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The A-Team Review

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by Chris McEneany Jun 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    The A-Team Review
    “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 into 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.”

    But, on second thoughts ... maybe you shouldn't bother.

    80's Saturday teatime favourite and pop culture classic, The A-Team is, in my opinion, the absolute nadir of TV shows. I could barely sit through an episode when I was thirteen without wanting to hurl something sharp and heavy at the screen. All that pathetic cartoon action, flimsy backlot sets, wafer-thin plots and cardboard villainy was toe-curlingly bad. Just how it became the cult show that it is today is totally beyond me.

    All twenty-four episodes of Season Three are presented here on this release. And I would be a liar if I claimed I was able to sit through even half of them. Simply put, watching a couple of episodes a night became something I grew to dread. No matter how The A-Team is interpreted it comes across as bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment that actually seems to revel in its own crassness. I will admit that the basic idea is one that can viewed in a variety of intriguing ways. Firstly, and most pertinently, the concept of US Special Forces (that's where the title of “A” Team comes from - the A does not stand for Action, but rather the designation of a commando unit) wanted for a crime they didn't commit and becoming Robin Hood-style soldiers of fortune on the fantastical fringes of society, out righting wrongs and injustice wherever they find it, is like early 80's America seeking to make family-accessible atonement for the sins of their involvement in the Vietnam War - our guys weren't the baby-killers that the 70's had portrayed them as, but rather valiant, selfless protectors of the underdog from the ravages of corruption and intimidation. A small unit hearts and minds operation spelling out what the intended mission for US Forces had been all along. And then again, perhaps the larger-than-life foursome are supposed to be an allegory of the defence of small businesses in the face of greedy, all-consuming corporate domination. Just how many small enterprises - from rural fire departments to burger-franchises - do they champion?

    Yet, for all the possible intelligence of the concept, The A-Team was designed as a vehicle of fun. And it is this precise element, folks, that it utterly fails in. For me, at any rate.

    We have George Peppard (a terrible actor at the best of times) as Col. Hannibal Smith gurning like Tom Cruise on an acid/helium cocktail, that ridiculous cigar perched uncomfortably amid his wheezing grin, the safari-jacket and black gloves ensemble as patently ill-conceived as his juvenile approach to problem-solving. How often does he walk into a situation where he is surrounded by gun-wielding goons who have him at their mercy, only to have us believe that this was a tactical move on his part? He may “love it when a plan comes together,” but only show creator and writer, Stephen J. Cannell, could fall for such cardboard set-ups, time and time again. Templeton Peck, aka Face, (Dirk Benedict) is the slick, tan-fastic blazer-boy with women on his mind. Folks, he was way too old, even then, to be getting the epic-bouffanted bimbos that bubble idiotically around these flimsy scenarios. B.A. Baracus, the tufty-topped King of Bling is the pudgy-faced merchandise-hook of the show. Strange how he seems more at home sitting on the dashboard of Max and Paddy's motor-home as a wobbly head-knocker than smashing through balsa-wood doors and scowling like a wrestler with haemorrhoids. Clubber Lang? Yes, you were sensational. B.A. Baracus ... who's the chump, now, fool? And, last but not least, we get the one-man clown-troupe who, despite his signature attire of baseball cap, chinos and battered flying jacket, is the only one of the bunch who actually gets to act. As the shell-shocked helicopter pilot Mad Murdoch, Dwight Schultz gets to play someone different every episode - his many schizophrenic or delusional antics allowing for a legion of supposedly zany characters to populate each season. And this is supposed to be a crack commando unit, eh?

    Adventures actually take place a little further a-field than I remembered. This season sees the Team tackling the River Amazon and the shotgun-booted pirate that plagues it, and trekking through a Kenyan national park to root out some lethal poachers, besides aiding and abetting the usual gamut of small-town feuds. They fight fires, run restaurants, battle a rival A-Team cashing in on their style but not their ethics, protect a Middle Eastern princess and keep on outwitting the lethargic army goons trying to recapture them. The problem isn't the plots - who cares if it's just the same formula drip-fed to us episode after episode? The problem is the downright, tedious, by-the-numbers way in which Stephen J. Cannell executes the action. Hannibal's naff disguises, Face's remorseless pursuit of big-haired, appallingly-acted females, B.A.'s fear of flying and Murdoch's OTT performances of episodic mania are just a join-the-dots example of threadbare imagination. Bad guys who ride around in limousines built purely to be flung through the sky by air-canons, and cells, shacks, sheds and out-houses that are better stocked with hardware than a dozen B&Q superstores may have become fondly remembered as vital A-Team ingredients but, to me, this is just brutishly lazy writing. A typical storyline conforms to this unbreakable template - pantomimic threatening behaviour from the rednecks, gangsters or hoodlums in the first few minutes, the initial skirmish when the heroes make their presence felt, the cocked-up plan or tactical set-back that sees the Team fashioning non-fatal weaponry from the confines of some pathetic captivity and the subsequent final battle that sees bags of flour, jets of compressed-air or, God forbid, fresh vegetables used as missiles to thwart the baddies in their ineptly choreographed last-ditch assault. Oh, and then, of course, we get the comical prologue that sees usually see Mad Murdoch getting a good-natured pasting from B.A. Sorry, folks, I know that the show has its fans ... but I just can't stomach it.

    The format-show that was the staple of American adventure TV (see also Street-Hawk, Airwolf and Knight Rider - all as bad as each other, although Street Hawk had the best theme-tune, courtesy of Tangerine Dream) may have been perfectly acceptable back then. But, when viewed today, even with the charitable aid of rose-tinted glasses, these bright-but-bland shows are revealed to be badly-written, badly-acted and badly-directed pap of the lowest, and tackiest, common denominator. Time has not been kind to the A-Team especially and, being totally honest, who cares? Like the other shows I've just mentioned, it should be left stranded and forgotten back in the witless decade that spawned it.