • 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.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: In "We Have Forever" Jonathan's wife dies and he believes he'll be called back to heaven to be with her. But when God says he's still needed on Earth, Johnathan is more than a little upset.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Many episodes feature Jonathan confronting one of the episode's protagonists (whom he has only known for a handful of days) with an emotionally rousing speech. Usually subverted, in that while Jonathan does mercilessly point out their weaknesses, his intent is not to point them down, but help them rise above those weaknesses.
  • 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.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: A few instances of this, such as between Charlie and Ricky in 4x24. They start out with a bit of Ship Tease, have a fistfight, go out for pizza, play football together, and the end of the episode has them walking off the pitch holding hands and planning for their dance.
  • 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.
  • Stranger Safety: Happens all the time. After meeting Jonathan (the angel) and Mark (his sidekick), people rarely suspect any danger of any kind from these two. In one rare instance (in the episode Monster) where a boy does distrust strangers, the episode is about tolerance of those who are different. The boy turns out to be a liar who can't be trusted. Within a day or two of knowing someone Mark and Jonathan will be granted full access to loved ones and personal property beyond what a normal person would trust his own spouse or children to do. note  In some episodes, Jonathan has convinced near complete strangers to:
    • Let him live in their houses.
    • Cash in their entire life savings - and hand the cash over to him - to bet on a horse race!
    • Take out a mortgage on their homes - and hand it over to him - to invest in the stock market.
    • Take his word for it when a loved-one is sick or missing. Most people are satisfied with, "I think I know where to find him," or "You're just going to have to trust me." Never mind that Johnathan is a drifter with no ID and a new job in every episode.
  • Straight Man and Wise Guy: Mark and Jonathan, respectively.
  • Swapped Roles: In at least two episodes, Mark has —or thinks he has — the 'stuff'.
  • Troll: Downplayed. Jonathan loves messing with Mark by being a Smug Super. He rarely goes into full-out troll territory, though.
  • Twist Ending: The episode "For the Love of Larry" 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.
  • Verbal Backspace: Mark tries to insist that "The Boss" wouldn't mind interfering to help a football match. Before his eyes, the football he's holding deflates, and Mark rolls his eyes and grumbles that maybe He would.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Mark and Jonathan, sometimes.
  • Walking the Earth
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The son of the Nazi from "The Torch". He's never seen again after he accidentally kills his father, something that no doubt left him traumatized.
    • Ewe, the dog from "We Have Forever." Did Jane take her with her?
    • In "Oh Lucky Man" a pair of con artists, Howard and Nina, try to swindle Mark out of his newly won money. Eventually Nina decides she wants it all for herself and cuts out Howard, who isn't seen again.
  • 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."