The A-Team: The Complete Fifth Season Review
So it says, "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!"
Except it doesn't come this fifth season, which breaks with tradition and offers the A-Team a way out of the Los Angeles underground by offering them pardons. Of course, the changing mood of the show was due to the fall in its ratings during the fourth season, by which time many people had seen the A-Team do everything that soldiers of fortune were going to do on prime-time television, with the format of the show going beyond being comforting and into the routine. There were only so many times the same audience could watch the same plot without it getting to be dull. An honest, peace-loving community would, through their means to make a living, come up against international terrorism, some tooled-up hillbillies or Michael Ironside. After a meeting with Hannibal, the victim(s) accompany the A-Team out to a near-deserted locale, where the soldiers of fortune resolve things quickly via a show of strength and, one assumes, plan on going back to the Los Angeles underground. Or not, as the likes of Ironside imprisons them in a tool shed, where they build a tank out of cabbages, copper piping and a spark plug before assailing the Russians, hillbillies or Ironside with planks of wood fired in their direction. And at some point, they'd be forced to take to the air, thereby needing to render BA unconscious after an initial, "I ain't gettin' on no plane!"
All good knockabout fun but come the roll-call of guest stars, the increasingly duff weaponry - as harmless as a Kalashnikov manufactured by Fisher Price - and crashing helicopters from which the pilot would emerge unscathed, the tide began to turn against The A-Team. Rather than see his show cancelled without warning, Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo went back to the very origins of The A-Team, to the crime they didn't commit, and to see them arrested and tried in a military court for it. Being drawn out over the first three episodes in this season, the A-Team are brought back to a military court, are found guilty of the theft of the Bank of Hanoi during the days following the ending of the Vietnam War and are sentenced to death by firing squad. As they languish in prison, BA, Face and Hannibal face up to their own shooting, occasionally causing some trouble but always finding themselves back in choky while Murdock, who managed to escape arrest by his insanity, works on the outside to free his friends.
Of course, that's not what The A-Team is about. There's the sense of reality, or as close as The A-Team ever got to reality, intruding on the action. There are moments to enjoy but they're fewer than in previous seasons, not helped by the arrival of a fifth member of the team, Frankie "Dishpan" Santana, a special-effects man who plays the action for laughs and delivers some Lidl-budgeted gadgets. And then General Hunt Stockwell makes his play, gets the A-Team out of prison and dangles pardons before them, assuring them that they will eventually get their freedom so long as they carry out some top-secret government missions for his shady little patch of the military. The A-Team, after four years of living in the Los Angeles underground and being on the side of the underdog, works, somewhat begrudgingly, for the government. Albeit in such a way that the government are likely to be entirely unaware of the relationship.
The new direction isn't entirely successful. There are moments of vintage A-Team action, such as The Grey Team, Alive At Five and Point of No Return but too often, there's Dishpan and Stockwell, neither of whom are ever called for, spoiling a team that, over the previous four years, we'd become very fond of. An episode that has one good in-joke - The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, which reunites David McCallum with Robert Vaughn - has far too much Stockwell and too little A-Team, which doesn't make for an entertaining three-quarters of an hour. Behind the scenes, things must have been clear to the actors and to the production team. The season was to end with the episodes Without Reservations and The Grey Team to be broadcast in that order. Look carefully and see Murdock wear an Almost Fini T-shirt in one and a Fini T-shirt in the other. Unfortunately, this last gag was let down by the show getting cancelled before Without Reservations was finished, leading to a final running order in which this episode was completed with footage from an earlier season and the A-Team, having told Stockwell that they would no longer be working for him, come back for what then looks like one last job.
It's all a muddle and in spite of their efforts to actually conclude the show, which is something that very rarely happens, it still ends rather badly. Then again, unless they went out in a Butch And Sundance-style shootout, the A-Team were never destined to actually part ways. By the end of this show, the implication was that they'd been together for sixteen years and as the last of the end credits roll, there's no suggestion that they are parting from one another. And after a further twenty years have passed, there may be some small part of TV land where there's a Chinese Laundry with a customised GMC van parked nearby and where the offer to help, if you can find them, still stands.
Dishpan Man (46m10s): A woman in a scarlet business suit into an office on board a private jet with a videotape marked The A-Team. Putting it into a VCR, she allows General Hunt Stockwell time to absorb it what it contains, offering detailed files on Hannibal, Murdock, Face and BA Baracus. But information only gets him so far, when what Stockwell needs is luck. When Hannibal is injured during the making of a picture, Stockwell gets it, kidnapping the leader of the A-Team and threatening to have him prosecuted if they fail to rescue the hostages held on board a jet in Spain. KO'ing BA, the A-Team travel to Spain and work hard fulfilling their side of the bargain but what of Stockwell?
Trial by Fire (45m41s): With no one to prove they were acting under orders, the A-Team languish in prison awaiting a court martial. Each one is charged with the killing of Colonel Samuel Morrison and the robbing of the Bank of Hanoi. Except, that is, for Murdock who has somehow escaped any charges. But there's chaos in the courtroom when the A-Team arm themselves and take control of it. Meanwhile, Murdock sits in the back of the court with Dishpan, waiting for his moment. Watching the proceedings with interest, Stockwell also bides his time.
Firing Line (46m37s): After the events in the courtroom, the A-Team await the firing line. Face is up first and expresses surprise when a beautiful blonde in a black bikini brings him a bottle of champagne! And then he wakes up... Murdock is putting his plan into action, escaping from the hospital and taking Dishpan to meet with Stockwell. But Stockwell has his own plans and doesn't intend on letting Murdock break out what could be a very important asset to his own, very secretive branch of the US military. After another attempted escape goes wrong, Stockwell decides that it's time to pay the A-Team a visit.
Quarterback Sneak (46m21s): The A-Team Escape To Victory when they put together a football team - not, like, a real football team but an American rules one - to help an East German chemical weapons specialist defect. While BA sets up the team, Murdock, in a long coat and hat, acts out his spy fantasies and Dishpan reworks the electrics, Face does the hard part, actually guiding their man back home.
The Theory of Revolution (44m53s): Life is looking up for the A-Team now they have some amount of protection from the law. Murdock is out of the hospital, BA is flying a plane - a remote-controlled one that is - Hannibal has a ready supply of cigars and Face is playing volleyball with a lot of beautiful women in bikinis. Then Stockwell shows up, asks what happened to his guards - tied up by the A-Team! - and puts an end to BA's fun by shooting down BA's model plane. It turns out that Stockwell wants three Americans released from an island prison and suggests that the A-Team assist him in this. But when a revolutionary group tries to break out their leader at the same time, chaos ensues.
The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair (45m31s): Act I: David McCallum guest stars with his old friend Robert Vaughn as the A-Team steal an experimental fighter plane from deep within Siberia on behalf of Stockwell! Act II: Ivan (McCallum) proves to be less than friendly as he kidnaps Stockwell, forcing the A-Team to set off on a mission to rescue him. Act III: The A-Team has only 18 hours to extricate Stockwell or any hopes they had of a pardon will disappear! Act IV: Hannibal does love it when a plan comes together.
Alive at Five (45m54s): Doubts are beginning to creep in to the A-Team, not least with Face who thinks that the longer they deal with Stockwell, the less likely they are to get their pardon. He's even having nightmares about it! Looking for his own way out, Face plans an escape on their next mission. But when the A-Team assist a journalist, Face can't help but get drawn back in.
Family Reunion (46m21s): The A-Team have rarely dallied in politics. Landowners, yes. Small oil-producing concerns, yes. Retirement homes, yes. But not politics. Until Face finds out that the woman he has been dating has a powerful father, a political advisor who's willing to trade a book of inside gossip for a reunion with his daughter. Murdock takes the van to pick him up but finds a shocking secret - that Face might be the man's son. Is Face dating his own sister?
Point of No Return (45m26s): Hannibal is working alone in Hong Kong on a surveillance mission but things go very wrong and he's soon recorded as going missing when he fails to report in. Stockwell, now something of a leader given that he holds a set of pardons, orders the A-Team to remain in the US, refusing them permission to travel to Hong Kong. But the A-Team didn't get this far listening to men like Stockwell and head East in search of Hannibal. Stockwell, not a man to see his investment in the A-Team evaporate, even goes with them.
The Crystal Skull (45m29s): The A-Team are escaping from a gang with a unique religious artifact, a crystal skull with ruby eyes. But their escape is but a short one and when their plane loses fuel, Murdock and the rest of the A-Team parachute off the aircraft, coming down in the middle of a tribe who, on seeing the skull that he's wearing and hearing gunfire, worship Murdock as a god. Face and Dishpan can't quite believe what it is they are seeing. Nor can the gang, who've now caught up with the A-Team and see a means to enslave the tribe to work in their mines.
The Spy Who Mugged Me (46m29s): It's Monte Carlo or bust when the A-Team are called by Stockwell to prevent an assassin from carrying out his next kill. Face is sharply dressed but Murdock is sharper still, posing as superspy Logan Ross, winning at the casinos and, if the mission goes well, taking down a paid killer.
The Grey Team (45m10s): In a classic A-Team showdown, a teenage girl comes to the attention of the A-Team with a briefcase stolen from her own father, who she suspects of selling secrets to the Russians. Secrets that concern the Star Wars space defence program. Watching her hide out in a retirement home, the A-Team begin to grow suspicious when Soviet agents begin showing up in the neighbourhood, leading to them forming an army of pensioners to see off the Russian threat...the Grey Team!
Without Reservations (45m36s): When the A-Team uncover a plot to kill the Attorney General, an early effort to take down the mobsters ends with Dishpan, Face and Murdock being held hostage. All that's left is Hannibal and BA and they don't just have to protect the Attorney General but rescue the other three members of the group. But their time is cut short when Face is shot.
Now five seasons of The A-Team on DVD and this one is little different to those that preceded it, albeit that it does look a lot cleaner than the season boxsets that have preceded it. Of course, it may be that this is not classic A-Team and while the first few seasons might be the ones in demand, which leads to more damage on the small number of prints still in existence, this last season is likely to be shown a lot less often and is in much better shape. Colours are richer than they were in the second season boxset and the picture has more detail but this fifth season is only a small step up from the third and fourth sets. However, like the other sets, it's not quite the equal of Knight Rider, which was made at a similar time and which looks much, much better on DVD. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sounds fine but nothing out of the ordinary. It does sound quite clean and with a sufficient dynamic range as to not leave the explosions sounding compressed.
As well as a Trailer (1m00s) for Universal Playback releases, there is an Interview With Stephen J Cannell (10m47s) concerning the origins of The A-Team, the writing of the characters and how the entire show tried in a military court for the robbery of the Bank of Hanoi. Cannell, who doesn't look that different to how he appeared at the very end of the show, where he tossed a page from his typewriter into the air, talks about how the show was received - not well! - the actors and how concerned he was that the Vietnam Vet thing might actually hurt them. As he was on Channel 4's Bring Back The A-Team, Cannell is a good interviewee, being funny, chatty and with a good memory of the time, even ending his interview on exactly the right note with a laugh and a, "It was fun!"
And it has been fun reviewing these boxsets of The A-Team for DVD Times with my only regret now being that I was on a short break at the time the first season was available. On joining back in 2002, who'd have thought that so much TV nostalgia was to become available. But it did and over Knight Rider, Columbo, Airwolf and, yes, The A-Team, it's been a joy. Now, all that we need is Automan, Whiz Kids and The Fall Guy, not so much for Lee Majors as for Heather Thomas, as these frequent trips to the past will be complete.