Universal // 1983 // 677 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // August 16th, 2004
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.
Stephen J. Cannell's ambitious action adventure TV series The A-Team wasn't the prettiest or the most technically accomplished series to hit primetime airwaves in 1984, but did it really matter? Audiences that tuned into the show expected to see spectacular explosions, and The A-Team delivered, week after week, for five seasons. Not only did each hour-long episode pack enough mayhem, gunplay, and vehicular destruction to provide for a decent Chuck Norris revenge film, but it had one thing that Norris and his contemporaries couldn't compete with -- action stars with more than two facial expressions. Twenty years after it first debuted, the series has achieved cult status, and continues to gain new fans through syndicated reruns.
Finally, Universal has released the inaugural season of The A-Team on DVD. Because the show premiered as a mid-season replacement, only 14 shows are presented on this four-disc set (later seasons had more than 20 episodes), but luckily, 1983 was kind to Hannibal and his unit, and this release features several fondly remembered episodes.
Anytime a shopkeeper was bullied by small-time gangster or innocent people were being held by a malicious terrorist group, the A-Team and their badass black van were there to right wrongs and protect the weak. While avoiding capture by Col. Lynch (William Lucking, Erin Brockovich), "Hannibal" Smith (George Peppard, Breakfast at Tiffany's), "Howlin' Mad" Murdock (Dwight Schultz, Star Trek: The Next Generation), B.A. Baracus (Mr. T, Rocky III), and Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Dirk Benedict, Battlestar Galactica) built makeshift combat vehicles out of scrap iron and rusty parts and led militarized strikes against their targets. Although soldiers of fortune, the A-Team often waived or reduced fees so that their services were within reach for those that needed them most.
The A-Team could have only succeeded in the early 1980s. Offering a perfect blend of fun and carnage that would be disturbing if it wasn't so entertaining, the show no doubt resulted in an unprecedented number of fourth graders writing "Soldier of Fortune" as the title of their "What I Want to be When I Grow Up" homework compositions.
Although formulaic -- almost non-apologetically so -- the first season of The A-Team was the series's finest hour. Later seasons got increasingly gimmicky, but here, the writers still had enough energy to come up with fresh ways to have the team build a do-it-yourself tank or booby-trap an entire village with sheets of paper and hidden speakers. Even though you know exactly how each show will turn out even before hit "play," The A-Team is consistently entertaining in a "comfort TV" kind of a way.
Although the violence and action remain an important part of the show, The A-Team was really character-based, and much of the fun came from the witty interactions of the four distinct personalities which made up the A-Team:
* Col. John "Hannibal" Smith -- The cigar-sucking leader of the group, Hannibal always had a plan and relished the moment when it possibly might come together. Strangely, foes and potential clients never saw through some of the least convincing disguises of all time that Hannibal employed to keep outsiders at a comfortable distance.
* Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck -- The consummate pretty-boy conman, Face could always be counted on to track down any piece of equipment that the guys needed in a tight spot. No matter where they were, he used his wits to scam anyone out of, or into, anything -- especially if an attractive woman was involved.
* Capt. Hector M. "Howling Mad" Murdock -- Breaking out of the army mental facility whenever needed, Murdock was an officially unacknowledged member of the A-Team. An ace pilot that provided his unit with valued air support, Murdock flew everything from helicopters to commercial airliners and confused villains with his (possibly) insane antics.
* Sgt. Bosco Albert "B.A." Baracus -- Driver, mechanical genius, fistfight insurance, fashion forward hair model, mentor for underprivileged children, eloquent wordsmith -- B.A. "Bad Attitude" Baracus was, quite simply, the heart of The A-Team. Sporting more bling than a National Pimp Convention, B.A was the one member of the team who wouldn't stand for Murdock's craziness, real or fake. No doubt his surly demeanor was a side effect from all the doped-up milk Hannibal slipped him to overcome his fear of flying.
* "Mexican Slayride Part 1"
* "Mexican Slayride Part 2"
Newspaper reporter Amy Allen (Melinda Culea, The Fisher King) hires the A-Team to rescue a colleague kidnapped by Mexican outlaws, and the boys head for the border in this two-part pilot, presented here as one 90-minute show. Although replaced by Dirk Benedict in all subsequent episodes, Tim Dunigan (Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future) plays the role of Templeton "Faceman" Peck here, and the show also serves to add "Triple A" Amy Allen to the line-up as the A-Team's season-long female sidekick.
* "Children of Jamestown"
John Saxon stars as a cult leader who forcibly confines his followers. While rescuing a girl from his clutches, the A-Team is captured and hunted down for sport. Saxon's incoherent ramblings make this a memorable show.
* "Pros and Cons"
The A-Team infiltrates a corrupt prison where the warden forces his inmates to compete in bare-knuckle fight-to-the-death boxing matches. Pretending to be a deaf-mute, B.A. enters the tournament with his sign language translator/hairdresser, Hannibal.
* "A Small and Deadly War"
A corrupt S.W.A.T. team is fulfilling contract kills on the side. Proving he's just as effective at psychological warfare, Hannibal bugs their uniforms and messes with their minds until the rogue cops give themselves up.
* "Black Day at Bad Rock"
As Col. Lynch races to Bad Rock to capture them, the A-Team have just enough time to thwart a biker gang about to tear the town apart to free their jailed leader. A classic episode!
* "The Rabbit Who Ate Las Vegas"
Hannibal impersonates a mobster and heads to Las Vegas to rescue a kidnapped college professor who invented a foolproof gambling system. But when the team comes up against real mafia kingpins, every police force and mob hit man is suddenly out gunning for them.
* "The Out-of-Towners"
Gangsters are running a protection racket in a close-knit neighborhood. Those store owners that can't pay in cash are physically assaulted and their merchandise smashed. After opening a phony TV repair shop, the A-Team dumps the street trash in its rightful place. Another fondly remembered show.
* "Holiday in the Hills"
A plane crash-lands the A-Team in the Ozarks, where they rescue a city surveyor about to be burned at the stake. While Murdock escorts him back to civilization, the others hold the trigger-happy rednecks at bay.
* "West Coast Turnaround
In a plot "inspired" by Charles Bronson's Mr. Majestyk (right down to the watermelons), the A-Team is hired to haul a produce shipment past a bullying rancher.
* "One More Time"
Col. Lynch finally catches the A-Team, only to have his authority challenged. Top military brass hires the team to rescue a general and his daughter from guerillas in Borneo. This episode is somewhat derivative of the pilot.
* "Till Death Do Us Part"
One of my favorite A-Team shows of all time, in which Hannibal ruins the wedding between a money-hungry rancher and his late business partner's captive daughter. Hannibal must prove that the cowboy killed the girl's father as Murdock takes her place on the altar.
* "The Beast from the Belly of a Boeing"
Another plot ripped off from a film. After thwarting a plan to hijack a 747, Murdock is temporarily blinded by a gunpowder burn, leaving an inexperienced Hannibal to land the plane with the help of air traffic control.
* "A Nice Place to Visit"
While attending the funeral of a friend, the A-Team discovers that the town is being controlled by a family of bullies that use intimidation to get their way. When they try to make Hannibal fall into line, push comes to shove.
Helping to give The A-Team the feel of a weekly Cannon action flick, this season has some exceptional b-movie guest stars. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot drive-in mainstays Yaphet Kotto (Across 110th Street), Sid Haig (Coffy), John Saxon (Enter the Dragon), William Smith (Grave of the Vampire), Dean Stockwell (Psych-Out), and Don Stroud (Death Weekend), all taking their turns to line up and get their jaws punched by George Peppard's stunt double.
The A-Team's huge pre-pubescent following fuelled concerns over the violent nature of the program, but as this DVD set bears out, few people ever really got hurt. The show more often resembles an animated episode of G.I. Joe, where every gun blast was a warning shot, and every car crash results in only minor skin abrasions. Serious injuries only happened off-screen, and The A-Team often got around violence watchdogs simply by humiliating the crooks with non-lethal ammunition, such as food or paint -- ironically, common household items easily available to kids seeking to emulate the show's antics.
But between the explosions, choreographed fistfights, and tough guy talk, one couldn't help liking the outlandish characters and the obvious comic chemistry they injected into each situation. Even with Col. Lynch on their tail and a drug dealer escaping out the back entrance, the show never missed an opportunity to have the characters riff off of each other, whether it was B.A. pitying fools, Murdock petting his invisible dog, or Hannibal casually chiding Face for trying to duck out with that week's female co-star to avoid work. Wisely, the show never quite crossed the line into total camp, but it still never took itself too seriously -- at least not in this season -- and that's undeniably the reason that it has remained so popular over the last two decades.
So how does Universal's release of The A-Team: Season One stack up? Just about average, unfortunately. The included episodes look sharper than those currently making the rounds in syndication, but not by a whole lot. Those expecting bright, fiery explosions rendered in all their digital glory will be disappointed to see that colors remain fairly dull. Minor source artifacts continue to be a problem throughout the entire set, with occasional edge enhancement issues. The mono 2.0 soundtrack is pretty typical for a TV show from the 1980s, cramped and slightly muffled. Music and dialogue come through adequately, but more dynamic sound effects, like gunfire, are rather flat. Fans of the show will also be disappointed to discover that there are no extras included in this set. A pouch on the inside of the digipak sleeve seems to have been made to hold a collectible booklet, but oddly, even that hasn't been included.
Of course, the weekly budget for a TV action show can't compete with even a low budget b-film, and as a result, The A-Team is easily one of the most unconvincingly crafted shows ever made, with poorly matched stock footage and laughable stunt doubles. Almost every show features shoddy second unit work in which suspicious close-ups of hands building improvised weapons are obviously not attached to the actors they are supposed to represent. But clearly, the producers of the show never imagined that The A-Team would be available on home video, where freeze-frame scrutiny leads to the discovery of all kinds of previously unnoticed gaffes, including ill-executed explosion effects, embarrassing stage fights, and a host of visible stunt drivers piloting all the vehicles.
The strange thing is, no matter how cheap or silly The A-Team looks, it never hinders my enjoyment of the show -- in fact, it seems like a small price to pay for the weekly anarchy of flipping jeeps, ice cream trucks converted into iron-plated war machines, and helicopter explosions. Although there are better and more memorable TV shows about avenging anti-heroes, it is still empowering to watch Hannibal defy authority and triumph over bullies according to his own ethical beliefs. The A-Team may not rank much above a guilty pleasure for most, but it was the next best thing to catching a straight-to-video action film serialized every week on your TV, and it's really a shame that Universal couldn't have put a little more effort into this set.
I love it when a DVD set comes together, but releasing The A-Team: Season One with no extras is a big disappointment for fans. Universal is sent to prison for a crime they did commit.
Review content copyright © 2004 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 677 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated