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!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Duke of Whispering Pines s4ep18

Co-starring: Sheila DeWindt as Deborah Duke, Jack Starrett as Wade, Michael Bowen as Rusty, Don Hood as Wells, Gary Grubbs as Sheriff Hopkins, Rick Fitts as Jason Duke
Written by Jayne C Ehrlich
Directed by Sidney Hayes

BA goes to his hometown to visit a former girlfriend whose husband has disappeared.

One of the best entries in an underwhelming season, this is the first episode to be written by a woman since ‘In Plane Sight’ way back in season two. It’s a good script as well, built around an intriguing plot that takes time to unravel but is always interesting as it does.

Although the opening third features only BA and Murdock, it works very well, recalling their previous teaming in the season three classic ‘Breakout’. Murdock gets to tease BA about his relationship with Deborah and also poses as a computer specialist with a heavy cold (assisted by BA who carries the computers and wants to know when they break for lunch).

After a run-in with the local police, BA and Murdock end up in jail and the story then takes a darker turn, culminating in a near-lynching that represents a rare moment of one of the team being in genuine jeopardy. Hannibal and Face then arrive and attempt to make their own progress, leaving Murdock to pursue the villain on a BMX and BA to talk to his old flame.

Credit certainly goes to writer Ehrlich for keeping the story interesting and for coming up with dialogue that doesn’t make BA’s relationship scenes as embarrassing as they have been in the past. Indeed, given how absent BA had been at times this season, this is one of his best episodes as he shoulders large parts of the plot and takes on more of the dialogue than just passing comments.

Although driven by character, the story also features some strong individual set-pieces beyond the usual fistfights, notably a chase sequence with Murdock on the aforementioned BMX. There may be a ‘Diamonds and Dust’ feel to the final third but given that the overall quality is up there with episodes from season two, it really doesn’t matter.

There are a couple of construction montages along the way (well, one construction, one de-construction) but they are very much plot-driven and the final battle is suitably explosive. With the cast all on good form, what this episode goes to prove is that the show wasn’t a lost cause by this point in season four, it was just that the writing wasn’t always as strong as it is here. 9/10

Waiting for Insane Wayne s4ep17

Co-starring: Barry Corbin as Kincaid, Jesse Vint as Insane Wayne, Moosie Drier as Bobby Sherman, Red West as Red, Anthony James as Three-Finger Harry, Gillian Grant as Julie
Written by Stephen J Cannell, Frank Lupo
Directed by Craig R Baxley

Murdock is mistaken for a crazed South American General which gets the team mixed up in a dispute over oil rights

A fair but forgettable episode, not really what you’d expect from the writing combination of show co-creators Cannell and Lupo. The opening is interesting, having the team roll into town and meet the villain when they are mistaken for the gang they will eventually fight. They manage to con Kincaid (well-played by Corbin, who may be familiar from his army role in ‘WarGames’) and break out with the gang’s fee.

Unfortunately, after hooking up with Bobby Sherman (the target for Kincaid’s gang), it becomes clear that this is going to be a rather straight-forward story. It all starts to feel like something of a throwback, resembling a weak entry in the third season that passes the time without being anything memorable. The various complications (trying to delay the arrival of the real gang, Bobby being in love with Kincaid’s stepdaughter) don’t spark much life into the episode as a whole

There’s a clever camera shot which tracks the team walking side-by-side as they discuss their next move but it only goes to show how flat the episode is when a camera move is one of the highlights. The plot isn’t light on incident but is light on variety as it basically just moves from one meeting with Kincaid to another. BA does get shot in the shoulder at one point, a rare example of a bullet making contact in an episode.

Director Baxley (who did second unit action on the show before graduating to main director) knows how to stage a good battle sequence and does so at the finale but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Overall, this isn’t a terrible episode by any means but it is one that feels like you’ve seen it before, even if you haven’t. 5/10

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Cowboy George s4ep16

Co-starring: Boy George as himself, L.Q. Jones as Chuck Danford, Taylor Lacher as Miller, Ben Lack as Herm, Jim Boeke as Butch
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Tony Mordente

Face books a country and western singer Cowboy George for an Arizona gig but his plans are scuppered when Boy George turns up instead.

If ‘Curtain Call’ (the one where Murdock is shot) is the most famous A-Team episode, then this is the most infamous. Celebrity appearances came thick and fast in season four but none were quite as incongruous as the appearance here by British pop star Boy George.

Quite how the A-Team and Culture Club (incorrectly referred to as ‘The Culture Club’ by Face) were thought to be compatible is anyone’s guess. If you’re going to have pop stars on the show, at least choose ones that fit the audience demographic. Huey Lewis and the News anyone?

As with the Hulk Hogan episodes, the main entertainment value here comes from the squirming embarrassment you feel for all involved. Boy George can’t even play himself convincingly and comes close to fluffing his lines at various points. The attempts at camaraderie between BA and Boy George are particularly excruciating.

Elsewhere, Hannibal poses as Cowboy George and Murdock gets a Lennon Sisters song stuck in his head (not particularly amusing). Murdock then poses as a DJ to promote Face’s concert but simply plays the same Lennon Sisters track over and over again as the infuriated station owner tries to break into the studio (more amusing).

At the concert, Boy George begins performing to a hostile redneck crowd who come to enjoy the song, a scene far more ridiculous than any in which hundreds of rounds are fired without anyone every being shot. Part of the way through the song, the episode starts intercutting between the performance and an action scene but the two don’t mix at all. Matters then grind to a complete halt for another song and you begin to wonder how the episode ever made it past the ideas stage.

Away from Boy George, things don't improve much. Murdock appears in drag towards the end, which is admittedly funny but also a sign of very lazy writing. The final action scene isn’t actually that bad but still doesn’t generate much excitement and there’s yet another song to sit through before the end credits.

There is an inevitable curiosity value at work here but it’s not an episode most fans would want to watch very often, if ever again. The fact that it comes from the pen of series co-creator Stephen J Cannell is particularly surprising. Was he over-ruled by the network or was he a Boy George fan? Whatever the reasons, the result is all fairly hopeless, the answer to a question no-one asked. 4/10

Members Only s4ep15

Co-starring: Kevin McCarthy as Bob McKeever, Carole Cook as Mrs Prescott, Betsy Russell as Adrian Prescott, Barrie Ingham as Chuck LeGraw, Scott Colomby as Frank, Shecky Greene as himself, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Tony Mordente

Face takes Hannibal to the country club he has just joined where they meet Murdock and help a caddy who is being chased by crooks.

For me, this is another not-very-good entry into season four. It's not bad by any means but I still don’t rate Nuss as a writer, even though some of his episodes (There Goes the Neighbourhood, Wheel of Fortune) are among the better ones in the season.

There are many disparate elements at work here and it doesn’t quite add up to a cohesive whole. As with most Nuss episodes, the tone is very lightweight which makes it a pleasant timefiller if you’re in the mood but for me, there’s definitely something lacking.

One thing that is certainly lacking is BA, who once again appears only sporadically here. Missing from the early stages, BA suddenly appears without any explanation as to where he’s been. Then, apart from being in the background during the golf sequence, he disappears again and it’s only when he turns up at the end that you realise how AWOL he’s been.

So it’s left to the other three team members to carry the episode and this they do reasonably well. Face is mainly required to look exasperated as his country club ideal is lost among a series of chases, fights and unfortunate incidents. For his club alias, Face uses the name Ashley Hemmings, a combination of A-Team producer John Ashley and regular season director David Hemmings.

Among the highlights is a chase in golf buggies, possible the slowest vehicle-based action sequence in A-Team history. It does mean that Murdock can do some of his own driving and Face can hang on the back, credit to the crew as well for managing to flip a golf buggy.

The humour is rather hit and miss, mainly comprising of embarrassing Face and humiliating General Fulbright (who happens to be a member). It all gradually gets a bit too silly, exemplified by the scene in which Hannibal plays a round of golf against villain McKeever using remote-controlled golf balls (complete with ‘amusing’ sound effect).

All manner of things are clumsily and seemingly randomly thrown into the mix. Shecky Greene appears as himself towards the end, after-dinner speaking at the club in a couple of scenes which add nothing but length.

Perhaps I am being a bit hard on an episode that tries so hard to be good-natured. It is entertaining enough for sure but for me, there’s a general clumsiness that stops it being anything more than par for the course (!) 7/10

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The A-Team is Coming The A-Team is Coming s4ep14

Co-starring: William Smith as Dimitri Shastovich, Gene Scherer as Mikhail Padavich, John Considine as Leon, Daryl Anderson as Bertka, David Kagen as Willis, Curt Lowens as Ambassador, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Steve Beers
Directed by David Hemmings

The A-Team are asked to help stop the theft of a American laser weapon by a renegade Russian Colonel intent on starting World War Three.

Series creator Cannell was often accused of writing over-talky scripts which were heavy on pace and light on action. However, none of Cannell’s episodes were as lethargic or had as much clumsy exposition as this woefully drab entry into season four. Writer Beers had been associate producer on the show since the middle of season three but this was his only script. He should have stuck to his day job (though he didn’t get the chance as this was the last episode he was involved with).

Matters actually get off to a fairly bright start as the Team help a Russian ballet dancer defect (or so they think). Face does a Bond-style quick change and there’s a good chase sequence as the team escape from the theatre. Curiously, BA doesn’t seem to have been present for the shooting of the early stages. He doesn’t appear at all in the ballet breakout and then in the subsequent hotel scene, he appears only in a couple of inserts with his double standing in for a few back-of-head shots.

It’s all downhill from here as the Murdock poses as an out-of-control glider pilot so the team can gain access to the Russian embassy. Once they’re on the inside, absolutely nothing of interest happens at all. It happens slowly as well. Even Murdock is very subdued in an episode that is pretty much humour-free.

Yet another building infiltration soon follows with Face and Murdock gaining access on the pretence of a gas leak. We get a bit of gunplay and BA and Hannibal jumping through a skylight but then we move on again. At this rate, it doesn’t take long to not care who is involved with what and why. The episode is typified by a couple of scenes in which characters explain a lot of uninteresting background information while driving in cars

A ticking clock is used to countdown the time remaining until, er, something and though the trick may have worked in ‘Battle of Bel Air’, nothing can help the lethargic pace here. Given that the episode is built around the possible outbreak of World War three, it should be filled with tension rather than tedium.

The final battle is decent enough but it’s hardly worth sitting through the rest of the episode for a few explosions. Just as you start to feel relieved that it’s all over, another story thread begins but at least there isn’t much time left conclude matters. It all adds up to another season four dud, proving that it didn’t take the presence of guest stars to produce some real dross. 4/10

Wheel of Fortune s4ep13

co-starring: Lydia Corneill as Jody Joy, George McDaniel as Joshua, Judd Omen as Lazarus, Richard Evans as Jack Stein, Bermie Pock as Jeremy Woods
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by David Hemings

Murdock is kidnapped by a group of men who claim to be CIA agents and want him to be their pilot on a dangerous mission.

My recollection of this episode was of it being one of the better entries in the season and while it is a good one, this time it seemed more of a weaker retread of ‘Bounty’. The basic structure is the same as it moves between the kidnap of Murdock, the team in pursuit and Murdock befriending a young woman to aid his escape.

The episode is bookended with Murdock appearing on the ‘Wheel of Fortune” TV show, hosted by Pat Sajak with Vanna White turning the letters. It’s probably the only time in the whole season that having real life people play themselves didn’t ruin an episode. On his first visit, Murdock spends his winnings on a humidor for Hannibal, a year’s supply of car wax for BA and a waterbed for Face.

Like Face in ‘Breakout’, Hannibal appears in this episode only on the phone. Unlike ‘Breakout’ though, having the team split up doesn’t come off very well as Face and BA aren’t a natural team and they actually don’t appear all that frequently until towards the end. Early on, Face is cornered and captured as he goes out looking for Murdock, meaning BA has to smash through a shop window to rescue him. After this though, Face and BA disappear into the background as the episode focuses on Murdock.

The key relationship in the episode is between Murdock and would-be Vegas showgirl Jody Joy and while it isn’t as genuinely affecting as the one in ‘Bounty’, it’s still responsible for much of the episode’s energy. Cornell is bright and bubbly and good eye candy. She seems to be enjoying herself as well. Maybe appearing in an A-Team episode was the most exciting thing that ever happened to her?!

There’s an uneven structure at work here which means Jody doesn’t appear until the final third, around the same time that BA and Face arrive on the scene. Without much time left, the end comes rather too quickly and conveniently, particularly given the way that Face and BA are cornered late on.

Still, there is much to enjoy here in what is one of writer Nuss’ better episodes. The pacing is generally fine and the action is well-delivered and while it may be a paler version of ‘Bounty’, any episode that puts Murdock centre stage can’t be all bad. 7/10

Friday, 4 March 2011

Uncle Buckle-up s4ep12

co-starring: Arte Johnson as Uncle Buckle-Up, Jonathan Goldsmith as Preston, Susan Scannell as Kelly, Bruce Solomon, Art Metrano as Nick Gretsch
Written by Danny Lee Cole
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team come to the assistance of a children’s TV star when the company who makes the merchandise for his show threatens him.

Although The A-Team was a popular show with children, it generally avoided stories that involved children or were in any way childish. Having children in minor roles was never too bad but this episode took a wrong turn by focussing its attention on an invented kids TV character.

The whole thing is a bit embarrassing really and often as irritating as the overly cute ‘Uncle Buckle-Up’ theme music that plays throughout. Uncle Buckle-Up himself is a rather annoying character and Metrano makes for a very one-dimensional villain.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out why someone is so interested in distributing cuddly toys. The various subplots (Hannibal auditioning for a supporting role on the show, Face romancing Uncle Buckle-Up’s daughter) don’t spark much interest either. Even Murdock isn’t particularly entertaining in this one.

After fifteen minutes of relative tedium, a well-filmed chase and fight sequence comes as a welcome relief. The episode still fails to burst into life though and continues to struggle along until the team is inevitably captured and locked in a warehouse full of toys. There they have to improvise a final battle using toy planes and fire crackers, not terrible by any means but all a little obvious.

One to test your devotion to the show, this is best avoided. 3/10

The Doctor is Out s4ep11

Co-starring: Jeanetta Arnette as Betty, Geoffrey Lewis as Colonel Stoddard, Daniel Davis as Phillips, Richard Anderson as Dr Richter, Danny Mora as Shelton
Written by Richard C Matheson, Thomas Szollosi
Directed by David Hemmings

The team travel to South America to rescue Murdock’s psychiatrist after he is kidnapped.

Actually quite a reasonable episode by season four standards, this is an enjoyably plot-driven tale with a good mix of story and action. Things get off to a bit of a slow start but once the pursuit of Murdock’s shrink gets properly underway, the sense of pace and twisting storyline carry it through.

The increase in quality is down to the return of the writing team of Matheson and Szollosi, who were responsible for a number of strong episodes in earlier seasons (Say It With Bullets, Deadly Manuevers). Of course, a good script requires the cast to rise to the occasion and this they do, such as in the great scene in which Murdock poses as a scoutmaster who has captured Face.

There’s actually a lot of plot to get through in 45 minutes, in particular the continued question marks over the motives of Betty (well-played in support by Arnette). The character switches sides throughout which means a healthy dose of intrigue, something the episode needs as the reason for the doctor’s kidnap is not all that interesting.

The plot is rather ABC in the second half, basically following a fight, capture, escape, fight, capture, escape structure. Still, the action is solid, particularly in a final set piece that is among the best of the season. It may not reach the heights of Matheson/Szollosi’s very best episodes but as season four goes, it’s a welcome cut above. 7.5/10

There Goes the Neighbourhood s4ep10

Co-starring: Walter Olkewicz as Joe Skrylow, John Aprea as Woody Stone, Valerie Stevenson as Stevi Faith, Victor Campos as Juarez, Julius Carry III as Sergeant Moore, Robert Pastorelli as disgruntled neighbour
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team is hired to protect a pop star who has been targeted after announcing a charity gig for a country at war with its neighbour.

Although you may fear the worst when this episode opens with a pop music number, this is thankfully not as weak as the other music-related episodes this season. The intention here was just to deliver a light, entertaining story and to at least some degree it does succeed.

Writer Nuss wasn’t exactly one of the show’s best writers but he does ok with his script for this one. It is, in all honesty, a one-joke episode but at least it’s a funny joke. In order to protect singer Stevi Faith, the team have to rent a house and hide out in a suburban neighbourhood. So, most of the humour comes from the team trying to adjust to normal life. They all wear dressing gowns, BA smashes his alarm clock and Murdock cooks pancakes for breakfast.

Given the show’s tendency to cast pop stars this season, it seems odd that a real-life pop star wasn’t cast as the singer the team are asked to protect. Apart from the early stages, the main plot of the threat against her actually only becomes the focus of the episode in the last fifteen minutes.

The rest of the time is spent with the team dealing with a group of bikers who have moved into the house down the road. There are some good moments here, such as Murdock shouting “everybody back!” as BA prepares to face off against the gang. Otherwise, it all looks a little like filler, as if Nuss wasn’t able to develop his main story, so threw in a separate biker/drugs subplot.

One of the team’s new neighbours just happens to own a non-operational tank, so you just know we’re heading for a repair montage followed by an explosive battle. And so it transpires, delivering a reasonable conclusion to an episode that passes the time well but remains very mediocre all the same. 6/10

Mind Games s4ep9

Co-starring: David Hedison as David Vaughan, Shelagh McLeod as E G Fowler, James Hong as Chow, Barney McFadden as Pell, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

Face is given a pardon for his involvement in the robbery for which the A-Team are wanted but is it a military set-up?

Series co-creator Cannell was certainly busy in season four. This is the third episode he wrote within the first eight shows and he would go on to write two more, including the infamous ‘Cowboy George’. Unless you have a soft spot for Boy George, this is the best of the five. Very much plot-driven, this is as talky as most of Cannell’s contributions to the series but there is a lot of mileage in the intrigue surrounding the reason for Face’s pardon.

For a Cannell episode, the action actually comes at regular enough intervals with a chase around the halfway point and a strong finale, even though the jetpack used by Murdock is written into the episode in a very clumsy manner.

Cannell’s episodes often had little or weak humour but that certainly isn’t the case here. There’s some great comedy as Murdock attempts to take over Face’s role within the team. He dons a suit and wig and sits in Face’s spot in the van, trying and failing to charm any woman he comes across.

It’s good to see Hedison (who played Felix Leiter in the Bond films ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Licence to Kill’) in the supporting cast, adding a bit more gravitas than the usual rent-a-villain. Indeed, there is something about this episode that projects an air of quality that was sadly missing for too much of season four.

The episode introduces the character of General Fulbright played by Jack Ging, an actor who previously hired the team in season one’s ‘A Small and Deadly War’ and fought against them in season two’s ‘Bad Time on the Border’. Seemingly just another not-quite-as good replacement for Decker, Fulbright would fulfil the standard chase role for four further episodes before taking on a much more interesting dimension in the season finale, ‘The Sound of Thunder’.

As with most of Cannell’s scripts, there are issues with pacing and a slack middle section but these are less of an issue for an episode in which the battle is as much psychological as it is action-based. As a story, it certainly holds the attention and is wrapped up with one of the funniest final gags in any episode. 9/10