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!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Judgement Day s4ep1 & 2

Co-Starring: June Chadwick as Carla, Christine Claridge, Michael Delano as Johnny Angel, Dana Elcar as Judge Mordente, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, LaGena Hart as Lori, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Robert Miranda as Joe Scarlett, Zack Norman as Gino

The team are called in by a judge whose daughter has been kidnapped by the mobster whose trial he is presiding over.

Season four gets underway with a double episode that ranks as the all-time favourite among a number of fans. For at least part of the ninety-minute running time, it is easy to see why this is the case. With the possible exception of season two’s double episode ‘When You Comin’ Back Range Rider?’, this is the most action-driven A-Team episode of all and packs a series of highly impressive set pieces into its first fifty minutes.

After a courtroom scene setting up the plot, the action quickly gets underway as the mobster’s gang abducts the judge’s daughter by helicopter while she is riding a jetski. It’s a sequence worthy of gracing any Hollywood feature film and acts as a calling card for an episode that boasts stuntwork which is second to none. Moving quickly on, we have what seems to be a standard meet-the-client scene as Hannibal gets the lowdown from the judge while posing as a window cleaner on a high-rise building. However, Decker soon arrives on the scene, forcing Hannibal to parachute off the building to escape capture in what is another excellent stunt.

We get a chance to grab our breath at this point as the plot takes a firmer hold as the team kidnap the man responsible for the daughter’s kidnap and hold him hostage while Hannibal takes his place. Peppard plays both roles here and does it well, particularly when you compare it to something as woeful as David Hasselhoff playing the evil Garth in ‘Knight Rider’. Inevitably, Hannibal has to duke it out with his double when the plan goes awry but as predictable as such a scene is, it all adds to the fun.

The first half of the episode does mainly belong to Hannibal and the rest of the cast actually appear only sporadically. Murdock has a good scene in which he tries to break himself out of the VA hospital without Face’s help but it doesn’t go quite according to plan. Murdock then suddenly appears (somewhat confusingly) at what turns out to be the judge’s house where he is posing as an oddball butler. This scene is the first example of editing issues that crop up frequently across the course of the double episode.

Face doesn’t have a great deal to do in the first half of this episode but certainly has more to do than BA who only makes brief appearances and gets the sum total of two lines in the first forty minutes. The team come to Hannibal’s rescue once his cover is blown, leading to another strong action set-piece as the team attempt to get the judge’s daughter back and have to evade Decker who turns up halfway through the firefight.

You certainly can’t accuse this episode of being slow-paced as within an instant we’re in Italy, where the judge’s daughter has been taken. Once this has been established, it’s back to the action again as the team get involved in another fight to get her back. Benedict certainly gets stuck in during a good moment in which he attempts to karate chop a henchman, only to end up being hit and falling backwards down a hill. A vehicle chase sequence complete with exploding petrol cans follows, culminating in one of the great A-Team explosions that makes you wonder exactly how big the budget of this episode was.

So far, so breathless and certainly a feast for action fans. There isn’t a great deal of plot here and certainly one criticism of the episode is that there is hardly any story at all. The judge disappears from the episode shortly after he’s hired the team and the mobster on trial only crops up once more. Kidnap stories formed the basis for a number of A-Team episodes (Harder Than It Looks, Moving Targets, The Doctor is Out, The Say Uncle Affair) but all of them have more story in forty-five minutes than we get here in ninety.

The lack of story wouldn’t be an issue if the entertainment value didn’t start to collapse around the hour mark. The team are forced to go back to the US via cruise liner, leading to a series of uninspired scenes on deck and in cabins. Benedict takes centre stage here and the scenes that do work well are mainly down to him. Face poses as the assistant to the ship’s doctor and inevitably smooth talks the attractive cruise director and finds himself in a compromising position with a female passenger. Incidentally, that is the episode’s director David Hemmings playing the role of the doctor.

The episode loses all sense of purpose as the team just mill around and uninteresting supporting characters (particularly singer Johnny Angel) are given more screen time than members of the team. BA only appears on deck in one scene, though this may be because Mr T “walked” off the ocean liner during shooting (he left via helicopter). He did eventually return (presumably to shoot that one scene) but his absence does partly explain the choppy nature of the second half.

Continuity errors don’t exactly help matters, such as when an establishing shot shows the liner far out at sea but the deck scene that follows has islands and other boats in the background. The original plot (the judge’s daughter was kidnapped, remember?) becomes an afterthought and although the episode closes with another well-staged action sequence, the last half hour is something of a mess.

Quite where it all went wrong, we can only speculate. Perhaps the cruise liner sequence had to be rapidly rewritten in Mr T’s absence? Perhaps the crediting of three editors suggests a rushed post-production process? A rewrite may have been the first step as too much happens too quickly in the first half and then not much happens at all in the second. In any case, it’s still worth seeing but doesn’t end up being the absolute series classic it seems to be early on.

First 50 minutes 9/10, second 40 minutes 6/10

Friday, 21 January 2011

Incident at Crystal Lake s3ep25

Co-starring: Christopher Stone as Gavin, Kristen Meadows as Jenny Sherman, Robert Grey as Candy, Judson Scott as Maxwell, Ken Swofford as Roy Sherman, Robert Tessier as Mute, Lance Le Gault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Tony Mordente

The team decide to take a break at a lake retreat to evade Decker but find themselves squaring up against a gang of robbers.

Perhaps best known for its opening more than anything else, this season three finale begins with Face driving his corvette to the tune of Blondie’s “One Way or Another”. It’s a memorable and dynamic way to kick-off a fast-moving storyline and is followed quickly by the team escaping from the clutches of Decker. It is as good an opening as you'll find in any episode, recalling the hit-the-ground-running start of season one’s ‘Holiday in the Hills’.

What makes this so enjoyable is the light-hearted vein of the whole episode, all the team getting in on the act to keep the tone bright and breezy. After escaping Decker, Face remarks that anyone of them could have fallen for the girl by the roadside gag, to which Peppard replies “Yes Face but it always happens to you”. Benedict is at his most jovial here and both he and Schultz have individually good moments based around Murdock’s unique fishing theory of bringing a dummy along to be the guy who never catches anything.

As with all episodes which feature Decker, this benefits from having a dual storyline to keep the pace up, avoiding that mid-section lull that affects the weaker episodes. Meadows (who previously appeared early in season two in ‘Diamonds n Dust’) is good in support as a park ranger and Grey adds a sense of menace as the robber who seemingly wants to shoot everyone who crosses his path.

The second half is very action-driven and kicks up a gear with the arrival of Decker, the highlight being the final helicopter/car chase sequence. There’s a final gag that’s spoilt by being filmed without the main actors being present (the shot of Face emerging from the van is from an earlier episode) but this is a minor criticism of what is a fun finale to the third season. 8.5/10

Trouble Brewing s3ep24

Co-starring: Suzanne Barnes as Maryann Rogers, Claudia Christian as Cathy Rogers, Louis Giambalvo as Jason Webb, Robert Dryer as henchman, Anthony James as henchman, Jack Hogan as Barrington
Written by Steven L Sears, Burt Pearl
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team are hired by two women who are under pressure to sell their soda business to a local rival.

Although this was the penultimate episode of the season, we’re going out pretty much where we came in with ‘Bullets & Bikinis’ as two attractive young women hire the team to save their business. It’s not quite in the same league as the season opener though, mainly due to a less colorful setting and more ordinary plotting.

It’s an episode which works better when seen in isolation than it does when watched in order as this was at least the seventh time this season we’d seen the “small business attacked by aggressive rival” plot. At this point in the show’s run, it had become the stock A-Team storyline, dating all the way back to ‘West Coast Turnaround’ in season one. As of next season though, there was a very specific move away from this type of story and it wouldn’t appear again until what was also the penultimate episode of that season, ‘A Little Town with an Accent’.

So what we have here is a rather ordinary and predictable episode, though it is an improvement over writers Sears/Pearl’s previous episode, ‘Knights of the Road’. The usual scenes are all here and there’s nothing unexpected but it all moves at a fairly brisk pace, the initial threat to the clients being followed by Murdock hiding in an ATM to make contact with them.

Inspired by the all-natural soda the women make, Murdock goes on a health drive but this doesn’t exactly please everyone (BA: “Hey, where’s the meat? This sandwich is full of weeds!”). The formulaic nature of the whole thing becomes more and more apparent as the episode progresses, moving onto a mid-section in which Face and Murdock break into Webb’s safe to find out why he really wants the soda business. Still, there are highlights along the way, including a clever moment as Murdock uses a Polaroid to fake the view from a security camera and the A-Team van taking the gate with it when they break out of the plant.

Giambalvo doesn’t have time to make much of an impression as the villain but there is a good moment when he breaks into the rival bottling plant to kill Face (who has been posing as a advertising executive). Getting by mainly on the goodwill created by the cast, there are too many reminders of better episodes here to make this anything more than adequate time filler. The use of soda hoses at the finale is too obvious and in the end, the episode manages to fill out its 45 minute running time without being anything special. 6.5/10

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Beverly Hills Assault s3ep23

Co-starring: Lloyd Bochner as Steffan Shawn, Dennis Franz as Brooks, Mayla McCashin as Peggy, Bruce Glover as Tepper, Kathy Witt as Diane
Written by Paul Bernbaum
Directed by Craig R. Baxley

The team are hired to find out who is responsible for putting a talented artist in the hospital.

A rather bland but not altogether unappealing season entry, this is rather too typical of the kind of episode penned by a first-time writer on the show. Writer Bernbaum would return in season five to good effect for 'Quarterback Sneak' and 'The Spy Who Mugged Me' but he lucks out here with a very ordinary story that feels too similar to the equally disappointing 'Hot Styles'.

The Beverly Hills setting is a help in the sense that it gives the episode a real rather than fake sense of location but there's also a suggestion that it was put together as something that could be shot cheaply on and around the streets of LA. Bochner (as a crooked art dealer) makes for an effective, well-spoken villain and a change from the usual stock heavy, though additional guest star Franz only appears for a few scenes at the very end of the show.

There's no action to speak of until the finale, unless you count knocking out a couple of security guards. Benedict does memorably scramble over a fence at one point without the aid of a stunt double, albeit in a rather undignified manner! Face posing as an art critic and Murdock posing as an artist are the main sources of humour, though the highlights in the comedy stakes are the scenes in which BA is kitted out in a suit and poses as a rich but temperamental sports star.

In the end though, this is not much more than reasonable time-filler if it catches you in the right frame of mind. There are enough individually good moments to mean it is by no means terrible but it remains A-Team on automatic from start to finish. 6/10

Bounty s3ep22

Co-starring: Gene Evans as Darrow, Wendy Fulton as Kelly Stevens, Bill McKinney as Royko, Paul Koslo as Tanen, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

Murdock is captured by a group of bounty hunters who use him as bait in an effort to capture the other members of the team.

After a few patchy episodes, season three got back on track with this highly entertaining episode that, like writer Katz’s season two closer ‘Curtain Call”, works well by putting Murdock centre stage. Matters get off to an electric start with Murdock's abduction being quickly followed by the sudden appearance of Decker while Face investigates. The multi-layered story is a real asset to the episode and although there are moments when another rewrite could have tightened things up a little, the pace is generally strong and the unfolding plot always holds the attention.

Not only do we have the bounty hunters chasing Murdock, we also have the team trying to find Murdock, the bounty hunters trying to capture the team, Decker trying to capture them as well and a blossoming relationship between Murdock and vet Kelly Stevens. Schultz and Fulton have a great chemistry in their scenes together, hardly surprising given that they are husband and wife in real life.

It is an inevitably strong episode for Murdock who at times shows a serious side that, being mainly comic relief, he rarely got to play. Perhaps the best example of this is his memorable threat when Kelly is kidnapped (“You listen to me. You touch one hair on that girl’s head and I won’t sleep, I won’t eat, I will find you and when I do I will feed your head to flies”).

Away from the two lovebirds, the scenes involving the rest of the team also have a real spark. There's a great moment when Face has to talk BA into being his assistant in a scam. He tells BA, "All you do is enter on cue and say what I tell you, just like being an actor" (cue hilarious look of indignation from Hannibal). The episode is always on the move, meaning there's a lot of action built into the plot rather than just appearing at seemingly random intervals as in some episodes.

The strong sense of urgency even carries through to the construction montage which turns out to be a somewhat cryptic build, the purpose of which isn't revealed until the final fight begins. The various flaws (including some clumsy doubling during the action finale and the repetition of the 'jump the bridge' scene from Labor Pains) mean the episode isn't quite up with the very best but it remains consistently entertaining. The final scene in which Kelly visits Murdock in the VA hospital is genuinely touching and finishes a very strong episode on a very positive note. 8.5/10

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Waste 'Em! s3ep21

Co-starrring: Richard Herd as Jonathan Durcell, Joseph Hocher as AJ, Stacey Nelkin as Lisa Perry, John Dennis Johnston as Archer, Mitchell Ryan as Ike Hagen
Written by Stephen Katz, Mark Jones
Directed by Sidney Hayes

The team are hired by the owners of a delivery company who are being pressurised into selling their business to a refuse firm.

Yep, it's that standard plot again! It does not automatically mean a bad episode, of course. Season three opener 'Bullets and Bikinis' and then 'Cup A Joe' both used it to excellent effect. That is not the case here though it what is certainly one of the weakest episodes of the season. There are a few action highlights (including a strong chase sequence at the halfway point) but otherwise this is extremely lethargic, blighted by the effects of a low budget and a bland storyline.

The first Murdock breakout scene in a while doesn't provide much in the way of laughs and although Murdock provides a few bright moments with his out of control hand 'Lefty', the familiar James Mason impression that accompanies it makes it seem a little old hat.

Credit to the episode for having a strong-willed blind character as one of the clients but the villains are very bland and it doesn't help that they have more scenes than in a lot of episodes. Just as you're about to lose all hope, we finally reach what is actually an inventive and well-staged action finale. It certainly saves the episode from being a total washout but it sure is tough staying interested until we get there. 4/10

Knights of the Road s3ep20

Co-starring: Don Stroud as Tyler, Carlos Romero as Zuniga, Jim McMullan as Robert Corson, Deborah Goodrich as Jenny Corson
Written by Steven L Sears, Burt Pearl
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team are hired by a breakdown firm who are being forced out of business by a local rival.

It’s another appearance for the standard A-Team plot (with the rival having ulterior motives for wanting the competition eliminated) and there’s a definite resemblance to the classic ‘The Taxi Cab Wars’ here . Any comparison is unfavourable though as this is a lacklustre episode, one in which a lot of time passes without a great deal happening.

The whole episode is a bit of a plod with generally flat dialogue and little to spark the interest. There's a subplot about Face being given the brush off by Jenny which leads to some humorous moments between Face and Murdock (who feels he is losing his touch). There is, unusually, a song montage of the team turning the rival breakdown company's business upside down and as spirited as the sequence is, it does rather look like padding.

Things should kick up a gear at the halfway point when Murdock is separated from the rest of the group who set out to get him back. Unfortunately, the episode still never really gets going, simply moving from one scene to the next with ordinary dialogue punctuated by uninspiring action. Occassional bright spots (Murdock emerging from being hidden in a car to the tune of 2001 and his later spaghetti western cowboy imitation) can’t disguise the drab plotting.

There are two construction montages to fill out the running time and then just as the episode seems to be ending, it goes on for another ten minnutes. You may well have nodded off by the time we get to the inevitable tow truck flip. 5/10

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Moving Targets s3ep19

Co-starring: John Saxon as Kalem, Sue Kiel as Salina, Frank Annese as Senbet, Jack Heller as Jabur
Written by Mark Jones
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team are hired to protect a woman who is under threat days before her wedding.

Although perfectly watchable, there is something rather familiar about this episode, having a plot that recalls previous better entries in the show’s run (Till Death Us Do Part, Harder Than It Looks). The episode gets off to a strong start with an opening infiltration action sequence, though it isn’t helped by having one of the most obvious stunt doubles in A-Team history when Hannibal somersaults through a window. The doubling is rather poor throughout actually, made even more obvious by the use of slow motion.

Murdock’s ‘Pasadena’ persona isn’t a great source of comedy and, once again, is reminiscent of an earlier better episode, the character he adopted in ‘The Maltese Cow’. The main humour comes from Hannibal having to promise BA he can get even with the rest of the team for being tied up in a plane. As a result we get to see BA smiling and whistling as he thinks of ways to get his own back.

As the main villain, Saxon gives a less mannered performance than he did as the cult leader in ‘Children of Jamestown’, though the character is less interesting and only really appears in the second half. Plot-wise, there’s plenty of double-crossing going on to maintain the interest and there’s a clever jail breakout scene before the final fight. The action is workmanlike rather than memorable (the final battle on board a boat is reminiscent of ‘The Maltese Cow’ again) but the final scene pays off BA’s promise of revenge to good effect. 7/10

Road Games s3ep18

Co-starring: Edward Winter as Johnny Royce, Daphne Ashbrook as Patty Sullivan, Frank Marth as Jim Sullivan, Kaz Garas as Meeks, Lance Le Gault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Stephen Katz
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro

The team is hired by a woman whose foster home is under threat due to her father’s gambling debts.

A typically solid entry in the third season, this is an entertaining episode that incorporates a good mix of story, comedy and action elements. Face carries much of the story as he goes undercover early on to work for the gang and Benedict shines in his expanded role. Posing as a sort-of Italian wideboy looking to make good, Face never quite gains the trust of his new employers which keeps the story on the edge at all times.

It’s a fairly low-key episode for Murdock with Hannibal upstaging him in the comedy stakes when the two of them have to pose as tailors (Hannibal’s is somewhat effeminate, Murdock’s is like something out of an old horror film) in order to obtain information from Face. Further scenes in which you expect Murdock to come into his own don’t quite turn out that way, notably when BA delivers a good laugh when he cuts short the traditional helicopter scam.

The episode marks the shortest appearance by Decker in any episode until his cameo in ‘Trial by Fire’. He appears for only one brief scene at the halfway point and then is not seen again, something completely brushed over at the conclusion given that Decker states he will stay around for a while in case the team return.

Winter makes for a strong villain and works well with Benedict throughout the episode, ensuring the undercover scenes aren’t lacking for only including one member of the team. The episode builds to an excellent four-vehicle chase finale with an articulated lorry and car facing off against the A-Team van and a helicopter. It’s a dramatic and exciting end to an above average episode. 8/10