Universal // 1983 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // February 21st, 2006
"I love it when a plan comes together!"
Bullets fly, cars flip, explosions go off by the minute -- yet no one ever seems to get hurt. It's the '80s version of action on TV. Tame by today's standards, The A-Team had the critics (and parents) crying foul over its cavalier attitude toward violence, but that didn't keep the viewers away. A bone fide hit series from prolific series creator Stephen J. Cannell, The A-Team made international stars out of its four leads. The phenomena is still honored at fan conventions the world over. If you need help -- and if you can find them -- maybe you can hire The A-Team: Season Three.
For those of you born after the era of pink T-shirts on men, here's the
rundown. Near the end of the Vietnam War, an elite squad of soldiers (an
"A-Team") was sent on a secret mission to rob the Bank of Hanoi. (They
had a "yen" for a little cash.) The team consisted of:
* Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith (George Peppard, Breakfast at Tiffany's)
* Procurement officer (read conman) Lt. Templeton Peck, aka Face (Dirk Benedict, Battlestar Galactica)
* Generally angry mudsucker, Sgt. Bosco "B.A." Baracus (Mr. T., Rocky III).
The team was shuttled in and out by their favorite chopper pilot, Capt. H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock (Dwight Schultz, Star Trek: The Next Generation) and then promptly betrayed by their commanding officer. The original three were sentenced to spend the rest of their days in a military prison for pulling off a supposedly unsanctioned stunt, but they promptly escaped into the "Los Angeles underground."
Years have passed, the boys are still wanted, and H.M. Murdock is now a resident of mental ward of the local VA hospital. But that doesn't slow them down. Making a living as soldiers of fortune, they spend their days as hired guns helping the underdog triumph over the big, the bad, and the uglies of this world. And they do it with an amazing amount of panache!
I am a huge The A-Team fan. I've seen every episode four dozen times. I can quote it, explain it, and list off all the important landmarks in five seasons of the series. I am not alone in this aberration. There are thousands of fans along with thousands of others who will never understand the allure of the show. Frankly, I'm not sure I can explain it to you.
On the surface, The A-Team appears to be a macho, male-audience-oriented action show, but I'm here to tell you that those boys have a female fan following that puts the male numbers to shame. It's the ultimate buddy show with lots of fun, snarking, faux danger, and cute guys. (Come on, even Mr. T. has a sort of teddy bear appeal!) At the height of the series, the cast was invited to visit a certain royal family in Europe, and were met at the airport by an excited mob of fans who tore their clothing and Mr. T's earring off their bodies. They were compared in the newspaper to the other "fab four" (remember The Beetles?) and twenty years later, the actors are still asked to preside over fan conventions in The Netherlands, Germany, and the UK.
The A-Team was hot stuff, and in 1984 they were hitting their peak!
So let's take a look at this installment of the series. Universal has done a nice job again with the packaging. I like the complimentary colors to the first two installments (orange to the red and green of seasons one and two), and the use of the series logo and photos on the slipcase and inner snap cases. The episodes are listed on the back of each snap case with a succinct blurb. The opening navigation screen makes great use of series clips and music, and it's clear and easy to follow.
On the downside are no extras and double-sided discs. I've seen complaints about episodes with glitches. I didn't experience any problems, but the issues with these double-sided discs are well documented...so why bother? Color on some of the episodes is washed out but not so much that it annoyed me. If seeing the shows complete and uncut is the trade off, I'm happy to live with a little less red in the stripe on the van.
Now to the episodes. Be warned, there's a lot of bad here. See my rebuttal now or just read on.
Disc One: Side One
* "Bullets and Bikinis"
The Game: A mobster is trying to push two lovely ladies into selling him their beachfront hotel -- so they sell it to The A-Team instead.
The Shtick: Murdock puts on his baggies and sings a medley of Beach Boys tunes. Surf's up, dude.
The Rating: So bad it's cringeworthy. D
* "The Bend in the River: I and II"
The Game: The team's latest female accomplice (Tawnia Baker, aka Marla Heasley) hires the team to find her fiancée (Barry Van Dyke) who disappeared while hunting for lost treasure in the Amazon.
The Shtick: Murdock plays movie director complete with overblown New York accent and ever present camera lens viewfinder.
The Rating: This two-parter has its moments including an interesting array of villains (some of whom change sides) and some nice action, but Murdock's shtick runs thin by the end of the first hour. B-
The Game: Stephanie Kramer (Hunter) guests as a lady fire chief who is being bullied by a competing fire service.
The Shtick: Murdock hams it up as the character Fireman Fred, a slightly effeminate fire safety spokesman with a seltzer bottle as a companion. Very funny stuff.
The Rating: The battle of the sexes takes center stage in this episode with macho Hannibal falling for the lovely female fire chief. B
The Game: '80s staple Tracy Brooks Swope hires the team to help protect her logging company from a competing company who is trying to run her out of business.
The Shtick: I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay! Murdock is on the hunt for Big Foot in order to pick up a $25 prize a magazine is offering for a photo. Sincere, sweet -- and drives BA nuts!
The Rating: Another winner for this season. Nice dialogue, great banter, and a twist at the end that proves our guys aren't infallible. B+
Disc One: Side Two
* "Double Heat"
The Game: The team gets caught between two warring mobsters while trying to rescue a kidnapped young woman.
The Shtick: Murdock fancies himself an on-air news reporter.
The Rating: Some nice banter between the guys and an appearance by Leo the Lizard (Hannibal in a Sleestak costume from Land of the Lost) B-
* "Trouble on Wheels"
The Game: Auto parts are being stolen from a manufacturing plant so the boys set up a fencing operation of their own.
The Shtick: Face has the shtick this time when he shows up in a pimp mobile complete with purple mink!
The Rating: Some nice tension, a plan gone wrong, and a clever way to catch the bad guys. B-
* "The Island"
The Game: The men are island bound when they try to help an old friend fight drug dealers who have a village enslaved.
The Shtick: Murdock is enamored with his new pet, a baby alligator named Wally.
The Rating: Unusual setting, good guest stars, and a chance for the guys to act more like the crack military unit they're supposed to be. B+ (with extra points for handsome Dirk Benedict in tank top and shorts!)
The Game: It's Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show all over again, with The A-Team as the star attraction when a set of look a likes causes trouble for the team.
The Shtick: Murdock is upset by the fact that he doesn't have an evil twin since he's not generally known to be a member of the A-Team.
The Rating: A strange mix of plots, too many strange costumes, and a generally mucked up episode. C-
Disc Two: Side One
* "Sheriffs of Rivertown"
The Game: The A-Team get deputized in hopes of bringing law and order to a South American mining company town. Robert Davi (Profiler) guest stars.
The Shtick: Murdock works his way from Dragnet to Bonanza looking for inspiration in his role as deputy sheriff.
The Rating: Davi really makes this one work. It's interesting to see the guys keeping the peace (instead of disturbing it) for a change! Another winner. B+
* "The Bells of St. Mary"
The Game: A singing group made up of four (of course) ladies (of course) one of whom is black (of course) needs protection from the goo-goo eyed A-Team.
The Shtick: BA is Murdock's inspirational hero and he lets everyone know.
The Rating: Cute '80s girl group. Can't sing. Can't act. Dumb plot. Kill me now. F
* "Hot Styles"
The Game: Markie Post (Night Court) guests as an old love of Face's who's caught up in a scheme to steal dress designs.
The Shtick: Murdock is a flamboyant fashion designer.
The Rating: Markie Post almost raises this one to a level of watchable. Her relationship with Face is a nice touch but oh man, the '80s fashion show montage...D-(and sinking fast)
The Game: Murdock and BA end up running for their lives -- handcuffed together after being arrested for a crime they didn't commit.
The Shtick: It's The Defiant Ones as a comedy.
The Rating: Dwight Schultz has an amazing ability to play off the nothingness given to him by Mr. T. and boy it works well in this episode. Funny and exciting, even tense at times -- a favorite. B+
Disc Two: Side Two
* "Cup A' Joe"
The Game: A truck stop owner is being forced out of business.
The Shtick: Murdock goes full bore with the truck stop chef persona and don't miss the hysterical Darth Vader impression.
The Rating: There's a nice, warm feeling about this episode. So much closer to the best episodes of Season One. Good dialogue, simple plot and a few tense moments. B
* "The Big Squeeze"
The Game: The team goes into the restaurant business in order to take down a loan shark.
The Shtick: Call him O'Murdock, the Irish waiter and check out the rules for playing Scotch (as opposed to Gin).
The Rating: Interesting villains make this one easy to watch. B-
The Game: BA's a boxer as they try to bust a drug-trafficking ring.
The Shtick: Murdock plays trainer and it's Rocky III all over again.
The Rating: Boxing episodes automatically lose points in my book. C-
The Game: Daphne Maxwell Reid (Fresh Prince of Bel Air) guest stars as a game warden out to find the poachers who murdered her brother.
The Shtick: Murdock immerses himself in the game warden lifestyle, complete with chimp!
The Rating: An excellent episode. Reid is a strong actress and plays love interest to BA. And you can forgive them the stock footage since Murdock gets to play with a real chimp and a real elephant. A
Disc Three: Side One
* "Road Games"
The Game: A rolling casino is the centerpiece of this tale.
The Shtick: Face has the shtick this week when he plays a Jersey mobster in order to infiltrate the bad guys' gang.
The Rating: Something a little different since Face is out on his own for much of the ep. B-
* "Moving Targets"
The Game: The team must babysit a soon to be wed princess who isn't interested in their protection or her marriage.
The Shtick: A classic -- it's Pasadena Murdock (a distant cousin to Indiana Jones).
The Rating: John Saxon raises this one up a notch and Pasadena is too good to be missed. B
* "Knights of the Road"
The Game: The boys go to work for a tow-truck company that, once again, is being sabotaged by competitors.
The Shtick: Murdock fancies himself a Knight of the Road, complete with English accent, Shakespeare quotes and Knightly Oath!
The Rating: Simple plot and yet, this one really works. There is a great music montage and Murdock is at the top of his game. B+
* "Waste 'em"
The Game: Toxic dumping is the key to the woes of a Vietnam vet and his blind sister. Enter The A-Team!
The Shtick: Lefty! Murdock's left hand has a mind of its own and the voice of James Mason. It's the saving grace of the episode with Dirk Benedict playing straight man to the frenetic physical comedy of Dwight Schultz.
The Rating: Doesn't every TV show have an episode where the hero falls in love with the blind girl? Yech. D-
Disc Three: Side Two
The Game: Wendy Fulton (Dwight Schultz's then and current bride) figures prominently in this tale of bounty hunters who kidnap Murdock in order to flush out the team.
The Shtick: No shtick here. This one is pure and honest Murdock in love.
The Rating: There's only a few of them and this is one of them; a serious episode showing a side of Murdock that we rarely ever see. It also has one of the funniest tags they've ever shot. Poignant and protective. A-
* "Beverly Hills Assault"
The Game: Counterfeit paintings are the game in this horrendous episode.
The Shtick: Murdock plays the eccentric artist with plenty of tantrums and flare.
The Rating: Nothing to see here. Move along. D
* "Trouble Brewing"
The Game: Time to protect a soda bottling company owned by...of course, two pretty young women.
The Shtick: Murdock's on a health food kick.
The Rating: Going down hill fast. Another truly awful episode. D
* "Incident at Crystal Lake"
The Game: It was supposed to be a vacation but trouble follows the A-Team wherever they go.
The Shtick: Murdock the outdoorsman, fishing with a dummy so he's guaranteed to catch more fish than his buddy.
The Rating: Has its moments, some nice banter between Murdock and Face but after that...snore...C-
Sadly, the third season is one of the series' worst. I suspect this has to do with two issues. One is the usual third season slump. The writers had already used up their best material, the intensive shooting schedule was wearing the crew thin, and after two hit seasons, the expectations were out of this world. Two, the cast. By Season Three, Mr. T. had firmly ensconced himself as a breakout star, not so much as an actor but as a pop culture icon. In 1984, Mr. T. became a rap star with his inspirational album for children, Mr. T.'s Commandments and he even had his own cereal!
By 1985, he was aligned with Hulk Hogan and WrestleMania and his weekly paycheck became far more than anything his TV brethren were taking home. While younger stars Benedict and Schultz took their co-star's extra fame in stride, George Peppard was not a happy camper. He was the experienced one. The movie star. The man who led The A-Team -- and he was not about to be pushed aside by a monosyllabic Mohawk decked with gold chains. Peppard began making his own schedule, his own rules. Dirk Benedict often speaks of having to play go-between, literally passing messages from Peppard to T. and back again even though they were standing within yards of each other.
The second-to-last episode of this season is called "Trouble Brewing"; they couldn't have written a more appropriate title for what was on the horizon of Season Four.
I don't know how to explain it, but there is a certain joy about this admittedly off-beat, often silly series. Maybe you had to be there then to get it. It certainly doesn't compare to the breath-stealing action of 24 or the grittiness of The Shield, but if you can cast off any comparisons to modern TV, you're quite likely to enjoy the antics. My advice, though: If you've never seen the show, don't start with this boxed set. Get yourself to Season One and enjoy the wild ride and witty banter with Hannibal, Face, BA, and Murdock, aka The A-Team.
I hereby find The A-Team: Season Three guilty of just about every crime you can think of, from carrying a concealed weapon, to assault and battery, to disturbing the peace and creating a public nuisance. But since they're only doing it for the greater good, the court suspends the sentence and releases them to fight another day.
Review content copyright © 2006 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* A-Team Shrine Fan Site