“If only ‘Family Ties’ had thought to equip the Keatons with plastic explosives instead of Scott ‘Hey, Mallo-ry!’ Valentine.”

At last, we begin! This is a moment that’s been in the making ever since I took part in the “Blog For A Year” contest about four or five years back. A group of people were offering some ungodly sum of money to the content winner so they could blog professionally. I promised the voting public that if I won I would use their money wisely and liveblog every episode of The A-Team over the course of a year. I didn’t win the money; actually nobody did, as there were some pretty serious problems with the contest. For one thing, a determined blogger managed to pull about 900,000 votes ahead of everyone else on day one, making the outcome pretty darned close to preordained, and for another, there wasn’t any ungodly sum of money. They were hoping the participants would each put up a few bucks, and since pretty much everyone was out of the running from the beginning, no one felt like donating toward a prize fund that was almost certainly going to the author of Goths Who Macrame, or whatever the leading blog was called. I did manage to pull into a respectable 28th place before all was said and done, but that wasn’t enough to bring this project to fruition.

Then 2009 happened, and among its long litany of tragic events was that Nora Ephron got to make another movie, this one about a plucky blogger who learns about life, love and the art of French cooking by trying every recipe in Julia Child’s most famous book. This gave me hope, and not just because Meg Ryan wasn’t in it. Why, I reasoned, should I spend my days trying to get rich in moneyless blog contests when Julie Powell is making loads of cash standing on the shoulders of giants? (And I do mean giants – Julia Child was officially billed at 6’2, but she was much, much taller, judging from the newsreel footage where she steps on the Eiffel Tower after a plate of Beef Bourguignon goes awry.)

Well, Julie Powell had her giant, and I have mine. To me, Mr. T is more than just the world’s premier fool-pitier. He taught me many things in my formative years, like how to teach my gymnastics team to solve mysteries, or how to recoup when caught in an absoludicrous situation. So when I went looking for my counterpart in a project that would lead me to wealth, fame and a Nora Ephron-directed biopic of our lives, T was really the only choice. (I briefly considered Lyman Ward, the guy who plays Ferris Bueller’s dad, but it wasn’t Lyman Ward who taught me to treat my mother right.)

So at long last, we begin My Year With The A-Team. Oh, also, this project is not related to The A-Team Sexual Harassment Defense Investigators. I’m not sure how I would liveblog a “tough child custody case” anyway.

Finally, I offer this deal: I will have Julie Powell over for dinner and make her something from the Julia Child book if she will act out scenes from this show after the meal.

Mexican Slayride, Part 1

Wild Guess Preview: (Before viewing and recapping each episode, I will attempt to guess what the episode is about from the title.) In the pilot episode, the A-Team joins forces in the Los Angeles underground. Their first mission: to help the residents of East L.A. find and develop new standup comedy talent so whitey doesn’t constantly associate their neighborhood with Paul Rodriguez.

The Recap: The opening montage sets up the whole premise: these once-honored “crack commandos,” four dudes who were definitely bad enough to rescue the president from ninjas, are now wanted men who have the death sentence on twelve systems, or whatever, and they’re forced to live on their wits, and on massive amounts of ordnance. These parameters, while strict, do at least guarantee we’re in for action; there’s little chance of an episode where a somber, soul-searching Murdock comes face to face with a tragedy from his past. If only “Family Ties” had thought to equip the Keatons with plastic explosives instead of Scott “Hey, Mallo-ry!” Valentine.

Interesting note: there is no Dirk Benedict in this pilot! Face is instead played by Smilin’ Tim Dunigan. Allegedly the network executives insisted on having a dude who was fresh out of middle school in the 70’s play a tough Vietnam War commando. Dirk takes the reins after the pilot, which works out for everybody because Smilin’ Tim goes on to star in “Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future” with Sven-Ole Thorson of “Abraxas” fame, and you just can’t beat a gig like that.

Tim Dunigan
Faceman? Or humanity’s last hope against Lord Dread?

So we start off in San Rio Blanco, a normally quiet Mexican town that’s under siege by a a Tommy Chong-looking dude and his posse of Jeeps. These are hard and dangerous men – not just anybody could break through the town’s elaborate “stray donkeys and unsupervised laundry line” defense system – and they demand that Al Massey show himself or they’ll blow up the town. Al Massey is an old white dude dressed like a reporter from the 40’s; he and some young guy (named Al Jazeera, I think) try to hide their big story from the Tommy Chong dude, but they corner him pretty quickly and that’s the last we see of them for a while.

Ron Palillo, ace Sweathog, and Triple A
Ooh! Ooh! Mister Kot-ter! Mister Kot-ter!

Back in the States, hard-boiled reporter Amy “Triple A” Allen is chewing out her boss while dressed as a 1840’s pioneer. She wants to go look for Al Massey, but the boss says that’s a waste of her time and then suspends her for two weeks, a logical way to get your charges to be more time-efficient. She walks back into the newsroom… to meet HORSHACK? Yes, Ron Palillo is the star power that boosts the A-Team pilot! He’s been doing some research on a mythical commando team – the crime they didn’t commit was robbing the Hanoi Hilton right after the war ended, which was done under orders for a colonel who then got blown up or something. Triple A asks for details, so Horshack brings in Juan Epstein, “Boom-Boom” Washington and Vinnie Barbarino to reenact the A-Team’s latest exploits. He says Hannibal is “unorthodox,” B.A. “likes to slug officers” and Face is “a con man.” Triple A wonders where they are now…

Ah, they’re on a movie set! Hannibal is the star of “The Aquamaniac,” requiring him to dress like a lizard. (I’m actually surprised Peter Jackson hasn’t tried to remake this.) Face and B.A. speed to the set because the diabolical Colonel Lynch is on their trail and they have to hit the road. Hannibal is hoping to do one last take of his big underwater scene, but Lynch’s minions surround the movie set and the team has no choice but to speed away in a vintage convertible. After a short chase scene through some movie sets (“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” ripped this bit off) Hannibal – who is still dressed like “The Aquamaniac” – gets out of the car and dares Colonel Lynch to drive across a bridge. A catchphrase is born when B.A. notes that Hannibal’s strategy of not getting away is proof that he “loves the jazz.” Hannibal’s ruse ends with Lynch stuck in a moat full of rancid water and Hannibal reminding the team that an escape isn’t an escape unless it’s done “with style.”

Murdock shaves his head
That crazy fool Murdock shaving his head again.

You’ll note that we’ve only heard from three team members thus far. Despite B.A.’s strenuous objections, Hannibal calls on Murdock at the VA mental hospital to tip him off about Lynch. Triple A, however, has already found Murdock; she wants the team to go to Mexico and find her drunk reporter friend. Murdock tells Triple A how to find Hannibal, but she has to take off because Col. Lynch is there. He tries to grill Murdock but old Howlin’ Mad does a whole routine about how he can’t step on the floor because of the “ammonia… it eats right through your shoes!” This convinces Lynch that Murdock not only isn’t working with the A-Team but is completely bonkers. (I hope someone has called Dwight Schultz’s podcast and just said “ammonia” over and over.) Triple A, following Murdock’s instructions, appears in an alley as instructed and gives twenty bucks to a guy on the street, who is actually Hannibal, and gets instructions from “Mr. Lee,” a Chinese dry cleaner, who is also actually Hannibal. Mr. Lee says she can hire the A-Team if she brings them a few things, namely a picture of Al Massey and all the money in the world.

Face, meanwhile, is visiting a 300 year old Irish man who has a radio, which is key, because Hannibal is posing as a caller on a self-help radio show and that’s the only way he can tell Face what their mission is. B.A. is also listening to the show while helping some kids stay off the streets and he, too, realizes they’re about to go to Mexico; he admonishes the kids not to steal hubcaps while he’s away, but they steal Colonel Lynch’s hubcaps and I don’t think he’s gonna be upset about that. Face busts Murdock out of the mental ward and together they steal a Gulfstream jet from some well-dressed flight attendant. Hannibal and B.A. pick up Triple A in a parking garage and meet the team at the airport.

“Airport?” Yes, B.A. hates the airport because he hates to fly, and he hates Murdock, so Hannibal takes the liberty of drugging him and carrying him into the plane. Seeing all four team members together, Hannibal says “I love it when a plan comes together” for the first time. Lynch’s people are speeding toward the airport, but they’re too late, as the plane takes off and Murdock yells with delight.

Inside the Gulfstream, Triple A is confused why Hannibal and Face are putting restraints around the unconscious B.A. “We’re tying him up,” Hannibal says, “so he won’t kill us if he comes to.” Triple A (who is, by the way, 100 grand short on the money she promised) wonders why they don’t all just hide out in Switzerland. Hannibal’s explanation – “We’re not Swiss” – is simple enough; he decides $25K is enough and everything is to be continued IN MEXICO!!!

Now obviously this is only part one of the pilot, so there’s more to come, but this episode sort of overpromises and underdelivers; the most action-packed moment is Hannibal waving to a tour bus. Aside from the bumbling, over-the-top Colonel Lynch, who’s a hair away from Snidely Whiplash territory in every scene, all the characters are well-defined from the start, even Face. Smilin’ Tim grew on me pretty quickly; I was kind of hoping they’d find a way to work him back into the series later on, sort of like how “Star Trek” had the guy who used to lead the Enterprise before Captain Kirk show up later on. Murdock’s crazy scene with Col. Lynch is where things really start to get fun, though Hannibal’s lizard costume is a treat as well. Add in a couple trillion rounds of gunfire and I’m sure the next 96 episodes will be a rollicking good time!

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 2 – Mexican Slayride, Part 2