Thursday, May 26, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:8 “Lady Killer”

Airdate: 11/24/76

Someone is killing the great centerfolds of Feline magazine, and its empire, run by suave publisher Tony Mann, is on the verge of financial collapse as a result. Mann enlists the Angels to go undercover, and one Angel in particular to have no cover at all (they draw straws but of course it’s Farrah). Could it be Dave Erhard, Tony’s right hand man but also a devious backstabber who seems to be in cahoots with a rival publisher planning on buying Feline out? Or is it Victor Burrel, the club manager, once a head honcho but demoted several times by Tony? Further investigation reveals Dave to be the likely culprit; the Angels set him with blackmail and send him to the hospital, but despite his absence an attempted murder occurs. Without a single lead left the Angels discover their own chauvanism by failing to realize the killer… is a woman: Paula, Tony’s assistant, bitter that her disfigurement destroyed her own dreams of becoming a centerfold.

In 1976, nothing was hotter than the Playboy centerfold. In the comparatively chaste days long preceding Internet porn, and just before raunchier fare like Hustler upped the ante, if not exactly class, of published indelicacy, that everlovin’ foldout of glossy, full-frontal heaven satisfied the sexual appetite of many a prepubescent male, including myself. So of course Angels wasted no time in using it for a setting, even casting a dead ringer for Hugh Hefner as the Feline publisher (the actor is also named Hugh!). But despite all the lurid window dressing, this Angels installment is just a good ol’ fashioned murder mystery, and just like one I guessed the culprit eons before she was finally revealed (and you will too). Extra points for her MO – death by… chloroform? Isn’t that usually what they give you so you can pass out… and then they try to kill you? 

There’s also a sweet romance between Tony and Sabrina, a relationship accented by his “boys club” attitude and proclivity for young women and her tsk-tsking feminism. In the end they complement each other warmly; their dialogue is sharp and sensible, and it stages the best scene in the episode: Tony explaining to Sabrina how he built his magazine from scratch. Probably pretty close to Hefner’s beginnings too.
Tennis, anyone?

And it wouldn’t be Angels without the kitch, and this one has a doozy. Jill warms up on the tennis courts before doing a article, completely oblivious that she’s about to be served an explosive ball. When it happens, it’s quite a pyrotechnic, but it’s also completely ineffective as she lives and gets up as if nothing happened. The villains in these shows need to sue their weapons suppliers.

Third episode in a row to use the word “kill” in its title. Don’t mind the mortality but can we be a bit more original?

Client: Tony Mann 

Plot Difficulty Level: 5 (twists and turns but fun to follow)

Rating: ***

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:7 “To Kill an Angel”

Airdate: 11/10/76

Kelly becomes a mother-figure to Skip, a young, sanitarium-bound “autistic” boy, but during one ill-fated trip to the carnival, he manages to find a gun, lost by a couple of hit men finishing a job, and uses it to accidentally shoot the hapless Angel. Hospitalized, she’s nurtured by Bosley and her fellow Angels, who try to figure out where the kid is now, and how they can protect him from the bad guys who clearly do not want a witness. But the fey Skip is perusing a roundabout scavenger hunt of sorts, inspired by Kelly’s fairy-tale poetry, and also winds up tracking down his mother, guilt-stricken by her abandoning him many years before. When his trail of shells leads him to the merry-go-round, the hit men are waiting, but so are the Angels. All’s well that end well when Skip finally gets a family, and Charlie gets his Angel back.

More emotional than average, this one gives the viewer a break with the easiest plot to follow thus far as well as the most drama – we actually see Sabrina cry in the hospital scene, or at least sport glycerin under her eyes. No clients here – it’s another one of those cases that affect the Angels directly, so we don’t have to go through the debriefing slide-show at the beginning, or Charlie’s recap at the end. And it’s good to see character actor Richard Donner as the slimy heavy, taking a break from his guest roles on The Waltons, and not yet cast in his trademark role as Exidor on Mork & Mindy.
No Emmy for this performance?
But there are some “aw, c’mon”-inducing stretches here, starting with Kelly’s shooting – a gunshot to her forehead that would render anyone in real life either dead on the spot or incapacitated for at least a week. And one big inconsistency: Donner’s character plots to kill witness Skip and Kelly (why not) in one scene, and later on blows the opportunity to do so while in her hospital room. Well, it’s sort of made up with the sight, at the show’s climax, of his captivity in a Tilt-a-Whirl ride while Jill and Sabrina consider using the opportunity for target practice. Ohhh, I wish they would have. Maybe if Tarantino directed.

And then there’s the labeling of Skip as an “autistic” boy. First of all, I was surprised this word was part of the common vernacular back in 1976. Apparently it was, but the show really just uses it as a catchall description for social maladjustment, because the boy is clearly not autistic, as would be painfully obvious to any sentient adult living in the 21st century. But the show reflects the knowledge of the pre-Rain Man audience, who likely understood autism as some arcane terminology. It does make me wonder: did it also not reflect the ken of the medical community, who also may habe diagnosed autism for wayward youths before it was applied correctly to a very specific neurological disorder?

Sporting a "Strasky & Hutch" T-shirt.
Anyway, I’m digressing far too much for a Charlie’s Angels review, and I apologize. t the risk of being to negative, let me go back to something I liked: the winsome storybook tales Kelly regales her youthful “date” with, revealing a softer side of the normally stoic woman. If you want a good double bill idea, watch this with the Incredible Hulk episode “Alice in Disco-Land,” in which David Banner touches his inner youth via a friendship with a Lewis Carroll-loving girl. Loss of innocence and the vain but poetic attempts to recapture it is one of my favorite themes, and it was a pretty hardy trope of 70s TV.

Oh, and look out for Lee Bryant as Skip’s mom, a prolific TV character actress best known as Mrs. Hammen in the greatest spoof movie ever, Airplane!

Suspend disbelief, and modern sensibilities, and you may get involved in this one.

Client: None

Plot Difficulty Level: 3 

Rating: ***

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:6 “The Killing Kind”

Airdate: 11/3/76
"I ain't playing some cute, life-size piano this time!"

After Brooke Anderson – a female investigator who just happened to be working on a expose assignment at a seaside resort named Moonshadow - mysteriously drowns, her father contacts Charlie to help him discover the truth of her death. The Angels attend the resort, under various covers, where they learn details about the head honcho: a slick but domineering man named Terranova, boastful of power but curiously skittish about exposure, with an odd habit of sending those who get under his skin off to see a not-so-gentle masseuse. Bosley reveals his identity to be a sham too: a cover-up for a long career in securities fraud, with extra assistance from no less than the Justce Depatment of the United States. 

And now it looks like he’s bribing the local government to get away with his current act of
malfeasance, the construction of multi-million dollar marina on government protected land. Jill tracks down Brooke’s potential insider, a “guest” hoping for something more than tennis lessons, while Sabrina visits Mr Anderson, only to later learn that he's an imposter, a shill for Terranova to throw her off track. The real Anderson is now a prisoner of Terranova, his feckless henchman and that weirdo masseuse, but the Angels corner the baddies at a horse stable and set him free. 

Generic title is apropos for a pretty generic episode, a routine storyline whose only saving grace is Robert Loggia’s deliciously unctuous portrayal of Terranova. He somehow manages to ride the line between high camp and legitimately effective drama – an essential skill on this show. The opening scene, usually an intriguing act of treachery which hints at what the Angels are up against, is pretty good at setting this guy up as a real crumb. Unfortunately, his scheme of building an illegal marina in a quid pro quo deal is about as dull as dishwater; isn't this just par for the course in the world of big business?

This is one of those episodes that feels like not all the loose ends are tied up in the end, and the epilogual information is actually more confusing than the opening debriefing. And I do have one big problem with the mid-episode twist, in which the Angels’ client, Mr. Anderson, turns out to be a fake to set Sabrina up for a would-be car crash. Don’t they get pictures of their clients so they know what they look like? For all the often excessive information the writers throw at the viewer on this show, couldn’t they have taken care of that lapse in credibility?

But Mr. Loggia helps this one out immensely, and, although not a fashion maven, I sure did dig Kate Jackson’s rust ensemble in her scene with Anderson (and color-coordinated car to boot).

Couple of items: CA Rule #1: The actor with the most pockmarked face will always be the villain’s main henchmen – he looks too evil to be good and not good-looking enough to be the main villain. And Inga (what else), the burly masseuse, comes straight out of James Bondville – Jill even teases Kelly with some Sapphic innuendo that one could interpret as 70s-era code. 

First reference to Bosley’s wife when he jokes about her giving him the wrong color shoes.

Client: Mr. Anderson

Plot Difficulty Level: 6 (but pretty dull)

Rating: **

Monday, May 9, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:5 “Target: Angels”

Airdate: 10/27/76

No assignment; instead the angels find themselves clients when an assassin attempts to kill Kelly, followed immediately by an attempt on Jill (after her coaching assignment of a girl’s basketball team), and then… Sabrina, marking the first time ever a hit man used bottled water delivery for explosives. A few red herrings here and there – such as a religious pendant left behind to make Kelly think it has something to do with the Catholic orphanage where she was raised – do not thwart the trio from discovering the real culprit: a disgruntled embezzler sent to prison by Charlie. In the end, the Angels go directly to their boss’s home as cover but wind up saving his life when his nemesis decides to take the Man out himself.

This one’s a bit of a head scratcher, made needlessly complicated by umpteen plot twists and turns that obfuscate rather than intrigue. And there’s a pervasive illogic that leaves the viewer ultimately unsatisfied. Why does the hit man keep going when he knows he’s missed his targets? His boss is the embezzler, but why is there a mercenary “agent” introduced, who ostensibly lands jobs for these guys, mostly coming from war torn nations in Africa? Needless clutter.

I’d have much preferred more time allotted to the Angels’ private lives, which we see for the duration of the episode’s first half. Kelly can’t commit to a baffled Tom Selleck due to her job and its current constraints. Jill’s coaching job (braless, of course) is interesting too, as is Sabrina’s pretty-cozy relationship with her ex-husband, a police detective who wants to take care of the hit-man matter himself (we also get a touching scene with her father). These may be recurring characters – I hope so, The success of any serialized drama hinges on the investment an audience has for its characters, and the more we know about them, and their respective histories, the better.

Not a bad story, but too much silly plot excess, a trend for this otherwise fun, high-spirited drama.

Trivia: In this episode Charlie’s address is 674 Vinewood Lane (but he changes it at the end for secrecy).

Client: None really, just the Angels themselves, unofficially.

Plot Difficulty Level: 7

Rating: **

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:4 “Angels in Chains”

Airdate: 10/20/76

A woman hires Charlie to locate her sister, Elizabeth, who disappeared from the Pike County prison where she had been incarcerated and presumably been granted parole. The Angels go undercover at the Big House by inviting arrest (easy to do in the corrupt Pike County), and begin to snoop around to discover any clues regarding the missing woman. As they discover that Elizabeth was ultimately shot and killed after an attempted escape (following her assault by a loathsome guard), they also reveal a secret brothel within which many of the comelier inmates were impressed for service, including a woman, Linda, who gets a job as Charlie’s secretary once the corrupt goings-on at the prison are revealed. 

Fabulous send-up of the Girls-Behind-Bars exploitation subgenre, abetted nicely with plenty of campy Angels cheesecake and equally campy supporting characters, from the portly redneck sheriff to the sketchy, smarmy guard. Every staple of the genre is covered too – the stripping down scene (the hands-down highlight), the cafeteria riot, the field labor, the lights-out at night, and, of course, the escape through the bayou in chains (isn’t this just outside of L.A.?). If you’ve seen Chained Heat or Cell Block Sisters, you’re already on the right wavelength, and the casting  of cult star Mary Woronov as the ornery and ambiguously Sapphic warden Maxine clearly indicates that the producers are in on the joke.  
The brothel subplot is part of this genre too, but I was expecting it to be linked to he main storyline of the missing girl; I thought for sure she’d be the key to he Angels’ discovery of this prostitution ring. But no matter – to complain about incongruity on this episode is like rebuking Big Bad Mama for lack of character development. Ya gets what ya pays for; enjoy and eat your popcorn.

In addition to Woronov, there are plenty of other guest stars here, some who would go on to even brighter lights. Kim Basinger is Linda, one of the
inmate/hookers, and even this early she’s playing the swollen-eyed girl in trouble, desperately pleading for succor to escape her dreadful condition. Prolific actress Christina Hart is another prisoner; classic TV fans would know her best as Roper’s niece on an early episode of Three’s Company. And Lauren Tewes is Christine, the client; the following year she would land her most famous role as Vicki, the cruise director on The Love Boat, another Aaron Spelling production. (The two shows would cross over in 1979 on a special ep of Angels.) 

The trivia section of imdb reveals that exterior shots of “the house” (bordello) are of the homestead on The Waltons. Random usage of stock footage or inside joke? You decide. 

Overall, great fun! Hoping the show lets its hair down like this again.

Client: Christine Hunter

Plot Difficulty Level (scale of 10): 3 (piece of cake)

Rating: ***1/2

Stretching the boundaries of 10PM permisiveness

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