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!

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Point of No Return s5ep9

Co-starring: Rosalind Chao as Alice Heath, Soon Tech-Oh, Dustin Nguyen as Bobby, Judith Ledford as Carla, Nancy Kwan as Lin Wu
Written by Burt Pearl
Directed by Robert Brauler

The team travel to Hong Kong to investigate Hannibal’s disappearance there while he was trading plutonium.

The writing team of Pearl and Sears didn’t exactly have a great record when it came to writing episodes for the show. However, Sears fared much better on his own when he delivered ‘Family Reunion’, so would it be expecting too much for Pearl to do the same?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. This is one of the least interesting episodes in the season, a rather stale and dull affair that improves in the later stages but challenges your patience for most of the first half hour. The key problem is that the script shows a lack of understanding for show dynamics, keeping the team split up for too long in one talky, set-bound scene after another.

The plot dictates that Hannibal should be missing for most of the running time (which doesn’t help) but it is also odd that BA is largely absent as well. For whatever reason, he is hardly in this one, though there have been attempts to cover up his absence, albeit not in a very convincing way. BA does get a fight scene late on but otherwise he is shown only in separately filmed inserts or as a double shot from behind (with dialogue added later). His absence in some scenes is excused because he is “covering the perimeter”, “in position” or “examining evidence”.

The whole episode is a bit of a fragmented shambles in all honesty, moving from one scene to the next as if it was made up on the morning of shooting rather than sufficiently in advance. Face and Murdock do most of the investigating initially with Frankie and Stockwell milling around in the background. It is this episode more than any other that shows up how much their characters were lacking compared to the main cast.

Scenes in which the team show their concern for the missing Hannibal add much-needed drama but not much sense of urgency to the episode. Occasionally there’s a bright bit of dialogue to wake you up, notably when Frankie and Murdock discuss possible radiation poisoning (“I wanted to have a family. Do you think we’ll be able to have children, Murdock?”, “I don’t know think I know you well enough”.)

There isn’t a great deal of action, generally just a few fistfights, one of which is undertaken by Vaughan, or rather by his much younger and slimmer stunt double. Things do brighten up a little in the final third and matters come to head with a shootout finale, though it’s one of those ridiculous ones (even by A-Team standards) in which hundreds of rounds are fired at close range without seeming to hit anything. 5/10

Family Reunion s5ep8

Co-starring: Jeff Corey as AJ Bancroft, Clare Kirkconnell as Ellen Bancroft, John Carter as Jacob Edwards, Terri Treas as “Ellen”, Beau Billingslea as Owens
Written by Steven L Sears
Directed by James Darren

The team protect a government witness who is returning to America with vital information and to see his daughter.

One of the best-remembered episodes from the fifth season, this is an always interesting attempt to combine the stock A-Team action elements with an involving character-based storyline.

The initial scene-setting has a comic tone as it turns out that Murdock has become too attached to the turkeys he has been tending to kill one for Thanksgiving (when this episode is set, emphasising the family storyline).

Once the team attempt to reunite father and daughter, the episode becomes an action-driven affair as they break her out and bring the two together (or so they think). It is at this point that the plot takes a key turn when it is revealed that the man the team are protecting claims to be Face’s father. Murdock discovers this at the same time as the audience, putting the character closet to Face in his most difficult dilemma.

The remainder of the episode is split between the main protection plot, scenes with the newly reunited but not entirely aware family and Murdock agonising over whether to tell Face. Bancroft, who has returned to America as he is dying, wants to tell Face the truth personally, something which Murdock decides to respect.

The one problem with the episode is that the two disparate elements never quite mix, there being a rather derivative pursuit element in the background that means constant shifts in tone between standard action and family drama. Although the two sides to the story never quite blend, there is enough happening to ensure the interest level remains high.

Both Benedict and Schultz give very strong performances and the scene in which Face argues with Murdock for not telling him sooner is one of the most genuinely affecting moments in any episode. This scene alone makes the episode well worth seeing, being built on the close bond their characters have developed over the course of five seasons.

It may not entirely work but all credit to the show for trying something very different to the norm. With episodes such as this, it is a shame the plug was pulled on the show before the 5th season had the opportunity to complete a full run. It demonstrates that the show could lend itself to more serious episodes which would have been more beneficial for the ratings than some of the silly episodes like ‘The Crystal Skull’ and ‘The Grey Team’. 9/10

Alive at Five s5ep7

Co-starring: Richard Romanus as Tommy Tedesco, Valerie Wildman as Sally Vogel, Red West as Brooks, Linden Chiles as Notting, Dennis Fimple as Cates
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team rescue a reporter who has infiltrated a mob outfit.

Although writer Nuss was responsible for some truly dreadful scripts during the show’s run, he makes up for some of those with this highly entertaining episode. The opening is a memorable one with Face having a nightmare in which everywhere he turns he sees Stockwell.

This scene becomes the jumping off point for Face deciding to leave the team and it initially seems like a real possibility. It doesn’t take long to develop into a running joke though and leads to a great exchange with Murdock about the art of scamming (Face: “Maybe I should write a book?”, Murdock: “No, just a pamphlet”).

There is something rather familiar about the story that unfolds here. In the same way that Nuss’ season four episode ‘Wheel of Fortune’ was reminiscent of ‘Bounty’, this one is very similar to season one’s ‘Till Death Us Do Part’. The team once again infiltrate a country estate to rescue a woman being held against her will, albeit disguised as firemen rather than caterers.

Like its predecessor, the rest of the episode is a chase and attempt to expose the truth, though there is an added race-against-time subplot to keep the pace ticking over nicely. Among the highlights are the complete destruction of a home by gunfire (as in “Say It With Bullets’) and a novel way of passing a roadblock set up by Tedesco’s associates.

The action is frequent and well integrated into the story and there’s also a good vein of humour running throughout. BA gets one of the best lines when he remarks to Hannibal, “do you expect me to turn the truck into a tank with spare parts from the kitchen?”

In many ways, this episode wouldn’t have looked out of place in season two and it is this classic A-Team style that makes it one of the highlights of the season. 9/10

The Say Uncle Affair s5ep6

Co-starring: David McCallum as Ivan Trigorin, James Saito as Kwai Li, Judith Ledford as Carla, Toni Attell as Reynolds, Eric Goldner as Borofsky
Written by Terry D Nelson
Directed by Eric Goldner

The team have to rescue General Stockwell when he is kidnapped by a former associate.

One of the better entries in the season, this is a well-plotted and very enjoyable episode that gets Stockwell more involved than simply assigning the mission and appearing for updates and a final debrief.

What is interesting is that the team’s motivation for rescuing Stockwell is not saving him but saving their pardon. Otherwise, as Frankie says, “we’ll be fugitives”. To which BA remarks, “you make me nostalgic”, something echoed among many fans not impressed by season five.

Initially the episode looks like an exercise in gimmick casting with the appearance of McCallum (Vaughan’s co-star from ‘The Man from UNCLE’). Unlike season four guest star episodes though, attention has been paid to the script and not just the casting.

There are occasional in-jokes and stylistic references to the ‘UNCLE’. The show is divided into acts and there are sixties-style scene transitions but these just add to entertainment value. The dialogue is a cut above as well, such as the exchange when an embassy henchman confronts Hannibal, “We have diplomatic immunity”, “Not from me!”

In terms of plotting, the episode is mainly made up of a series of infiltrations as the team attempt to track down Stockwell. The result is a very rapid-fire story that incorporates many great scenes, particularly the break-in to the Chinese Embassy and Murdock’s Frank Sinatra impersonation to get into a mental hospital. The latter shows off Schultz’s singing and performance skills and delivers the comic highlight.

It’s good to see Vaughan and McCallum go head-to-head in their scenes but all in service of the plot, there being no attempt to marginalize the team to make the most of the guest star as happened in season four. The final battle is a little clumsy but caps things off sufficiently well, concluding one of the most purely enjoyable of the season five individual episodes. 8/10

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Theory of Revolution s5ep5

Co-starring: Alejandro Rey as Commandant, Pepe Serna as Tomas Jefferson, Casulto Guerra as Martien, Geno Silva, Vladimiar Shomarovsky as Anatoly Terensky
Written by Steven L Sears, Burt Pearl
Directed by Sidney Hayes

The team are assigned to rescue three American hostages from a dictator on a South American island.

One of the more standard episodes in the fifth season, this uses the infiltration/capture/escape structure that had often been seen in the show during its run. The writing team of Sears & Pearl had been responsible for some rather weak episodes in the past (Knights of the Road, Trouble Brewing, Mission of Peace) so asking them to return for two more was perhaps not the best idea. The fact that their other contribution this season was ‘Point of No Return’ rather confirms this.

Although not a bad episode, this has a similar issue to the other Sears/Pearl stories in that the plot is too simplistic and soon falters due to a lack of development or interesting subplots. The very ABC structure does the episode no favours and neither does Frankie’s romance with a local girl. More time is spent planning than actually doing and while you’re waiting for things to kick up a gear, there isn’t really enough going on to sustain the interest.

It’s one of those episodes which feels derivative, even if you can’t quite remember which ones it reminds you of (though at times it feels like a throwback to the original pilot). After the initial four episodes of the season had suggested a bigger budget for the show, this one returns to old habits, being shot predominantly in scrubland around Los Angeles. The ending mainly recycles footage from the beginning and there’s a very familiar looking jeep flip stunt that was used frequently in season three.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh on this one. There are highlights along the way though, particularly from an action perspective with the explosive prison escape and an excellent finale which is staged to the accompaniment of The Beatles song ‘Revolution’. Overall, not a dud by any means but too little happens for too long for this to be anything other than average. 6/10

Quarterback Sneak s5ep4

Co-starring: Joe Namath as TJ Bryant, Alan Autry as Mike Horn, Jim Brown as Steamroller, Bo Brundin as Dr Strasser, Judy Geeson as Marlena Strasser, Judith Ledford as Carla
Written by Paul Bernbaum
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team fly into East Berlin (just east of West Berlin!) to rescue a scientist, using the cover of playing a game of American Football against a local team.

The first individual episode of season five is a good one, built on a strong plot, a real attempt to establish a sense of location and a solid blend of action, comic and dramatic elements. The script by Bernbaum (who would go onto write ‘The Spy Who Mugged Me’ later in the season) is concise and to the point, getting through a lot of plot in forty five minutes and consequently ensuring a strong pace throughout.

It’s an episode rich in humour, using the age-old but still fun fish-out-of-water scenario as the team try to get Strasser, and a project he is working on, out from behind the Iron Curtain. Of course, Stockwell informs them that if they are discovered then they they will be abandoned and most likely be shot as spies, to which Murdock remarks, "It just makes you want to go out and buy war bonds doesn’t it?”

Given the number of American Football stars involved here, being a fan of the sport would help as the game takes up a large part of the later stages. The casting of real-life players isn’t as clumsy or awful as the guest star casting of the likes of Hulk Hogan in season four as, crucially, they aren’t playing themselves.

The action mainly takes place on sets but the episode escapes the cheap & restrictive feel of previous set-bound stories as an Eastern European location has been created on the backlot (presumably for another TV series?). The final game takes place in an empty stadium, something which the story makes excuses for but is preferable to trying to fake a large crowd.

Murdock carries the comic elements of the episode, taking his work as an underwear inspector out to East Berlin and being suspected by local authorities of being a spy. Face tries to get by with a German phrase book but ultimately has to rely on a travelling salesman joke to get him out of a tight spot (something that becomes a running gag during the episode).

There isn’t much padding here, though the game is elongated more than necessary by a pointless sequence in which Frankie uses an air rifle to shoot the ball out of the air. This aside, matters build to a strong fight and escape finish, all adding up to an episode which is solidly entertaining. 8.5/10

Friday, 6 May 2011

Firing Line s5ep3

Co-starring: Frank McCarthy, Judith Leadford as Carla, Rodney Saulsberry as Sergeant Reagar, John Darbin
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team try to escape from a maximum security stockade while awaiting execution for the murder of Colonel Morrison.

The final part of the court-martial trilogy is a worthy conclusion, providing the bridge between the first two episodes and the Stockwell missions that were to follow. The jail setting is naturally restrictive but writer Lupo manages to come with ways to get the story out and about and build action into the plot.

The episode gets off to a clever start with Face having a nightmare about facing the firing squad, complete with Hannibal in full aquamaniac costume. After this, the episode settles into a plot which cuts between the cells and Murdock’s attempts to arrange a breakout (further establishing the Murdock/Frankie rapport). The highlight (in terms of both action and drama) is when Hannibal tries to imagine an escape scenario but in spite of all the gunfire and explosions, it can only end in tragedy.

BA gets his own amusing premonition about what may happen come dawn on the day of execution and there's an amusing discussion amongst the condemned men about their last meal. It's a strong episode for Murdock as he shows his determination to help his friends, particularly in the confrontation on the plane with Stockwell.

The tension remains high as the execution looms, though the escape comes earlier than you might expect and an unnecessary action sequence is tacked onto the end. There are perhaps too many plot threads to resolve (and the subsequent working arrangements to set up) for this to be as free-flowing as it could have been.

A more definitive solution to what really happened in Vietnam would have been better than Stockwell's best guess but as untidy as the final third is, this remains a very enjoyable episode and is as essential viewing as the other parts of the trilogy. 9/10

Trial by Fire s5ep2

Co-starring: David Ackroyd as Major Laskov, Byrne Piven as Bennie Conway, Sandy McPeak as Josh Curtis, J.A. Preston as Judge, Dana Lee as Colonel Chun Van Quyet, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker
Written by Tom Blomquist
Directed by Les Sheldon

Following their betrayal by Josh Curtis, the team stand trial for the murder of Colonel Morrison during the Vietnam War.

The second part of the court martial trilogy is an efficient and entertaining courtroom drama (with action asides) that is guaranteed to grip any fan of the show. After four seasons, we finally get to hear the details of the crime they didn’t commit and, ultimately, the truth behind them. The court setting ensures that this is a tense and dramatic affair as the team are in genuine jeopardy, something that distinguished such earlier episodes as ‘Curtain Call’ and ‘Deadly Manuevers’.

Being very much a character-driven episode, this relies greatly on its cast and Piven is particularly impressive as the team’s lawyer. It’s also a treat for fans to see Lance LeGault returning in a cameo to play Colonel Decker one last time.

As serious as the situation is, the episode still finds time for some good humour. One of the highlights is Murdock’s testimony in the case which begins as an elaborate action fantasy and culminates in an impression of Humphrey Bogart in ‘The Caine Mutiny’.

As a break from the courtroom, Murdock and Frankie become ‘Flying Nighthawk Commandos’ (complete with theme song!) and supply the action as they attempt to track down an important witness in the case. This subplot establishes Murdock and Frankie as a team and sets the scene for their relationship throughout the season.

A series of revelations about events in Vietnam (partly told in flashback) and also within the trying of the case ensure that the tension remains high throughout. A last-minute witness entrance is in true Perry Mason style and the episode ends on another dramatic cliffhanger.

It’s a completely unique episode in terms of the show and is unmissable for any fan. 10/10