The A-Team

Last summer before going away on holiday, I sent my son and my husband to the DVD store to get us something new to watch while we were away. When they came back, my son had chosen the boxed set of the first series of The A-Team. Mister Litlove and I exchanged glances that said, ‘well, whatever’. Little did we know what a family obsession we were about to unleash. Just under a year later, and we finally watched the last programme of the last series, having seen every single episode that was ever made. And once we’d reached the end, we turned around and started over at the beginning. Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A. have become almost members of the family; we quote them in times of trouble and stress, and sometimes just when we feel like it. Watching them the second time around we can deconstruct the ridiculous elements of the plot, and point out all the failures of continuity in the filming, and yet we enjoy them even more for their imperfections.

The thing is, the four characters are all so endearing. Hannibal makes such a strong leader because he appreciates his men so much; he never reproaches them when things go wrong, he never undermines their feelings or points out their mistakes. And in the early series he has a hypnotic recklessness, walking up to the bad guys and taunting them fearlessly. Face is such a beautiful man; he turns a three-piece suit into a poem; but I like him best when he’s whining and grumbling. Dirk Benedict played the contradictions of his character in a delicately understated way, a conman with a streak of loyalty, a soldier who would prefer to run away from a fight. Murdock is just a delight, playing the is-he-isn’t-he mad role with such clever mischievousness. There are times when he has a different voice for each line of dialogue he speaks, and yet he’s always the one with the plan when the others are in trouble. And as for B.A., well, you just want to see him hit people with his ludicrous knuckleduster-laden fists. But then I like the tender side of his character, particularly the way he transforms into a kitten when there are children around. Clearly at some point between the second and third series, someone decided that having the big black man only like children was asking for misinterpretation, and the children disappeared, which was a shame. He is far less interesting as pure muscle.

The plots were rehashed Robin Hood, except that it was a redistribution of power rather than wealth that was at stake. Wherever there were bullies in small town America, the A-Team were on hand to grind their faces in the dirt – or at least, flip them in their cars, which is the A-Team route to redemption. ‘They’ll change their ways now they’ve been rolled in the jeep!’ we would chorus as a family, watching the special effects teams of the eighties having fun with an endless supply of cars and army vehicles. It was a formula but an effective one; nothing stings quite like injustice, unless it’s injustice mixed with brute violence. Those early series were brilliant for making the audience feel genuine rage against the bad guys, and it was sweet vengeance to see B. A. pound them into the ground and throw them over whatever bar counter was available, or to watch the team once again being locked into someone’s disused workshop in which they could fashion outlandish weaponry. Apparently Mr. T who played B.A. was a committed Christian and refused to take part in a program in which people actually got hurt. So our four heroes spend their time scattering bullets wildly and unproductively, never hitting a single character (even those without names) despite point blank range at times. The camera lingers on the wreck of every rolled car to watch its occupants implausibly clamber out, weak-kneed, and in one memorable episode, even a helicopter can crash and explode against a cliff face then disgorge its crew, just a tad smoky, shortly afterwards.

You can see why The A-Team’s life as a series was relatively short. Those early episodes were full of vim and energy, with the team showing their full characters and the scriptwriters larding the action with wisecracks. Then the formula took over, and, as is inevitable with formulas, something went a bit stale. Hannibal got lazy, and B. A. became completely disconnected, barely contributing a line of dialogue to the proceedings. In the end Murdock was carrying the whole show, with Face as back-up. For some inexplicable reason, the producers decided that to freshen up the format, they needed a fifth member and Frankie Santana joined the team, looking so much like the Cat from Red Dwarf that I had to check on IMdB that it wasn’t the same actor. There simply wasn’t enough action to go round five characters, and it showed; the precious ‘team’ was fragmented and the energy went out of it.

The A-Team is not a program you can watch with a critical attitude; you’d never stop picking holes in it. The baddies have no sense of logical causality, the stunts are often impossible and the rules about who wields power when pulling guns are frankly arcane. The fact that Murdock is standing higher than a ring of four bad guys and they are slightly startled when he calls out to them with a gun in his hands means they are all obliged to submissively drop their weapons? No, just don’t think about it for too long. There are inadvertently hilarious moments, like B.A. running with one hand clamping down his great wreaths of gold jewellery – the only thing on the set capable of knocking him out. Nor is it wise to consider what the bad guys think they are doing – one of our favourite episodes concerned Nazis building a nuclear power station in the middle of the jungle. I mean, Nazis! A nuclear power station! It’s brilliant in its ridiculousness. The back-story is, in fact, pretty unimportant, what matters is watching the A-Team bicker like a family on an eventful camping holiday, and then purposefully saving the day with a luminous reliability. And that we haven’t tired of yet.


13 thoughts on “The A-Team

  1. When I saw your post title, I thought there was no way you were actually writing about the TV show, but here you are writing about it and making me smile. I was about 10 years old when this was on TV here and it was huge–one of the few shows everyone in the family agreed on watching. We stopped watching it regularly before it ended, so I guess we noticed the decline in quality, but I still haven’t forgotten those characters.

  2. Nice post – The A-Team was always gloriously silly, and for the most part they got away with it; I think that’s because it’s one of those shows that got the casting EXACTLY right. The team had charisma to spare, and I think that’s at least partly why it’s so fondly remembered today when a lot of other eighties action shows are forgotten.

  3. I loved the A-Team when it was on TV! I had a total crush on Face and I loved it when BA would start calling people fools. Have you seen the movie? I haven’t. I haven’t had the heart to even though my sister told me it was pretty good.

  4. I used to watch the show all the time with my family, and our television watching was pretty strictly monitored. I wonder what made my parents think the A-Team was okay?? Who knows. Maybe because you just can’t take it that seriously…

  5. Do you know I don’t think I ever watched this show when it was on, but I think you are the one person who could make me wish that I had! 🙂 There is much to be said for a show that is not only entertaining and humorous, but where you can also be relatively assured everyone is going to make it to the next episode (which is sure not the case for MI5/Spooks, which I’d been watching until I ran out of episodes)!

  6. I don’t know if I’d watch it again but this was a very nice trip down memory lane, all the more so when seeing through your eyes. And with regard to quotes, Hannibal is the final word on planning.

  7. I love that you enjoy the A Team so much. Sometimes it is nice to just suspend judgement and logic and enjoy a fun show. I remember when this show was on here in the States and sadly I never watched it! I’ll have to give it a try sometime.

  8. I have never watched it but I know that for one reason or the other one can get hooked on a series and then watch it all the way through. That’s what’s so great about DVD collections. I would never watch a series when it is on on TV as I don’t like to be forced to watch at a particular time but I like the idea of buying it and watching it from beginning to end. It sounds quite enjoyable, maybe I’ll give it a try.

  9. Teresa – ha! yes, I do have an omnivorous relationship to culture – I’ll read or watch anything, if I think it might give me pleasure (so that rules out violence and hospital dramas). I never saw this as a child, though, although I do recall its being on. Can’t remember why now – but I was glad to catch up with it in later life!

    matthew – I completely agree with you – gloriously silly is exactly the way to describe it, and it WAS the casting that worked so well. You’ve nailed it there.

    Stefanie – we haven’t dared see it either! My son point blank refuses on the grounds that we will inevitably be disappointed. I must admit that no other Face could really compare… on indeed any other B. A.! 🙂

    Dorothy – it might be because it was a show known to be safe to watch – ok there was violence, but no one ever got hurt. This is oddly enough still a comfort to me in adulthood. I don’t like watching programs where you’ll be seduced into caring about people who then die. In the last episode ever of the A-Team Face takes a bullet in the chest and it was almost too tense for us to watch! (he’s fine in the end, you’ll be glad to know). I like to think of you watching it, too!

    David – well, ‘camp’ is indeed the word! 🙂 You have to be in the right mood – it is as matthew says, gloriously silly. And the first season is the best, I think.

    Danielle – I couldn’t agree more! I love watching exciting things when I feel certain of the outcome. I expect you could probably live without this now (unless your niece would enjoy it), but it is a show that makes you feel safe and raises the spirits in an odd but effective way.

    Lokesh – oh we all love it when a plan comes together. 🙂 I do like finding out that so many of my blog friends watched this too (childhood is a more appropriate age for it, I admit).

    Kathleen – I fear you may have trained your son up for much more sophisticated stuff with your Oscar-winning film project! 🙂 But I am a great fan of silly and comforting at the right time and place.

    Caroline – funnily enough I like watching a whole series on DVD more than seeing it in its weekly slot, too. I would never ever have watched this without a child who was keen on seeing it, and you might prefer something a bit more sophisticated. But it IS a lot of silly, comforting fun.

    Lilian – Mr T is altogether interesting – I get the feeling that in its heyday, he was the real draw of the show. It certainly suffers when he does less and less in the later series. Your girls may perhaps like it (although it’s a boy thing, essentially). Let me know if you do watch it!

  10. What’s your most used A-Team catch phrase then?;)

    I keep trying to convince everyone that 80s tv is great! It’s all characters and feelings, alongside wildly improbably plots. Jump Street is also v good *tempts* as long as you can ignore that you’d feel a bit iffy if the police really were to infiltrate schools secretly by pretending to be students.

  11. This is so much fun to hear about, litlove! My own family has similar series enthusiasms. Right now, we’re watching a slightly ridiculous show called The Event, all about an alien people taking over the earth. What’s wonderful, though, is how much our conversation about the show brings us together as a family. Instead of one brother telling the other he’s an idiot, he can redirect his ire to the moment when the vice president tries to kill the president by giving him a splenda packet full of poison. And yet we still look forward to the show, and I think it is because we are creating a sort of common language together as we watch it, something you can’t do with a book. And THAT is at least one good reason to watch television. The other reason is Jamie Oliver. This season he is trying to convince the entire Los Angeles School District to feed the kids something better than ground up beef offal. He’s such a luminous jerk — with his heart seemingly in the right place, and his ego so large it’s hard to understand how he can see over it. Happy A Team watching and thanks for this lovely post! xo

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