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!

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