In a moment of lucidity, Howling Mad Judge Cynthia Boris jots down a detailed review of this '80s television stalwart.
Our reviews of The A-Team: Season One (published August 16th, 2004), The A-Team: Season Two (published May 25th, 2005), The A-Team: Season Three (published February 21st, 2006), The A-Team (Blu-Ray) (published December 23rd, 2010), and The A-Team: The Complete Series (published June 8th, 2010) are also available.
Murdock: "Before we went back [to Vietnam], did you 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.
Facts of the Case
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"
• "Where is the Monster When You Need Him?"
• "A Lease With an Option to Die"
Disc One: Side Two
• "The Road to Hope"
• "The Heart of Rock n' Roll"
• "Body Slam"
• "Blood, Sweat and Cheers"
Disc Two: Side One
• "Mind Games"
• "There Goes the Neighborhood"
• "The Doctor is Out"
• "Uncle Buckle-Up"
Disc Two: Side Two
• "Wheel of Fortune"
• "The A-Team is Coming, The A-Team is Coming"
• "Member's Only"
• "Cowboy George"
Disc Three: Side One
• "Waiting for Insane Wayne"
• "The Duke of Whispering Pines"
• "Beneath the Surface"
• "Mission of Peace"
Disc Three: Side Two
• "The Trouble With Harry"
• "A Little Town with an Accent"
• "The Sound of Thunder"
• "Point of No Return"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
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• Bonus Fifth Season Episode: "Point of No Return"
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