The duct tape ultralight takes off, and this would have been a perfect time for Hannibal to say “I love it when a PLANE comes together!”

This project is now a month old, with no signs of slowing (to the rest of my life, I’m so sorry), but the A-Team and I go way back… sort of. I know that I must’ve watched the show at least a few times as a kid, though I have almost no memories of doing so. I remember seeing an episode with Hulk Hogan and Chicago Bears great William “Refrigerator” Perry, in which Fridge had a cast on his leg and a flat cap on his head, but most of my childhood memories involve Chicago sports and pro wrestling so it’s not really that big a deal. (My earliest Mr. T memory, for example, is not an A-Team moment but an interview he did promoting his match at Wrestlemania 2, where he told Hulk Hogan he was training by “chopping down trees.”)

What I do remember is forming a secret commando team of my own with my best friends, called the S-Team; I guess we missed that A-Team referred to a type of commando unit and thought all their names started with A. Being 7 year olds, our team was true neither to the show nor to logic; we had several members who were “the leader,” and one played a cat, “Speedy.” We shot laser guns (actually yellow wiffle bats) and fought against… uh, nobody. In space. This, coupled with a fictional baseball team in which we won all 162 games and hit over 1000 homeruns in a single season, was probably the reason all of the neighbors put up fences before I turned ten.

The A-Team went off the air at the end of 1986, and I didn’t come back to it until maybe five years ago. As a grad student living on the cheap, I had no cable TV, and instead stockpiled years of “Law and Order” reruns to stay entertained. Still, when I had the chance to watch cable I took it. Luckily I was asked to cat-sit for some friends over Christmas, and some cable channel was showing an A-Team marathon. I got hooked – I stopped eating, sleeping, cleaning up, watching the cats… our friends came back from their trip early because I wasn’t answering their check-in phone calls and they thought the place had burned down. Actually, no; I watched the cats because they watched the A-Team with me. One of them, Puggy, was the runt of his litter and was impossibly tiny and cute; he would climb on my lap to sleep and purr while the team went on their missions. Watching “A-Team” reruns with a purring kitten is something close to heaven.

And that brings us to the present, where, in a way, I’m watching the A-Team with all of you. And while the chances of you purring on my lap as you read this are very slim, I fully expect we will all go outside when it gets warmer and start our own space-based commando unit to fight the evil forces of no one with our wiffle bats. It’s a magical world, ol’ buddies… let’s go exploring!

Holiday in the Hills

Wild Guess Preview: Murdock receives a letter at the mental hospital that he’s inherited a llama farm in West Virginia, only to learn that the neighboring farms are being torched, one by one, by a psychotic Milton Berle. The A-Team shuffles on down to the farm to help Murdock’s mountain relations, “Doc” and “Mary Louise” Murdock, but Uncle Miltie traps them all inside a burning horse stall, and the only supplies at their disposal are two rakes, a Budweiser “Clydesdales of 1982” calendar and six thousand pounds of manure. Also, Milton Berle is wearing a dress, a dress Hannibal is pretty sure was his.

The Recap: This week we’re traveling to…. Guatemala? The A-Team certainly have been getting around lately, but this is a little off the beaten path. Oh, they’ve just finished a mission and are trying to head back to the States. Hannibal is trying to drug B.A. to get him onto a plane Murdock is flying in, but they have to keep him from hearing the plane’s approach… so Hannibal and Face, who is dressed as a sort of old-school missionary priest, sing “You Are My Sunshine”! B.A. hears the plane anyway and he’s not happy, so Hannibal drugs B.A. while pretending to kill a mosquito. Then they fire up their Jeep, with Face at the helm, and drive through some kind of guerilla army checkpoint, with Hannibal shooting machine guns and rockets at the guerillas. Soldiers take cover and numerous military-looking vehicles flip in midair and/or explode.

At this time I’d like to say a special thank you to one of the real unsung heroes of this series: the trusty car ramp. What would the A-Team have done without this dedicated piece of low-tech special effects equipment? Getaways could not have been made, because guerilla fighters would have kept on driving. And anyone opposing the A-Team would’ve made sure to use a car to chase them around. “They may have better plans, better weapons and better lines in the script,” the villains would say, “but they can’t flip our cars into the air!” So here’s to you, ramp. I hope they gave you a nice benefits package when the series ended; I would hate to think you got sold off to “Knight Rider” after the series wrapped.

Oh, also the team met up with Murdock and got in the plane and flew away before the guerrillas could butcher them. Which is good for a series only halfway through its first season.

Back at the paper, Triple A is typing, and her editor shows up with a sort of smarmy Burt Reynolds looking guy named Mitchell Barnes. He says he wants to meet Triple A because of her report on the Jamestown affair (see Episode 3), but really he’s a flunkie working for Colonel Lynch. He places an incredibly not-secret phone call to some military dude who isn’t Lynch and they’re going to follow Triple A around. By the way, we haven’t seen Colonel Lynch since the pilot, and I’m starting to worry about him.

The team is in Murdock’s plane; B.A. is snoozin’ and Hannibal and Face are rehashing the details of their Guatemalan mission, which was done for the Archbishop or something. The airplane’s controls start to go a little haywire, because Murdock scammed the plane from a repair service. He deliberately picked one that wasn’t fixed, because “they start to mess with ’em when they’re fixed!” There’s white smoke and black smoke coming out of the plane, and the propeller’s stopped. “This thing’s got the characteristics of a free-falling safe,” says Murdock. Face goes to get the parachute. Now it’s a battle of wits between the broken plane and Murdock. Yikes. With grit and determination, Murdock lands the plane in South Carolina and B.A. sleeps through the whole thing, though Face notes they’re probably about to become the first people to survive a plane crash “only to be killed minutes later by an irate passenger.” Sure enough, B.A. is up and they have to pretend they’re still in Guatemala fighting guerillas. B.A. is savvy enough to suspect something’s not right – “pine trees?” – but Face says they’re “South American geechee trees… they’re related.”

But soon they come across some very non-Guatemalan dudes about to burn some guy at a stake. Hannibal is low on ammo, but wants to scare them off, so they all take positions and start firing. Face’s gun jams so he punches two dudes out, but they get up and chase him off into the wilderness. Ooh, is this going to be like the Blair Witch Project! Hannibal tells Murdock and B.A. to regroup back at the plane. “Plane?” Uh oh. The remaining hillbillies make a pact to catch and punish the “trespassers.” Now it must be noted that between this show and the one with the rather rustic cops in Florida, the A-Team cannot exactly be lauded for a positive portrayal of rural life in the 1980’s. There’s maybe three teeth among these ten or so guys.

The hillbillies
This is what Ralphie’s mother was afraid of, not him shooting his eye out.

We’re back at the plane, and B.A. is quite sore at being lied to yet again. Hannibal tries to make the most of their limited resources by setting up tripwires and such, but B.A. is still mad. At least Face got away from the dude and rejoined them. After going through the injured dude’s wallet, they learn he’s a county employee working with some surveyors so they can put a highway in on the land. The team wants to help the injured dude, James McDonald, but they’re not quite sure how to do it since they’re surrounded by mountains and bloodthirsty hillbillies. This time, it’s Murdock who has a plan: he’ll refashion the airplane into a two-seater ultralight, though he’ll need some supplies. “Just like ‘Nam,” says Hannibal. They had to fend off hillbillies in ‘Nam?

Speaking of ‘Nam, that’s what this smarmy Mitchell dude is laying down on Triple A, who is not digging his action in the least, and not simply because she’s supposed to be meeting the A-Team, and they’re late. “Maybe they got in some trouble,” she says, and the dramatic irony is dripping off the TV screen and onto the living room floor.

Murdock's diagram, complete with doggy
“Face, we’ll need duct tape, fabric, an engine and a scarf designed for a dog.”

On the plus side, they’re all working together as a team, held together by the impulse to survive at all costs, and by the really cute drawing of a doggy on top of a plane that Murdock drew. Murdock asks Face for some supplies, including an engine, wheels and several bolts of silk fabric. Face protests, but Murdock reminds him that his role on the show is that he can get anything, anywhere, anytime, like when he got a Cadillac convertible in the middle of ‘Nam. Face smiles and hands over a parachute, which has industrial silk fabric. Hannibal tells the crew he’s going out to lead the hillbillies on a decoy operation, to buy Murdock some time. Montage time! B.A. uses duct tape to build makeshift wings from some metal tubing. Red Green would be so proud! Hannibal fires a shot toward the hillbillies and they chase him around the woods. He hides under a log bridge and they wander off, suspecting not a thing.

Face hits on the hillbilly lady
Seriously, baby, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven without a motor.

Face, out looking for supplies, happens upon a small, dumpy cabin, and a small, dumpy lady with a gun. He’s still in his priest outfit, so he plays that angle up big and makes like he’s a soul-searching dude who happens to need a gasoline engine to achieve salvation. As this show doesn’t think much of the country life, she falls for it and offers up a seeding machine. No, that is not a euphemism.

Hannibal makes it back to the plane crash site, where B.A. and Murdock have almost put the whole ultralight plane thingy together. (Is the injured guy still there? Is he alive?) There are more hillbillies than Hannibal originally thought, so he wants B.A. to take the emergency flares and turn them into “firepower.” B.A. says cool.

Triple A is still stuck with Blustery Joe, and she wants to check in on Murdock at the mental hospital. She goes into his room and listens to his answering machine greeting, which I guess is useful. Meanwhile the military cop drops in too, and Mitchell is mad at him for blowing their cover. But luckily they’ve put a tailing device on her car. She drives to Yavin 4, and – oh, I’m getting confused again. Back in South Carolina, poor Luanne, it turns out, is related to one of the hillbillies (probably all of ’em, yuk yuk yuk), and he slaps her for helping the priest “working with them city folks.” She protests, and they say they’re going to “help the reverend find God.” Yikes.

Murdock and the dead guy prepare for takeoff
Sweet of you to rescue him, but that guy died like an hour ago.

So they’ve got the engine running, the makeshift plane is ready for takeoff, but I’m pretty sure that dude is dead, so it’s “Weekend At Bernie’s” revisited here. B.A. and Murdock share a tender moment of reconciliation. They take off, and the team marvels that such a weird plane could even get off the ground. OH MY GOD this would have been a perfect time for Hannibal to say “I love it when a plane comes together!” A plane! Get it? The plane is actually coming apart, slowly, but Murdoch is singing in a faux German accent and that’s always enough to keep a plane in the air. Murdock lands the plane and gets the airport dude to drive the dead guy to the hospital. Then he starts talking to himself about how as long as he’s here would it be ok to borrow the helicopter, and of course it would be. I love Murdock.

Back on the ground, B.A. is putting some firepower together as per Hannibal’s instructions. Hannibal and Face dig a huge trench. Lucky they happened to have a shovel on the plane, because you never know when you’ll need to dig something at 28,000 feet, eh? Now Hannibal leads the cast of “Deliverance” through another chase. Apparently in this chase the hillbillies will drive through the woods, a well thought out plan. The first truck ends up in Hannibal’s trench. Face clotheslines the next two with some pulled-back tree branches, and B.A. blows the bejeezus out of the others with his emergency flare rocket launcher. One of the drivers gives a great ADR: “I’ve had enough of this. Let’s get out of here.” Ok, then. The rest of the men regroup, but Murdock shows up in his borrowed copter and drops water on them! Hannibal gets the men to drop their guns and go into the wrecked airplane; he does this because he’s out of ammo. “Sometimes I think you’re crazier than Murdock,” says Face. Hannibal laughs.

We haven’t had enough explosions in these recaps. I hope this picture starts to reverse the trend.

We’re back in L.A., and Triple A pulls up at a bus station. So does Mitchell and the MPs. A bus pulls in, and the lead MP says “that must be it.” They swarm, but Triple A has the desk page “Colonel Lynch” over the PA, and the A-Team catches the hint. They steal the bus and drive away, noting that had they shown up on time they would’ve been captured. Murdock says it’s lucky they crashed. Hannibal says he loves it when a plan comes together. Huh?

That’s more like it! The last episode was depressing and pissy; this one still had pacing issues but it was a lot more fun. And while refurbishing a crashed plane into an ultralight with duct tape and fabric may sound implausible, take a look at this news item I found on Neatorama:

During a private “fly-in” fishing excursion in the Alaskan wilderness, the chartered pilot and fishermen left a cooler and bait in the plane. And a bear smelled it. This is what he did to the plane.

The pilot used his radio and had another pilot bring him 2 new tires, 3 cases of duct tape, and a supply of sheet plastic. He patched the plane together, and FLEW IT HOME!

Now obviously they forgot to mention that the pilot flew home singing in a German accent, but it proves once again that this show is on the cutting edge! At least when it comes to things that aren’t residents of rural states, anyway.

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