Sony // 1976 // 999 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // June 23rd, 2003
Once upon a time, Jill, Sabrina and Kelly were police officers whose skills were being wasted in menial duties such as answering phones and filing. A mysterious millionaire named Charles Townsend took them away from all that by opening his own private investigation agency and hiring these gorgeous ladies as his operatives with John Bosley acting as their assistant and liaison.
You don't watch it for the plot. You don't watch it for the character development. If you watch Charlie's Angels, you do so for sheer 1970s shtick: funky clothes...ridiculous characters...ultra-tan hotties...tacky cars. It's all here, and more, with inimitable '70s flair.
Jill (Farrah Fawcett-Majors), Sabrina (Kate Jackson), and Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) leave dead end police jobs to become private investigators for the mysterious Charles Townsend. Collectively, they are known as Charlie's Angels. Jill is a wispy blonde with feathered hair and a dazzling smile who uses her flirty, flighty personae to mask a calculating intellect. Sabrina does not mask her skills, preferring the blunt intimidation of intellectual superiority. Kelly is classy and demure, with an independent streak and a healthy dose of self-reliance. Together they form an unbeatable team, using their three brains, six nipples, and twelve karate-chopping limbs to disarm their dimwitted opponents.
Television plots have come a long way since the '70s. In the era of the Angels, the mere threat of danger caused an air of drama. Audiences must have bought into the fatalistic inevitability of the plot devices. Today, we can see through the plots as though they were made of fishnet. In most cases, all an Angel would have to do to avoid mortal danger is simply walk away or go out for a cheeseburger. But no, the formula demands predictable action, so we suffer while our disbelief is suspended from a steel girder with superglue.
Must be the characters then, right? Well, not precisely. The characters are quickly established and change very little. It is all about the formula. If you neither expect nor require character development, you'll be okay. It's best if you paste on your disco smile, free your mind, and just dig it. Charlie's Angels is no mocha latte, it is more like a watered-down piña colada. But formulas aren't all bad. After all, Coca-Cola has made a multibillion dollar conglomerate off of a relatively simple formula.
So what is this formula? An indescribable synthesis of chauvinism and feminism, dressed up in three lovely packages. The window dressing is what so disturbs the leading ladies, but interests everyone else. Kate, Jaclyn, and Farrah are stunning women, and Charlie's Angels exploits that goldmine for all it is worth. What they saved in the bra budget they spent in tanning oil and lip gloss. The camera angles are frequently low and centered on the derriere. Yes, the Angels are sex objects, ladies and gents. A formula does not get more basic than that. Yet the actresses imbue the angels with surprising dignity and class, as well as an air of equality. Sabrina harasses and intimidates a veteran mercenary into talking. Jill disarms her poker opponents with a little flash here and there while cleaning out their wallets. Kelly rumbles into town astride her motorcycle and takes control. The Angels exert independence, yet suffer diminutive slings and barbs with apparent nonchalance.
The three have an engaging dynamic that appealed to '70s chicks. The camaraderie of sisterhood was something for honeys to strive for. The Angels weren't always complimentary to each other; they often bickered and teased each other. But you could always tell they relied on each other for survival. '70s babes thought that was far out.
Aside from the obvious, how does the series look? Forget the pilot episode for a minute: the rest looks out-a-site! Oh, you can definitely tell it is a '70s show, with the yellowish colors and low contrast. But the black levels are surprising, flesh tones look accurate (well, not in today's terms, but you get my drift), and the transfer is remarkably clean. The audio is transferred just as faithfully, which is to say unremarkable, tinny, hollow, and non-dynamic. It looks and sounds like a '70s show, but as good as it can be.
This series is unremarkable in terms of plot, quality, dialogue and other traditional factors. What drives it is fun. How can you beat charismatic and beautiful women who get involved with frequent explosions, shootings, car chases, skating accidents, and other calamities? But time has introduced a whole new layer of fun on top of the inherent '70s fun. It is a riot to observe the guest appearances by some of today's top stars. Tommy Lee Jones brings the pilot episode up a notch. Tom Selleck, sans mustache, plays Kelly's romantic interest. Kim Basinger is a shy prison inmate. The list goes on. I cracked up anew with each celebrity sighting. Rounding out the fun, David Doyle gives John Bosley just the right note of comedic pathos.
The extras package is quite weak for this seminal series. Notably absent in the featurette are the Angels themselves. The leading ladies have some misgivings about this point in their careers, which is understandable and forgivable. But it does make for a weak featurette. The other extras are nondescript, unless you count the inclusion of the pilot as an extra.
Speaking of the pilot, the video quality is much worse than the episodes. Grain, scratches, and generally poor transfer quality mar this episode. In addition, the plot seems artificially drawn out. The pilot wasn't bad per se, but it lacks the taut (if vapid) pacing of the episodes.
I cannot let the plot holes slide; they are abundant and laughable. In "Angels in Chains," for example, the Angels have easy access to a shotgun and two handguns, but choose to leave them behind. In "Angels on Wheels," Jill is in mortal danger. Sabrina rushes to save her, but somehow has time to stop by and pick up Kelly along the way. The plots are truly bad.
Charlie's sexual innuendo hasn't aged well. He is constantly referring to his promiscuous lifestyle, but it seems crass and childish to modern ears.
Was it ever acceptable to walk around in cutoffs with your mat of blonde chest hair and gold chains glinting in the sun? If so, perhaps the '70s are best left undisturbed.
Charlie's Angels is a wealth of contradictions: mindless yet full of heart, sexy yet tacky, farcical yet fun. It is perhaps the epitome of '70s glam television. As such, it represents an era that is ripe with entertainment potential. Grab some Jiffy Pop and Kool Aid. Settle into your white mohair rug for a real treat.
Aaron Spelling, shame on you for your bold exploitation. I'm just gonna have to watch this to see what a travesty it is. Farrah, Jaclyn, and Kate, the court understands your complaint. Good for you for standing up for what you believe. However, many people dig the show. Is that wrong? Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2003 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 999 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* TV Spots
* ABC-TV Movie of the Week, "Charlie's Angels"
* "Angels Forever" Featurette