Chief Justice Michael Stailey ain't gonna fly in no airplane, sucker!
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: Season Four (published April 26th, 2006), and The A-Team (Blu-Ray) (published December 23rd, 2010) are also available.
"I pity the fool who goes out tryin' a' take over da world, then runs home cryin' to his momma!"—Sgt. B.A. Baracus
Pure brain-candy for the 1980s, The A-Team was mixture of James Bond, MacGyver, and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero rolled into 48 minutes of tongue-in-cheek adventure. This cast of lovable mercenaries could get their hands on pretty much anything their missions required, and on those occasions when they were painted into a seemingly inescapable corner, they'd pull a Bugs Bunny and invent a preposterous solution. But those of us who grew up watching the show didn't care; we looked forward to seeing what insane circumstances they'd find themselves in each week. In fact, the crazier the situation, the more fun the characters would have playing off each other and the villain of the week. That's all we really cared about—being entertained—and Stephen J. Cannell's production team delivered.
Interestingly enough, the show wasn't even Cannell's idea. He and his writing partner Frank Lupo went in to meet with NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff to pitch a pilot called Stingray. After patiently listening to their idea, he turned the tables on them and pitched one of his own—US soldiers, framed for a crime they didn't commit, are forced to go off the grid and become heroes-for-hire, helping those unable to help themselves. Stunned at the bait-and-switch, Cannell and Lupo spent the next several weeks fleshing out Tartikoff's idea; the resulting script was immediately approved and sent into production.
While critics lambasted the show for its over-the-top performances, ridiculous plot lines, and perceived violence; audiences enthusiastically embraced The A-Team. Here was a show with three highly recognizable actors—George Peppard (How the West Was Won), Dirk Benedict (Battlestar Galactica), and Mr. T (Rocky III)—and a genius comedian in Dwight Schultz (the Jim Carrey of his day) running around shooting guns, blowing things up, beating the crap out of the bad guys, and rescuing the girls; all without spilling any blood on screen. I can't imagine how many rounds of ammunition those guys went through over the course of five seasons, rarely (if ever) landing a single kill shot. This was pretty much the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series, minus the Biff-Bam-Kapow! overlays.
Judges Paul Corupe and Cynthia Boris do an excellent job detailing the ins and out of the series' first four seasons, so I won't bore you with a rehash. What Cannell and Lupo did was take the '70s and '80s classic action/adventure formula—see Matt Houston, Magnum P.I., The Rockford Files—and bust every convention wide open. The weaponry and their effects defy the laws of physics. None of our heroes are ever in any real danger, and, in the end, the bad guys are humiliated like nerds at a frat party. As we move from season to season, the formula stays pretty much the same: Some individual, couple, or family find themselves in dire circumstances and somehow seek out The A-Team for help. Hannibal (George Peppard)—the master of disguise—puts them through a series of challenges to see if they are worthy of being helped. When the helpless folk pass, they pony up the necessary cash and the team goes into action. Conflict and hilarity ensue. B.A. (Mr. T) would spout some Buddah-esque street wisdom, Murdoch (Dwight Schultz) would have a comedic freak out, Face (Dirk Benedict) would charm some beautiful women, and some inept military personnel would desperately try to trap the team and fail. Upon resolution of the adventure, the boys refund their clients a portion or all of their fee, and all is right with the world.
Many of the favorite episodes can be found peppered throughout the first four seasons. As cast divisiveness waxed (Mr. T's rampant popularity irked Peppard to no end) and audience interest waned, the producers introduced a new setup for Season Five. Robert Vaughn (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) was brought in as the head of a shadowy, government black ops division who orchestrated the capture of The A-Team so he could use them as his own personal strike force. In the process, they shanghaied the talents of Hollywood special effects man Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez, General Hospital), who enabled the boys to pull off even more elaborate missions. Ultimately, the new approach fell flat and the season was cut short at 13 episodes, which was fine because the show felt more like Charlie's Angels. Although we did get a cool reunion episode between Vaughn and his U.N.C.L.E. co-star David McCallum.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, you won't be wowed by these 98 episodes on 25 discs. Compared to Matt Houston, The A-Team visuals look flat and dark, the color palate falling far short of vibrant. You'll also get sick of seeing Southern California used as various international locations. Heck, I even saw my own home in Season Two's "Chopping Spree," as one of the early scenes was shot in the parking lot of the restaurant across the street. Weirdness. The audio is nothing to get excited about either. The first four seasons are presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo while Season Five is dumbed down to 2.0 Mono. Way to save a buck, Universal.
If you're a fan looking for new bonus materials, you'll be disappointed. The same '80s TV Flashback that was offered on many of Universal's previous TV on DVD sets is here again on Disc 22. It's a strange nostalgic-acid-trip look back at shows like Gimme a Break, Simon and Simon, Miami Vice and more. On the same disc is a "Bonus" Season Five episode which is also available on Disc 24, so you can watch it twice. Bonus! The one true valuable feature is a 12-minute interview with showrunner Stephen J. Cannell. Shot for the Season Five release in October 2006, it's the only look back at the show from someone actually involved in its making.
So here's the deal, if you already own the individual seasons, don't waste your money. The only upside here is that all the discs are single-sided and back-loaded as five season sets into the back of a cardboard replica of B.A.'s legendary van (the early version; itself seeing more than a few changes throughout the years). True A-Team junkies will want the upgrade. Everyone else can stick with Netflix-ing Seasons One, Two, and Four. Three and Five are passable.
This set is only guilty if you want it to be, fool!
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