The A-Team: The Complete Fourth Season Review
At this stage, after the reviews of Seasons Two and Three, I do feel as if I’ve already written as much as I would ever want to about The A-Team. Like any successful show, it doesn't actually change very much between seasons. The first two years are the grittiest, or at least as gritty and as realistic as The A-Team would ever get, whilst the third year and this one would, in its opening episodes, up the slapstick and tone down the already mild violence until it wasn't anything more hard-hitting than what you might currently find shown in The Chuckle Brothers. Granted, it is something of a surprise to see Hannibal disguised as a Mafia boss in this opening episode complete with much waving about of handguns - there’s an inverse relationship between the size of the gun and how deadly they are in The A-Team with small-bore pistols being most cause for concern with the giant cabbage-firing bazookas invented by B.A. being about as deadly as a gooseberry - but these are rare sights in a season that’s probably better remembered for guest-starring Boy George than for the action.
But then it comes to this fourth season and ratings were beginning to fall. Like any network and producer, with ratings falling during the previous year, Stephen J. Cannell turned to celebrities in the hope of aiding his ailing show. Of course, there was still space for such character actors and stock villains as Ray Wise, Brion James, Wings Hauser, David Hedison and Paul Gleason - Tia Carrere even makes an early appearance in The Sound of Thunder - but their appearances are matched by those of already established stars and by the A-Team’s increasing involvement in the rock and movie businesses. So, we have Rick James and Isaac Hayes, who, despite being the bigger star, actually plays CJ Mack, in The Heart of Rock N' Roll. Hulk Hogan is in both Body Slam and The Trouble With Harry, the second of which sees him joined by Chicago Bears star William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry. Pat Sajak and Vanna White show up as Himself and Herself respectively in Wheel Of Fortune, which sees Murdock winning big on the show. Finally, there’s Boy George, Roy Hay, Jon Moss and Mikey Craig from Culture Club in Cowboy George, which sees the British pop band mistakenly booked for a series of concerts in the Deep South.
It’s clear to see where Cannell was headed with this. The A-Team was already a light-hearted action show and by adding celebrities to the mix, he simply made it all the more palatable for a Saturday teatime audience who could let it play in the background without having to expend a great deal of mental effort on it. With Hulk Hogan and Boy George - an unlikely combination by any standard - accounting for the season’s lighter moments, it’s otherwise familiar stuff for fans of The A-Team. So, we have a judge’s daughter getting kidnapped during his sitting over a Mafia trial, a lot of local gangsters, some dallying with showbiz and a bunch of very crooked property developers, who have their eyes on such prime real estate as rest homes, independent oil men and the owners of small petrol stations. The A-Team, via an unlikely meeting of minds with some Russian spies, even gets to avert World War III as they prevent the theft of an American satellite. However, the high point of this season is a misguided effort by some small-time hoods to force BA’s mother out of her apartment. The fools aren't so much pitied as forced out of town!
However, audiences didn't take to this fourth season in as great a number as they did previously. Perhaps it was just too much of the same old thing for most but this fourth season saw ratings fall sharply, which doubtless led Cannell to thinking that his casting of celebrities may not have been the ratings winner he first thought it might be. Regardless of the reason why audience numbers fell, the fifth and last season saw a complete change in direction for The A-Team. Rather than having the A-Team outwit such army fumblers as Colonels Decker and Briggs, the final episode of this fourth season saw them captured by General Fullbright (Jack Ging) and brought back to Vietnam to, in the general’s words, rescue a POW who could clear them. However, as the season ends with Fulbright dead - one of the very few instances where someone dies in the show but, contrary to rumour, not the only one - the A-Team are in the custody of the same military court who first convicted them in 1972. Given the choice of co-operating or being returned to prison and executed, the A-Team choose the less fatal option, working under General Hunt Stockwell (Robert Vaughn) on top-secret government missions in return for being pardoned. That, though, would remain in their future, leaving this as light hearted but a fairly unsatisfying season.
Judgment Day (90m26s): When a Mafia trial is prejudiced with the kidnapping of the judge’s daughter, the A-Team are called in to bring her back. But what begins as an easy task on American soil becomes a lot more difficult when the action shifts to Italy and then onto an ocean liner.
Where is the Monster When You Need Him? (46m17s): Hannibal works out his occasional need to act the part of the Aquamaniac with an appearance in a low-budget movie, which opens its shooting in the north before moving down to South America. Trouble is, of course, never far away as some local gangsters force some muscle onto the set and, with the threat of a 9mm hollow-point in the back of the head, are told to leave the country within the hour. Hannibal, not wanting them to come between him and the chance of some big-screen action, puts an end to that.
A Lease with an Option to Die (46m21s): It’s one thing to be messin' with his bins but something else entirely when a bunch of small-time crooks try to force BA’s mother out of her home after they move into the same apartment block. Calling on her little boy to help, Mrs Baracus (Della Reese) and her neighbours aim to stay put and, with help of the A-Team, do!
The Road to Hope (46m24s): It’s a case of one Hannibal too many when Smith disguises himself as a bum to escape the army but finds that someone else is then claiming to be him. But in stumbling into a plan by the army to kill down and outs, Hannibal figures that maybe his accidental kidnapping was meant to be. All he has to do is get back with the A-Team and convince Murdock that he doesn't have the power of invisibility.
The Heart of Rock N' Roll (45m56s): "You can't touch this!" Years before MC Hammer, Rick James recorded Super Freak and he gives it an airing here when he calls on the A-Team to help out rock'n'roll legend CJ Mack (Isaac Hayes, who was arguably the bigger musical star than James), who's on the verge of getting out of jail. However, CJ's newfound freedom is threatened by what he knows about life inside and he may not make out alive.
Body Slam (46m31s): A new member of the A-Team disguises himself by wearing a dreadful blond wig, a handlebar moustache and a pair of tight white pants! Or is that typical attire for Hulk Hogan? Either way, Hogan calls on his old friend BA Baracus when a children's centre that he finances is threatened by the mob.
Blood, Sweat, and Cheers (47m06s): Wings Hauser feels like a natural fit in the role of a villain in the A-Team, coming up against the boys in the black van when they get involved in stock car racing. Turns out that Wings has either bought out or threatened all the other racers in the circuit but one. And that someone needs the help of the A-Team!
Mind Games (46m17s): BA getting on a helicopter? Without saying, "I ain't gettin' on no choppa!?" Something is clearly afoot, obviously so when the military grant Face a full pardon. But Hannibal suspects that it's a trap and keeps Face close by at all times. Murdock, however, makes the most of the opportunity and takes on the role of the absent Face, including the tailored suits, fast cars, cigars and beautiful women.
There Goes the Neighborhood (45m26s): ...and this time it's a result of the A-Team moving in! When a rock star, Stevie Faith (Valerie Stevenson) is threatened, the A-Team move her out of her apartment and into a quiet neighbourhood where things get a lot less quiet.
The Doctor is Out (45m56s): During a session, Murdock's doctor, Dr Richter (Richard Anderson), is kidnapped and transported to South America, where a military gang hold him hostage. Heading south to rescue him, the A-Team are accompanied by a young woman who claims to be Richter's daughter but who appears to be working for the CIA.
Uncle Buckle-Up (45m08s: There's a new Ruff The Bear in town. Or, at least, there will be if Hannibal has his way as he auditions for the role in the The Uncle Buckle Up Show. But when Uncle Buckle finds that someone is using his cuddly toys to smuggle heroin into the country, Hannibal realises his calling is a very different one to dressing up in a bear outfit.
Wheel of Fortune (45m07s): "Where is the crazy fool?" He's on television, is where, taking part in Wheel Of Fortune and looking to win big with a system devised by Face. After winning Hannibal a humidor, Face a water bed and BA a year's supply of Reptile car wax for his van, Murdock takes off to Hawaii on a prize from the show but gets kidnapped by a gang claiming to be the CIA.
The A-Team is Coming, the A-Team is Coming (44m59s): The A-Team? On the side of the Russians? So it would appear as they assist our friends from Moscow to prevent a renegade spy from stealing the plans of an American satellite weapon and using it against the US in a bid to start World War III.
Members Only (45m50s): Face is trying to become a member of an exclusive country club, the Beverley Bay Club. When he's offered a trial membership, he's overjoyed, even taking Hannibal there for lunch. But things look bad when they turn up a counterfeiting scheme run out of the club. They look even worse when it turns out that General Fulbright is also a member!
Cowboy George (46m49s): Do you really want to hurt me? Some do, it would seem. In particular, there are a bunch of cowboys who aren't at all happy when Boy George is booked by Face into one of the roughest country'n'western clubs in the country. The owner of the club isn't too happy either, for he was preparing to rob the payroll during the gig and all the fuss is hurting his plans.
Waiting for Insane Wayne (46m28s): When the A-Team get mistaken for a gang of mercenaries, they aren't best pleased. In fact, they're even less happy when they discover they're being hired to get rid of an old man and his son in a fight over the rights to an oil well. Needless to say, the A-Team side with the underdog and begin the fightback.
The Duke of Whispering Pines (46m14s): When an old girlfriend of BA calls the A-Team, she hasn't got a reunion in mind. Rather, her husband, an old rival of BA, has gone missing and she wants the A-Team to help find him. What they discover is that it has something to do with gold. Stolen gold that's hidden up in the hills.
Beneath the Surface (46m46s): Fulbright is closing in on the A-Team, this time using an old girlfriend of Face's to trap the gang at the orphanage where he once lived. Unwittingly, Face almost gets the A-Team arrested but on the run from the military, he discovers that an old friend of his has disappeared. However, Murdock is more concerned that the limo he 'borrowed' from his doctor is now riddled with bullets.
Mission of Peace (46m34s): "We are not selling no matter what you do!" How often have those words been spoken in The A-Team? Make it one more time as the A-Team help out the residents of a retirement home who are being threatened by a gang of unscrupulous landowners.
The Trouble With Harry (45m54s): Hulk Hogan returns, this time for a friendly visit. But things get interesting when a troubled kid asks the A-Team to help his father,, Harry (Paul Gleason), an alcoholic who's being pursued by the mob.
A Little Town With an Accent (45m56s): Murdock worries about the truck that he won on Wheel Of Fortune whilst the rest of the team concern themselves with a gas station owner who's being threatened by a gangster, who they'd thought retired. It would appear not as he still looks to be very much in business and heavily armed.
The Sound of Thunder (45m22s): The A-Team captured? It would appear so, ending their long exile in the Los Angeles underground as General Fulbright finally brings them in. But Fulbright has his own agenda, offering to let them prove their innocence on a mission back to Vietnam. Once there, the A-Team discover they've been lied to and that Fulbright is looking for a child he things might be his that he's only just found out about.
Four seasons of The A-Team on DVD and this one is no different to those that preceded it. Looking very ordinary with some noticeable damage and background colour and brightness that tend to shift slightly, this has had very little remastering on the road to DVD. However, in as much as these faults are obvious on a big television, they do tend towards being more tolerable on an average-sized set and may be ignored entirely if you watch this set as you might have done at the time with a plate of fish fingers, chips and peas balanced on your knees. That doesn't cover up the faults, though, and this doesn't look as good as 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 Universal Playback Trailer on the first disc, there are two features on the sixth disc in the set. As a preview of the next season, Universal have included an episode from the A-Team's final season, Point Of No Return that shows them working with Robert Vaughn's General Hunt Stockwell. There is also a feature on 80s television - The Great 80s TV Flashback (29m00s) - that isn't about The A-Team as much as all manner of action and comedy shows from that decade, including Miami Vice, Simon & Simon, Magnum PI, Knight Rider, Kate And Allie and Charles In Charge. However, Stephen J Cannell is interviewed, as is David Hasselhoff and there are many kind words for The A-Team.
It was only during the writing of this review and through some checking on Wikipedia that I discovered that one of the aliases used by Face in the show was Holmes Morrison, the real name of Sterling Morrison of The Velvet Underground. Hidden in there is a sign that in amongst the Boy George cameo and the Wheel Of Fortune cross-promotion was a fan of the VU trying to force some underground rock into the show. However, it's not worth criticising this show too much as Wheel Of Fortune is an excellent episode with some great jokes but four seasons in, it was all becoming a bit too familiar. All the better then that with the arrest of the A-Team, it was going to get shaken up a little and was, with its final season, about to go out on something of a high.