“A commando raid for fruit â€“ that’s why I love this show.â€
You may notice that this recap is coming out a bit late; that’s due to the Violent Illness or Injury moment that comes up about six weeks into any project I do. These moments seem to come on just when I’ve gotten into a good routine, like my body is trying to undercut my every attempt at self-improvement. Take my adventures in treadmilling a few years back: after doing a fairly small, slow routine on the treadmill maybe twice a week for a month, my left ankle tendered its resignation and offered wrenching pain as its substitute. This time around it’s a pretty intense fever and cold, and while I’m actually rebounding pretty well, I did have to cancel a scheduled appearance on The Larry King Show to talk about this project. Larry kindly offered to reschedule, though on the air he confused me with Dirk Benedict and told the audience that â€œwe’ll have the Faceman on here soon to tell us about working with George Peppard, who played ‘Spartacus Jones.’â€
Getting deathly ill for a couple weeks tends to dampen my enthusiasm for whatever goofy thing I was doing before, so I’m treating this as a moment of truth: will I stand, or will I fall? Well, if you’re reading this recap, then maybe I broke the cycle of illness = failure and managed to carry on through the adversity. More likely I hired Julie Powell to finish off the year for me. She’ll go on Larry King, and I’ll deal with the important job of building the first independent cross-referenced database for â€œ48 Hours Mystery,â€ at least until I catch meningitis.
West Coast Turnaround
Wild Guess Preview: Urban renewal has never been wackier! In this unusually slapstick episode, B.A. and the A-Team help yet another group of underprivileged kids fix up their youth center before the town can condemn it to make way for a rapidly-expanding clown college. This light, almost flimsy plot is merely setup for a twenty-minute pie fight. Special guest: the ghost of Curly Howard.
“I fought off a herd of giant mutant rabbits, I can damn sure handle the A-Team”
The Recap: This is the good life – lush, green pastures, the soft, gentle rush of a country stream, the simple pleasures of a hard day’s work… did I accidentally put on Little House on the Prairie? No, the A-Team’s leaving the urban jungle behind for a day trip to farm country, and they’re going with Stuart Whitman, of â€œNight of the Lepusâ€ fame! Stuart is playing Chuck Easterman, a big time evil agricultural dude who’s leading his thugs against some small-time farmer and Vietnam vet named Joe Penhall and his whiny daughter Ellen. Several points here: one, if he’s really a down on his luck farmer, he should really hire Willie Nelson instead. Also, it would be funny if his farm was being harassed by Chuck Klosterman instead – â€œforget farming, just listen to this Billy Joel album!â€ The Easterman thugs pile into some light blue pickup trucks and run Penhall’s delivery truck off the road. Light blue seems to be the pastel color of choice for A-Team villains; maybe Stephen J. Cannell didn’t think mauve or seafoam green would be suitably evil.
Hannibal only does this commando gig until he can get his wishbone necklace art off the ground.
Anyway, Joe is in the hospital, and Triple A is visiting him. He explains that Easterman wants to blockade his produce until it goes bad, and then buy up his land at a bargain price. Hannibal comes in dressed as a hippie male nurse, and offers to break the Easterman blockade for money. Penhall says fine, he’ll give 30% of the profits, and by the way you have two days, and the only trucking company that agreed to take my stuff got bought off by Easterman and backed out. Hannibal says he’ll find a way to encourage the trucker to help.
â€œWe’re in the watermelon business,â€ says a cheery Hannibal to Triple A, and they round up the rest of the team. They’re looking after Murdock’s invisible dog Billy, despite B.A.’s vocal objections. Step one of Hannibal’s plan is to build a fake car for the California Highway Patrol â€“ cool, they’re going to be on â€œChipsâ€! Hannibal and Face dress in their cop costumes, and B.A. inexplicably says â€œMurdock is throwing sweet rolls on the floor,â€ which is about the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. (He’s actually throwing treats to Billy the dog.) They pull over the trucker guys for being â€œoverloadedâ€ (or, at least, he’s overloaded on the scale B.A. tampered with) and hijack the trucks. Hannibal is happy; â€œphase one of Operation Watermelonâ€ is complete.
I’m gonna buy me an invisible dog… cause I need a friend now…
The team’s great big trucking convoy rocks through the night toward the Penhall farm, driving straight through one of Easterman’s roadblocks along the way. Triple A is already at the farm, listening to the whiny daughter Ellen complain some more. Easterman drives up and Hannibal draws up plans for a fight, but everyone’s nervous all of a sudden â€“ as B.A. tells Hannibal, â€œWhen you’re on the jazz, you’re dangerous.â€ After some fine repartee between Hannibal and Easterman, the team beats up the thugs and sends them back to their roadblocks. Hannibal is knocked silly during the fight, but he revives quickly enough to note â€œmmyluvmwhenumplancomestumgether.â€
BATTLE LE CAR: the greatest invention of the 1980’s
Unfortunately it looks like Easterman’s plans are coming together better than Hannibal’s; the thugs have blocked off every route out of the Penhall farm, which means they’re all stuck listening to the daughter whine until the already-questionable watermelons finally rot out and the farm goes under. Hannibal says they’re in the midst of a â€œclassic Western.â€ Omelet? – no, movie; they’re blocked in and they’ll have to blast through the blockade. â€œWe’ll need something fast,â€ Hannibal says, and everyone turns toward Triple A’s new Le Car. B.A.’s going to outfit it with some armor plating and turn into BATTLE LE CAR, promising to return it â€œgood as new.â€ It’s montage time as watermelons are loaded, armor plating is welded onto a Le Car and Stuart Whitman promises no one will get through his blockade.
So the watermelon truck and BATTLE LE CAR head down the highway. Easterman sees them coming and asks the guys on the other highway to come help them, even though the A-Team is like ten feet away from him. The thugs aim with their rifles â€“ they’re not quite as ugly as the hillbillies in last week’s show, but they’re still pretty odd looking. Hannibal blasts through the blockade and now it morphs into a chase scene. Face, riding in BATTLE LE CAR with Murdock, uses skills from the Bugs Bunny School of Commando Tactics by lighting a hay bale on fire (for smokescreen purposes) and dropping nails on the road. This temporarily stops Easterman’s truck, but Face and Murdock totally roll BATTLE LE CAR into a ditch in the process, and they’re taken away at gunpoint. So is Hannibal, who got run off the road in his watermelon truck. Easterman’s thugs want to pull all the watermelons out and burn them, but the melons aren’t in Hannibal’s truck â€“ the whole thing was a ruse! B.A.’s taking the rest of the crop in the other truck in the other direction, on the road where Easterman pulled the roadblock. A flummoxed Easterman tells his trucks to chase the other truck, and also somebody should â€œget the chopper.â€ By the way, there’s a lot of â€œConvoyâ€-style A-Team music going on in this episode, music that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. When you hear political pundits talk about how Hollywood it out of touch with â€œthe real America,â€ they’re talking about this music.
The thugs take Hannibal, Face and Murdock to…. somewhere, hell if I know, and there are horses nearby. After some coaxing by Face, Murdock starts doing a weird sort of horse routine, neighing and freaking out; the real horses start doing the same, and Face bridles Murdock. Hannibal notices there’s gas leaking out of BATTLE LE CAR. He takes the thug’s cigarette and tosses it toward BATTLE LE CAR which causes BATTLE LE CAR to blow up. Face and Murdock steal the chopper, while Hannibal saves the last few watermelons. A commando raid for fruit â€“ that’s why I love this show.
Seedless, juicy… and DEADLY
Back on the road, the Easterman dudes finally catch up with B.A.; cue whiny Ellen to say she knew this plan wasn’t going to work right. Triple A rolls her eyes and says â€œHannibal’s plans don’t work right… they just work.â€ Ok then. B.A. fends most of the trucks off himself, but the chopper shows up in time to finish off Easterman himself, ironically by dropping watermelons through his windshield. â€œHe wanted watermelons, I gave him a couple!â€ laughs Hannibal. DAMN RIGHT.
We’re back at the farm, where Face notes they made a lot less money on the watermelons than expected and that the team is now only getting 20 percent of the profits. Also, Triple A wants to know where her car is. Hannibal tries to beg off, but she’s insistent that something happened to it. B.A. pulls up in the van, and he’s towing what’s left of the vehicle – actually, didn’t all Le Cars end up junked right after purchase anyway? Triple A threatens Face, since it was his idea, and so she wants the money to fix the car from his cut of the watermelon dough. Don’t worry, says Murdock, he’ll chip in some of the money too â€“ only just then he gets pulled away by Billy’s leash! Hilarity ensues, even though the mission was basically a failure in that they beat the blockade only to deliver overripe melons worth next to nothing and destroyed Triple A’s new car, which was probably worth more than the melons. I would hate to be the A-Team’s accountant.
That said, this episode was no overripe melon â€“ it is, to use a ridiculous metaphor, the BATTLE LE CAR of prime time television. The only part I didn’t like was the whiny daughter â€“ after about five seconds of her yapping I wanted to hire the A-Team to shut her up â€“ but everything else was on the extremely entertaining side. And I think it has medicinal value, too â€“ my fever’s gone and my cold is starting to break! Back to cashing royalty checks, Julie Powell; this project is back on track.