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!

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