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!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Blood, Sweat and Cheers s4ep8

Co-starring: Stuart Whitman as Jack Harmon, Wings Hauser as Kyle Ludwig, Ken Olandt as Kid Harmon, Toni Hudson as Dana Harmon, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Tom Bolmquist
Directed by Sidney Hayes

The team help a friend who is being bullied by a rival on the car racing circuit.

A reasonable but unremarkable entry in the fourth season, a step up from the last two episodes but still weaker then the average in previous seasons. For a story based around car racing, it isn’t actually all that exciting and tends to plod along without ever quite sparking into life.

It’s a shame in many ways as Whitman was one of the show’s better guest actors and although he isn’t exactly wasted, the script could certainly have served him better. Whitman’s scenes do work well though and his character’s rivalry with Hannibal is one of the stronger parts of a rather weak episode. Hauser was always good value as a guest star in any TV show but his role is less interesting here than in his previous A-Team villain appearance in season three’s ‘The Big Squeeze’.

To brighten things up, Murdock has to pose as an Italian racing team owner, complete with curly wig and only one English phrase, “hello, how are you?” This means he has to speak in a series of strange Italian phrases that are subtitled for our relative amusement.

As in the previous episode, things pick up to a degree with the arrival of Decker (here appearing in his last episode until his brief cameo in season five’s ‘Trial by Fire’). He doesn’t actually have a great deal to do though and it’s hardly surprising this is a below average episode if the writer even fluffs Decker’s role. At least Murdock’s method of springing the team shows more originality than just donning a military uniform as he did in ‘Body Slam’.

There’s no sense in which this is a genuinely bad episode but like much of season four, it certainly seems to be lacking something. You can roughly divide season four into the strong eight, the middling eight and the dreadful eight. This one has mediocre written all over it. 6/10

Body Slam s4ep7

Co-starring: Hulk Hogan as Himself, Titos Vandis as Papa Kotero, Deborah Wakeham as Dicki Gordon, Michael Gregory as Sonny Carter, Sam Melville as Rocco, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Craig R Baxley

Hulk Hogan asks the team to help save a youth centre from closure.

This is one of the infamously bad episodes of the show’s entire run and it’s easy to see why. It was another guest star episode, the first of two to feature WWF wrestler Hulk Hogan. For the most part, the only entertainment value to be had is from witnessing the whole car-crash dreadfulness of it all.

The episode is built around the teaming of BA and the Hulkster and it isn’t long before they are in pursuit of the bad guys, leaving the rest of the team behind. The first half of the episode actually looks suspiciously like a try-out for a spin-off series with Hannibal, Face and Murdock reduced to making cameo appearances in their own show. It’s not strong on credibility either, as demonstrated by the early scene in which BA and the Hulkster discuss their Vietnam experience. ‘The Sound of Thunder’ it certainly isn’t!

An early chase scene (featuring two van jumps) is actually a pretty good set piece but belongs in a better episode. The plot is only touched upon in a series of badly written and exposition-heavy scenes that aren’t worth trying to follow. The villains are dull and one-dimensional and it quickly becomes very difficult to keep watching. Of course, Hogan fans are well catered for and he gets three fight scenes to demonstrate his unique skills, two in the ring and one in a warehouse to the almost-tune of ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

Truth be told, it actually gets slightly better in the second half with the arrival of Decker and the sidelining of Hogan. The team are captured and Murdock has to pose as a high-ranking military official to get them out. To their credit, Benedict and Schultz do try to get into the spirit of things but Peppard can hardly disguise his contempt for what is, by and large, a complete shambles. Indeed Peppard and Schultz aren’t even in the closing scene, maybe they walked off the set in protest? Probably not but you could hardly blame them if they did. 3/10

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll s4ep6

Co-starring: Issac Hayes as CJ Mack, Rick James as Himself, Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Gravedigger, James Avery, Eileen Barnett as Devon Paige, Peter Haskell as Warden Crichton
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Tony Mordente

The team help an ex-convict who is under threat because of his knowledge of a robbery gang operating from inside the prison.

The ratings for the A-Team gradually declined during the course of season three, not enough to warrant cancelling the show but enough to give the network some cause for concern. A revamp the likes of which we got in season five was deemed unnecessary but as is often the case on struggling TV shows, the decision was made to try to boost ratings by using guest stars playing themselves.

This episode is the first of four this season to feature a guest star appearing as himself and is certainly not something of which writer and show co-creator Lupo should be proud. The story is an afterthought here, something that passes the time between the musical numbers that take up more than a third of the running time. Admittedly, ‘Superfreak’ is a great song but I’d prefer a proper plot to a series of mimed music performances.

In a largely forgettable episode, the one notable scene has Hannibal posing as an elderly shop owner to provoke a robbery for reasons that aren’t worth going into. The gang of robbers are understandably caught out by Murdock hiding in the safe and Hannibal’s walking stick gun.

We move inside the prison in the second half but this has none of the invention of the season one classic ‘Pros and Cons’. Whatever intrigue there may have been in the initial plot completely dissipates and the appeal of the episode ultimately hangs on how you feel about the music. If you’re not keen, then the one-dimensional story is not going to hold your attention and is hardly touched upon in the predominantly musical second half.

If you like the music you may be more forgiving but for me, this was the A-Team’s emptiest outing to date. If it was a blip you could write it off to network interference but there were too many episodes as bad as this one in what was the show's weakest season. 3/10

The Road to Hope s3ep5

Co-starring: Elisha Cook as Jim Beam, Warren Berlinger as E. Robert Colton, Christopher Neame as Jack Scarett, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by David Hemmings

Hannibal poses as a wino to check whether a potential client is a Decker plant and is abducted by a gang.

I was never a particular fan of most of the episodes written by Cannell. They tended to be slower-paced and overly talky affairs, mainly taking place indoors with action scenes thrown in at random intervals. He did come good from time to time though and this is one of his better scripts, delivering an episode that gets out and about and properly integrates the action into the plot.

In season four, there was a deliberate move away from the ‘small business pressurised by larger rival’ story that was used so frequently in season three. Cannell seems to be trying to create a new standard structure here though, as the plot is very similar to season four’s third episode ‘Where is the Monster When You Need Him’. So once again, after the initial scene setting, we have Decker attempting to capture Hannibal, a slow-burn reveal of the story and a capture/battle final third.

To Cannell’s credit, this is a much better episode than ‘Monster’, one that is tightly scripted and consistently holds the attention. Humour plays a big part in its success, almost all of which comes from Murdock. He is convinced he can make himself invisible, something which gives an amusing edge to the opening exposition scene. There’s great dialogue as well, notably when Murdock remarks of their accidental wino rescue “but besides saving the wrong guy, we were magnificent!”

The action set pieces are also something of a cut above, most notably the infiltration of and escape from Colton’s gated estate. Murdock posing as a preacher is familiar from an earlier Cannell episode (The Big Squeeze) but it does lead to some funny moments. Looking on his congregation of homeless winos, Murdock remarks “it makes we wonder where all the female bums are”.

The episode maintains a strong pace throughout and after a classic motivational speech from Murdock, we are treated to a well-directed action finale. It all adds up to another above average entry in season four. 8/10

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Lease with an Option to Die s4ep4

Co-starring: Ray Wise as Philip Chadway, Brion James as David Plout, Ismael Carlo as Alvarez, Wendy Schaal as Karen, Della Reese as Mrs Baracus
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by David Hemmings

The team travel to Chicago to help BA’s mother who is being forced out of her apartment building.

One of the best episodes of the season, this marked an auspicious writing debut for Nuss who would go on to write nine further episodes and would be story eidtor in season five. Some of his episodes were very good (Wheel of Fortune, Alive at Five) and some not so good (Body Slam, The Crystal Skull). What singles this one out is a strong story, a nice line in humour and the great embarrassment it causes BA. As you might expect, BA’s mom is one of the few people able to get the better of him. It’s a great source of comedy as BA has told her he is the leader of the A-Team and particularly given that his mom’s pet name for him is ‘Scooter’.

Reese makes the most of her role as Mrs Baracus and the episode gives the chance for Mr T to have proper dialogue for a change rather than just passing comments and moments of aggravation. There’s a strong supporting cast as well with Schaal as one of the building tenants, Wise as the villain of the piece, regular Hollywood bad guy James as his chief henchman and Carlo (appearing in his fourth A-Team episode) as the building superintendent.

The comedy doesn’t entirely come at BA’s expense. Hannibal dons one of his best ever disguises as a little old lady who, together with goofball son Murdock, sublets Mrs Baracus’ apartment. This leads to one of the best ever meeting-villain-in-his-office scenes as Hannibal’s grandma tires of negotiations and pulls out an uzi.

The action mainly comes in the form of threats to the safety of the building and its tenants but works very well all the same. The reason that Wise wants the apartment is rather obvious and so the interest level does drop a little in the second half as the plot wanders off in all kinds of directions but this is still one of the strongest entries in season four. 8.5/10

Where is the Monster When You Need Him? s4ep3

Co-starring: Michael Lerner as Jerry, Dennis Cole as Charles Lake, Lance Le Gault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, Walter Gotell as Ramon DeJarro, Judy Landers as Jennifer O’Hannorhan
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team join Hannibal on his latest film shoot but find themselves up against a war criminal in hiding.

A watchable but rather empty episode from the pen of co-creator Cannell, one that gets off to a strong start but doesn’t live up to its initial promise. The opening in question is a car chase in the streets of LA as Decker pursues Hannibal to the tune of ‘Trouble on Wheels’. Is it me, though, or does the car look like it’s coming to a halt as soon as it hits the ramp?

What this episode mainly demonstrates is how possible it is to pad out 40 minutes of running time (45 less intro & opening and closing credits). Not a great deal actually happens here in terms of plot. A lot often seems to be about to happen but just as the story looks like it is about to get going, you realise it is actually winding down to a familiar capture/fight conclusion.

Hannibal and his film crew are met with a hostile reception on arrival on location but it takes too long to find out why and in the meantime, there’s too much milling around. There are individually clever moments, most notably when the team fool the local mercenary (terrible accent, by the way) into thinking they have real guns when all they actually have is props and squibs.

Face has to take over as leading man when the real star bolts and Murdock (mainly in the background here) gets a good speech as he reveals his stuntman alter-ego, ‘Tommy Danger’. Decker makes a re-appearance in the closing stages, though by this stage the way he doesn't think to check if the old guy in front of him is Hannibal when he has checked others before makes it all rather silly. One to file under initially intriguing but ultimately uninspiring. 6.5/10