How many skinny luchadors does it take to rob Cockney Hannibal? More than one, apparently.

Let’s just admit it, folks, we’ve been in a bit of a downward slide here lately. The episodes, while good, haven’t quite had the punch I’d been hoping for. The long-awaited removal of my giant immobilizer boot was pretty underwhelming. And unlike Julie Powell, I have yet to see any movie producers or book publishers beating down my door. What’s going on? Are we in a slump, a towering funk or a straight downward slide? Will this project rebound confidently like mid-80s Aerosmith (well, four of ’em), or fall apart, only to be forgotten like that one guy with the drug problem?

I do intend to step it up a bit, though you should know my first attempt at a morale-boost was not a success. It was based on a commercial for basketball playoffs I saw at the gym. The commercial featured Magic Johnson and Larry Bird with the slogan “Amazing is Unity.” I’m not sure I have enough space to list how many things were off with this commercial; first off, why run commercials for the basketball playoffs during the basketball playoffs?!? Is the audience so confused now that we have to remind them to continue watching what they’re already watching, with an odd set of unrelated words thrown in? “Don’t forget to keep watching ‘Magnum P.I.’, tonight at, um, right now. Irresistible is detective.” Message to the basketball promo team: don’t hire Master Yoda to write your ad copy.

Harder Than It Looks

Wild Guess Preview: Stephen J. Cannell trades jobs for a day with the writing team behind “Webster,” who makes each member of the A-Team trade places themselves, leading to a lightly funny series of mix-ups and hi-jinks with a meaningful life lesson at the end. Webster, meanwhile, goes on a adorably bloody rampage in Pyongyang.

Newspaper headline: 'Teasdale Heiress Kidnapped'
Rufus T. Firefly Asked to Find Teasdale Heiress!

The Recap: This week’s episode starts out with a hostage situation, but I’m going to write it up like it was one of those trippy Tex Avery cartoons: the main characters in this episode are a rather hostile tape recorder and some hands holding a briefcase, otherwise known as Mr. Teasdale. The hands are putting money in a briefcase because the tape recorder tells them to. Then the tape recorder puts on a hat and starts dancing, and the camera zooms out to reveal that the dancing tape recorder is actually at the core of the earth and is causing earthquakes every time it dances. The hands try to stop him, but soon the developed world is flattened and a great war breaks out, leading to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, or something. Actually Mr. Teasdale is putting a half million dollars into a briefcase because the voice on the tape recorder’s kidnapped his daughter, but just pretend that the Tex Avery version is true for a moment, ok? It’s more fun that way!

Cockney Hannibal gets robbed by a ninja

How many skinny luchadors does it take to rob Cockney Hannibal? More than one, apparently

The tape recorder warned Teasdale about not going to the cops, of course, so he pulls an “A-Team” folder out of his desk (admit it, you have one too, just in case) and so Hannibal puts on some kind of faux-Cockney disguise and makes the money drop to a… skinny ninja? Is it really a ninja, or more of a luchador? It’s a dope in a ski mask, let’s settle on that. He takes Hannibal’s gun and goes off to check the briefcase with two other dopes in ski masks. Aha, but the gun has a tracking device on it! And the rest of the team is tracking this tracking device, so they can make the drop and follow the thieves. Murdock’s so happy he does a Paul Lynde voice, just for fun. Face says “this job is gonna be a piece of cake.”

Face’s confidence is undermined by the sound of a gunshot – MY GOD HANNIBAL HAS BEEN SHOT – no, the guy they find on the ground is the dope in the ski mask. And he’s wearing Hannibal’s Cockney outfit. Which, B.A. surmises, means Hannibal has not been shot but is now infiltrating the dopes in ski masks. Face’s dreams of an easy mission are shattered. B.A. states the obvious: “I knew he was on the jazz all the time.”

Hannibal, is, in fact, riding along with the dopes in ski masks, and he’s mumbling so as not to give away his switcheroo; luckily the dopes are so excited about the half million bucks they don’t even notice. They stop at a yacht club to meet up with their cohorts, with the rest of the team dropping by in the awesome van just a few moments later. B.A. and Face take out two of the guards without trouble, but Murdock has the misfortune of trying to take out a really gigantic bearded dude, and it doesn’t go well. (Murdock’s “uh oh” when he realizes the tall dude is not only not unconscious but about to step on him is pretty hilarious.) Face, too, is unable to stop the big giant (did Rob Reiner rework this scene for “The Princess Bride”?), but B.A. gets into a nice tussle with him. Face tells B.A. “we’ll pick you up on the way back” and they walk off to find Hannibal.

Colonel Smith, as it turns out, is about to find Teasdale’s daughter; he just has to get past two of the dopes without ski masks (they look like Brigitte Nielsen and Frank Stallone!). Almost-Brigitte walks off to see Ramon, the head troublemaker, and Hannibal easily pounds the Frank Stallone guy and finds the daughter. She’s incredibly reluctant to be not kidnapped, but Hannibal talks her into making an escape.

Hannibal and B.A. rest for a moment

“But, B.A., you should’ve seen the other guy! I got a million of ’em!”

Now Hannibal has to recover Mr. Teasdale’s half million, and so he bursts in on Ramon and Almost Brigitte Nielsen and grabs the suitcase full of money. But before he can finish, the skittish daughter runs off and Hannibal has to forego the cash to get her back. They meet up with Murdock and a chagrined Face – “piece of cake, huh?” – and head back to the van even though Almost-Brigitte is still shooting at them. Ramon sounds an alarm (this yacht club is actually an armed compound?) and now everyone is shooting at them. They make a mad dash over to collect B.A., who finally knocks the giant beard guy down before collapsing himself. Face and Murdock have to carry B.A. back to the van, which would make for a pretty improbable escape except that the thugs park their jeeps like a mile from their barracks; I guess these guys aren’t militant city planners. The awesome van burns some off-road rubber, and Hannibal throws grenades to make the jeeps flip over and to make the villains cough (seriously, that’s the extent of their injuries).

It’s not been an easy day. Murdock thinks his ribs are broken, Face thinks his nose is broken and B.A.’s too exhausted to even respond. But it’s all right to Hannibal: “you should’ve seen the other guy.” What they haven’t seen is that Almost-Brigitte Nielsen shot a hole in their gas task before the escape, which causes the van to putter to a stop. Now everything’s screwed up: they got the gal, but didn’t get the money, everybody’s injured and now they’re out of gas with an armed militia in hot pursuit. Murdock waxes optimistic: “we hit rock bottom, now the only place we can go is up.” The daughter grabs Hannibal’s gun and demands to be let go. Face: “This is up?”

Ms. Teasdale wants to go back not because she’s “a bit of a loon,” as Hannibal suggests, but because he’s dating one of the guards, a nerdy little fellow called Marcus. She says Marcus is nicer to her than her dad, who’s going to be mad they didn’t get the ransom money back. Face says that’s silly, he’s sure the dad will just be happy that his only daughter is ok. Naturally, the next scene shows an apoplectic Mr. Teasdale telling Face they’re going to have to pay him back. Nice guy.

And he’s not the only one in a temper: Ramon, the lead dope in a ski mask, is furiously declaring “they will not, I repeat, they will not get away!” even though they already have. And his plan for them not getting away is pretty unorthodox: he calls a team meeting in an hour. Marcus the boyfriend volunteers to go look for the A-Team, but Ramon tells him to stay put. Then Ramon and Almost-Brigitte Nielsen chew out Marcus for being small and wearing glasses. The Frank Stallone guy and another guy actually do go out and look for the team; they even happen upon awesome van tire tracks, but when they approach the van, Murdock punches them and sings “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Hannibal’s new plan is to go back to the compound and rescue the money, and Marcus, too. Murdock says “sneaking back into a warzone with the same plan a second time is insane,” but Hannibal insists it’ll be – and everyone says it along with him – “a piece of cake.” Ha!

B.A.'s 'not again!' moment

Poor B.A.’s work is never done.

The team drives up to the compound in the terrorists’ truck, with the Frank Stallone guy as their hostage. Then there’s a funny montage, where Ramon is talking about some attack they’re going to launch while the team launches basically the same attack on his guards! Hannibal and B.A. pick up some needed supplies, and Hannibal tells the rest of the team all the trouble is behind them: “from here on out, it’s open road.” Not two seconds later B.A. walks around a corner and finds the giant beard guy, ready for another 38 minutes of fighting! The look on B.A.’s face is priceless. “Not again!” he says.

Luckily not everything is going wrong; Hannibal, Murdock and Face storm the terrorists’ interminable planning meeting and run off with Marcus and the briefcase full of money (though B.A. and the beard guy do crash through a window at one point). Ramon again promises the team “will not get away this time,” and to show he’s serious he lets his soldiers actually chase after them instead of calling another planning meeting. The dudes all run toward the front gate, only the team is being sneaky and escaping by rappelling off a treacherous cliff. Is anyone worried about escaping via an imposing rock cliff? Nah. “Piece of cake,” as Face, B.A. and Murdock all deadpan. The mountaineering actually goes pretty well, or at least until Ramon and company show up and shoot the rappelling ropes before Hannibal can lower himself down. So he just jumps. The jazz, man. But then they shoot the inflatable raft the team was going to use for their getaway. So the team is trapped! No, Ramon, who has REPEATEDLY SAID THEY WON’T GET AWAY lets them get away because it’s time to go blow up a dam.

The team is back at the van, so the mission’s over, right? Face sums up just how good the team is: “We lost our wheels, B.A. did fifteen rounds with Godzilla, Hannibal did a twenty story high dive, we had our raft blown out from under us, and we still managed to save the girl, her boyfriend and… retrieve the money.” “Now all you’ve gotta do is stop them from blowing up the dam,” says Marcus. Dam? Murdock: “I wanna cry.”

Murdock in a ski mask

Judd Winick presents Batman vs. Crazy Luchador Murdock, coming to DC Comics in July

The terrorists show up at the dam, and they actually shoot the elderly security guy – that’s, what, 40 million bullets on this show and he’s like the third guy who actually got hit? On the other hand, the guard saw a bunch of armed guys dressed in black bodysuits and ski masks and waved them through without a second thought, so maybe he shouldn’t be on the job anyway. Their red van is apparently a clown van, because about 40 guys pile out once they’re inside the dam area. Two of them have an explosive device. Ah, the security guard was Hannibal in disguise! “I’m beginning to love this bulletproof vest!” he says. He lets the team know the terrorists are inside the dam. Murdock and Face are already inside, so they subdue a few of the thieves and disarm a few others. Then Hannibal and B.A. come in to get the guys working on the explosives. Everybody’s accounted for, but Almost-Brigitte says, in a halting, I-can-barely-remember-these-lines voice, “You forgot about this. It’s set and you can’t stop it. You’ve got less than 90 seconds. You’re too late.” Hannibal and B.A. race off with the bomb… and run right into the giant beard guy! But even he doesn’t want to fight when he realizes what they’re carrying and runs off. I was going to make a “Goldfinger” joke about Hannibal and B.A. disabling the thing with 007 seconds to spare, but they actually heaved the bomb into the nearby water with 007 seconds to spare! The bomb explodes and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have taken out the whole dam; maybe it would have chipped some of the paint in the boiler room, but then I’m being picky again. Thumbs up from B.A. and Hannibal.

Thumbs up from Hannibal and B.A.

Congrats on dumping that small explosive into a shallow pool of water with time to spare!

Now we’re at Teasdale Mansion. The daughter is happy that Marcus got a suspended sentence and she can keep dating him, but cranky old Mr. Teasdale is still mad about the money. I thought they found the money?!? Teasdale says the team does have a payment coming, and the sirens in the distance tell us just what kind of payment he has in mind. The team departs so as to avoid Decker, but Hannibal can’t resist telling Teasdale the team is like a pair of socks: “you can put us through a rough wash, but you’ll never use us again.” Greatest metaphor ever. Ah, the team mentions that they actually put the money in the daughter’s bank account, minus their fee. Hannibal says everything ended up working out well, “almost as if I’d planned it.” B.A. laughs: “didn’t you?” Well played.

Now that was fun as hell. I loved the what-else-can-go-wrong premise, and while there was a ton crammed into this episode, it never felt like any of it was sort of half-finished, which is sometimes the case on this show. And the giant beard guy showing up over and over? Absolutely perfect. We just may be back on the jazz after all, and thank heavens, because I don’t want to go hunting for a slogan again. Weakness is Slogan Hunting.

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