About this blog

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... The A-Team.

This was the introduction to one of the great TV series of the eighties. The purpose of this blog is to build up the definitive episode guide to the show across its five seasons which ran from 1983 to 1987. So this isn't too much of a burden, I'm intending to watch a couple of episodes a week and given that there were around 100 episodes made during its run, this will turn into a year-long project!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The End

And so, almost one year and nearly a hundred episodes later, this episode guide blog is complete. For the record, here (in season order) are my favourite A-Team episodes:

Till Death Us Do Part (S1)
A Nice Place to Visit (S1)
The White Ballot (S2)
Battle of Bel Air (S2)
Say It with Bullets (S2)
Chopping Spree (S2)
Bullets and Bikinis (S3)
Breakout (S3)
The Sound of Thunder (S4)
Trial by Fire (S5)

Those are the ten I could never tire of watching, honorable mentions also go to these other favourites:
Pros and Cons (S1)
West Coast Turnaround (S1)
Black Day at Bad Rock (S1)
One More Time (S1)
Holiday in the Hills (S1)
The Taxicab Wars (S2)
Harder Than It Looks (S2)
Deadly Manuevers (S2)
Curtain Call (S2)
Fire! (S3)
Showdown (S3)
Bounty (S3)
Mind Games (S4)
Duke of Whispering Pines (S4)
Dishpan Man (S5)
Firing Line (S5)
Alive at Five (S5)
Family Reunion (S5)

Without Reservations s5ep13

Co-starring: Marc Alaimo as Angelo, Edward Bell as Lou, Lonny Chapman as Henderson, Alfred Dennis as Sal, Bobby DiCenzo as Joey
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by John Peter Kousakis

Frankie and Face dine at a restaurant where Murdock is a waiter but are caught in the middle of a mafia hit.

Although this was the final episode of The A-Team to air, it was not intended as such when it was filmed. Murdock’s T-shirt gives away the fact that this should have been “almost fini”, as distinct from the “fini” T-shirt he wore in ‘The Grey Team’. The episode was not broadcast when the final season originally aired in the US and in subsequent airings and the dvd releases of the show, it is listed as the last episode.

If the opening action scene looks a little familiar and the cast look a little young, it is because it is lifted in its entirety from the start of ‘Holiday in the Hills’ (hence no Frankie). The reason for this addition isn’t entirely clear and could be either because the episode ran short as shot or than it is otherwise driven by drama rather than action.

The story takes place almost entirely in a restaurant set but the stakes are raised when, for one of the few occasions in the show’s entire run, a main character is shot. It is quite a shocking scene (as long as you don’t know its coming!) and it is this subplot that gives the episode its impetus.

It is well-acted and Schultz (who became the show’s key asset in season five) gives a particularly strong performance. The overall progression of the story is interesting story but it is also very low-key and could have basically been written for any television show of the day. Time is spent, often unnecessarily, on the supporting characters but given that there are 45 minutes to fill you would expect some degree of padding.

Overall, it’s perfectly watchable and a pleasant enough conclusion to the show but it is hardly representative of what the A-Team was all about. A different episode is good as a change but it is a shame the show didn’t get the proper sign-off episode it deserved. 6/10

The Grey Team s5ep12

Co-starring: Lew Ayres as Bernie Greene, John McLiam as George Nemcheck, Michael Shannon as Randy Anderson, Tony Steedman as Saroff, Moya Kordich as Paula Anderson
Written by Tom Blomquist
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team look for a girl who has run away with a briefcase containing military secrets.

There were a lot of below-par episodes during the run of the show and some which were downright dreadful. Having watched every episode of every season for this blog, I think this horrible mess is the show’s nadir.

As bad as previous episodes may have got, they always had some enjoyable elements. Here, though, it is difficult to identify anything that makes it worth sitting through this one. There is a modicum of humour in Murdock’s relationship with a Russian spy but even that comes across as a poorer version of his spy persona from ‘The Spy Who Mugged Me’.

One of the key problems is that as much attention is given to the residents of a retirement home (where the runaway girl is hiding out) as it is to the main team. This often reduces the main cast to playing supporting roles in their own show (a similar situation occurred when the dreadful ‘Body Slam’ became the BA & Hulk Hogan show).

The team are split up for most of the story and although Face & Hannibal make a reasonable team, BA and Frankie do not. Lew Ayres is a good actor but he isn’t given much to do and Kordich (as the teenage runaway) is hardly an asset, delivering her dialogue in a voice that manages to be both croaky and whiny at the same time.

Any episode in which there is a scene of elderly people doing aerobics was never going to be a classic but it gets worse, particularly the repetition of a truly awful song about never being too old. It really is appalling and the number of times it keeps coming back will have you reaching for the remote control.

A chase sequence with an old person driving a bus (accompanied by that awful song) and one car jump stunt (that doesn’t make any sense) is the sum total of the show’s action. By the end, it becomes clear that the episode is unique by A-Team standards. It’s one without any highlights at all.

Although not the final episode broadcast, this was intended to be the show’s last episode. This is not actually dealt with until the closing scene, unless you count Murdock wearing a ‘Fini’ T-shirt throughout. In this last scene, Frankie is dragged off to leave the four original members of the team thinking about what’s going to happen to them when Stockwell’s missions are complete. It’s not a bad scene by any means and suggests they would carry on fighting against villains and mobsters as they did before.

Only this reasonable final scene stops me from awarding the episode one out of ten. It really is that bad. I’ll defend season five against many of the criticisms but you can’t defend the indefensible. You would expect so much more from the final A-Team episode but we can at least be thankful that the delay in broadcasting ‘Without Reservations’ means that is considered to be the final episode and is a more worthy sign-off for the show. 2/10

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Spy Who Mugged Me s5ep11

Co-starring: Karen Kapins as Dominique Conre, Kai Wulff as Krueger, Marianne Marks as Miss Trench, Roy Dotrice as Charles Jourdan, Toru Tanaka as Frobe
Written by Paul Bernbaum
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

Murdock poses as a secret agent in an effort to capture a criminal known as ‘Jaguar’.

This is very much a one-joke episode but gets by thanks to an enjoyably lightweight tone and the fact that the one joke does work very well. It's a James Bond parody of course and besides the plot, the episode spends most of its time parodying and referencing the 007 movies.

The supporting characters are all named after characters or actors who have been in the Bond films. Traditional 007 scenes come thick and fast with the face-off over cards at the casino, shaken not stirred drinks, Dom Perignon champagne and an Oddjob-type heavy. It is Goldfinger and Octopussy that the episode references most, though there are elements of so many Bond movies that if you're not a fan, then it would be become rather tired rather quickly.

Frankly though, who doesn't like 007, particularly when he is being played by Murdock. The whole episode is anchored around Schultz's Sean Connery impression and it is very funny. It's a dead-on parody from the moment Murdock first appears in a sharp suit and says "later, perhaps" to a flirtatious receptionist asking if there is anything else she can do for him. Of course, there is a beautiful girl who is initially on the arm of the villain but eventually falls for the charms of Ross, Logan Ross.

The mystery over the real identity of Jaguar is not quite as obvious as it may appear and the twists and turns of the plot help keep things ticking over. Thankfully, the plot isn't all parody and the shift focuses to the story and requisite action in the second half. There is further humour to be had in Face's exasperation at being turned down for the spy role and seeing Murdock have all the fun.

Compared to Murdock, the rest of the team are slumming it somewhat and only pop in from time to time but everyone gets their moment and even Frankie isn't annoying in this one. Overall, the episode may be a bit obvious and often untidy but given how entertaining it is, this really isn't much of an issue. Good fun. 8.5/10

The Crystal Skull s5ep10

Co-starring: Manu Tupou as Chief Sikahama, Barry Pierce, Sam Hiona as Chief Walekino, Peter Jacangelo as Brother Francisco, Jeffrey Alan Chandler
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team parachute onto an island and Murdock is mistaken for a god by local tribesmen.

It's a question asked between fans of any TV show: what is your favourite episode? Personally, I don't have one, I did try to come up with a list once but stopped once I got up to 20 favourites. Once that conversation is exhausted, attention may turn to the worst episode. As far as the A-Team is concerned, Body Slam would be a strong contender for me, Waste 'Em as well but with this shambles, we may have a winner.

It's an episode that lulls you into a false sense of security. The opening is a spirited one as the team make their escape by plane after acquiring the skull of the title. Then, after another outing for the aerial footage first seen in ‘Holiday in the Hills’, the team land on the island and the whole thing falls apart.

The story is certainly different by A-Team standards (think ‘Return of the Jedi’ with Murdock as C3PO and the tribesmen as the ewoks) but that doesn’t make it interesting. There's a suspicion that the whole episode was deliberately written to be made as cheaply as possible. Much of it takes place on beaches and the rest on sets previously seen to much better effect in the season four finale 'The Sound of Thunder'.

There are various plot threads running through the episode, one of which involves the possibility that the skull is cursed (which may be true given how dodgy 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull' was). There aren't many highlights to speak of and those that there are (Murdock walking on hot coals, his fight with the chief) are played out in slow motion in a desperate effort to add a sense of drama.

The pacing is plodding and often tedious in the extreme, causing the episode to feel much longer than the usual forty-five minutes. What is most interesting is that the chant of the natives has been changed to "who wrote this" in post-production (the answer is Bill Nuss, responsible for too many below par episodes). Fair play to the makers for acknowledging how unremittingly awful it is but that doesn't make it any more watchable.

Only audience goodwill and the efforts of the cast (who are still often left floundering) make it possible to sit through this to the end. Poor. 3/10

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Point of No Return s5ep9

Co-starring: Rosalind Chao as Alice Heath, Soon Tech-Oh, Dustin Nguyen as Bobby, Judith Ledford as Carla, Nancy Kwan as Lin Wu
Written by Burt Pearl
Directed by Robert Brauler

The team travel to Hong Kong to investigate Hannibal’s disappearance there while he was trading plutonium.

The writing team of Pearl and Sears didn’t exactly have a great record when it came to writing episodes for the show. However, Sears fared much better on his own when he delivered ‘Family Reunion’, so would it be expecting too much for Pearl to do the same?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. This is one of the least interesting episodes in the season, a rather stale and dull affair that improves in the later stages but challenges your patience for most of the first half hour. The key problem is that the script shows a lack of understanding for show dynamics, keeping the team split up for too long in one talky, set-bound scene after another.

The plot dictates that Hannibal should be missing for most of the running time (which doesn’t help) but it is also odd that BA is largely absent as well. For whatever reason, he is hardly in this one, though there have been attempts to cover up his absence, albeit not in a very convincing way. BA does get a fight scene late on but otherwise he is shown only in separately filmed inserts or as a double shot from behind (with dialogue added later). His absence in some scenes is excused because he is “covering the perimeter”, “in position” or “examining evidence”.

The whole episode is a bit of a fragmented shambles in all honesty, moving from one scene to the next as if it was made up on the morning of shooting rather than sufficiently in advance. Face and Murdock do most of the investigating initially with Frankie and Stockwell milling around in the background. It is this episode more than any other that shows up how much their characters were lacking compared to the main cast.

Scenes in which the team show their concern for the missing Hannibal add much-needed drama but not much sense of urgency to the episode. Occasionally there’s a bright bit of dialogue to wake you up, notably when Frankie and Murdock discuss possible radiation poisoning (“I wanted to have a family. Do you think we’ll be able to have children, Murdock?”, “I don’t know think I know you well enough”.)

There isn’t a great deal of action, generally just a few fistfights, one of which is undertaken by Vaughan, or rather by his much younger and slimmer stunt double. Things do brighten up a little in the final third and matters come to head with a shootout finale, though it’s one of those ridiculous ones (even by A-Team standards) in which hundreds of rounds are fired at close range without seeming to hit anything. 5/10

Family Reunion s5ep8

Co-starring: Jeff Corey as AJ Bancroft, Clare Kirkconnell as Ellen Bancroft, John Carter as Jacob Edwards, Terri Treas as “Ellen”, Beau Billingslea as Owens
Written by Steven L Sears
Directed by James Darren

The team protect a government witness who is returning to America with vital information and to see his daughter.

One of the best-remembered episodes from the fifth season, this is an always interesting attempt to combine the stock A-Team action elements with an involving character-based storyline.

The initial scene-setting has a comic tone as it turns out that Murdock has become too attached to the turkeys he has been tending to kill one for Thanksgiving (when this episode is set, emphasising the family storyline).

Once the team attempt to reunite father and daughter, the episode becomes an action-driven affair as they break her out and bring the two together (or so they think). It is at this point that the plot takes a key turn when it is revealed that the man the team are protecting claims to be Face’s father. Murdock discovers this at the same time as the audience, putting the character closet to Face in his most difficult dilemma.

The remainder of the episode is split between the main protection plot, scenes with the newly reunited but not entirely aware family and Murdock agonising over whether to tell Face. Bancroft, who has returned to America as he is dying, wants to tell Face the truth personally, something which Murdock decides to respect.

The one problem with the episode is that the two disparate elements never quite mix, there being a rather derivative pursuit element in the background that means constant shifts in tone between standard action and family drama. Although the two sides to the story never quite blend, there is enough happening to ensure the interest level remains high.

Both Benedict and Schultz give very strong performances and the scene in which Face argues with Murdock for not telling him sooner is one of the most genuinely affecting moments in any episode. This scene alone makes the episode well worth seeing, being built on the close bond their characters have developed over the course of five seasons.

It may not entirely work but all credit to the show for trying something very different to the norm. With episodes such as this, it is a shame the plug was pulled on the show before the 5th season had the opportunity to complete a full run. It demonstrates that the show could lend itself to more serious episodes which would have been more beneficial for the ratings than some of the silly episodes like ‘The Crystal Skull’ and ‘The Grey Team’. 9/10