Universal // 1983 // 1110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // April 26th, 2006
Murdock: "Before we went back [to Vietnam], did you think about it?
Hannibal: "I remembered it, but I didn't think about it."
Bullets are still flying, cars are still flipping, and explosions are still going off by the minute -- but there's something distinctly different about The A-Team: Season 4. Coming off their worst season out of five, it's time for some hot pop culture guest stars, a shifting personality for Murdock, and actual killing. Buckle your seat belts; Season Four is the biggest roller coaster ride of them all.
Let's review. 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); and general 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" where they work as soldiers of fortune.
The A-Team: Season Four is pop culture heaven. You'll find guest appearances by game show icons Pat Sajak and Vanna White (Wheel of Fortune), wrestler Hulk Hogan, and pop singing sensations Boy George and the Culture Club. Even rock and roll legends Isaac Hayes and "Super Freak" Rick James have pivotal parts to play. There are a couple of real misses here -- like "Uncle Buckle-Up" -- which can't even be saved by the comic genius of Arte Johnson (Laugh-in). But there are a lot more hits this time around, unlike last season.
A perfect blend of comedy and action was The A-Team's claim to fame. Starting in this season and rolling forward into the last, the laughs are less frequent -- but the show doesn't suffer at all. As a matter of fact, it's a nice change. In this season you'll find one of the shows most serious episodes, "Sound of Thunder." The boys accompany their nemesis, General Fulbright, on a trip back to Vietnam. They think they're going to save their former commanding officer (the only man who can clear them) from a POW camp, but Fulbright has a different plan in mind. Once the team arrives in the land of bad memories, it's quite a different A-Team. There's a flashback to the war (with a montage set to the tune of "Eve of Destruction"), a torturing Vietnamese general, and a real rarity in this show: The good guys get shot, and someone actually dies.
This season also gives us a whole new look at HM Murdock. His crazy antics from the first three seasons are toned down. We actually get evidence that Murdock was never as crazy as he pretended to be (which may be a set up for what's coming in Season Five). From the ridiculous lead in of Murdock winning big on a game show, you would think that the episode "Wheel of Fortune" would be a total loss. Look again. It seems that our favorite chopper pilot was a CIA spook -- and man, you wouldn't like him when he's angry.
If you're a lover of 80s music, then this season of The A-Team is for you. Rick James, Isaac Hayes, a little Huey Lewis and the News...and then there's Boy George in "Cowboy George." The pop sensation has been quoted as saying that he agreed to do the series because they offered him an obscene amount of money and that he was totally stoned throughout the shoot. Both statements are quite believable. Boy George is a wild man in this episode and it's so much fun. Include two great Culture Club tunes and Dirk Benedict in a cowboy hat and it's a not-to-be-missed episode (with yet another few seconds of dark and dangerous Murdock).
Here's the run down:
Disc One: Side One
* " Judgment Day -- Part 1 & 2"
The Game: The team rescues a young woman who was kidnapped by the mob but hid from the mobsters on a cruise ship.
What's Different: This one was filmed on location on an actual cruise ship. Even though they were in the middle of the ocean, watch Mr. T. disappear.
The Rating: Has some fun moments and great action. B
* "Where is the Monster When You Need Him?"
The Game: 80's staple Judy Landers provides the male eye candy, while the team plays cast and crew in a low budget horror movie. Unfortunately, they're filming location is the home of a notorious war criminal.
What's Different: This is the first of many episodes that has the team stumbling into trouble while going about their daily lives.
The Rating: Mostly silly, but the "escape" is inventive and another chance for Dwight Schultz (Murdock) to shine. C+
* "A Lease With an Option to Die"
The Game: The regal Della Reese (Touched by an Angel) guest stars as BA's mother who is about to be evicted by a scamming real estate mogul.
What's Different: A rare look at the family the team was forced to leave behind.
The Rating: The plot is so-so, but Della Reese is lovely and it's nice to see the soft side of Mr. T. C+
Disc One: Side Two
* "The Road to Hope"
The Game: Hannibal disappears while on a meet with a client and it leads the team to a body laundering business connected to a homeless shelter.
What's Different: Not much. Except for the fact that Hannibal is missing throughout a good portion of this episode, it's classic A-Team.
The Rating: I don't know why, but I love this episode. It has a spark, a nice banter, guest star Elisha Cook Jr. (Salem's Lot) and a heartwarming, spiritual ending. One of my favorites. A+
* "The Heart of Rock n' Roll"
The Game: Rick James (as himself) calls on the team to help his buddy (Isaac Hayes) who is in jail for a crime he didn't commit.
What's Different: The tone. There's a lonely, sad feel to this story even with Murdock's D.J. antics. Another very unusual piece.
The Rating: It's the music that makes this one work; the soulful sound of Hayes and the bigger than life presence of Rick James. B-
* "Body Slam"
The Game: Hulk Hogan asks the team to help when a mobster threatens to close a local day-care center. It's all about gangsters, corrupt cops, and a fortune in hidden gold.
What's Different: This episode looks more like a pilot for a spin-off than an episode of The A-Team with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. teaming up to take down the bad guys
The Rating: Hey, I like the Hulkster so, I give it a B-.
* "Blood, Sweat and Cheers"
The Game: Kid Harmon would be a shoe-in to win the big race, if only he wasn't racing against the spoiled nephew of a wealthy mobster.
What's Different: This time it's Hannibal's back story when he rides in to rescue the son of a woman he once loved.
The Rating: Stuart Whitman saves the episode as Kid's father who is jealous of Hannibal's relationship with his son. B-
Disc Two: Side One
* "Mind Games"
The Game: Face is given a full pardon, but it might be a trap.
What's Different: Not much. Another typical series plot with Murdock deep in shtick -- playing a puffed up version of Face.
The Rating: Overly silly. Could have been good, but they missed the mark. C-
* "There Goes the Neighborhood"
The Game: The guys move to suburbia to keep an eye on a troublesome rock star.
What's Different: Should we change the name to The Gay-Team? Watch them poke fun at themselves when four guys buy a house and move in together.
The Rating: The plot is barely there but you'll find some truly funny moments in this one. B-
* "The Doctor is Out"
The Game: Murdock is the client when his psychiatrist is kidnapped and taken prisoner by a South American warlord.
What's Different: Another slightly more serious episode with a guest star who keeps switching sides and more clues that Murdock may not be as crazy as he seems.
The Rating: Great twists and turns and another interesting episode for Dwight Schultz playing the secret behind the secret. B+
* "Uncle Buckle-Up"
The Game: Arte Johnson (Laugh-in) is a children's show host whose life is threatened when he refuses to promote a line of toys.
What's Different: Again, the team stumbles over illegal doings while trying to have a real life. In this case, it's Hannibal, trying to win the part of the costumed bear sidekick in the Uncle Buckle-Up TV series.
The Rating: They couldn't have made a dumber, more boring episode if they tried. F
Disc Two: Side Two
* "Wheel of Fortune"
The Game: Murdock is kidnapped and forced to steal a Russian helicopter for a casino heist.
What's Different: A lot. First, Hannibal is on vacation. He checks in by phone, but that's it. BA also has a cameo appearance in this thing, leaving Face and Murdock to almost play it alone. But the big news in this episode is the peek into Murdock's past and a look at his serious side when he realizes what he's involved in.
The Rating: The episode loses major points for the inane Wheel of Fortune subplot, but more than makes up for it by giving Dwight Schultz something new to play. B+
* "The A-Team is Coming, The A-Team is Coming"
The Game: The team helps a Russian ballerina defect, only to get involved in a political power struggle and the theft of a military weapon.
What's Different: Once again the tone is off. It's darker, edgier -- and when Dwight Schultz goes undercover to infiltrate the terrorists he's not even recognizable as Murdock anymore.
The Rating: Don't know what it is, but there's something that grabs me about this one. B+
* "Member's Only"
The Game: Face joins the country club and ends up involved in a case of counterfeit cash.
What's Different: Nothing, except again, it's a story about stumbling into the crime while trying to have a life.
The Rating: It's Caddyshack with guns. Horrendous. D
* "Cowboy George"
The Game: Face plays the booking agent to Cowboy George the country singer, but gets Boy George instead. Now if only he can figure out why the manager of the bar is so angry with the switch?
What's Different: Boy George! That's what. He not only sings but he plays a huge part in rescuing the team when they get in to deep trouble.
The Rating: "Karma Chameleon" sung to a room full of rednecks. Wide-eyed and oh, so high, Boy George playing along with the team. Murdock in drag and Face flirting with him! Could this episode be any weirder! It's one of my favorites. A+
Disc Three: Side One
* "Waiting for Insane Wayne"
The Game: When the team is mistaken for a pack of hired guns, they decide to join the other side, which consists of young teen Moosie Drier trying to save his family's home.
What's Different: It's the staple of this season, another episode where they stumble into trouble while trying to get a life. In this case, they're on the way to have Murdock tested so he can be moved from his current ward at the mental hospital. It's an interesting side story and one that adds more confusion to this season's question of, "is Murdock really insane?"
The Rating: There are some nice, quiet moments in this episode as they struggle to help a teen who thinks he can handle the world on his own. A-
* "The Duke of Whispering Pines"
The Game: Mr. T. takes the lead in this story about the disappearance of his high school best friend and rival.
What's Different: Another look at the life they had before Vietnam and an unusual pairing of BA and Murdock throughout a good portion of the episode.
The Rating: There are some dark moments (like a good old fashioned lynching) that keep this episode from spiraling into silly. B
* "Beneath the Surface"
The Game: Pirate treasure is the key to this story about Face's old friend from the orphanage.
What's Different: Can you stand it, another look back -- this time to Face's childhood.
The Rating: Fairly fluffy episode with some nice scenes between Murdock and Face. B-
* "Mission of Peace"
The Game: The team is hired by a group of senior citizens trying to protect the historical tourist trap that is their income and their home.
What's Different: Nothing. A basic, Season One plot.
The Rating: Nothing much to see here. C
Disc Three: Side Two
* "The Trouble With Harry"
The Game: Hulk Hogan returns and asks the team's help in locating the father of a teenage boy.
What's Different: It's the Hulk and Mr. T show again.
The Rating: Murdock and Face are slapstick. The Hulk is moved into the lead and the plot is nothing but a never-ending cat and mouse game. Boring. D
* "A Little Town with an Accent"
The Game: While trying to save a gas station owner from being bought out by the mob, the boys stumble on a meeting of major domos from all over the US.
What's Different: Nothing too different here. Even has one of the traditional "build it and they will come" scenes.
The Rating: Not bad, not great. Just a typical episode. B-
* "The Sound of Thunder"
The Game: The boys go back to Vietnam thinking they're about to rescue their old commander. Instead, they get involved in locating General Fulbright's long lost daughter, Tia Carrere (Relic Hunter).
What's Different: Everything. You won't find a more serious episode. There's no fluff here when the guys deal with their memories of the war. Bullets fly, bombs go off and this time someone really gets hurt.
The Rating: Okay, so it's not Tour of Duty, but for The A-Team this is pretty heavy stuff. A+
* "Point of No Return"
The Game: Hannibal disappears while on assignment alone in China. It's all part of a plot to steal and transport the makings of a nuclear bomb -- and the clock is ticking.
What's Different: The entire season. In their last year, the team gives up mercenary work in favor of playing special ops for Robert Vaughn. Eddie Velez joins the team as special effects wizard Frankie Santana and the locale is moved from LA to DC. The on set tension reaches a fever pitch. You'll see it here with disappearing acts by both Peppard and Mr. T., leaving Schultz and Benedict to handle most of the episode alone. And that's the way...uh huh, uh huh...I like it.
The Rating: Raising my hand as one of the few fans of Season Five. A-
Turning our attention to the DVD itself, there's nice blue packaging to compliment the first three sets in this series, a fully animated action montage on the opening screen, great use of the famous theme song, and easy-to-use navigation. Now here's a surprise. Universal, known for its lack of bonus features, has made an attempt on this DVD set. Not a major attempt mind you, but I gotta give them points for trying. As bonuses, they've included a Fifth Season episode (which is even further away from the original concept than this season's episodes) and a featurette called "The Great 80s TV Flashback." Now, when I saw that bonus feature listed, I assumed it was nothing more than a series of trailers for Universal's other DVDs. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong (well partially, wrong). The piece is actually a really neat look at some of the hottest shows of the 80s and includes commentary by Glenn Larson, Stephen Cannell, David Hasselhoff, and more. They talk about the style of TV in the era, from the hot look of Miami Vice to the pure fantasy of Knight Rider. The most amazing thing about this feature is that it shows off what a powerhouse of television Universal was in the 80s. They really had the market locked up.
I'll start with my usual complaints: double sided discs and few bonus features. This is such old news, though, it's hardly worth worrying about. The video transfer shows some grit and grime, worse in some episodes than others, but nothing to stop my enjoyment of the series.
In regard to the show itself, there is one oddity that does detract from my total enjoyment of the season: the mysterious, missing cast members. By the start of this season, the feud between Mr. T. and George Peppard was pretty much common knowledge. T. fueled the fire when he had a helicopter remove him from a cruise ship where the cast was filming the season opener. T's publicity people said that the actor was taken ill thanks to the filtered air on the ship -- but rumor has it that it was attitude, not a virus, that had him walking out. As a result, he's noticeably missing from much of the episode and badly doubled when they had no choice. Turnabout is fair play, however, and you'll find Peppard missing from most of "Wheel of Fortune" and the Fifth Season bonus episode, "Point of No Return."
Internal squabbling aside, it could have been pure exhaustion that caused the shift in the team dynamics. Watching the Fourth Season of The A-Team, you'll often find one or two of the cast members at the front of the story with the others lagging behind. It makes for some refreshing storylines, but in the end, they're at their best when the team is a team.
Bottom line, if you were put off by Season Three of The A-Team, set that aside and try Season Four. There's a lot to like here -- especially if you're a fan of Dwight Schultz, as he really shines in this box set.
The jury finds The A-Team: Season 4 a lot less guilty than they were before. The court commends them for trying to make a new life for themselves.
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 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1110 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Fifth Season Episode: "Point of No Return"
* The Great '80s TV Flashback
* A-Team Shrine Fan Site