Last night I found myself sitting down to an evening of television watching with my sister and brother-in-law. Normally, this involves a viewing of one of about three shows that I think we can all agree upon; “The Office”, “The Simpsons”, or “Seinfeld”. I’m pretty much OK with that since if there were any three shows for me to agree upon with someone, it’s hard for me to think of any other shows I’d rather watch. But fortuitously enough for me, the remote control settled on an episode of “The A-Team” which was a classic favorite as a kid, but sadly enough, it had been at least ten years since I had seen a full episode of this show. I immediately made the comment about how I thought it could quite possibly be the television version of “Red Dawn” (the subject of a previous blog), or more specifically, the best bad television show ever. I’m not quite sure if I actually believe that because I’ve never really thought about it and there may be some other television shows out there that would fit this bill better. But what I can certainly say that it is one of the best bad television shows ever.
Growing up as a kid, I idolized this show that told the story of four former military personnel who were somehow accused of a crime they didn’t commit. The opening credits inform us that they “promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade” (as if that just happens on a regular basis) and that they currently act as mercenaries for those who have a problem that the police and authorities cannot help with. Now whereas the stories and plotlines of the show can be argued over in regards to their greatness, what I don’t think can ever be argued with successfully is that the title sequence is in fact, the greatest ever:
Throughout the episode last night, the three of us made various comments that triggered many thoughts within me regarding the show I once held in such high regard. Firstly, I made the comment that regardless of the episode, you could pretty much guarantee that 45 minutes into the show, you could see one of our four heroes welding something. For those who do not know the framework of this show, it goes something like this: 1) the plotline is developed as a group of thugs kidnap someone, terrorize local businesses, take control of some aspect of power in a small community, or perform some other heinous act for which local law enforcement cannot help with. 2) One of the marginalized victims of this thuggish group somehow is not only aware that this “A-Team” exists, but also knows how to get in touch with them, as if their number is listed in the Yellow Pages. 3) The A-Team meets with this individual (usually this is done by the establishment of a meeting place where the group’s leader, Hannibal, approaches the victim in some disguise – the episode I saw last night had him perched upon a horse statue pretending to be part of the statue as he was dressed in clothes painted to make him blend in with the horse – which is done, I suppose, to help the group preserve its secrecy. They are, after all, still wanted by the government and cannot risk going out in public looking as they normally do, yet somehow, this is only important in the very beginning of the show. It’s perfectly fine for them to walk around amongst the population of L.A. at any other time). 4) The group makes the acquaintance of the bad guys and invariably ruffles their feathers by shooting up their hideouts or crashing a party and embarrassing them. 5) The bad guys step up their game causing a wrench to be thrown in the plans of our heroes, therefore prompting them to step up their game as well. 6) A final plan is established by the A-Team and the trap is set. Here is where the welding comes in. For while the trap is laid, the group has a limited time to build it which involves modifying a vehicle or building some contraption that will eventually be the demise of the bad guys and will ensure their capture and eventual incarceration. 7) All is set right with the world again and Hannibal utters his famous line “I love it when a plan comes together”.
Now, the aforementioned pattern is subject to change as I quickly found out, for in the episode I saw last night, there was no welding. I ate my words. It just so happens there didn’t need to be much of a trap set for the bad guys. But normally, you could see a montage of the group building the items necessary to put the bad guys away for good. And when you do see them putting the trap together, it’s pretty cool because you are never sure what they are doing exactly because they don’t explain the trap or the plan. They just somehow know what Hannibal is planning and go to work. The viewer never knows what they are doing until it is actually put in action. In this sense, it’s kind of a reverse dramatic irony going on, which I’ve always liked.
There are two other plotlines that although are not involved with every episode, they are used from time to time for consistency’s purpose. The first one is the fact that Murdock is batshit crazy and half the time the group has to break him out of a mental institution before they are able to begin their assignment. They find a number of ways to do this but usually return him there by the end of the episode. I never really understood why they did this. Maybe it’s to keep a low profile and so that the government doesn’t get a lead as to where they are or what they’re doing. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since they are some of the biggest fugitives in this world and it wouldn’t really matter if they just never returned Murdock to the institution or not. Or maybe it’s just a way for the writers to write in more crazy antics for this character. Who knows?
And speaking of the government, sometimes the group’s task at hand is merely a subplot as in some episodes, the generals and government officials charged with the task of apprehending the A-Team takes center stage and the group not only has to help their clients, but they also have to evade the military as they close in on their location. Usually, the group not only does their job and save the day for the victims who hired them, but they also just barely escape the generals and move on to their next assignment.
My sister wondered out loud what the role of all the characters was. That was an easy question for me to answer, until I got to the crazy and bizarre character of Murdock. Hannibal is the brains and leader of the group. Face is, well, the face. The one who goes undercover the most and who woos the lovely ladies he invariably encounters in their journey. And Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus is the muscle. The menacing and angry looking black man with a mohawk and ridiculous amount of gold chains draped around his neck who is the ultimate match for any thug in which he comes in contact. Yet for some reason, he has a terrible fear of flying and anytime the group needs to go on a plane, they need to hide that aspect of the plan from him and somehow find a way to drug him before boarding the plane. He falls for it every time. And then there is Murdock. It took me about 15 minutes to recall what his greatest asset was for he doesn’t appear to have any aside from comic relief. But finally a part came up in the show that reminded me of his true value. For Murdock is a pilot and is able to fly any helicopter or plane the group can manage to steal, or at least borrow for a few hours. For many of the episodes, this is a critical component to ensure the bad guys are put away.
Finally, my brother-in-law probably made the most important observation that nobody ever died in this show. With the amount of gunfights, explosions, and huge number of blown tires leading to the flipping of cars one would think that at least a few people would meet their demise, but not only does that never happen, nobody even appears to be hit by a bullet at all. It’s kind of like a mild form of the G.I. Joe syndrome, and I only say “mild” because G.I. Joe episodes had way more people shooting and explosions. No, in the world of the A-Team, the only thing they needed to do to render a villain incapacitated was to flip them over and throw them into a lake, into a table, into a bar shelf filled with alcohol, or hilariously enough, as evidenced by the episode I saw last night, into a bed of flowers. For while the writers of “The A-Team” were hesitant to promote violence in the form of shooting deaths, they felt OK with that because they knew darn well that an even better and more realistic way of dealing with a bad guy was to just throw him through the air. There is no way to come back from that.
And that’s just the structure, characters, and action sequences of the show. I did not touch on the plot holes held in ever episode which, if last night’s episode is any indicator, are many in number. But at some point you have to look past all that. This was a show created in the early/mid 80’s and I defy anyone to find a show of any critical relevance that came from that time period. Maybe I’m missing something, but I think it’s just inherent in any show that came from that time to be cheesy and just poorly done. Part of it is the technology but what is more unbelievable and unforgivable is the fact that the writing and acting were so bad. I have no explanation, but I will venture to say that it had something to do with cocaine.
At any rate, it was nice to watch this show again and remind myself of why I like it so much despite all the problems it has. It’s a campy show with a lot of great action scenes and the character dynamics are hysterical, particularly the relationship of B.A. and Murdock. For Murdock always gets B.A.’s goat and B.A.’s reaction, as predictable as it is, will always be the best moment of the show for me. Even while watching this episode last night after having not seen it for well over ten years, I totally predicted one of B.A.’s lines. Murdock, for some reason, decided to mimic a television reporter and proceeded to faux interview his friends and foes as the show went on. As he first did this to B.A. you could see B.A. fuming at the ridiculous antics he was watching. When Murdock finally asked his question I said right along with B.A. the line he was most famous for and the one that makes me laugh every time: “Shut up, Foo!” Classic.