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!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Skins s3ep17

Co-starring: John Quade as McKaydoo, John Calvin as Madrid, Daphne Maxwell as Kamora, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson as Novarro
Written by Mark Jones
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team are hired to travel to Kenya to fight some poachers who are killing animals in a nature preserve.

The show returns to a more traditional formula with this moderate entry in the third season, perhaps best described as a poor man’s ‘Diamonds n Dust’. It certainly opens strongly and seriously with poachers killing a ranger, a rare (almost) on-screen death. From thereonin though, there's a great deal of humour, beginning with Hannibal disguising himself as a robot for the meet-the-client scene. BA has a run-in with chimpanzee Kong (“Hey, get this thing off me!”) and the chimp then befriends Murdock (leading BA to remark, “That’s because you both have the same IQ”).

Given the episode’s supposed African location, much of it takes place indoors on sets which aren't entirely convincing. The would-be relationship between BA and Maxwell is as clumsily handed as all of BA’s romances on the show but at least adds an additional comic element to proceedings. There's also an interesting variation on the who-teams-with-who conversation in which Murdock asks if he can team up with the chimp (Hannibal: "No but you can have Face", Murdock: "It's not the same thing").

From the initial impression that the episode isn't going to get out and about much, things pick up a gear when the story does finally get out into the open. Interestingly, there's an almost re-run of the dynamite acquisition scene from 'Diamonds n Dust' when Face and Murdock pose as export inspectors. The stock villains don't exactly help matters but given how much the action dominates the second half, if you can forgive the rather obvious stock footage, there is much to enjoy here. 7/10

Champ! s3ep16

Co-starring: Alex Rocco as Sonny Monroe, Daniel Faraldo as Carrenza, Greg Collins as Billy Marquette, Holly Gagnier as Tina Marquette, Rich Balduzzi as Mick Halligan
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team help a boxer who is being forced to take a dive in an upcoming fight.

The attempts to move away from the standard A-Team formula continue with this rather bland but still reasonably entertaining tale. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in pace, keeping on the move in the first half with a succession of short sharp scenes.

Of course, these scenes don't do a great deal more than advance the plot of what is a fairly talky episode in which the only action to speak of is a couple of brief fistfights. There's an enjoyable scene in which Murdock (posing as BA's trainer) is threatened by crooked promoter Rocco in the back of a limo. Face is also called upon to do the most unusual form of safecracking you're ever likely to see.

A final boxing match takes up much of the final third which is fine if you like boxing and though the restrictive sets and lighting hide the absence of a large crowd, they also rob the scenes of any kind of believability. Watchable but nothing more. 6/10

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Big Squeeze s3ep15

Co-starring: Wings Hauser as Jack Lane, Al Ruscio as Gino Gianni, Janine Turner as Theresa Gianni, Marshall Teague as Travis Mason, Joseph Sirola as Nathan Vincent
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Arnold Laven

The team help a man whose restaurant is under threat from a loan shark.

Written by series co-creator Cannell, this is an intriguing episode that is predominantly set-bound and talky but the cast are on fine form and it works well due to the excellent work of Peppard and Schultz and a typically flamboyant performance from Hauser as the villain.

There’s no meet-the-client scene here and Cannell is clearly trying to avoid working to any kind of formula, so there’s also no pre-finale construction montage and more plot than in most episodes. The result is something of an acquired taste but there is more emphasis on the comic element than in Cannell’s other episodes and all of the cast get their share of the humour, even BA with his reference to the AOAMS (the Association of Angry Mud-Suckers and they aren’t a funny union).

The talkier episodes are usually the weaker ones but Cannell has fashioned a strong storyline here, putting Hannibal to the forefront as he poses as an Irish restaurant owner. Murdock gets to try out his Irish accent as well, memorably trying to out-Irish Hannibal at one point and he also gets to sing “I’ve been working on the dishline”. His best scene though comes as a priest leading a mock funeral, saying “Let’s have a hand for the deceased! …… Perhaps a moment of silent prayer is better”.

In many ways, this is similar in tone to season two’s ‘Recipe for Heavy Bread’ but is stronger through its humour and willingness to break away from the set-bound chat. The pacing is rather stop and start but once the team gets around to talking to boss Sirola, the episode is better for it. There’s plenty of gunfire at the finale and the episode is never dull but you’d be forgiven for feeling somewhat under-whelmed. Overall, it is a taste of things to come in season four, a creditable attempt to break free of what had become the A-Team formula but not an entirely successful one. 7/10

Cup 'A Joe s3ep14

Co-starring: John Ashton as Cactus Jack Slater, Lisa Denton as Patty Dutton, Claude Earl Jones as Skeeter, Dave Shelley as Joe Dutton, Gary Lee Davis
Written by Dennis O’Keefe
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team help a family who are being pressurised into selling their diner by a local rival.

It may not be particularly original but this is an enjoyable episode of a type that was the bread and butter of the show (pun intended). Writer O’Keefe is clearly writing to what he sees as the stock A-Team formula but the cast really knew the parts they had to play in this type of episode by now and there’s a strong sense of the camaraderie among the team. Ashton (best known for his role in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’) makes for an effectively threatening villain and Denton (as Patty, the daughter of the couple who own the diner) is gorgeous even by the usual high eye candy standards.

In many ways, this is even more of an archetypal episode than ‘The Taxi Cab Wars’, ticking off pretty much every familiar A-Team situation. So along the way we have the infiltration of the villain’s headquarters and subsequent action breakout, Face smooth-talking his way into Ashton’s office, an attack on Joe’s diner that leaves Ashton leaving with his tail between his legs and an armor-plated vehicle build for the final confrontation.

Face tries his best to charm Patty, Murdock creates culinary masterpieces in his role as chef and he also gets to try out his Darth Vader impression in a scam with Face. As an in-joke, the driver of Ashton’s rig is played by Jim Boeke who previously appeared as a rig owner way back in season one’s ‘West Coast Turnaround’.

The action is frequent and well-delivered by Baxley and the final set piece is suitably spectacular. The overall effect could hardly be more derivative but even if this is The A-Team On Autopilot, it’s as good a summary of what the show was all about as you would find in any season. 8/10

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Breakout! s3ep13

Co-starring: Steve Sandor as Deke Logan, Jeff Doucette as Malcolm Jones, Robert Donner as Sheriff Bickford, Bruce M Fischer as Jones, Tawny Mayer as Patty, Lenore Kasdorf as Callie Russell, Lance Le Gault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Mark Jones, Stephen Katz
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

BA and Murdock are arrested when they are mistaken for part of a gang who robbed a bank.

Although this episode does not feature Face beyond two short scenes conducted over the phone, it is one of the highlights of the season. A fast-moving tale with plenty of action and good humour, it benefits from an excellent script in which a number of subplots are built into a strong overall storyline. The episode gets off to a quick start with a well-staged chase sequence and the pace never lets up from there, partly due to Decker never being too far behind.

Having BA and Murdock together but separate from the others works superbly well, not only from the humour of their antagonism but also from seeing them having to co-operate to evade the pursuing Decker. The episode is like an A-Team version of ‘The Defiant Ones’ for part of the running time as events see Murdock and BA chained together and forced to go on the run.

Hannibal, meanwhile, has an individual subplot involving the robbers who framed Murdock and BA. You might expect this part to lack interest givent that Hannibal is on his own. It is a credit to Peppard’s strong screen presence that he makes the scenes in which he has to protect a young family just as involving and entertaining as the BA/Murdock sections. Among the overall highlights are Hannibal’s improvised flamethrower, BA and Murdock’s windbuggy and a fight with Murdock disguised as a scarecrow.

The dialogue is sharp and funny with Murdock taking the lion’s share while BA reacts in his typically aggressive but this time somewhat supportive way. Upon their arrest, Murdock memorably remarks of BA, “Does he look like the kind of guy who would threaten someone? Let me rephrase that”. I also love the moment all the convicts say "Hey!" back at Mayer when she arrives in the truck.

The action is frequent and well-integrated into the story and although the ending suggests the team have forgotten about their van, such a minor criticism can’t detract from one of the all-time great episodes. 10/10

Hot Styles s3ep12

Co-starring: Markie Post as Rina, Richard Lynch as Jonny Turian, Arthur Taxier as Turian's Assistant, John Moschitta Jr as Jason Burnette, Andy Romano as Mr Dubio
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Tony Mordente

Face asks the team to rescue his current girlfriend from a gang who have kidnapped her but when it turns out the woman does not want to be rescued, it is clear things are not as they seem.

During the show’s run, there were three episodes made in which one member of the team made only a cameo appearance. This is the first of these and it is BA’s turn to be absent, appearing only in the final few minutes for the gag finish. At first this doesn’t appear to be a problem as the episode opens brightly with a kidnap, car chase and subsequent storming of the villain’s headquarters, all within the first five minutes. After that though, matters start winding down and the result is an episode that is just too low-key.

It isn’t clear at first exactly what the plot is, something that makes the episode initially intriguing as little hints are dropped as the story begins to unfold. Having fashion as the background doesn’t suit the nature of the show though but it does lead to one of the more unusual variations on the standard construction montage.

In the absence of BA, Murdock stands in, driving the van and wearing the jewellery. For the most part though, this is a Face-driven episode and reunites Benedict with Post who played Face’s high school sweetheart in season two’s ‘The Only Church in Town’. There are two infiltrations by Face in an attempt to contact her, meaning Hannibal and Murdock are also absent for a fair part of the running time.
Though there is a rare reference to the crime they didn’t commit, the dialogue scenes fail to spark into life and you would be forgiven for drifting off before the not particularly interesting end. The final gag is ok (re-using footage from part one of ‘When You Comin’ Back Range Rider?’) but the conclusion you may well reach is that any episode that has a member of the main cast missing is a dud. This, though, would be disproved in the very next episode. 5/10

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Bells of St Mary's s3ep11

co-starring: Robert Desiderio as Dave Luna, Reginald Dorsey as Billy Ray King, Michael Alldredge as Colonel Twill, Deborah Lacey as Charlotte King, Joseph Wiseman as Zeke Westerland
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team help a girl pop group who are being pressured into signing a contract with a corrupt record company.

Considering Cannell co-created the series, it is surprising how many of his episodes are rather flat and forgettable affairs. True, he wrote the classic ‘The Taxicab Wars’ but he also wrote a lot of indifferent episodes including ‘Recipe for Heavy Bread’, ‘The Big Squeeze’ and this very moderate entry in season three.

Things actually get off to a reasonable start, there being good comedy mileage from the distraction that the girl band causes the team. The girls are certainly easy on the eye and there’s a funny scene in which the team discuss the rule about not romancing clients (Face: “Rules are meant to be broken”. Hannibal: “Noses are also meant to be broken”).

Unfortunately though, much of the running time is taken up with scenes that fail to spark into life and often don't make a great deal of sense. There’s a football-playing subplot thrown in for no real reason and uninteresting story points and a decided lack of invention weigh the whole thing down. Wiseman makes for an unremarkable main villain and appears too late into the episode to make much of an impression.

The action that there is doesn't amount to much and is seemingly thrown in at random, such as when the team leaves the record company building. Face memorably jumps onto the roof of the van at one point but the final action scene appears from nowhere and is disappointingly short, under-played to such an extent that you may not even realise that it is the end.

Thankfully, there is enough humour in the episode to save the day and prevent it from being something of a washout. Murdock admires and looks up to BA throughout and BA compliments him in return, a clever idea that leads to a number of funny scenes. It’s also good to see Hannibal briefly using a variation on his Johhny B guise from season two’s ‘Chopping Spree’ when he poses as the band’s manager.

Things are wrapped up with an amusing final sequence on the football field but this is one to file under disappointing. And am I the only one who thinks that Hannibal ultimately wanting to date girls young enough to be his grand-daughter is somewhat uncomfortable to watch? 6/10

Sheriffs of Rivertown s3ep10

co-starring: Robert Davi as Boyle, Wendy Kilbourne as Nikki Monroe, Edmund Gilbert as CEO Wilkins, Ismael Carlo as Captain Cordoba
Written by Mark Jones
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team are hired as sheriffs in a South American town that is the backdrop for the construction of a power plant.

A solid episode from the generally reliable pen of Mark Jones, this is always entertaining even though it does lack some of the polish of the best episodes. The sets tend to look a little underdressed and there’s certainly no sense of location. The setting is supposed to be South America but it’s all very clearly filmed in the brush just outside LA. Towards the end, one character bids farewell with “Adios Amigos” and such is the lack of anything pertaining to South of the border throughout the rest of the episode, you’d be forgiven for wondering why he says it.

Still, there’s much to enjoy here, including two early scenes in which a cleaning lady is mistaken for Hannibal in disguise and BA attempts to avoid eating whichever hamburger contains the sleeping powder. If the woman playing the cleaning lady looks familiar, it’s because Elsa Raven also played the prison doctor in the season one classic ‘Pros and Cons’.

Much of the humour comes from the team being on the right side of the law for a change and gives Murdock a good opportunity to play cop. This inevitably leads to Dragnet-style voiceovers (Murdock: “The city was at peace with itself but it wasn't going to be that way for long. And when the peace is broken, that's when I go to work. I wear a badge”. BA: “You ought to wear a muzzle”).

Davi makes an excellent villain and the episode benefits from an intriguing storyline, though it inevitably breaks into the familiar capture/construction/battle routine in the closing third. The final fight is nothing special and some of the footage looks familiar but it serves its purpose well enough and the end joke is a good one. 8/10

Showdown! s3ep9

co-starring: Morgan Woodward as Captain Winnetka, John Carter as Parker, D.D. Howard as Carrie, Michael Delano as Kyle Mason, Bill Lucking as Colonel Lynch, W.K. Stratton as Captain Royce
Written by Milt Rosen
Directed by James Fargo

The team go up against a gang who are terrorising the owners of a wild west show while posing as The A-Team.

Certainly unique in terms of its story, this is a distinctive and highly entertaining episode which is driven by plot as much as it is by action. There's an enjoyably light tone throughout, one that is established early on when the team have to disguise themselves to infiltrate the wild west show. Murdock is the indian, Hannibal is the cowboy, Face is the clown and BA refuses to wear a disguise.

The best jokes come from a running gag about Murdock's role in the team. He is not mentioned in a newspaper article about the fake A-Team and then finds that the impostors do not have a Murdock. On the action front, there is an excellent set-piece involving a runaway truck which is as good an action scene as you’ll find in any episode. Latterly, a chase involving the A-Team van and a final battle that includes what can only be described as a gunge launcher also scores highly.

There’s plenty of bright dialogue to keep things ticking along, with Face memorably remarking that “this is the third time this month I’ve been hit in the eye. I’m beginning to lose my sense of humour”. The multiple strands of the plot ensure there is always plenty going on and they compliment each other without ever making the episode seem cluttered.

Lucking plays Colonel Lynch for the third and final time here and his status as a figure of fun (as distinct from the more real threat posed by Decker) is well-suited to the story. Wrapped up with a memorable final escape from Lynch to embarrasshim one last time, this is a top-notch episode and one of the highlights of the third season. 9/10.

The Island s3ep8

co-starring: Paul Drake as Vescari, Carole Davis as Kalani, James Callahan as Dr Fallone, Sonny Landham as Ryker, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Mark Jones
Directed by Michael O'Herlihy

The team help an old army friend who is living on an island which has been overtaken by a gang of mercenaries.

A generally empty episode, one that lacks an interesting hook and is plagued by scenes which just come and go without leaving any real impression. Things get off to a reasonable start with an opening in LA featuring Decker, here appearing for the first time since the end of season two.

As soon as the team reaches the island though, the episode just falls flat. Genuinely good moments, such as Face being told to swallow a tracking device (BA: “I made it, you eat it!”), are few and far between. Too much time is spent with the stock villains and uninteresting supporting characters. Drake makes for a mannered and unconvincing bad guy and Murdock’s fascination with being an animal encyclopedia doesn’t generate much in the way of humour.

The episode has the air of being something that was shot on the way back from filming another episode, cobbled together quickly when the makers came across a tank they could use for the finale. Just as you're about to lose all interest, the episode kicks into life with an action set-piece involving the aforementioned tank. It's a very good sequence (including a jeep being literally launched into the air) that deserves to be in a better episode. Certainly the weakest show so far but, unfortunately, worse was to come. 5/10.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Trouble on Wheels s3ep7

co-starring: Mills Watson as Hoyt Plummer, James Luisi as Jimmy Durkee, Joe Santos as Rudy Garcia, Dennis Pratt as Williams, Ken Gibbel as McCormick
Written by Mark Jones
Directed by Michael O'Herlihy

The team are hired to expose a gang who are forcing workers at a car plant to steal parts.

An odd episode in many ways, this starts off in a rather flat and mundane way and stays that way for much of this first half. Then, suddenly, the whole episode turns around to become as entertaining as any entry in the third season.

It doesn't help that the early scenes are rather dark and serious, keeping the team either off-screen or separated for most of the first half. The scenes that work in this early section tend to do so on an individual basis, notably BA cleverly using sounds from a microphone in Hannibal's watch to ascertain where he was taken when abducted by the gang.

Thankfully, the tone lightens considerably in the second half, aided by Murdock's Marlon Brando impression when posing as a crooked parts dealer and a great scene in which the team are recognised by a local cop. The action finale is particularly strong, mainly down to the team constructing one of their most impressive combat vehicles (leading Hannibal to remark, “We really excelled ourselves this time”).

There's a good running gag about damage to BA's foot and another final joke at his expense when the A-Team van makes one of its more unusual appearances. There are so many good moments here, it is disappointing that things take so long to get going. Worth watching all the same. First half 5/10, second half 9/10, overall 7/10.

Double Heat s3ep6

co-starring: Dana Elcar as George Olsen, Steven Williams as Eddie Devane, Michael Baseleon as Tommy Largo, Christine De Lisle as Ginger, Reid Cruikshanks as Mr Reynolds, Leah Ayres as Jenny Olsen
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The daughter of a man due to testify against a famous mobster is kidnapped and the A-Team is hired to find her before the trial begins.

Beyond the terrible title, this is an entertaining episode, beginning with a familiar plot but taking it in an interesting direction and injecting a good deal of humour in the process. Katz was one of the show's better writers, generally delivering fun scripts that avoided the derivative path taken by some writers.

The sauntering saxophone theme that opens the episode suggests a laidback tone and that is exactly what the episode delivers from the off. It's still a very busy episode but the highlights tend to be comedic rather than action-based. The best of these comes early on when Face (sporting a moustache for no discernible reason) smooth talks his way into a gym before struggling with the weights and getting thrown out of the window into the bay.

The cast seem to relish these lighter moments with Hannibal parachuting into the villain's property in full lizard costume and there's a very funny helicopter acquisition scam with Face & Murdock. In this episode, Murdock is pretending to be a news reporter delivering a running commentary on events, something which works well and leads to a good final gag. There's not much here for BA but he always tended to fare better in the action-based episodes than the comedic ones.

The story is an interesting variation on the standard testify/kidnap plot, though it is a little jarring to see Baselon again, here playing a different mobster called Tommy to the mobster called Tommy he played in 'Steel'! The action is fairly standard but director Baxley keeps things moving (though rather overdoes the handheld camerawork). The recycled sets and locations stop this seeming as fresh as it would have done in season two but it remains a enjoyable watch nonetheless. 8/10

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Timber! s3ep5

Co-starring: Joe Lambie as John Lawrence, Tracy Brooks Swope as Samantha Lawrence, Beau Starr as Bull McEwan, Andre Gower as Billy Lawrence, Wiley Harker as Claymont
Written by Jeff Ray
Directed by David Hemmings

The team are hired by a woman who is being prevented from moving her lumber by a local rival.

A fairly standard but still entertaining episode, perhaps best known for being the source of the moment used in season five's opening credits in which BA chainsaws his way into a building. The story is a variation on a familiar theme but there are enough highlights to carry it through, even though the supporting cast of characters is too bland to be particularly interesting.

From a series evolution point of view, it is noteworthy that this was the first episode directed by David Hemmings, an actor (best known for sixties film 'Blow-Up') who went on to helm a number of episodes over the next two seasons, including the feature-length season four opener 'Judgment Day'.

The action highlight actually comes at the halfway point, a frantic set-piece which involves the team transporting lumber to the mill. By comparison, the final battle doesn't quite hang together as well (it's all rather obviously shot at completely different times) but the constructed combat vehicle is a good one.

This time, Murdock is fixated with finding Bigfoot with a kazoo mating call (which leads to a good final gag) and there's a great moment when a tied-up BA breaks a beam through sheer brute force with Murdock's help/hinderance. Overall, it's a solid and watchable episode, though in all honesty you'd be better off with 'West Coast Turnaround'.
7/10, maybe 8/10 at a stretch!

Fire! s3ep4

co-starring: Stepfanie Kramer as Annie Sanders, Paul Gleason as Roy Kelsey, Alan Fudge as Elliot Farnell, Christopher Pennock as Palin, Charles Napier as Colonel Briggs, W.K. Stratton as Captain Royce, Buddy Garion as Vince Rogan
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Tony Mordente

The team are hired by a female fire chief who is being forced to sell her contract to a rival.

After the blip of the previous double episode, the series returns to its usual 45 minute format with a real winner. Writer Katz was always a reliable A-Team contributor, having been responsible for 'Curtain Call' and later 'Breakout', 'Road Games' and 'Bounty'.

What distinguishes this episode most is its strong cast. Fire chief Kramer (best known for her role in eighties tv series 'Hunter') is one of the show's strongest female characters. Gorgeous too! Gleason (Deputy Chief Dwayne Robinson from 'Die Hard') is also excellent as her somewhat dozy rival. Rounding off the supporting cast is Napier (who previously appeared in 'Labor Pains') as Decker replacement Colonel Briggs The suggestion is he's taking over the pursuit of the team but the character only appeared in this episode.

Murdock supplies the comedy in his guise as Fireman Fred (complete with soda bottle sidekick) and there's a good scene where he and Face infiltrate Gleason's headquarters. After a very strong opening, the pace flags somewhat in the middle section (a subplot involving the delivery of a safe being the main culprit) but there are enough story points going on to ensure the interest is maintained.

One of the subplots is a romance between Hannibal and fire chief Annie. Unlike some of the series romantic angles (particularly those involving BA), there does seem to be some real chemistry here and there's a lot of flirting going on throughout. The romance is set in motion in the initial meet-the-client scene and by the time Kramer has got round to asking if Hannibal is married, things are in danger of becoming too suggestive for a show targeted in part at a young audience.

With Lance LeGault in the Napier role, this episode could have been a classic but it's still highly entertaining and a finale involving dual firetrucks is an excellent set-piece. Recommended. 9/10

The Bend in the River s3ep2/3

co-starring: Marta DuBois as Bobbi Cardina, Barry Van Dyke as Brian Lefcourt, Sergio Calderon as El Cajon, Mike Preston as Doyle
Written by Frank Lupo, Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Michael O'Herlihy

Tawnia asks the team to rescue her writer fiance who is being held by river pirates in Peru.

The third of the four feature-length episodes, this is not particularly interesting and suffers from too much padding to reach (almost) 90 minutes. In many ways, Lupo and Cannell have almost re-written the pilot (at least the second part of it), following the same set-up / battle / capture / battle structure.

The similarities to the pilot don't stop there. Once again the team enter a bar on their arrival in the Peruvian jungle, requiring BA to smash his way through the door when a brawl ensues. And if main villain Calderon looks familiar, it's because he also played the villain in the pilot, different name but basically the same character.

Unlike the pilot, there is no need to introduce the team, so standard scenes are extended (such as Face breaking out Murdock) and more time is spent with minor characters. Spending more time with the villains is hardly what anyone tunes into the A-Team for and the characters are still thinly-sketched. You only need to compare this episode with others with a similar story (such as the tightly-plotted and far superior “The Only Church in Town”) to highlight its limitations.

Thankfully, there are bright moments along the way, notably BA being transported to Peru in a coffin and Murdock's rendition of "The Witch Doctor" (is Mr T trying not to laugh during it?). Murdock's delusion this time is that he is a famous film director and there's a good moment when he introduces himself in the bar ("My name is HM Murdock, better known in theatrical circles as HM, M or hmm").

The action is ok as far as it goes but with all the padding, it's difficult not to find your attention wandering. There's an extended armaments loading scene to waste some time in part two and did we really need all that footage of a rope being unwound before the boat sets off at the end of the part one? The plot takes a strange turn in the final third, suggesting Lupo and Cannell knew the rescue plot wasn't enough to sustain 90 minutes, so they tacked another story on the end. This sums up the overall nature of a double episode for which the word “untidy” could have been invented. 6/10

The episode ends with Tawnia being married off and consequently written out of the series. This is probably her best episode, one in which she is less whiny than usual and finally gets her hands dirty (though she's messy in a glamorous kind of way). Unlike Culea's departure, Heasley left on friendly terms, her character being simply seen as unnecessary and not particularly popular with viewers. The decision was made that the woman-along-for-the-ride role could easily be created as necessary for individual episodes (such as Judy in 'In Plane Sight') and the team would remain a foursome until the introduction of Frankie Santana in the fifth season.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Bullets and Bikinis s3ep1

co-starring: Vincent Bagetta as Joey Epic, Jeana Tomasino as Denise, Betsy Russell as Tina, Ben Piazza as Councilman Prescott, Kimberly Ross as Sandy, Tony Giorgio as Mr Carlin
Written by Mark Jones
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team help two women who are being put under pressure to sell the hotel left to them by their father.

A bright and entertaining start to the third season, buoyed by a sunny setting and plenty of good humour, picking up from where the guys left off at the end of season two. After the initial scene-setting, the light tone is established in the meet-the-client scene with Murdock and Face's rendition of “Surf City”. In fact, there's so much singing in this episode, it's almost a musical. We get “Surfin' USA”, “California Girls”, “Fun Fun Fun” and “Moon Over Miami”.

The action is nothing particularly special but Baggetta makes a good villain and the eye candy quotient is practically through the roof, which always helps. The story rattles along at a fast pace and the few weaknesses hardly matter given the number of scenes which are pure comedy gold. BA's nervous trip to the dentist, Face giving hotdog training and Murdock's version of Mr Toad's Wild Ride all add to the fun.

The latter third is padded out by one of the longer construction sequences in any episode, so long it's actually split into two sections. An explosive final battle and inevitable car flip is not the most imaginative of action but it serves its purpose well. It's the script that's the key here in what is an excellent writing debut for Jones who, as story editor for season three, would go on to write or co-write 8 more episodes during the season. 9/10.

Curtain Call s2ep22

co-starring: Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, Danny Wells as Artie Simmons, George Wyner as Richie Hauser
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team face a race against time after Murdock is shot as Decker closes in.

The final episode of season two is one of the most fondly-remembered of the show's entire run. By putting the most popular character in jeopardy, writer Katz ensures this is a tense and dramatic affair. Of course, it is actually an episode on the cheap, using a series of flashbacks from previous shows as the team reminisce about life with Murdock. Having the best A-Team episodes to choose from certainly helps and there are a lot of good memories here.

Of the new scenes, among the highlights are Face pretending to be a hunter who has been attacked by a bear and the way Tawnia jiggles into shot with a pair on binoculars early on ;) It’s always good to see Decker, of course, and his scene with Murdock back at the VA hospital is very funny, finishing off what had been an excellent season on a comic high. 9/10

Flashback 1 (Hannibal):
The blood transfusion from Black Day at Bad Rock
The hair dryer & trash bag escape from Pros and Cons
The microlite take-off from Holiday in the Hills
The “fill her up, high octane” scene from Till Death Us Do Part
The crash sequence from Holiday in the Hills

Flashback 2 (BA):
The drugged hamburger from Till Death Us Do Part
BA throwing Murdock off a pier from There's Always a Catch

Flashback 3 (Face):
Murdock and Face scamming dynamite from Diamonds 'n' Dust
The tuberculosis break-out from the VA hospital from A Small and Deadly War

Flashback 4 (Decker):
The team cornered in a building from There's Always a Catch
Decker in pursuit of the A-Team van from Labor Pains

Flashback 5 (BA):
BA freezing during the plane take-off from Beast from the Belly of a Boeing

Semi-Friendly Persuasion s2ep21

co-starring: Geoffrey Lewis as Kale Sykes, Tim O'Connor as Karl Peerson, Sam J Jones as Eric, Franc Luz as Frank Traynor, Red West as Sinclair, Robby Kiger as Ollie
Written by Danny Lee Cole
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team is hired by a peaceful group of people to stop a gang from the local town who are threatening them and preventing them building a meeting house.

Given that the A-Team was criticized during its run for the amount of violence it presented (ridiculous as that may seem now), it was inevitable that at some point an episode would deal directly with this issue. Here the emphasis is on the clash of means between the pacifist group and the A-Team, one that causes inevitable friction and makes up for what is otherwise a rather ordinary story.

Given that the team is asked to stop the local gang without resorting to violence, it is ironic that this was the first episode directed by Baxley who had been the stunt co-ordinator / second unit director since the show started. Of course, this is The A-Team and things can’t stay non-violent forever and events culminate in a very effective action sequence.

Being more story-driven than most, the episode benefits from having a recognisable cast including O'Connor (from Buck Rogers), Jones (from Flash Gordon) and Lewis (from most Clint Eastwood films of the time). The story is similar to the Harrison Ford film ‘Witness’ (right down to the construction of a building) but with a few oddities thrown in such as Murdock's fixation with walnuts.

The fact that the episode is shot entirely on location gives it a real sense of place and irons over some clumsiness in the writing. Danny Lee Cole would pen the passable ‘Beneath the Surface’ and the embarrassing ‘Uncle Buckle Up’ in season four and some of his dialogue is decidedly patchy. Hannibal gets the worst of it (“Hold your fire, he’s got a woman!”) and there’s some dodgy macho posturing (“You’re a tough guy, take your best shot” (punch) “not bad”).

Still, for all the holes you can pick and a slight feeling of familiarity (it's all a little too similar to ‘Labor Pains’), this remains an enjoyable episode, one which may not be anyone’s favourite but a is good watch nonetheless. 8/10.

Deadly Maneuvers s2ep20

co-starring: Ed Lauter as Douglas Kyle, Barbara Stock as Girl in Ferrari, Tricia O'Neil as Dr Maggie Sullivan, Richard Kuss as Harper, Michael Cavanaugh as Joseph King, John G Scanlon as Jackie Hoffer
Written by Richard Christian Matheson, Thomas Szollosi
Directed by Mike Vejar

A group of criminals whose plans have been ruined by the A-Team hire a gang to capture and kill them.

The best A-Team episodes (of which this is one) fall into two categories. There are those which are the best examples of the standard A-Team plot (The Taxicab Wars, Chopping Spree) and then there are those which are something very different (A Nice Place to Visit, The Court Martial Trilogy). This one falls into the latter category, having the team seemingly meet their match in terms of an equally sharp and well-organised outfit.

It is very much a plot-driven episode as the team are caught one by one and have to rely on Tawnia and Dr Sullivan (O'Neil reprising her role from “Black Day at Bad Rock”). The real threat to the team means there's a tough edge to the episode, reflected in dialogue such as Hannibal interrogating the woman who helped the gang capture Face (“You seem like a semi-nice girl under all that greed and make-up. Let me give you some advice. Don't lie to me. It's not nice to lie to me”).

Lauter (who coincidentally played the sheriff in “Bad Day at Bad Rock”) makes a strong adversary as the mercenary hired to bring together the gang, from which Cavanaugh stands out as their master of disguise. Although this is one of the more serious episodes, there is some humour along the way to lighten the mood, particularly when Murdock and Face discuss their respective captures and then as they and BA try to untie themselves.

The strong pace glosses over a few plot holes (How did Hannibal know the gang were at the dairy? They could have just stolen the milk van) and the cast are all on excellent form. Peppard, in particular, makes the most of the opportunities the script presents. There isn’t a great deal of action until the final third but it’s not noticeable as the level of tension remains high throughout. At its core, this is basically a great story well-told and this is what makes it one of the highlights of the season. 10/10.

NB. Bear in mind that this is your fourth and final opportunity this season to see that jeep jump & flip that was previously used during “In Plane Sight”, “Say It with Bullets” and “Harder Than It Looks”!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Harder Than It Looks s2ep19

co-starring: Lori Lethin as Jennifer Teasdale, Kevyn Major Howard as Marcus, Frank Annese as Strickland, Michael Prince as Warren Teasdale, Steven Keats as Ramon, Cherie Michan as Katherine
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Ivan Dixon

The team are hired by a rich businessman whose daughter has been kidnapped.

A fast and furious episode from the ever-reliable pen of series co-creator Lupo. There's a fairly convoluted plot here, the story taking many twists and turns along the way and it is this that keeps the episode well above average. There's an emphasis on running gags including BA's fights with the gang's main heavy and the notion that the job is going to be a “piece of cake”.

The action is pretty much constant, though it has to be said that the jeep chase uses familiar stock footage previously used only three episodes earlier in “Say It With Bullets” and in "In Plane Sight" before that. The various fights, chases, cliff jumps and other set-pieces help maintain a strong pace and there's plenty of good dialogue along the way (Lethin: “They'll kill Marcus”, Schultz: “Oh no ........ who's Marcus?”).

Although later seasons would also feature kidnapping plots, it is notable that the kidnap is only a peg on which to hang a much more involved story. There's a particularly effective sequence at the midway point (when weaker episodes often flag) in which the team return to the kidnappers' hideout. They funnily dupe the guard at the gate and their infiltration is then intercut with the kidnappers discussing their plans.

There's certainly no chance of getting bored here, there simply isn't time and too much to get through. Overall, this is a very tidy and entertaining episode, maintaining the high standard that had been in evidence throughout the second season. 9/10.

Chopping Spree s2ep18

co-starring: Dennis Franz as Sam Friendly, Joe Colligan as Davey, Lee Patterson as Tony Victor, Liberty Godshall as Cindy, Ken Foree as Dirkson
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Michael O'Herlihy

The team help a friend who has fallen victim to a crooked car dealer who steals back the cars he sells to either resell or chop up for spares.

A strong candidate for the title of best ever episode, this is a marvellous example of what The A-Team was all about. Not only is there great comedy and a number of excellent action scenes but this is also one of the rare episodes that gives all four characters a real chance to shine. Hannibal gets to play music producer Johnny B, Face smooth talks as a car salesman and BA worries about the fate of his stolen ride (“Hey man, he's takin' my van!”). Murdock gets some funny scenes around his pet plant (he's getting back to his roots, so to speak), throwing growing powder over BA early on (“Grow, BA, grow”).

The writing is of the highest standard, there being far too many quotable lines and snappy dialogue exchanges to list here. Worth mentioning are BA's intimidation of Tiny Roscoe (BA: “I want my ride back and Murdock wants his plant”, Tiny: “His what?”) and Face trying to put Murdock at ease (“I don't think they're going to chop your plant. What's to be gained? A salad?”). Writer Katz certainly delivers the goods with his first episode, a standard he would maintain with the likes of “Curtain Call”, “Fire” and “Breakout”.

The action is as impressive as the script, the highlights being the theft of the van, a fight at a scrap yard and a final set piece featuring Murdock emerging out of a coffin which has risen up from a hearse. The pacing is electric throughout and Franz is perfect casting as corrupt dealership owner Sam Friendly. It all adds up to superb entertainment, topped off by a memorable final scene in which the team (BA included) say their goodbyes to Murdock's plant. Brilliant. 10/10.

Friday, 1 October 2010

It's a Desert Out There s2ep17

co-starring: Jeannie Wilson as Lila Palmer, Robert Dryer as Al Driscoll, Tony Burton as Burke, Anthony James as Flagg
Written by Bruce Cervi
Directed by Arnold Laven

The team are hired to catch a gang of thugs who are robbing tourists returning from a casino.

Although weak by season two standards, this is still a watchable episode, helped by the high production values that came as standard at the time. The story is set in the desert and much of the episode comes across like its location: rather dry, flat and empty. The majority of scenes simply advance the plot without being particularly dramatic or amusing.

As the casino pit boss who tips off the gang, Wilson has a more substantial role than most guest stars, appearing in more scenes than anyone else in the first half before disappearing at the halfway point. She plays the part well, particularly in a scene in which she gives a drugged drink to Face who collapses onto the floor to her dismissive “Cheers”. If she looks familiar, it may be because Wilson co-starred with Rex Smith in another eighties action series, “Street Hawk”.

The action is at least different, featuring off-road buggys in a series of well-staged chase sequences. The pacing is off though and this all feels closer to an hour than it does 45 minutes. Things pick up in the later stages after a plot turn at the halfway point turns the story into something reminiscent of the Clint Eastwood film “The Gauntlet”. There’s a nice moment between Hannibal and Face as they realise events are unfolding quickly (“Is there time?”, “Is there ever?”). By later standards, this would be an above average episode but as part of season two, it's a disappointment. 7/10.

Pure-Dee Poison s2ep16

co-starring: John Amos as Reverend Taylor, Tracy Reed as Stephanie Taylor, Steve Sandor as Burt, Bo Hopkins as Charles Drew, Tony O'Neil as Frank, Marsha Haynes as Dr Reed
Written by Chris Bunch, Allan Cole
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team are hired to put a stop to illegal moonshiners whose drink has caused deaths in a small town.

More ordinary than most of season 2.5, this is still a good episode, kicking off with Hannibal disguising himself as a fisherman in the meet-the-client scene. The standard plotting doesn't help matters much but this is a strong episode for Murdock. He gets to visit the dentist, lies in the road as a truck drives off over him and pretends to be a pig having accidentally activated a tripwire. On top of this, he gets some great lines, such as when he fails to decoy the villains by putting his cap on a pole (“It always worked for John Wayne!”) and when he advises Hannibal of the mission time-frame (“Sir, as this is Tuesday it is my feeling that Wednesday could occur officially as early as tomorrow”).

The action is fairly standard but the final battle does boast possibly the biggest explosion in any episode. Generally speaking, this is the mixture as before but enjoyable with it. The episode does have the rare distinction of giving BA a romance with the client's daughter. These scenes between Mr T and Reed border on the excruciatingly embarrassing but it’s all part of the fun. 7/10.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Say It with Bullets s2ep15

co-starring: Lauren Chase as Corporal Brown, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, Monte Markham as Mason Harnett
Written by Richard Christian Matheson, Thomas Szollosi
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team are hired by a woman whose brother was killed after becoming involved with a gang selling military arms on the black market.

Another tremendous episode, one that sees writers Matheson and Szollosi move away from their previous, more formulaic episodes (“Bad Time on the Border”, “Labor Pains”) to deliver something much more entertaining. The key to this episode's success is the dual plotting, having the team evading Decker and trying to catch the arms smugglers at the same time. This means there isn't any sense of padding, the switching between plotlines ensuring action at regular intervals.

Indeed, this is probably the most action-packed of any episode with a variety of shootouts and chases along the way. The Team even commandeer a tank in the later stages for a unique set-piece that isn’t even spoiled by recycling jeep flip footage seen only a few episodes before during “In Plane Sight”.

Murdock’s TV fixation provides some good laughs (particularly “Candid Murdock”), though some of the show references will be lost on non-US audiences. The episode works best as a showcase for Peppard though, putting Hannibal centre stage at key moments and giving him some great dialogue to work with (“Lady, you’re lucky I have manners. You wouldn’t like to hear what I say to people who lie to me”).

The episode also contains my all-time favourite A-Team dialogue exchange, one that takes place towards the end, once the arms smugglers have been captured:
Hannibal: “These the only guys in the van, Murdock?”
Murdock : “Yes, sir. I checked for invisibles but they didn’t have any with them”.

This is as incident-packed an episode of the show as you are ever likely to see, a top class blend of plot, action and humour that represents the best of the A-Team. Concluding with a funny Murdock TV gag, this is another one to add to your must-see list. 10/10.

The Battle of Bel Air s2ep14

co-starring: Michael Fairman as Anthony Raymond, Kurtwood Smith as Mr Carson, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, Randolph Roberts as Ron Graham
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Gilbert Shilton

A reporter finds the team to warn them Decker is in the area, only to be kidnapped by a gang of criminals planning an assassination.

In many ways, the second season of The A-Team can be divided in two. This episode marks the start of what you could call season 2.5 and is one of the most exciting and entertaining ever made. By this time, the series was established as a worldwide hit and Universal were more willing to put money into the show. Prior to this point, some of the episodes were made somewhat on the cheap but now an even greater emphasis on location shooting meant the cheap sets and obvious cost-cutting would be a thing of the past (at least for a while).

The overall effect (one that would last into the next season) was to make the series seem much glossier than before. Adding to the sense of glamour is the introduction of Marla Heasley who would play reporter Tawnia Baker in seven of the next ten episodes. Tawnia is present purely for sex appeal and, unlike Amy, rarely gets her hands dirty as this would chip her nails or mess up her immaculate hairstyle. Many have found her to be a whiny and rather irritating character but that is down to the way the part is written more than Heasley’s performance.

The episode gets off to a quick start, having Decker corner the team in a hardware store as they plan an upcoming vacation. Like the rest of the episode, these opening scenes are successful both as action and comedy plus it gives Decker one of his best ever lines (Hannibal: “Aren't you going to tell me I'm not going to get away with this?”, Decker: “Oh I know you're going to get away with this but there are only just so many times, Smith”).

Everything about this episode is top-quality, the script by co-creator Lupo is excellent and the cast are all on the top of their game. Even the music is noticeably better. There's a great cue as the team escape from the Intermode building and a rare outing for the alternate, extended end theme music. The highlights come thick and fast and Face is memorably thrown out of a 7th story hotel window into a pool (a moment borrowed from the Bond film, “Diamonds are Forever”, right down to the line, “I didn't know there was a pool down there”).

The episode culminates in a dramatic helicopter chase sequence, which is extremely well-shot from within and around the two helicopters. True, the shot of one of them crashing into a cliff is a completely different type and clearly borrowed footage (from “Capricorn One” actually). It’s also ridiculous that the villains emerge safely from the crash, which completely destroyed the front part of the helicopter. There’s also been some rather clumsy post-production dubbing to emphasise the amount of time until the assassination. These, though, are very minor flaws that can’t detract from what is one of the very best A-Team episodes. 10/10.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

In Plane Sight s2ep13

co-starring: Anthony Charnota as Wilson Corless, Judy Strangis as Judy Rogers, Lance Henriksen as Mack Dalton, Carmen Argenziano as Colonel Sanchez, Rod Colbin as Jes Hicks
Written by Babs Greyhosky
Directed by Tony Mordente

The team are hired by a family to help clear their son, who was arrested after unknowingly smuggling drugs, by exposing the real smugglers.

A very entertaining episode, best remembered for the scenes involving hypnotising BA to get him aboard the plane without the need for injections, spiked milk, drugged hamburgers or planks of wood. It's a source of great comedy, having BA pass out every time anyone says “eclipse” and meaning the Team are forced to take Judy along for the ride (meaning Amy is not missed).

This was the last episode written by Greyhosky, an excellent writer who had a knack for delivering strong scripts such as Till Death Us Do Part and Holiday in the Hills (from which this borrows its opening aerial footage). Her episodes were distinguished by an ear for sharp comic dialogue and the ability to capture the essence of each character. A clever move here is to have Murdock play his scenes straight early on, the repression of his normal mania being funny in itself (particularly in his scene with Hannibal in the cockpit after take-off).

The main action set-piece here has the plane taxiing through the jungle, pursued by two jeeps. It's a unique chase by A-Team standards, although the episode is better in its dialogue scenes than its action. Murdock has to feign madness (not exactly difficult) and Face has to pose as his doctor to lead the smugglers to an ambush at the plane.

It’s very much a comedy-driven episode from BA's smile when handed soup by Judy’s mom to Hannibal's duck call and Murdock sneezing into the cocaine. Not one for action fans perhaps but if you like a good dose of comedy with your episodes, this could well turn out to be one of your favourites. 9/10.

The Maltese Cow s2ep12

co-starring: James Hong as Wan Chu, Paul Mantee as Chris Thomas, John Milford as Detective, Peter Kwong as Tommy Chen, Keye Luke as Sam Yeng
Written by Thomas Szollosi, Richard Christian Matheson
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team fight Chinese gangsters who have wrecked a restaurant of which they are part-owners.

A strong episode from a strong season, this enjoyable tale gets a lot of mileage from the clash of styles between the more rigid approach of the Chinese bad guys and the more fly-by-night A-Team. The story is fairly standard but the script is peppered with dialogue that bristles with snappy remarks and sharp comebacks. Referring early on to the men who wrecked the restaurant, Hannibal states in grizzled tones, “If they walk on two legs and breathe air, they can eat dirt and do the chicken like everyone else”.

All A-Team episodes were shot in and around LA and here that is an advantage as it is also the setting, allowing for plenty of location filming which gives the story a real sense of place. There’s a classic A-Team infiltration as they bluff their way into the dragon’s lair (so to speak) and come face-to-face with Hong, who makes an excellent villain.

The various fights play up on the difference between A-Team fists and Chinese karate, notably sending BA flying through the air for a change. There’s also a great Raiders-style gag in which BA is confronted by a sword-wielding henchman and just knocks him out (“Ai-ya that, sucker!”)

Murdock is on a Philip Marlowe kick in this one, something which memorably pays off in the final scene when BA gets in on the act. Good fun. 8/10

Monday, 30 August 2010

The White Ballot s2ep11

co-starring: Clifton James as Sheriff Dawson, Andrew Robinson as Deputy Rance, Joshua Bryant as Baker, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Jeff Ray
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team travel to a small town run by a corrupt sheriff and put Face up against him in the upcoming election.

This is one of the best season two episodes, one which starts quickly and maintains a real sense of fun throughout. The pattern is established early on in a restaurant scene in which a nervous waiter asks “Would anyone like some coffee? How would you like it?”, only for BA to reply, “In a cup, fool!”. The tone is kept light and entertaining for what is a very brisk 45 minutes, making this one of the most consistently funny episodes.

Writer Ray has a real knack for advancing the plot while delivering great dialogue at the same time. A great example of this is the scene in the van in which Hannibal sets up the plan. Halfway through the discussion, Face and Murdock suddenly appear and the discussion then continues, all pure exposition but it works superbly.

James, who had previously appeared as the warden in “Pros & Cons”, is a worthy adversary. The ways in which the team get under his skin (such as the key-to-the-city presentation) are good fun because the sheriff is such a great character. The additional threat of Decker adds to the sense of urgency as the comedy-driven first half giving way to a plot-driven second half.

There's an enjoyable section in which the team break out of a locked room, giving an opportunity for Murdock to sing “Ceilings” (as opposed to “Feelings”). From start to finish, everything about this episode is a cut above (even the usual construction montage), providing great entertainment, pure and simple. 10/10.

This was to be Melinda Culea's last episode. There is no acknowledgement of this and it is not mentioned until “The Battle of Bel Air” when she is said to have taken a foreign correspondent's post with her paper. The reasons for her departure have never been fully established but are most likely to be a combination of factors: Culea's increasing unhappiness at the limited nature of her role; the producers becoming irritated with her demands for a more substantial part; Peppard’s dismissive attitude towards having a female member of the team.

Steel s2ep10

co-starring: Mary-Margaret Humes as Randy Stern, Ray Girardin as Carl Denham, Tim Rossovich as Boyle, Michael Baseleon as Tommy T, Norman Alden as Mickey Stern, Carol Baxter as Nurse Billings
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Gilbert Shilton

The team are hired by a construction company being threatened by a local rival.

One of the many high points of season two, this episode is enjoyably lightweight in its early stages due to the meet-the-client scene taking place on the Universal Studios tour (with Hannibal in full aquamaniac costume). This excellent opening is also the source of the classic moment featured in the later opening credits in which Dirk Benedict reacts to a Cylon from “Battlestar Galactica” walking past him (Benedict played Starbuck in that series). This initially high level of comedy is maintained throughout, mainly through Murdock's antics as he pretends to be a dog.

The episode is well-directed by Shilton whose three A-Team episodes were among the best ever made (the other two being “The Taxicab Wars” and “The Battle of Bel Air”). The action highlights include a chase sequence in which even the standard car flip seems more spectacular than usual and a fist fight during which Murdock looks up to see one of the bad guys flying over him (presumably BA's doing).

Baseleon as gangster Tommy T is a much stronger character than the usual rent-a-villain and the scene in which he threatens Face in the restaurant has a real sense of menace. As the owner of construction company, Alden becomes the first actor to hire the A-Team for the second time. He previously hired them to root out crooked cops in season one’s “A Small and Deadly War”. Note that Melinda Culea does not appear in this episode and Amy is not even mentioned in the script. 10/10.

Incidentally, writer Lupo is clearly a fan of the Bond movie, “Diamonds are Forever”. The sherry dialogue spoken by Face in the limousine is a direct lift from the film. Another Lupo-penned episode, “The Battle of Bel Air”, also includes a homage to "Diamonds are Forever".

Friday, 20 August 2010

Water, Water Everywhere s2ep9

co-starring: Alan Fudge as Frank Gaines, Robin Riker as Amanda, Jim Knaub as Jamie, Michael Rider as Harry
Written by Sidney Ellis, Jo Swerling Jr
Directed by Arnold Laven

The team help some war veterans whose property is under threat by a landowner trying to obtain the water which is available there.

A reasonable but patchy episode, not terrible by any means but suffering from a structure that consists of more padding than plot. There’s a good moment during the requisite bar brawl in which the team discuss fight types in code (“I was thinking of a 38 or a 32”, “There's nothing like a good old 22”). Perhaps the best moment is when two of Murdock's smart comments lead to parts of the A-Team van being shot out by Gaines. Before he can get a third comment out, an aggravated BA shouts, “Shut up, Murdock, shut up!”.

Too much of the second half is taken up with montages, either drilling for water or preparing for the final battle as Gaines and his cronies close in. Face and Amanda have a good scene during a break in one of the montages but the episode just seems to meander along with familiar and uninspired situations, not helped by a bland stock villain. A good final fight (inevitably with water as the main weapon) helps matters somewhat but as a whole, the episode is just too dry. 6/10.

There's Always a Catch s2ep8

co-starring: John Quade as Garber, Tracy Scoggins as Shana Mayer, Robin Strand as Doug Mayer, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, Len Wayland as Calvin Mayer, Rebecca Stanley as Betty
Written by Richard Christian Matheson, Thomas Szollosi
Directed by Ron Satlof

The team help a woman whose father was beaten up by rival fishermen who are depleting lobster stocks.

An entertaining season two episode that may have a standard protection racket storyline but the presence of Decker makes it a cut above the average. Things get off to a bright start as the team arrive at the local hospital to arrange treatment for BA who has stepped on a rusty nail. Decker is never more than a short step behind throughout the episode, adding a sense of urgency that makes the time fly by. His entertainingly gruff presence is a real asset and he delivers his lines with typical aplomb (“Son, when you can get a search warrant as quick as I can, you don’t need one”).

There isn’t a great deal of action here, a couple of fist fights is pretty much all you get. They are good ones though, with Murdock accidentally landing on BA’s foot and Face literally slamming into one of the heavies during the first dock fight. In a scene that demonstrates the power of his smooth-talking technique, Face is at his charming best when he poses as a magician to acquire some gear from Betty’s Scuba.

Murdock adds some good comedy with his lobster companion Thermidore. Initially mounted on a board, Therm ends up as just a claw after the first clash with the bad guys. All in all, good fun from the reliable pen of Matheson & Szollosi who were story editors for the season and would go on to write the excellent double of “Say it with Bullets” and “Deadly Manuevers” later in the season. 8/10

Monday, 16 August 2010

Labor Pains s2ep7

co-starring: Charles Napier as Ray Cross, John Vernon as Ted Jarrett, Penny Peyser as Laura, Alan Autry as Gary, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Thomas Szollosi, Richard Christian Matheson
Directed by Arnold Laven

The team helps fruit pickers who are being treated like slave labour by their bosses.

A typically solid second season episode, one that ticks along nicely but without any of those moments that would make it anyone’s favourite. Perhaps the problem is that the overall effect is rather low-key, particularly after the action sequence that opens the episode. The first five minutes comprises of an extended chase sequence which sees BA performing a couple of spectacular jumps in the A-Team van to evade the pursuing Decker. It’s a lively start and as good an action scene as you’ll find in any episode but the story that follows does seem rather flat in comparison.

The supporting cast is certainly impressive with bad guy Vernon (the mayor in “Dirty Harry”), lovely Penny Peyser (best known for her role in “Crazy Like a Fox”) and henchman Napier (who would return to pursue the team as a stand-in for Decker in season three’s “Fire!”). Individually, there are some strong scenes, most notably when the team crash Vernon's party to steal food for the workers.

Overall, though, the episode never seems to get out of second gear and remains very watchable without being particularly memorable. The final battle (which includes a cabbage launcher) is just a little too ridiculous and over too easily. There's also a sense that Vernon is such a tough character that it's not wholly convincing that things would improve for the pickers as smoothly as is suggested. Nice try but no cigar. 7/10.

The Taxi Cab Wars s2ep6

co-starring: Michael Ironside as Miller Crane, Robin Dearden as Kathy, Brion James as Ryder, Greg Monaghan as Shelly, Ernie Hudson as Cal Freeman
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Gilbert Shilton

The team helps a cab firm who are being forced out of business by a villainous rival.

In many ways, this is the archetypal A-Team episode, a perfect introduction to the series as it contains all the elements you would expect from the show. A Hannibal disguise, the break-in/out of the villain’s lair, the building of an armour-plated combat vehicle, the car flipping. It’s all here and very well-written by show creator Cannell.

The plot is the one that would be used in the most A-Team episodes, the small company being harassed by a larger rival, either for purely commercial reasons, to gain access to the land on which the business resides or for something more obscure. It’s just the commercial angle in this case but Cannell still manages to subvert the usual episode structure, having the team lose rather than win their first confrontation with the rival cab firm, something that makes their ultimate victory all the more sweet.

Apart from a moment in which BA frightens the life out of an elderly English couple, the comedy in this episode comes from Murdock's ”Captain Cab”, a hilarious superhero complete with mask and cape (but no cowl). It’s one of his best delusions, ably assisted by companion Sockie despite threats from BA and "Knockout”. It is a credit to the rest of the cast that they can keep a straight face through it all, particularly Peppard when he has to deliver the classic line, “That sock's telling the truth”.

Villains Ironside and James were two of the greats at playing psychotics at the time and add greatly to the appeal of the episode, as does the fact that it is shot almost entirely on location. Perhaps the compendium of classic elements means the episode does not serve repeated viewing as much as the more distinctive classic episodes but in terms of the standard A-Team plot, this is as good as it gets. 10/10.

Incidentally, this episode marks the first appearance of Face's corvette which practically became a good luck charm for the episodes in which it appeared: The Battle of Bel Air, Chopping Spree, Say It With Bullets, Deadly Maneuvers, Incident at Crystal Lake and Dishpan Man among others.

Friday, 6 August 2010

When You Comin' Back Range Rider? s2ep5

Co-starring: Richard Yniguez as Daniel Running Bear, Morgan Woodward as Bus Carter, Mills Watson as Stryker, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, Dana Kimmell as Lane Carter
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Christian I. Nyby II

The team go up against a gang of castle rustlers who are stealing wild horses.

The second of the four 90 minute episodes that were made during the run of the series, this is easily the best of the four. The main reason for the feature-length is that there are essentially two stories to tell. The first is the introduction of Colonel Decker, the team's best military foe, marvellously played by LeGault. Proving all heroes need strong adversaries, LeGault's contribution to the show was immense, always enhancing the episodes in which he appeared (which was less than you might expect, only 16 out of 94 if you include his cameo in “Trial By Fire”).

Whereas Colonel Lynch was always a figure of fun and portrayed as a fool, Decker is much more of a threat, as is acknowledged early on by Face and Hannibal (“Who is this guy?”, “I don’t know but it’s going to be fun finding out”). The first half hour has Decker twice corner members of the team who escape via a chase in a Trans-am and then by driving the A-Team van off a harbour (it was never established how they got it back). It’s all very enjoyable and a fine starting point for the adversarial relationship with Decker that was to develop as the season progressed.

The main plot then begins and given how many episodes have western-type scenarios, it was inevitable that there would eventually be one set in the Wild West. The outdoor filming gives the story a greater sense of scale than in most and the slower-than-usual pacing suits the more relaxed locale. It has to be said that Amy is largely absent, basically relegated to being the romantic interest for the client, though she does get to handle a bow and arrow during one of the action scenes.

The action is excellent, moving past an initial fist-fight to stage a series of attempted train hijacks using various modes of transport. The action certainly makes up for dialogue scenes (including an obsession with “The Range Rider” for Murdock) that tend to lack spark. There is a good moment in the local store where a woman lets Face hide in her changing cubicle (Benedict: “Thanks, I really appreciate you for trusting me”, Woman: “Let's just say I like your face”, Benedict: “I have an honest face?”, Woman: “No, but I like it”).

The tendency with the 90 minute format was to let scenes drift on longer than necessary and that is often in evidence here. There's an extra meet-the-client scene, the end credits last almost five minutes and the construction montage is greatly extended (albeit with excellent music). An early series of flashbacks of A-Team military evasions looks suspiciously like padding, especially given that they use the opening escape from “Holiday in the Hills” out of context.

Nonetheless, for all the padding and indifferent dialogue, the end result is never less than entertaining. A few adjustments and script polishes could have made this one of the greats but it is still well above-average, building to an excellent train/helicopter set-piece and the classic western drive-off into the distance. 9/10

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Bad Time on the Border s2ep4

co-starring: Jack Ging as Lieutenant Taggart, Dennis Lipscomb as Prince, Joey Aresco as Presley, David Graf as Cooper, Jeffrey Josephson as Henchman, Marla Heasley as Cherise
Written by Richard Christian Matheson, Thomas Szollosi
Directed by Bruce Kessler

The team help a young girl whose ill mother is being held by a gang of people smugglers targeting Mexicans trying to start a new life across the border.

An OK if fairly standard episode, most notable for a series of distractions and an overall feeling of familiarity. One element of familiarity comes in the first reappearance of a guest star, in this case Jack Ging who played the crooked SWAT team leader in season one’s “A Small and Deadly War” and here plays a crooked border patrol guard. The location where the Mexican immigrants are held is also rather familiar, as if the gang have taken over the remnants of the camp left behind by the “Children of Jamestown”.

In terms of distractions, Marla Heasley (who would co-star as reporter Tawnia Baker in episodes 27 to 34) appears as a girl in a bikini during the scenes on in the yacht harbour. Having said that, Heasley is beaten in the glamour stakes by an even more distracting Melinda Culea who gets dressed up in a fetching blue number to entrap one of the bad guys. It is a little jarring to see David Graf (Police Academy's Tackleberry) in a serious role and there’s also a glaring continuity error in which BA's appearance (particularly his hair) is completely different in the first yacht scene than in the rest the show.

The episode seems to have a rather restricted budget in terms of its sets, the rather under-dressed bar being the most noticeable example of cost-cutting. Murdock's companion this time around is his bug “Herman” (named after “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville) but Schultz's best moment is when he talks his way into borrowing a helicopter, managing to get a long speech out in one take. The episode is perhaps most notable for the moment used in the later season credits in which an armor-plated car bursts out of the back of a delivery truck. It's a classic moment that kicks off an excellent and explosive final set-piece which redeems the somewhat patchy nature of what went before it. 8/10.

The Only Church in Town s2ep3

co-starring: Markie Post as Leslie Becktall/Sister Teresa, Ismael Carlo as Salvador, Beau Starr as Henchman, Deborah Shelton as Gayle, Don Knight as Gibbons, Elizabeth Hoffman as Mother Superior
Written by Babs Greyhosky
Directed by Christian I. Nyby II

Face “hires” the team to help his high school sweetheart who is now a nun in an orphanage in Ecuador that has been over-run by bandits.

Another solid episode from writer Greyhosky, unremarkable in terms of its action but excellent in the way it deals with the relationship between Face and Leslie. This is one of Benedict's strongest episodes in any season. The scene on the plane in which Face speaks to Amy about his high school romance with Leslie is one of his best and the subsequent scenes with Markie Post are both touching and believable. Greyhosky always wrote good dialogue, in evidence here when Murdock refers to Leslie leaving Face to become a nun, (“Boy, when they said she'd run off with another guy they weren't kidding!”). There's also a great moment when the team respond to BA's moans about being drugged and flown to Ecuador with a collective “Be Quiet!”.

The later stages of the episode are more standard and less interesting as the team head off the bandits only for them to return in greater numbers. The action isn’t badly staged but there are so many good moments in the first half (including a scene in Face’s apartment that highlights the camaraderie among the team) that the second half suffers in comparison. It’s not an episode that will appeal to every fan but being very relationship-driven makes it different from the norm and that is what makes it memorable. Besides, any episode that has Murdock dressed as a nun can't be all bad. 8/10.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Recipe for Heavy Bread s2ep2

co-starring: Marjoe Gortner as Tom Anderson, John Fujioka as General Chow, Michael Alldredge as Don, Mako as Lin Duk Coo, Liam Sullivan as Dr Peters
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Bernard McEveety

The team discover the cook from a Vietcong prison camp they were held in is working in a Los Angeles restaurant.

Something of a disappointment considering it was written by co-creator Cannell, this is a watchable but unremarkable episode that suffers from some serious pacing issues before the mid-point and never really recovers. The start is fine with the team witnessing Lin Duk Coo’s kidnap and then staging an assault on the warehouse where he is being held. It’s an excellent set piece (culminating in Murdock riding on the roof of the A-Team van) but the rest of the episode fails to live up to this promising start.

Face is posing as an interior decorator to gain access to an expensive apartment where the team are hiding out but the scenes of him having to explain the presence of the rest of the group eventually become repetitive. In addition, Murdock's obsession with golf balls and their liberation is not one of his more interesting fixations and could easily have been cut entirely with no loss.

Like a lot of Cannell episodes, the A-Team's military background is central to the story but the attempts to make serious points don't always come off and the good humour that plays a key part in all the best episodes is mainly absent here. The overall effect is interesting at best, heavy-going at worst and when the end comes it does so suddenly and rather too easily. The final action sequence is impressive though, a well-filmed chase featuring Murdock piloting a helicopter down a city street with the rest of the team in pursuit. 6/10.

Diamonds 'n' Dust s2ep1

co-starring: Albert Salmi as Jonathan Fletcher, Kirsten Meadows as Toby Griffin, Michael Halsey as Alan Scheckter, Sam Scarber as Landers
Written by Patrick Hasburgh
Directed by Ron Satlof

The team fly to South Africa to transport dynamite to a diamond mine.

A very positive start to the second season, this is an entertaining and well-written tale with a strong storyline and much to enjoy. It’s good to see the team out in the open for almost the entirety of the episode, not in Africa obviously but at least director Satlof doesn’t overdo the use of jungle stock footage. There’s a good overall balance at work here, the comedy and set-up of the first half making way for plenty of action in the second. Giving Murdock a cuddly bear called Bogie (after “African Queen” star Humphrey Bogart) is almost too silly but Schultz gets away with it, especially given a great gag after the bear has been hit in a firefight. Pulling out the stuffing, Murdock declares, “I don't think Bogie's gonna make it”.

The action follows a fairly standard pattern (initial fistfight, subsequent gun battle, final confrontation) but is well-executed and helps maintain a strong pace. There’s a rather unnecessary sequence in which BA and Face climb a rockface with dynamite strapped to their back. Why didn’t they just tie the dynamite to the bottom of the rope, all climb the rockface and then pull the dynamite up to the top?

Beyond the action, there’s plenty of strong dialogue (including a good moment between BA and Toby) as well as a noticeable sense of camaraderie among the cast that was often lacking in later seasons. The episode may well be best remembered for a scene in which Murdock poses as an English military officer and slates a store owner for not being British enough (“No kippers, no English herring bone tweed, no meat pies, no Rolls Royce petrol caps, no original pressings of Hey Jude. You sir, are a miserable excuse for a shopkeep!”).

The only one not to come out of the episode particularly well is Amy who appears so infrequently and gets so few lines, you almost forget she is in the show. Too often, Amy’s role in an episode was limited to general exposition and vague assistance, a role that could easily be filled by the client. As the season progressed, Amy’s part in proceedings became increasingly redundant and unnecessary. The writing was already on the wall in this season opener and Culea would feature in only nine further episodes before being written out and replaced by Marla Heasley who would appear in eight episodes before suffering a similar fate. 9/10.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A Nice Place to Visit s1ep13

co-starring: Joanna Kerns as Trish Brenner, Burton Gilliam as Sheriff Jeff, Ted Markland as Logan Watkins, Kelbe Nugent as Lianne, Sandy Ward as Lianne's Father, Robert F Lyons as Harold Watkins, Don Stroud as Deke Watkins, M.C. Gainey as C.W. Watkins
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Bernard McEveety

Arriving in a small town for the funeral of former army colleague Ray Brenner, the team find they are given a hostile welcome.

One of the more serious A-Team episodes, this is also notable for being one of the more believable as far as the threat from the gang in control of the town is concerned. The A-Team van is run off the road at one point and there is a real sense of menace when Trish and Amy are forced to defend themselves against two men trying to break into Trish’s house.

Among the strong supporting cast, Kerns is excellent as Ray’s widow, as is Lyons as the garage attendant and fans of “Blazing Saddles” will recognize Gilliam who plays the town’s sheriff. The start is a little strange, using chase footage from “The Rabbit that Ate Las Vegas” to pad out the running time and stop the end credits being even longer than they already are. There is also an odd moment when the team borrow a car from an elderly couple but a stand-in is playing Face and he tries to hide himself from view as best he can.

The level of tension is kept high throughout and this is also one of the few episodes to mention the Vietnam War in detail as the team remember their fallen comrade over documentary and film footage. There is an over-riding message about not forgetting the sacrifices made by Vietnam veterans but also an underlying one about the way veterans were often treated on their return from the conflict. It’s a brave move for what was considered to be a standard action series and a kick-in-the-face to anyone who says The A-Team was just a kids’ show.

The series had a habit of finishing seasons with more serious episodes such as “Curtain Call” (in which Murdock was shot) and “The Sound of Thunder”, which was also written by Lupo and takes some of the issues touched upon here to the next level. This is a genuinely great episode, one which may have washed over you when you were younger (too much talking and all that) but viewed now you realise it is exceptionally well-handled. 10/10.

The Beast from the Belly of a Boeing s1ep12

co-starring: Andrew Robinson as Jackson, Alan Stock as Thomas, Jim McKrell as Larry Hertzog, Michael Swan as Trigg, Jesse D. Goins as Phillips
Written by Patrick Hasburgh
Directed by Ron Satlof

The team are hired to get back control of a plane that has been hijacked.

A solid first season episode, engrossing enough as far as it goes but rather flat in the opening stages and relying too much on familiar plane drama clich├ęs to be one of the A-Team greats. It is best remembered for the classic scene in which BA goes into a trance after getting caught in the baggage hold as the plane takes off (Murdock: ”BA, just try to breathe deep. OK, forget deep and just try to breathe”). The rest is perfectly watchable and put together with good humour but the progression of the plot in the later stages follows a standard path that was old hat when it was used back in 1975 in the film “Airport”. (Incidentally, the shot of the 747 'reaching' the airport lounge is taken from “Airport” which was also made by Universal).

Although the routine plot isn’t an asset, the lighter moments carry the episode through with Murdock suddenly appearing when Face goes to the toilet, Hannibal having moustache issues and a duet of “You Are My Sunshine” performed by Face and Hannibal. There’s a strange cut when Murdock knocks out one of the hijackers, suggesting the scene was changed to having him hit the guard in the stomach with a spanner rather than on the head as originally filmed. Not exactly shocking violence but maybe Universal were worried about copycat spanner attacks by young fans of the show?! Murdock is declared sane and released from his psychiatric unit at the start of the episode, a subplot which is touched upon throughout but pays off well in the final scene. 8/10.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Till Death Do Us Part s1ep11

co-starring: John Ericson as Calvin Cutter, Janice Heiden as Jacqueline Taylor, Jim Antonio as Sheriff Gillis, Noble Willingham as Pete
Written by Babs Greyhosky, Frank Lupo
Directed by Guy Magar

The team are hired to rescue southern belle Jackie Taylor who is being forced to marry so the husband-to-be, Calvin Cutter, can get his hands on her fortune.

One of the high points of the first season, this is one of the most enjoyable of all A-Team episodes, keeping the gang together for most of the running time and being all the better for it. A terrific blend of action and comedy, this is superbly written by the ever-reliable Greyhosky and is played to the hilt by a cast on top form.

It is certainly one of Schltz's best episodes, one in which he eats the shaving foam from the fake cake, dresses up in the bridal gown and then writes a letter to apologise for standing the groom up at the altar. Benedict has some funny scenes in which he is made very uncomfortable by Hannibal's way of putting a stop to Cutter's plan and there's also one of the all-time great comic moments when BA is shown smiling into camera during Murdock's alternate wedding video.

The episode hits the ground running with only two short scenes before the Team arrive at the wedding and anarchy ensues. There's a lot squeezed into 45 minutes, culminating in a tense helicopter chase which is as exciting as any A-Team action sequence. The action memorably pauses halfway through when the chopper gets low on fuel and Murdock is forced to land at a gas station (“Fill her up, high octane”). Any negative points? Well, as the bride who doesn't want to be, Heiden's southern drawl is rather put-on but that can't detract from one of the A-Team classics. Brilliant. 10/10.