Judge Paul Corupe ponders the connection between this season's episode named "The Taxicab Wars" and the film D.C. Cab.
Our reviews of The A-Team: Season One (published August 16th, 2004), The A-Team: Season Three (published February 21st, 2006), The A-Team: Season Four (published April 26th, 2006), The A-Team (Blu-Ray) (published December 23rd, 2010), and The A-Team: The Complete Series (published June 8th, 2010) are also available.
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 primetime series, 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 they even 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.
Facts of the Case
Anytime a shopkeeper is bullied by small-time gangster or innocent people are being held by a malicious terrorist group, the A-Team and their badass black van arrive on scene to right wrongs and protect the weak. While avoiding capture by Colonel Decker (Lance LeGault, Welcome to Spring Break), "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) build makeshift combat vehicles out of scrap iron and rusty parts and lead militarized strikes against their targets. Although soldiers of fortune, the A-Team often waive or reduce their fees so that their services are within reach for those that needed them most.
Hot on the heels of The A-Team: The Complete First Season, Universal has released the second season of The A-Team on DVD, with 22 episodes on three double-sided discs:
• Diamonds 'n' Dust
• Recipe for Heavy Bread
• The Only Church in Town
• Bad Time on the Border
• When You Comin' Back, Range Rider?
• The Taxicab Wars
• Labor Pains
• There's Always a Catch
• Water, Water Everywhere
• The White Ballot
• The Maltese Cow
• In Plane Sight
• The Battle of Bel-Air
• Say It with Bullets
• Pure-Dee Poison
• It's a Desert Out There
• Chopping Spree
• Harder than it Looks
• Deadly Maneuvers
• Semi-Friendly Persuasion
• Curtain Call
The A-Team came out of the gates in its first season with guns blazing, and was an instant success. Offering a perfect blend of fun and carnage that would be disturbing if it wasn't so entertaining, the show may have been formulaic, but it was consistently entertaining in a "comfort TV" kind of way. However, between the explosions, choreographed fistfights, and tough guy talk, The A-Team was really a character-based show that truly prospered through the dynamic personalities of its heroes. Whether it was B.A. pitying fools, Murdock disguising himself as superhero "Captain Cab," or Hannibal chiding Face for trying to duck out with that week's female co-star, much of the fun came from the obvious comic chemistry of the four distinct personalities that 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—Murdock was an officially unacknowledged member of the A-Team. An ace pilot that provided his unit with valuable 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 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.
Not ones to tamper with a sure thing, show creators Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo didn't make many changes to the second season of the show besides a little fine tuning in the supporting cast. The first thing you'll notice with The A-Team: The Complete Second Season is that the character of the A-Team's tireless pursuer Colonel Lynch, played by William Luckling, has been replaced by Colonel Decker (Lance LeGault), who is introduced in the two-parter "When You Comin' Back, Range Rider?" Although the shows with the MPs chasing the guys are traditionally not very memorable, Decker is more of a hard-ass than Lynch, and proves a welcome addition. Additionally, the unofficial fifth member of the squad, newspaper reporter "Triple A" Amy Allen (Melinda Culea) disappears about halfway through season, supposedly on a foreign correspondent assignment. Four or five episodes later, in "The Battle of Bel-Air," Amy's friend and fellow journalist Tawnia Baker (Marla Heasley, The Marrying Man) replaces her, a position she would hold for the rest of the season.
The only significant observable change in Season Two of The A-Team is the show's impact on popular culture, mostly centered around Laurence Tureaud—the muscle-bound Mr. T. That year saw the debut of Mr. T, a cartoon that starred Tureaud as the coach of a team of globetrotting, crime-solving teenage gymnasts, which made him a Saturday morning hero and drove a younger audience to the more adult A-Team program. Accordingly, the show's growing influence helped to significantly temper B.A. Baracus's "Bad Attitude," as he made the change over from beefy grouch to a gentle giant. Riding his popularity, Mr. T quickly assumed the position of role model, helping young children on the show believe in themselves, while making offhanded references to his community center youth group back home. Outside of the A-Team, Mr. T starred in his own 1984 youth motivational video called Be Somebody or Be Somebody's Fool! and released an album on Columbia records called "Mr. T's Commandments," which featured the chart-topping hits "No Dope No Drugs" and my personal favorite, "Mr. T, Mr. T (He Was Made For Love)," sung to the tune of The Bobbettes' doo-wop classic "Mr. Lee." This change in character shot Mr. T into the pop culture stratosphere in the show's second season, and he really became his own brand, immortalized forever on candy wrappers, cereal boxes, and jigsaw puzzles. Galoob also started to issue A-Team toys this year, so kids could play with their own Mr. T action figure, as well as Hannibal, Face, Murdock, and some laughably generic villains with names like "Snake."
On the actual show, however, the villains were far from generic, and this season continued to pour it on thick with a wide range of b-movie guest stars, albeit with names not quite as notable as the first season. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot drive-in mainstays Michael Ironside (Scanners), Lance Henriksen (Aliens), John Vernon (Point Blank), Dennis Franz (Psycho II), and Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), all taking their turns to line up and get their jaws punched by George Peppard's stunt double.
Strangely enough, The A-Team's increased pre-pubescent following this season continued to fuel 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.
So how does Universal's release of The A-Team: The Complete Second Season 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 is only one extra included in this set, an episode of Knight Rider entitled "Brother's Keeper" that I didn't really enjoy. It's also worth noting that Universal has wisely done away with the digipak they used for the first season and replaced it with three slim cases in a sleeve. A welcome change, but it looks out of place when filed beside the first season set on your shelf.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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 continued to be easily one of the most unconvincingly crafted shows ever made this season, 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 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, farm threshers converted into cabbage-shooting weapons, 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 beyond one cross-promoting episode of Knight Rider.
I love it when a DVD set comes together, but Universal's reluctance to add useful extras to The A-Team: The Complete Second Season is a continuing disappointment for those that are following this series. The A-Team is hereby ordered to help organize infuriated fans into a tactical strike force, and modify an old broken-down tractor into a rapid-fire DVD catapult to launch discs at Universal until they stop their jibber-jabber and add some extras!
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