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!

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