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Reviewed by Will Harris
here are few things in this world harder than trying to defend a guilty pleasure.
As a TV critic, I know in my heart that there shouldn’t even be such a thing as a guilty pleasure: either you like a series or you don’t, and if you do, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Sometimes, though, the reason that you like a series has absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s good, and in the case of “The A-Team,” any legitimately critical opinions that I had about the show disappeared when I was 13 years old. Whenever I watch an episode, I am transformed once again into that 13-year-old boy, with a limitless ability to suspend disbelief and an insatiable desire to see cool guys kick ass. Is it any wonder why I love it so? And yet, it’s not like I can really sell you on the series based on that, except to say, “If your inner teenager wants to come out and play, then ‘The A-Team: The Complete Series’ is for you.” And really, is that enough? Not by a long shot. Still, if you actually sit down and watch a few episodes of the show, it’s pretty easy to see why it proved to be such a success.
First and foremost, it had a great premise, one which was established in the pilot and recited at the beginning of each episode:
“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.”
The team, consisting of Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (George Peppard) and his men – Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Dirk Benedict), B.A. Baracus (Mr. T), and H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) – regularly took on cases that no one else would touch. The format of the episodes tended to stay approximately the same, with either someone trying to find the A-Team, necessitating that Hannibal would put on a disguise to make it a challenge for them, or one of the members of the team finding a case and bringing it back to the others with a plea to help this person. Hannibal’s the brains of the outfit, B.A.’s the muscle, Murdock’s the best damned pilot in the business, and Faceman is the charmer who helps the group get whatever they need to get the job done.
No one should ever enter an episode of “The A-Team” with expectations of anything other than action, explosions, charismatic leading men, and light-hearted fun. There are, during the run of the series, sporadic attempts to offer some semblance of drama, most notably with Colonels Lynch, Decker, Briggs, and Fulbright all trying at various times to bring the guys to justice for the crimes that we all know they never committed in the first place. In the final season of the show, a desperate decision was even made to bring in General Hunt Stockwell (Robert Vaughn), who claimed that he would pardon the team if they’d continue to perform top-secret missions for him. If the pardon ever actually came to pass, it must’ve happened off-camera after the show’s final episode aired, because viewers certainly never got to see it.
Guest stars? There were plenty of them, though the two most memorable would have to be Rick James and Boy George. The series also tried on occasion to bring a female element into the proceedings, such as Amy (Melinda Culea) and Tawnia (Marla Heasley), but in the end, it was always the four guys who were the focus of the series. Anyone else was just gravy.
Do you like big, loud, often preposterous action series that regularly wink at the viewers to let them know that they’re having as much fun as you are? Then you’ve come to the right place, because “The A-Team: The Complete Series” offers 95 episodes worth of the stuff. It’s not high art, but it’s highly entertaining nonetheless.
Special Features: Since this is just a repackaging of the original single-season sets into one big package (albeit a really badass one: the sets come housed in a cardboard replica of the A-Team’s van), you shouldn’t be expecting anything new here. The sum total of your bonus material is an unrelated “Knight Rider” episode – thanks, Universal, for being so cheap as to throw in an episode of one of your other series and call it a bonus – and, more on topic, a featurette entitled “Rumors of Soldiers of Fortune,” which contains an interview with Stephen J. Cannell about the creation of the series and his experiences working on it. Great stuff, but did anyone consider including the recent documentary “Bring Back the A-Team,” which finds a documentarian on a request to reunite the cast? Now that would’ve been a nice addition to the set.