The A-Team regroups after a tight getaway by watching Woody Woodpecker at a motel. Seriously.

Tonight’s “Jeopardy!” rerun included a category called something like “TV opening words,” which made me immediately think of the show behind our little project. And sure enough, the third answer was “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…” The contestants skewed somewhat older, so I was afraid they might say something like “Barnaby Jones,” but they got it on the first try. Another category was “I Married A Beatle,” where they gave you the spouse and you named the Beatle who married her. I don’t expect that recapping all the original A-Team episodes is going to turn the Fugitive Four into recognizable icons on par with the Beatles, but perhaps we can create a little ripple in the pond of cultural literacy. Bit by bit, we can build up appreciation for the series and its characters, and then I can look on smiling while my grandkids attend Hannibal Smith Middle School, or something like that. Their team name can be the Crazy Fools!

The Rabbit Who Ate Las Vegas

Wild Guess Preview: After a couple of difficult missions, including the one where B.A. got shot and had to get a blood transfusion from Murdock, the A-Team decides to take some R&R at a Montana hunting lodge. They run into none other than Bugs Bunny, and it’s a matchup for the ages: Bugs’s tricks (“Wabbit Season!” “A-Team Season!”) vs. Hannibal’s plans, at least until Face decides the best way to settle things is through a game of Texas Hold ‘Em: one round, winner take all. Also, Murdock dresses like a lady bunny to try to romance Bugs.

The Recap: The familiar sound of waka-jawaka lets us know we’re going to Vegas! Hannibal is disguised as a bus driver, and he picks up two women who want to hire the A-Team to find their friend, Professor Bruce Worfle. If I opened up a restaurant, I’d immediately add the “Worfle” to my kids menu. It’d be a waffle filled with shortening and peanut butter, so that when you tried to talk after biting into it your jaw would be stuck and the word “waffle” would come out like “worfle.” Get it? Ah, never mind. The ladies explain the delicious breakfast item, er, professor has worked up a computer scheme to beat every gambling game in Vegas, and that he disappeared while trying said system out at a casino. Their only lead is an incredibly vile picture of the shirtless, Neil Simon-y professor dancing up a storm with a bikini lady. Face notes the bikini lady is dating Gianni Christian, “the biggest hood in Vegas.” The women hand over some dough and Hannibal says they’ll do their best.

Neil Simon looking professor dude with last month's Playmate
After seeing this surveillance photo, the A-Team decided to save the bikini lady instead.

The team heads to Vegas in the always-awesome van, with Murdock rolling some hot (and invisible) dice in the back. Hannibal’s plan is to show up as an old-time East Coast hood called Tony Vincent and irritate Gianni, who Triple A notes is a security nut. Face uses the car phone they didn’t have until now to order a floral bouquet for “Tony Vincent” and asks that it be “sent” by Gianni to the Hotel Xanadu, where they’ll be staying. They arrive at the hotel wearing old-style gangster outfits; Hannibal is playing “Tony Vincent” as a kind of old-school Atlantic City hood, a lot menacing and a little mumbly, while the rest of the team dresses as his entourage. The Hotel Xanadu has no record of a Tony Vincent reservation, but just then the flowers arrive “from” Gianni Christian, which is enough to get the team into the “Elvis Presley Suite.” Cool, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the house! Hannibal grills the front desk clerk for info on the bikini girlfriend, who is called Elly Paine. No offense to hotel employees, but how does a random dude working the hotel front desk know so much about “the biggest hood in Vegas”?

A knife through the hard of the assassination diagram
From Hannibal’s heart, I stab at thee!

The clerk calls Gianni and his number one guy, Martel, to let them know something weird is going on, and so they tap Tony Vincent’s phone. Hannibal seems to have anticipated this, so Face calls him from the lobby and they talk in code, dropping the word “Langley” a lot. See, they want Gianni to think they’re actually federal agents! Elly the girlfriend is sent to Tony Vincent’s suite, and Hannibal becomes Special Agent Tony Vincent, who’s been working for years on a plan to take Gianni out. Elly fears Gianni and declines to help, but Murdock, playing a dimwitted, undersexed thug named “Bongo,” threatens Elly and she starts squawking after all.

The cleaning lady with a gun
Nancy Walker stars in “Death Wish 7: The Quicker-Picker-Upper”

Gianni, having listened back to the “Langley” phone call between Hannibal and Face, is worried, and uses the old “give the cleaning lady a gun” ruse to bring Hannibal to him. But Hannibal seems to have anticipated this move too, because Face and Triple A, posing as newlyweds/hillbillies, rent a room in the hotel across the street, giving them a perfect position to spy on and/or shoot at Gianni. Face’s suit jacket is hugely frightening, by the way; it’s beautiful.

Face and Triple A, hillbilly newlyweds
Face’s jacket is reason #1 why I hope this show won’t ever be remastered in HD.

Hannibal comes face to face with Gianni, who reminds Hannibal that his name not only opens a lot of doors but “closes a lot of caskets.” Hannibal isn’t worried, though; he spills some of the secrets Elly told him, and when he pulls back the curtain, Face peels off a shot, which scares the stuffing right out of Gianni. But Hannibal offers a deal: find me Bruce Worfle and maybe I don’t have you killed. Why? Because Special Agent Tony Vincent is crooked and wants to use Worfle’s computer gaming scheme for some easy retirement cash. Hannibal says to bring Worfle to a blackjack table at 6 pm, or else 6:15 will be very unpleasant.

It’s the next night. Gianni’s flunkies bring Worfle into the casino, and Hannibal takes him to the van and they all… drive away? The flunkies are confused because there’s still like twenty minutes left in the show, but just then Gianni’s body flies out a top-floor window and into the pool, which is the first on-screen death in the whole series. Just seconds later, the team turns on the radio to hear that they’re the prime suspects in the Gianni Christian murder, and that casino security got some good pics of Vincent before he left. This radio station has one incredible news team – I think they finished writing the news story before Gianni’s body hit the water! Everyone is worried, not just because the police are looking for them, but because Tony Vincent’s photo will make its way to Colonel Lynch too. Gianni’s right hand man Martel offers a hundred thousand dollars to whoever gets Tony Vincent and friends, so now all the mobsters are also looking for the A-Team. Hannibal, enjoying the chaos, reminds Face that “it’s always darkest just before it goes totally black.” Huh?

The A-Team regroups by watching “Woody Woodpecker” at a motel. Seriously. The professor recaps his story, though, dude, you’re kind of old business at this point. Hannibal realizes he, as Tony Vincent, was a patsy for whoever actually killed Gianni, and works up a plan to skip town.

Hannibal in blackface
I mean, at least Hannibal isn’t singing that Abraham Lincoln song like Bing Crosby did in “Holiday Inn”, but still.

Back at the Xanadu, Martel angles for Gianni’s job with some top gangster brass from New York, but they’re mighty suspicious of him. The weird-looking butler spills some coffee on him – oh, it’s Hannibal in blackface… and yes, it’s creepy. He takes Martel away and tricks him into confessing on tape to the murder before making a getaway in Gianni’s armor-plated limo; Murdock and the professor head for Arizona in the casino’s chopper. Now it’s car chase time: B.A. isn’t sure about the limo’s high-speed chase capabilities, but Hannibal reminds him “black is beautiful.” B.A.: “Not on you, it ain’t!” I guess the show needed to explain that it also felt weird about the blackface thing. The gangster cars are gaining on the limo, but Murdock shows up in the copter and runs one of the cars off the road! Inside the limo, Hannibal and Face find a machine gun and Hannibal shoots the engine of the other car, making it blow up and flip over, which is how every show should end. (I love that there’s an ADR where the two thugs ask each other if they’re OK and they say yes!) Everybody’s happy as they leave Las Vegas; even B.A. is smiling when he says “Hannibal loves the jazz!”

Murdock tries to hitchhike on a plane!
“He’s probably just trying to thumb a ride.”

Time for a post-action interlude. The team drops by Triple A’s office to buy her lunch, and to find out if she knows where Murdock is. He dropped off the professor just fine, but never made it back to the mental hospital. Face says not to worry – “he’s probably just trying to thumb a ride.” This is true, he is trying to thumb a ride, but at the airport. A plane takes off without stopping and Murdock yells “Jerk!” Now that’s comedy.

A mostly enjoyable show, but one with a few implausible moments – I guess Face could’ve had a cellphone plan in 1982? The radio news covers Gianni’s death in detail seconds after it happens? – and some uncomfortably weird ones, with Murdock playing Bongo the woman-threatening goon, Hannibal wearing blackface and a character getting killed on-screen for the first time. Today even sitcoms have at least one death an episode, but back then things were different – except, of course, for when the Transformers movie killed off pretty much every character from the TV series in the first ten minutes. That really freaked me out at the time, and this episode brought back some of those same unhappy feelings in me. Or maybe it was just Face’s freaky newlywed jacket.

One last note: you probably already know that the A-Team was, at the time, considered mindless pow-pow entertainment, knee-jerk populist vigilante trash that solved all problems with stupid violence. I think this episode refutes that quite nicely. After all, Hannibal came up with a very complicated plan! Remember that next time you see some reviewer denigrate this series as “made for the average 10 year old.” You don’t see The Jetsons building layers of intrigue, do you?

Season 1, Episode 6 – Black Day at Bad Rock | Next episode: Season 1, Episode 8 – The Out-of-Towners