Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:12 “Angels on Wheels”

Airdate: 12/22/76

At a womens’ roller derby, Karen, one of the contestants is shoved over the railing and then evidently assaulted by a mysterious spectator. Charlie later informs the Angels of her tragic death, and that this week’s client is her sister, Barbara, who wants answers. Undercover as Barbara, Jill infiltrates the world of roller derby, and discusses her potential with the derby owner, a used car salesman named Hugh Morris. Morris also owns a life insurance company - headed by a woman named Jessica Farmer – the same company covering his players.

"Does your chest come here often?"

Meanwhile Kelly sneaks into Karen’s apartment, and steals a baggage claim ticket before getting caught by the perpetually shirtless Red Loomis, the apartment manager. The ticket is the key to a suitcase, owned by Karen’s now deceased boyfriend; Kelly barely gets possession of it before her car explodes, and its contents of $150.000 and fake drivers’ licenses are the clues to solving the mystery. Farmer’s shady insurance coverage is a profiteering scheme, with nearly the entire aforementioned cast in on it, along with derby toughie Betty, who handles the dirty work.

Potentially thrilling idea – who doesn’t love the roller derby, which was hot back then? – is smothered by tedious overplotting; the above synopsis skims over about a half-dozen twists and pop-up characters. (The show credits no fewer than four writers; never a good sign.) Actually things don’t get really hairy until the halfway point, at which point you’d better get out your steno pad. I mean, the last thing you want to see, with the promise of Farrah on roller skates, is a lot of mumbo jumbo about insurance claims. 

Nevertheless, it’s always great to see Bewitched’s Dick Sergeant hamming it up, no matter the reason; here he plays the derby owner, Hugh Morris, the sole innocent guest starring character, and his quirky Southern drawl is just as disarming as the aw-shucks charm that made his performance as Samantha’s hubby so legendary. There’s also fun to be found in not one but two – count ‘em, two – perilous car situations involving Kelly, who in the last episode found herself in a self-destructive car incident while under hypnosis. She seems to be the go-to Angel where vehicular danger is required.

But still, how could they drop the ball like this? Roller derby? Farrah? A no-brainer! Well, at least we finally got to see the source of her opening credit footage. (I think this was the last show in the can before the series premiere aired, since all those opening credit shots are now accounted for.)

Client: Barbara Jason (Jill assumes her identity for her cover).

Plot difficulty level: 6 

Rating: **1/2

Charlie’s Angels 1:11 “The Séance”

Airdate: 12/15/76

A rich, elderly woman named Grace Rodeheaver receives a mysterious phone call, and blankly proceeds to open her own safe, remove her own expensive-looking jewels and drop them off for easy retrieval by an equally mysterious-looking van. Dumbfouded, she calls on the Angels to help find whodunit; they’re pretty sure of an inside job, while Jill notices a person of interest in the form of Madam Dorian, the spiritual advisor helping Miss Rodeheaver contact her dead husband. Kelly goes undercover as an oil heiress trying to contact her dearly departed father; she “interviews” with Dorian’s assistant, Terence, who hypnotizes her so she’ll channel her inner little girl at a séance (where Jill thinks she’s just acting). 

But now Terence uses her hypnosis to find out about the real Kelly Garrett, whose cover is now blown, and whose memories of being traumatized by her orphanage matron, Beevish, are just what Terence needs to coordinate an Angel-on-Angel murder. In Kelly’s eyes, Beevish is now Jill, narrowly escaping a car crash death before she snaps her driver out of her trance. Sabrina catches Rodeheaver in her hypnosis, and before long the she-ro trio nabs Terence, who kept his nefarious dealings a secret from the well-meaning (and now dead) Dorian, and his dastardly days of dream-state devilry are all over.

A taut, engaging thriller that utilizes its topic – hypnosis – with eerie efficacy. It follows the Angels formula admirably but also transcends it – by having Kelly truly hypnotized we also learn more about her dark backstory (I always applaud when series’ characters are explored beyond surface level). Extra points for placing the Angels in actual peril, or at least what seems like peril – normally the climactic action comes off as slightly more endangering than a cocktail party conversation. And the villain, as played by one of my favorite character actors, Rene Auberjonois, is credibly ruthless, and his knowledge of hypnotherapy adds another layer of danger to his already lethal arsenal. It all adds up to the best Angels episode thus far. My only quibble: the standard opening prologue gives away too much; it’d be far more intriguing to learn later on that Rodenheaver had robbed herself under hypnosis.

Learning experiences: we now know the source of Kelly trauma at the of-mentioned orphanage where she was raised: a mean ol’ matron named Beevish, who apparently has a thing against Raggedy Ann dolls.

Jaclyn Smith’s best acting so far, and boy does she ever know how to sport a lace nightie!

Client: Grace Rodenheaver (and, ironically, the culprit as well)

Plot difficulty level: 3

Rating: ****

Monday, May 30, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:10 “Consenting Adults”

Airdate: 12/8/76

Tony Hawk, eat your heart out!

A loner antiquarian named Clifton has gone missing – we know from the prologue that his shop had been burglarized and a strange frog trinket stolen, and some pretty angry thugs who seem to consider the relic of great importance want some answers, pronto. The Angels go rooting about to discover his involvement with Consenting Adults, a call girl agency, and follow the trail to Tracy, a lady of the night/art history major whose picture was found in Clifton’s room. Jill reveals her complicity in the robbery (via Cooley, the head of Consenting Adults), so they set the burglars up to rob Bosley, who had posed as a client. Everyone convenes on the warehouse where the loot, and frog, are stored; the “angry thugs” arrive to retrieve their prized amphibian, or, more precisely, the diamonds inside. It turns out these baddies are jewel smugglers, in cahoots with Clifton, whose antiques are the perfect vessels for their contraband. After a chase involving a skateboard and an ice cream truck, the evildoers get their just desserts. 

Despite a resolution that goes on far too long, this is a well-written mystery (which is essentially what Angels is, after all). It even has all the classic Agatha Christie/Hardy Boys elements: jewel smuggling, mysterious antiques, horse racing, and even a little spice in the form of prostitution thrown in for good measure. Interesting how they treat this last topic – Clifton’s mom is not at all surprised by or disapproving of his involvement with call girls, clearly representing a position the writers share as well. Gotta love the show – feminist to the core!

A few notable guests stars in this one. Tracy is played by Laurette Spang, most famous for her role of Casseopia on Battlestar Galactica (the entire series blogged here).  And Mumford, one of the burglars, is played by G.W. Bailey, best remembered as Rizzo, the wheeler-dealer garbage collector on M*A*S*H. The main villain here is Alan Manson, the sort of erudite yet oily heavy usually played by the likes of Robert Loggia. Fine scenery chewing, a true art form on this show.

Interesting chase scene, involving Farrah on skateboard and hired thug cashing in ice cream truck, closes the show, but annoying high-speed undercranking makes it look too much like a Benny Hill short. Could they tell back then, or didn’t they mind. It sure looks noticeable now, though.

Client: Maggie Cunningham, Clifton’s mom.

Plot difficulty level: 4

Rating: ***

Charlie’s Angels 1:9 “Bullseye”

Airdate: 12/1/76

A Women’s Army Corps recruit named Mary Jo is shot and killed, inexplicably, by her commanding officer, Sgt, Billings, unbeknownst to anyone else on the base. The camp’s general enlists Charlie’s services to find whodunit, and the girls go green when they go undercover – Sabrina as the base nurse and Kelly and Jill as the unlucky grunts. Via Mary Jo’s best friend, Sally, the Angels learn that the ill-fated soldier had been cozy with Billings before her untimely offing, Sabrina becomes cozy with the base doctor, Dr. Canlon, who also seems to have ties with Billings. Kelly’s snooping naturally arouses suspicion – her reprisal takes the form of a gas mask minus its filter during a drill. But the real clincher proves to be young female patient given dangerously expired medication, and apparently aware of it. The Angels discover that Billings and Canlon are involved in a scheme to sell bad medicine to hard-to-track Medivac units (Mary Jo was on to them), and they TCB in a climactic airplane/jeep chase on the base runway.

Odd caper involving the decidedly thrill-less topic of medication profiteering is just an excuse to allow the Angels to play G.I. Jane for an hour, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Definitely a hoot to see CHiP’s star Robert Pine play good guy/bad guy with surprising credibility, and it offers up yet another opportunity to see Sabrina involved in a quasi-relationship with a leading man (she’s getting all the breaks in this regard). It it got me thinking about another reason I like this show – it doesn’t make men look like s**t. Yes, they can be bad guys, but they’re also multi-dimensional humans the Angels work with, interact with and are very often nice to. It’s the reason they solve these crimes, in the fictional universe, and why they did so well with male viewers in the real one. The same can't necessarily be said for its umpteen “girl-power” imitators and knock-offs.  

Seems to be a trend for the show, though, to start off with a murder, usually of a young female, often a whistleblower. Let’s see some greater equality there, writers.

…And give ‘em credit for attempting to stage a reasonably dramatic climax in which the Angels, somehow, manage to chase down an airplane with a jeep and get it to crash into a shed and explode. Even Schwarzenneger would have trouble with that one!

Pre-Holocaust Sensitivity alert: Kelly jokes that Sgt. Billings, who knows his way around a gas mask, “must’ve done his basic training at Auschwitz.

Oh, and the Angels, pretty sore for having to join the army on this mission, manage to give their boss a pretty good comeuppance at the end.

Client: General Green

Plot difficulty level: 3

Rating: ***

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: **

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