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, 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.