Following the events of The Incredible Hulk and with the world convinced that he is dead, Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) is hitchhiking his way across California, hoping to reach a hospital where research is being done on the effects of gamma radiation. When he stops off in an orange grove, he spots a young, crippled woman named Julie (Laurie Prange). When Julie faints, David carries her back to her mansion. It turns out that, after the mysterious death of her father, Julie stands to inherit millions. David suspects that her doctor (played by William Daniels) may be poisoning her and he gets a job working on the grounds of her mansion. At first, David thinks that his biggest problem is going to be the head groundskeeper (Gerald McRaney), who is jealous of David’s relationship with Julie. But, actually, it’s Julie’s stepmother (Dorothy Tristan) that David has to watch out for. When David tries to protect Julie and a bitter hermit (John McLiam) from the stepmother’s evil plans, he soon finds himself being pursued through the swampland by both men with guns and tabloid journalist Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). They are all making David Banner angry and they’re about to discover that they wouldn’t like David Banner when he’s angry.
This was the second pilot for The Incredible Hulk. It aired a week after the first pilot and, like that one, it was also given a theatrical release in Europe. While the first movie established David Banner’s backstory and explained why he transformed into the Hulk whenever he bumped his head on a door frame or twisted his ankle, A Death in The Family is more typical of the series that would follow. Like every subsequent episode, A Death In The Family opens with David Banner finding an odd job and ended with him walking down the road with his thumb stuck out. In between, Banner helps a special guest star.
Watching the second pilot, it’s easy to see why CBS took a chance on The Incredible Hulk even though, at the time, comic book adaptations were considered to be a risk. Both Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno really throw themselves into playing Banner and his alter ego and the show takes the idea seriously.
There’s nothing special about the pilot’s story. The stepmother and the doctor are obviously guilty from the start. But the plot (and the 90 minute running time) does allow for four appearances by the Hulk. David Banner even gets attacked by a grizzly bear, which brings the Hulk right out. David Banner always had the worst luck with wild animals and barbed wire. The Hulk, though, just throws the grizzly bear over into the next pond. The bear is not harmed. The Hulk may have been angry but he was never really dangerous.
Finally, for the record, Death In the Family featured the first of many aliases that David Banner would assume over the next four years. This time, he’s David Benton.