Why The A-Team matter.

This afternoon I’ve been working, except for the bits when I’ve been watching an episode of The A-Team. I have long assumed that The A-Team was the reason the television was invented. We often rush to praise John Logie Baird for his sterling work in creating the first electronic device capable of illuminating and rotting the brain simultaneously but in fact he should also be singled out for realising that one day the fruits of his labour would finally be able to transmit such a glorious bag of delights that is The A-Team. There are a few examples of ‘the perfect TV programme’ but none seem to come quite so close. Of course it was best enjoyed as a child: wide eyed and bouncing with the thrill of punch ups and cartoon level violence, but if I’m honest it’s still just as good today as it was back then. For the rest of this post please appreciate that like all good things The A-Team came to a sad end – the first four series were golden but series five was, well, shit.

I thought I could have it on in the background but it seems this is impossible. If The A-Team is on you have to watch it or you’ll miss all the funny bits. And I mean that seriously. There is a reason why the whole lot of them are being shown on Comedy Central: they are funny. Cheeky. Silly. Funny. Actually funny. Intentionally funny. So funny in fact that they are probably the funniest things on Comedy Central at the moment (though when in competition with the likes of Joe Lycett even footage of an explosion at an amputee ward would come out on top). In a time when wellbeing is at low ebb it is blasts of televisual history like this that provide a genuine tonic. I cannot recommend it enough.

It just so happens that this particular episode is the ideal example of the standard A-Team episode plot and all the things that you could reasonably expect for less than an hour of your time in their company. To start with, unless you live under a rock I trust you will be prepared to concede that it has the best opening sequence and theme tune of all time so we’ll just skip that and move on. This episode is supposed to be set in South Africa, where ‘Hannibal’ Smith, Face, Murdoch, B.A Baracus and token female Amy have been hired on some flimsy excuse to do with a diamond mine but which seems to have a lot more to do with dynamite if you ask me. It’s fine for The A-Team to go to South Africa because locations in South Africa can be easily replicated somewhere within an hours drive of Los Angeles; indeed all A-Team plots rely on being set either somewhere that looks exactly like Los Angeles, somewhere within an hours drive of Los Angeles or somewhere on a film set. in Los Angeles. Looking back I now admit that the jungles of Borneo in an A-Team episode do not look quite like those we see on Attenborough’s Planet Earth. I suppose it was a budget thing and this is why The A-Team were never hired to tackle climate change in Antarctica or to break up a gang feud in Salford.

Beyond the location all the usual is firmly in place. Hannibal appears in some kind of daft disguise, because as we know his merry bunch are wanted at all times by the authorities for “crimes they didn’t commit”. Those coming for help are usually represented by some implausibly attractive, aspiring Hollywood starlet who you might have ended up seeing in and episode of ‘Airwolf’ the next year and then ended up never seeing again. It is a given that the character we know as ‘Face’ (who is also implausibly good looking, despite myself, and who also seems to carry none of the emotional or physical baggage normally hauled around by veterans of the Vietnam War, but instead looks like he’s about to compere a wet t-shirt competition on a cruise ship) will try and get into the knickers of whoever the weekly ‘eye candy’ may just be, though he never seems bothered to try it on with Amy (who isn’t really one of the ‘Team’ but rather an intrepid reporter who helps them out to further her career/because she’s at a loose end, and also to be the token regular woman in the same way that B.A Baracus is the token regular black person.

Once the A-Team have established some kind of ‘intel’ on their adversaries (during which Hannibal will chomp his way through several cheap looking cigars – George Peppard, who played the role, smoked three packets of fags a day for decades, so his death from lung cancer/pneumonia at the age of 65 must have come as a real shock to his family and friends) there will be the first set piece whereby The A-Team will punch a similar sized group of gentlemen in the face rather a lot and throw them through windows etc. The programme is also famed for its ferocious gunfights, with all sorts of semi-automatic weapons being flashed around, and endless other pyrotechnics, yet no one is ever slightly injured; this is seen by some critics as a flaw, but I see it as a wonderful virtue, though still I can’t work out quite why. Occasionally someone will drop some excerpt from a moral tick list to make sure there is a hint of education being beamed out to all those kids watching, but since this is often followed minutes later by a car being overturned by a primed hand grenade much is lost in the carnage.

Tossed into the mix Murdoch will have a few moments to demonstrate just how barking mad he is, and in fairness he does a lot of a better job than some serious actors I won’t care to mention. He will be called a ‘crazy fool’ by B.A at least twice and then will also get involved with an incident in a helicopter (no TV programme features helicopters with quite such gratuitous pleasure as The A-Team, often performing manoeuvres which simply wouldn’t be allowed today due to health and safety restrictions – why anyone would agree to cling onto the landing gear of a helicopter as it flies into the distance is a substantial mystery to me). As the episode reaches a climax The A-Team will use a series of rusty items to create some kind of weapon or vehicle in order to aid their inevitable victory. This scene will play out like some peculiar DIY workshop porn featurette and famously (from my memory anyway) once produced a contraption that fired low velocity cabbages at their foes. Because who could ever get up once they’d been hit by, er, a cabbage?

Eventually The A-Team win. The A-Team always win, even if you stupidly get convinced they might just lose. The ‘dirtbags’ or ‘slimeballs’ they have ruthlessly (and wittily) administered justice to will be dispatched off elsewhere before Hannibal can chomp once more on that cigar and set up some freeze frame to perfectly complement that perfect, rousing, inspirational theme tune. And as the show finishes we are treated to a montage of all the best bits – the charming grin, the crazy fool, the glaring token black man, the car spinning through the air in slow motion, the crap explosion and the harmless fisticuffs that usually rounded off my Friday nights before I went to brush my teeth and get ready for bed. Of course I could never sleep because I had just watched the best 50ish minutes on TV that any generation has every been allowed. What amazing luck: growing up with The A-Team. I can highly recommend it, and if you didn’t then all I can say is well boohoo you (but try Comedy Central anyway, and give yourself a bump). It is exactly what you need, and given all our current problems I can’t think of a better time, provided no one else can help (and if you can find them) to hire……..The A-Team.

G B Hewitt. 05.02.2021

All errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation etc are entirely intentional.

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