There’s underprivileged kids making ashtrays, hillbilly sheriffs, party cake, Ken Norton… what more could you want?

Comedy writers (or those who write A-Team recaps) dread days like today, because there’s really nothing funny about earthquakes, and there’s especially nothing funny about earthquakes in impoverished countries, and it would worry me if anyone had heard any of the stories coming out of Haiti today and then thought, “Hey, I wonder what’s happening with that clown who’s watching that Mr. T program.” I thought maybe if I donated some money I’d feel less guilty, and I’d seen somewhere that if you texted the message “YELE” to a certain number I’d donate five bucks toward earthquake relief. Unfortunately, I accidentally sexted to that number, so instead of making a donation I merely sent a suggestive picture of myself to Wyclef Jean. Oops.

I brooded upon this for most of the evening, which made my impulsive guesses during “Jeopardy” more morbid than usual. “Answer: prank phone callers want to know if your refrigerator is doing this.” “What is ‘bleeding profusely at the hands of people you thought you could trust’?!?” But then something important happened: the missus turned on that documentary about the Young At Heart singing group, the one where the singers are all in their 80’s and sing rock music. Here’s a group that had two of their members pass away a week before their big concert, and yet every one of them wanted to go on with the show. The documentarian pressed them; aren’t you even a little reluctant to go on without your friends? No, they said; we may be a little sad, but it feels right to go on with the concert. And it occurred to me that if an eighty-something man can say goodbye to two of his friends and still strut his way onstage to sing “Stayin’ Alive,” then I can carry on writing mediocre recaps of a twenty year old television show. After all, this isn’t “My Year With the A-Team Where Nothing Bad Happens,” though I wouldn’t say no if it was. Come to think of it, I also wouldn’t say no if it was “My Year With the A-Team featuring George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars,” but that’s probably a little off-topic.

Pros and Cons

Wild Guess Preview: The A-Team considers folding up the commando tent when approached by a representative of the Fatburger company. They’re pursuing an aggressive expansion strategy up the west coast, and they want Hannibal to open a drive-thru in Modesto. But an evil burger heiress played by guest star Clara “Where’s The Beef?” Peller wants her piece of the pie – er, beef, er, whatever already, leading to a flame-broiled showdown that means food, folks and firepower.

Man, I’m good.

The Recap: I’m not sure how they can top last week’s episode, with John Saxon as an evil cult leader, but a jailhouse fight club with former heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton is a pretty good try!

This is the city. Strikersville, Florida. It’s a quiet town, known for having the largest concentration of pro bowling champions in the country. Actually it’s just an old prison town, filled with dudes who dress like Roscoe P. Coltrane and bet on underground prison fights.

Good old boys enjoy an underground prison fight
The first rule of Strikersville Prison fight club: Don’t talk about the dudes in the ridiculous outfits waving money in the air at Strikersville Prison fight club.

The prisoners are chained at the wrist and forced to fight to the death. There’s a Charles Bronson looking dude named Jase, and he wins the fight but refuses to kill his downed opponent, so the evil prison warden, Mr. Beale, pulls out his gun and does the job himself – off-camera, of course, because this show about commandos who solve problems with machine guns and homemade flamethrowers is FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT. Apparently they told Jase that if he won the fight he’d get a chance to “escape,” with a one hour head start. But since Mr. Beale is evil, one hour turns into about six seconds, and he makes all the fight club dudes into deputies and sends them out after him.

Joey and B.A. make some ashtrays
Do you want to make more ashtrays for Mr. T? Sure, we all do.

Meanwhile, B.A. is leading arts and crafts hour at the local community center. No, I’m not kidding, he’s teaching a kid named Joey how to make ashtrays. Joey is Jase’s younger brother by about 55 years, and he sneaks away from Mr. T’s ashtray sweatshop to meet up with big bro. B.A. follows and there’s a happy reunion, except that the Strikersville posse followed Joey to the rendezvous site and they recapture Jase pretty easily. This bums B.A. out, because Jase was one of his friends from the old neighborhood: “He was the baddest cat around… ’til I showed up.” All B.A. and Joey can do is watch – actually, I wish that’s all they’d do, as Joey keeps whining “They’ll kill him!” B.A. decides to round up the A-Team to help. His first visit is to Hannibal, who is at a Hollywood hotspot dressed as a sleazy agent, trying to get a role in an upcoming movie, “Sinbad Goes to Mars.”

Did he say what I think he just said?

Come on, you’d prefer a drippy Brian De Palma drama to this? I see Sinbad leading a group of uptight astronauts concerned with petty stuff like reentry, g-forces and a limited food supply to lighten up and have more fun. They could program the mission computer to say hilarious things like “mellow out, dude” and many NASA hackles could be raised when Sinbad attempts to use the Opportunity rover as a skateboard. But just as cinematic history is about to be made, B.A. pulls Hannibal out of the power lunch and bullies everybody into helping Joey and Jase. The van peels out and they head to the Los Angeles Public Library.

Now keep in mind that Jase broke out of a prison in Florida. On foot. But here he is in L.A., which apparently also allows drunken posses from the other side of the country to exercise police powers. You know how at the end of each episode they show that Stephen J. Cannell bit where he throws the script page up in the air? I think that was the page that explained all this. Anyway, Hannibal cooks up a two-part plan: Murdock, Hannibal and B.A. will get arrested so as to infiltrate the prison and save Jase, while Face will pose as Dr. Dwight Pepper, a prominent voice for prison reform, so as to infiltrate the prison and save Jase. Triple A will be on hand as herself, “covering” Dr. Pepper in her capacity as a journalist.

Hannibal, Murdock and B.A. want to be cuffed.
Mr. T: Portrait of a Fake Alcoholic Who Drives Around With Two Other Fake-Drunk Commandos

So they drive to Florida, where Hannibal, B.A. and Murdock pretend they’re sauced and drive through the wall of the police station. There’s really no need for a trial, so they all get stuck in Strikersville Prison, and time keeps draggin’ on. Actually, Hannibal has another plan to avoid getting split up: Hannibal pretends B.A. is mute and deaf, and that he’s B.A.’s very fey interpreter, a hairstylist by training. The warden immediately books B.A. for a fight with “Jackhammer Jackson,” and promises that if he wins he’ll charge him with assault. What a racket! Jackhammer is Ken Norton, of course, and they have a nice little battle before B.A. takes the champ down. The warden is thrilled and books B.A. in a death match for Saturday.

Ken Norton fights Mr. T
The Jawbreaker prepares to battle Clubber Lang, while fey George Peppard looks on. You’re jealous I thought of this project, aren’t you.

The rest of the team is causing problems elsewhere. Murdock is, naturally, in the psych ward and spends his time shouting “I WANT SOME TRASH BAGS” over and over, which is hilarious. Face/Dr. Pepper and Triple A show up, and Face says he’s been sent by the US Senate to clean the prison up (not literally) – unless, of course, he feels like the warden is using some of his ideas. Like starting a prison beauty salon, for example. The warden, intimidated, notes that there’s a new prisoner with hairstyling experience! They start unloading hair equipment on Hannibal and B.A., and Hannibal is a hoot as he daintily rejects most of it as substandard. The hair dryers, for example, “have no temperature control.” The warden says whatever. Face and Triple A inspect the mental ward and its star occupant, who WANTS A TRASH BAG even still. Hannibal and B.A. meet up with Jase in the training dungeon, where the warden announces B.A. will fight Jase in the evening’s main event. They head off to the arena; Hannibal, left alone in the training dungeon with one deputy, prances around saying “I hate violence” but then decks the deputy and steals his keys.

Hannibal and Murdock Take To The Skies in Their Beautiful Balloons
The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon/We’ll meet up with B.A. and Face in my beautiful balloon

Now I’m only on episode four of this show, but I’m betting this goes down as one of Hannibal’s all-time best plans. Murdock and Hannibal go “over the wall” of the prison by inflating Murdock’s beloved trash bags with hot air from the hair dryers Face scammed from the warden. Hannibal: “Murdock, how did I let you talk me into this?” Murdock: “I don’t know, I have intermittent memory loss!” Face picks them up and they head over to the fight club, just as Jace and B.A. start to fight. They CRASH through the wall of the club, but this time they’re the ones taking dudes into custody! B.A. smacks the warden and says “That’s for a little boy named Joey.” Yeah! “You all are gonna be on the 10 o’clock news,” says Hannibal. “Tough break… but that’s showbiz!” Oh hell yeah! The tapes are delivered to the local TV station and a family-style portion of Strikersville justice is served.

The A-Team has a party?!?
If you have cake, if no one else can cater, and if you can find them, maybe you can party with… The A-Team.

The team and Jase cross through the Florida/California wormhole to return to L.A., where Jase’s family throws a party for the A-Team. Little Joey says he’s so grateful to have Jase back he’ll do anything for B.A. What, then, does B.A. wish? “Tomorrow you’re gonna learn to make ashtrays.” Wow.

This was a tremendously fun episode. We get to see a truly legendary plan from Hannibal, the Dr. Pepper scam was the perfect vehicle for Dirk Benedict to fully own the role of Face, Murdock’s bit with the Rorschach test was inspired, and B.A. set a new speed record in the van, “coast to coast in 38 hours.” There’s underprivileged kids, hillbilly sheriffs, party cake, Ken Norton… what more could you want? Aside from ninety-plus more episodes of The A-Team, not too terribly much.

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