The A-Team: The Complete Third Season Review
As one of those happy accidents of scheduling that you can't help but admire, that this Season 3 box set appeared mere days after the showing on Channel 4 of Justin Lee Collins' Bring Back...The A-Team can't have done its sales any harm. Despite the presence of JLC - his, "Come on!...We LOVE it!" threatened to overwhelm even Mr T at times - Bring Back...The A-Team had the desired effect of making this viewer want to catch up with an old episode of Murdock, BA Baracus, Face and Hannibal once again. Doubtless anyone going looking online for The A-Team the next morning will have noticed this was days away from shipping and will have placed an order, falling into the trap of nostalgia that JLC would have intended all along.
What Bring Back...The A-Team did very well was to capture the unique feel of The A-Team - an action show in which, with one notable exception, no one died, a comedy in which there were no actual gags and a blockbuster television show that, Dirk Benedict aside, featured a cast who'd either never had a hit nor hadn't had one for a very long time. Despite these contradictions, what Stephen J Cannell produced was a show that was prepared to laugh at itself, to have fun and to not be ashamed of looking ridiculous. How better to explain the need to break Murdock out of an insane asylum every week, to have the show's toughest guy be afraid of flying and to show each week's paid-for goons walking away from mortar attacks, car accidents and even a helicopter crash with only a mild concussion. When even Stephen J Cannell laughs at the memory, you feel pleased to be in the presence of a show that recognised the nonsense for what it was but had fun nonetheless. Much as it galls me to say so, well done to Justin Lee Collins for trying to bring back The A-Team, for the interviews with Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz and Mr T and for reuniting the cast over cocktails and nibbles somewhere in Los Angeles. A genuinely heartwarming moment in a Channel 4 schedule that, with its preoccupation with Big Brother, tends one towards cynicism.
Compared to the other seasons of the show, this third one is probably the best, with the writers, producers and cast really hitting the mark of the show in these episodes. The gags between Mr T and Dwight Schultz are at their very best here - Murdock's impression of BA in Hot Styles is amongst the most memorable of moments in the show - while the action is of a fairly high quality but with all of the motifs of the show in place. Stuntmen, for example, never forget, in this third season, that their heads need a good, iconic rubbing as they stagger out of an upturned, burning vehicle. And again, the moment when the A-Team get locked into a room that's equipped with an oxy-acetylene torch, various toolkits, two tanks of highly pressurised gas and a petrol engine is one that, despite the frequency with which it occurs, should never be greeted with anything less than a cheer. If anything, the supporting cast is better than in the previous two seasons, the girls are prettier - the bikinis are certainly more revealing - and Dirk Benedict, in spite of stiff competition from David Hasselhoff and Lewis Collins, was clearly the most coolly handsome television actor of his era. With some devious methods of contacting their clients - there's one involving a fake cash machine that would have tested the mettle of even the most desperate of folk - this is the season of the A-Team that ought to be remembered best, before the cameo appearances from the likes of Boy George and the increasingly gentle violence left the show looking as out-of-place as Nancy Reagan on Mr T's lap...which, according to the photograph produced by him during Bring Back...The A-Team did indeed happen.
And speaking of which, how fortunate it is, then, that anyone demanding a fix of The A-Team following JLC's show would have been greeted by the best there is. Fortituous timing or not, I'm sure this season, some twenty-two years after its first broadcast, is currently being enjoyed all over again.
Bullets and Bikinis (44m34s): Flying in from Miami beach, two girls ask the A-Team for help to protect their beachfront hotel from the attentions of a local gangster. That it was their father's hotel means they're trying to hold on to it but as his offers go up, there's only so long they'll hold out. As the A-Team fly in - and therein lies the first of their problems - they have a little fun with running a hotel.
The Bend in the River (43m46s, 45m50s): Somewhere deep in the Brazilian rainforests, an archeologist is leading an expedition along the Amazon but is attacked by pirates. In Los Angeles, Tawnia Baker (Marla Heasley) asks the A-Team to help her find out what happened, letting slip that the missing archeologist is also her fiancé. Making sure they're anti-malaria drugs are up to date, the A-Team make sure BA Baracus is asleep and head to South America in search of pirates.
Fire (46m28s): There's a market in fighting fires? So it would appear when fire chief Annie Sanders (Stephanie Kramer) contacts the A-Team to help her fight a rival company (operated by Paul Gleason). Were the ever-present threat of violence not enough, the army are still in pursuit of the A-Team and, following Annie, are closing in.
Timber! (45m58s): A small logging operation doesn't have a lot to depend on, least not when a unionised operation set fire to one of their trucks. When it looks like no one else can help, they go looking for the A-Team who look forward to a quiet break in the mountains. And the dishing out of their unique kind of justice, naturally.
Double Heat (45m38s): When the fallout between two rival gangs ends with the kidnapping of a young woman, her father calls in the A-Team. But as the gangland fight spreads out, they find that no one, least of all a witness to the kidnapping is safe.
Trouble on Wheels (46m25s): When cars and parts go missing from an auto plant, the A-Team are asked to investigate but as Hannibal goes undercover, they find the scam is a lot more organised than casual theft. No matter that their lives are in danger, the A-Team love a fight, whilst Face gets to live out all of his pimp fantasies in a bright lilac fur coat.
The Island (46m06s): On a tropical island, a doctor has set up a clinic to treat the locals but finds himself at the mercy of criminals who have only recently arrived on the island but are making life very difficult for the local population. Having once saved BA's life while he was an army doctor, he asks the A-Team to join him on the island and to help him keep the clinic open. Of course, the problem, given BA's fear of flying, is getting there.
Showdown! (43m56s): Thanking his lucky stars that there are people out there desperate and foolish enough to impersonate the A-Team - who are, it goes without saying, also less morally upstanding than the real thing - Col Lynch stakes out a travelling show being terrorised by one such group. Knowing his quarry all too well, he suspects the real A-Team will be along shortly.
Sheriffs of Rivertown (45m48s): Fancy that, a picnic in The A-Team! But BA thinks that something's up as Hannibal hands out the burgers'n'milk...and he's right. Asked to investigate a South American oil plant where there's been some fatal accidents, the A-Team haul the comatose BA onto a private jet and fly south, becoming the law in a small town while they figure out what's been going on.
The Bells of St. Marys (46m34s): The A-Team enter the music business when an old friend of Face asks for his help. The money isn't great - the A-Team may be the only soldiers of fortune who appear to have mislaid their fortunes - but Face can't resist helping out a friend.
Hot Styles (45m54s): Two BAs? And the A-Team's van ending up in the drink? Blame Murdock on both counts - "You kiddin' me, sucka?" - as he dons gold and mislays the road. And the road is not the only thing they mislay when Face's latest girlfriend is kidnapped by a gang boss. But after rescuing her, she doesn't seem to be particularly grateful and Face can't quite figure it out.
Breakout! (45m00s): When Murdock and BA are taken as hostages in a bank robbery, they're named as accomplices in the gang, arrested and put in prison. Concerned that, as word spreads, Decker will be paying the prison a visit, Hannibal and Face figure a way to break them out while Murdock and BA try staying alive...not easy with Murdock.
Cup A' Joe (44m27s): "This time we did them over easy...next time we'll scramble them!" That's right, the A-Team are in the business of running a diner when a restaurant tries to force the closure of the Cup A' Joe. Never ones to turn a good cup of coffee down, the A-Team come to their aid. Murdock gets out his apron!
The Big Squeeze (46m53s): Fresh from the Cup A' Joe, the A-Team open their own bistro when a loan shark, Jack Lane (Wings Hauser), begins threatening restaurant owners, shutting them and their businesses down permanently. But as the stakes are raised, could it be that the A-Team has finally met his match. Looks like it when they arrange a funeral for Hannibal.
Champ! (45m39s): Clubber Lang is back in business as BA goes undercover to investigate the fixing of boxing matches. The dodgy betting would be enough to begin an investigation but when he learns that the money won on the fights is going towards drug-trafficking, BA calls in the rest of the A-Team for a criminal K.O.
Skins (46m37s): And just how many sleeping pills will it take to keep BA awake on a flight to Kenya? The A-Team have got to figure it out fast when they're asked to investigate the death of a game warden in a Kenyan national park. Turns out that the local poachers have added the warden to their kills and with no one able to stop him, it falls to the A-Team to teach him the lesson of conservation. .
Road Games (46m49s): Gambling is a terrible vice...as one man finds out when his debts are called in and the foster home that he runs is threatened with closure. Making sure that the kids won't end up on the street, Face goes undercover to break up the gambling ring but just when the A-Team looks ready, it goes on the move in the back of a truck. Cue a game of high-speed roulette with the A-Team in pursuit.
Moving Targets (45m31s): "I ain't gettin' on no airplane...and that's it!" Hasn't BA learned by now that they are his final words before the sleeping pills hit? John Saxon guest stars as the A-Team take to the air to protect a Middle Eastern princess shortly before her wedding. But is the wedding more at risk from the threat of terrorists or from the romantic interest that Face takes in the princess.
Knights of the Road (46m47s): "There's no business like tow business!" The A-Team help out an auto mechanic whose business is under threat from a rival who's prepared to play dirty. But what the A-Team uncover is why...turns out that drugs are being shipped in motor wrecks. With the exception of those used to get BA into a pre-flight sleep, the A-Team don't take kindly to drug running.
Waste 'Em! (45m06s): After years of dumping criminal waste, the A-Team get involved in stopping the illegal dumping of toxic waste on land owned by a young man and his blind sister.
Bounty (44m59s): With the US army failing to bring them in, it's the turn of bounty hunters to try and capture the A-Team and they get close when Murdock gets captured and held as bait. But when Hannibal, BA and Face rescue their man, the bounty hunters close in on a young woman that Murdock's fallen in love with. With Decker arriving and preparing himself to pay off the bounty hunters, it's up to the A-Team to find a way to rescue the girl, make their way out of there and let Decker know that the A-Team isn't out of business just yet.
Beverly Hills Assault (47m06s): Having lived a life of high drama, the A-Team turn to high art and the investigation of an art dealer who switches originals with forgeries. Murdock - H.M. Murdock - even turns his hand to painting, declaring himself an original. Few would argue with that.
Trouble Brewing (45m35s): The demon drink...two sisters enlist the help of the A-Team when a brewing company threatens their soft drinks factory in a bid to turn it over to a brewery. With Templeton Peck the new face of soda, the A-Team lead the fight back against hangovers, drunkenness and flavourless American beers.
Incident at Crystal Lake (44m41s): After a long year of action, explosives and other things that soldiers of fortune get up to, the A-Team plan a quiet weekend of fishing at Crystal Lake. What could go wrong? Well, Decker and his men could show up sensing that an arrest, or four, is in the waters. But that is only the beginning of their troubles.
Anyone with the Season One or Two boxsets in their collection will know what to expect by now - a fairly ordinary looking set of six discs that works well enough on a big screen but is probably better suited to the televisions of the era in which it was first shown, such as a 21". There is some noticeable damage to the source material and there's some obvious noise and grain in the picture but then one's reminded that for all the explosions and its success, The A-Team must have been produced comparatively cheaply, which comes through to the picture quality. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono works well enough but does nothing out of the ordinary, sounding clean enough and with a sufficient dynamic range as to not leave the explosions sounding compressed. That theme tune, though, does sound terrific.
There are no extras on this release.
If you've been buying up all A-Team releases, add this one to your list as it's, in this reviewer's opinion, the best of the lot. Again, though, if you're only buying one, make it this one and enjoy a classic eighties action show that's memorable enough for Channel 4 to send a man to Los Angeles to bring back the A-Team...and all without ever visiting a Chinese Laundry and having a bizarre conversation with a cigar-smoking barman to hire them.