The A-Team: The Complete Second Season Review
These days, it's all Max Power and Vauxhall Novas fitted with far more body tweaks than is entirely attractive to anyone with clear skin or a dislike of tracksuits. Twenty years ago, however, it was all so very different what with there being very few young ladies prepared to drape themselves over the bonnet of a small hatchback for very little money. In fact, thinking about it, it may well have been the lack of hatchbacks that was the problem and not the lack of women but I digress - what we did have in the eighties was a surplus of television shows featuring special cars. Be it the Lamborghini Countach of Automan, K.I.T.T., the bike-thing in Street Hawk, the General Lee...we were spoiled for choice and there was no better way to express your love for a show than to restyle a car to be just like those on television.
Granted, it didn't always work - a black Capri with a few red LED's on the front didn't make a K.I.T.T. and the less said about Mk III Cortinas that were painted orange, had their doors welded shut and were decorated with a Rebel Flag on the roof the better - but when it did, my twelve-year-old self couldn't help but be excited. One of the times that it did work, without question, was in seeing a black Transit with a red diagonal stripe down the side, leading to a roof-mounted spoiler. Given that this was in Northern Ireland during the early-eighties, it's entirely possible that there were as many weapons in these vehicles as there was in the A-Team's black van but such things only muddied teenage thrills with illegality.
Such was the appeal of The A-Team, however, that such sights were commonplace with, apparently, none of the shame that might come from two people meeting who had exactly the same idea. Instead, there was just the sense of, "Cool! You too!" and whilst I'd like to extend that to a general sense of society feeling great about itself in 1983, I can't. The A-Team and similar shows such as Knight Rider, Automan, Hunter and Airwolf, were just daft television shows born out of much the same escapism as Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, only serving an audience of teenage boys instead of slightly and very much older women. Strangely, though, I can't remember the early part of that decade being so grim as to need such froth on the television but there was clearly something in the US air that demanded it.
Alternatively, it could just have been a multi-pronged attack on television from the likes of David Jacobs (Dallas), Aaron Spelling (Dynasty, The Colbys), Glen A. Larson (Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, Automan, Buck Rogers and far, far too many other television shows) and, producer of The A-Team, Stephen J. Cannell. Indeed, look through the vast number of US shows that were imported onto British and Irish television at the time and Cannell's and Larson's names appear with alarming regularity - alarming in the sense of having to ask oneself, "Did I really watch all that? Cover Up? Manimal? BJ and the Bear?
In that sense, this DVD boxset from Universal is entirely welcome as it provides a giddily entertaining blast of the kind of action, comedy and do-gooding that feels terribly absent from the television schedules of 2005. The title sequence alone is a joy and although this Season 2 boxset lacks the very post-modern in-joke of the title sequence on most of the episodes - Dirk Benedict doing a double take as a Cylon warrior walks past - the spoken introduction brought this reviewer back to eating fish fingers'n'chips off a plate that was balanced on my knees on a Saturday afternoon whilst The A-Team played on ITV. Taking each episode on its own merits, the explosions, comedy, simple plots and, after a scare or two, the success of The A-Team are all hugely enjoyable. Indeed, despite recent claims that the 2005 series of Dr Who reinvented family entertainment by being a show that parents and children could enjoy, I would say that The A-Team is a much better example of this as, as a family, we have laughed and shouted at the television and acted out episodes during the watching of this, with my children arguing over who gets to be Murdock. Thankfully, taking each episode as it is, The A-Team does not disappoint and this boxset demonstrates simply what a hugely entertaining and unpretentious show it was.
However, you'll have noticed that I've avoided any mention of The A-Team's plot so far in this review and it is, sadly, with good reason. Unfortunately, as enjoyable as this DVD boxset is, the flaw with The A-Team in watching it episode-by-episode, one immediately after another, is that any enjoyment can start to wear thin. Watch it on a weekly basis, however, and everything that you'll remember from the original broadcasts is there - the post-titles sequence showing someone in trouble, their finding of the A-Team, often with Hannibal in disguise (doctor, carnival worker, scary old woman), their need to travel outside of Los Angeles and thus requiring B.A. to be drugged before much carefree action ensues with the A-Team's inventiveness with unusual weaponry ensuring that no one got hurt. And, yes, there will be a point in which they get trapped in a cave/the boot of a car/in a lift only to emerge with a vehicle that looks as though it should fall over more readily than act as a makeshift tank but which appears to do exactly what B.A. had intended it to...whatever that was. In these terms, it's understandable why it only lasted from 1983 to 1987 and that audiences must have tired of the repetition in the show despite gimmicks such as bringing in Boy George in later seasons.
Yet there are benefits in looking back at it now - I always remembered Face being the weakest of the team but, now, his part in the success of The A-Team is much more obvious as is his skill at comedy. Dirk Benedict had quite clearly been the best thing about Battlestar Galactica, both then and looking back at it now, but in watching The A-Team again, it's interesting to note how my perception of the team has changed with Face looking a much stronger part. Unfortunately, Murdock, on the other hand, is not as funny as he once appeared to be but, that said, the need to get B.A. on a plane is still as funny now as it was then, particularly in Mr T's laugh when it's clear that he still believes he has the upper hand. Again, as with Dirk Benedict, Mr T will be forever linked to the early eighties and, for people of a certain age, I suspect he will always be affectionately remembered, which is only right.
This six-disc DVD boxset contains all twenty-three episodes of The A-Team's second season, which are also listed below:
Diamonds 'n' Dust (46m02s): When a South African mine owner is killed whilst trying to deliver explosives to his claim, the A-Team are hired by his daughter to find and transport the dynamite but run into a local mine owner who uses violence to claim a percentage of every mine in the area.
Recipe for Heavy Bread (46m04s): When Face sees the cook who helped them escape from the POW camp that the A-Team were held in whilst they were in Vietnam, they find that he's an innocent party in a drug deal between a former US soldier who was also in the camp and the man who's supplying the drugs - the Vietnamese general who ran the POW camp.
The Only Church in Town (46m07s): When Face receives a letter from an old flame in Ecuador, he hires the A-Team to travel south and investigate the troubled tone of her letter. When they get there, they find that gangsters have taken over the convent and orphanage where she now lives.
Bad Time on the Border (46m03s): When B.A. finds a little girl lost in L.A., the A-Team investigate a people-smuggling gang with Hannibal going undercover to break the operation.
When You Comin' Back, Range Rider? (1hr31m44s): With the Army now closer than ever, the A-Team have to get out of Los Angeles and with the help of David Running-Bear they head out into the plains of the Midwest to stop a gang of rustlers. This episode was originally broadcast in two parts but has been edited into a single episode for this DVD release.
The Taxicab Wars (46m04s): When a large taxi company looks to force a small operation out of business, the A-Team is called in to even the odds. Unfortunately, they find themselves up against both Michael Ironside and Brion James.
Labor Pains (43m30s): With Decker in hot pursuit as the episode opens, the A-Team realise that he's a more serious opponent that Lynch but they escape to stand up for a group of workers forced to live and work like slaves for a rich landowner and his hired hands (Charles Napier amongst them).
There's Always a Catch (44m07s): With Lieutenant Decker back on their trail again, the A-Team take shelter in a hospital where they meet Shana (Tracey Scoggins), whose brother and father are being threatened by Garber (John Quade), who claims that he runs all operations in a small fishing village.
Water, Water Everywhere (45m40s): The A-Team stand up for some fellow Vietnam veterans when they are threatened by a wealthy landowner, Gaines (Alan Fudge).
Steel (44m09s): There's trouble at a construction site when Denham (Ray Girardin) sabotages Mickey's (Norman Alden) build and almost kills him with an explosion. With the A-Team meeting him at a building site, including Hannibal dressing as Godzilla, they take on the job and stand up against Denham's men.
The White Ballot (44m58s): The A-Team get involved in local policing when Face stands against a corrupt sheriff - Sheriff Jake Dawson (Clifton James, who also appeared as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die) - who's accused of killing the previous candidate. With all the publicity, however, comes Decker, back on the trail of the A-Team.
The Maltese Cow (44m47s): When an old friend of the A-Team is threatened with extortion by the Lung Chin tong, a Chinese secret society, Hannibal reassures his friend that with the support of the A-Team, he and his family have nothing to fear.
In Plane Sight (45m21s): When an American cargo pilot is captured in Venezuela after drugs are found in the shipment of turquoise in his plane, which he had no knowledge of, the A-Team are asked by his family to help. Unfortunately for B.A., that means a flight into South America so the team call on the hypnotism skills of their client to get B.A. on the plane.
The Battle of Bel-Air (45m31s): When an employee at a security company, Tawnia Bake (Marla Heasley), finds out information that will assist the A-Team in avoiding an ambush and warns the team, they must return the favour by rescuing her from her employers, after which she is invited to stay with the A-Team.
Say It With Bullets (44m40s): When an army officer is killed following his involvement in illegal arms trafficking on a military base, his sister asks the A-Team to investigate but, in doing so, get dangerously close to Decker's territory.
Pure-Dee Poison (44m41s): With a touch of the Dukes of Hazzard about it, the A-Team help out a minister concerned at the production of a lethal batch of moonshine in his parish.
It's a Desert Out There (45m52s): When a gang using dune buggy starts holding up busloads of tourists on their way out of a casino, the A-Team are called into investigate, suspecting that someone on the inside is tipping off the gang.
Chopping Spree (45m46s): When the A-Team are asked to investigate a carjacking ring run by Sam Friendly (Dennis Franz), Face reluctantly uses his own vehicle as bait but in thinking the trap has been sprung, B.A.'s van is stolen.
Harder Than it Looks (44m07s): The delivery of a ransom to a kidnapping gang takes a turn when Hannibal, who is temporarily delivering the money before rescuing the victim is told that he must also bring one of the kidnappers along with them.
Deadly Manoeuvres (45m37s): The A-team come under threat when a gang of criminals, whose activities had been stopped by the A-Team in the past, take their revenge by planning on killing the team one-by-one.
Semi-Friendly Persuasion (44m48s): When the A-Team are hired by a religious community to protect them from the bigots, run by Kale Sykes (Geoffrey Lewis), who are trying to force them off their land, they are told that they must not use violence, which presents the team with a challenge.
Curtain Call (46m01s): With Decker closing in on the team and Murdock injured from a gunshot wound sustained while protecting Hannibal, the A-Team hide out and reminisce about their wounded friend. That, however, doesn't stop Decker who closes in on the team.
If those episode summaries seem a little shorter than those I usually prepare, remind yourself that there is precious little complexity or subplotting in The A-Team.
Before receiving this boxset, I thought it unlikely that Universal would have carried out any remastering of the source material so it wasn't surprising to find that there is wear and tear on the prints and that scratches and other blemishes make irregular appearances. It is, however, much as you would expect and, in its credit, it doesn't look very much different to how I have seen The A-Team on television of late, looking neither softer nor more grainy than I remember.
The soundtrack is in 2.0 Mono and is fine and, again, much as you would expect. There is some hiss on the audio track and it's a little light and trebly at times but is otherwise acceptable.
There are two sets of extras on this DVD release - the first disc includes an episode of Knight Rider - Brother's Keeper (46m06s) - whilst the sixth disc includes trailers for The A-Team Season 1 (34s) and Knight Rider Season 1 (43s).
Though is it worth the purchase of a boxset? Well, yes, I think it is and more so than Knight Rider, which was released on the same day. The A-Team is just a better-rounded show than Knight Rider - it's funnier, less brooding and with a better mix of characters - and my grin felt slightly wider when the theme tune for The A-Team kicked in than it did with Knight Rider.
But you have to love that theme tune and just to prove how great it is, download it here from TV Cream and relive the days from when, "I ain't gettin' on no plane, fool!" was a regular saying around a school playground, as was, "No, I'm gonna be Murdock!"