The A-Team is going to smuggle Rick James INTO jail. That’s a new one.

Speed run. That’s what they call it when a video gamer blows through a game as fast as possible – the whole of Super Mario Brothers in five minutes, for example. It’s very mercenary-like – you don’t pause a whole lot to look around, or get power-ups, or even to vanquish foes; you just fly through each level until you’re done. I’m mostly treating season four that way – keeping my head down and my eyes on the prize, although I’m trying not to miss out on anything. And believe me, if I should come across a flower that turns my clothes white and gives me the power to shoot fireballs, I’m not passing that action up.

The Heart of Rock and Roll

Wild Guess Preview: One day while hiding out at an organic yogurt works, Hannibal gets a coded message meant for the Pentagon: Huey Lewis is a CIA operative and his song “The Heart of Rock and Roll” is actually a coded message about an American spy who’s “barely breathing” and needs help fast. The team gets tapped by the covert ops division to find the fella, but unfortunately the rest of the song is just a list of places he might be. They have to turn to infamous thief Carmen Sandiego and her VILE henchmen to figure out that he’s in Cleveland, wearing a fake mustache and learning to play tennis.

Rick James and Hannibal
Worlds are colliding.

The Recap: This may be the opening shot to end all opening shots: the awesome van driving up to a theater marquee that says “Tonight: Rick James, Sold Out.” Face, Murdock and B.A. are meeting Hannibal at the concert! They head inside, where Rick James is lighting up the stage – wait, bad choice of metaphor there. But he is putting on a show, and from the looks of the band’s tiger-striped wardrobe, he’s keeping Frederick’s of Hollywood in business, too. And there’s a key-tar! At the end of the song Rick James tosses his bass offstage to Hannibal – wash your hands, there, Colonel – and tells the guys he’s very, very glad to see them.

Rick James wants to hire the team. Let me say that again, because it’s so incredible: Rick James wants to hire the A-Team. He has a musician friend C.J. Mack, who the team loves; as B.A. says, “there isn’t a dude alive who hasn’t heard of C.J. Mack.” C.J. has been in prison for falling asleep at the wheel and running somebody over; he’s about to get out, but he’s involved in something bad – “he won’t take visitors, he won’t see people” – and Rick wants to help him. The team says sure.

Isaac Hayes and Gravedigger
Guest star Isaac Hayes is C.J. Mack. Damon Wayans plays the part of Michael Nesmith.

Oh wow, C.J. Mack is Isaac Hayes! He’s singing a mournful tune in prison with the guitar Rick James sent him. Damn, you’re down in the dumps when Rick James is pulling you up. C.J. is getting out of prison today, though, and that apparently makes some guy called Gravedigger mad, because he walks over to C.J. and smashes his guitar. “Guess this is one tune we don’t get to finish,” C.J. says, “since I’m getting out.” Ha ha.

The warden is terribly upset by the guitar incident. He tells C.J. he’s been a model prisoner and that the other guys shouldn’t be jealous that he’s getting out. Then he forces C.J. to set up an elaborate money-laundering scheme using his accounting skills… er, no, that’s “The Shawshank Redemption.” Actually he sends C.J. for a van ride to the releasing facility. The team follows this van, and they realize the prison van isn’t actually going to the releasing facility – in fact, “this isn’t the way to anywhere,” Hannibal says. They pull up in some abandoned parking lot and the guards demand C.J. tell them “where you hid it.” Hid what? C.J. says he won’t tell, whatever it is, and the team has to grab him just before the prison guards finish him off.

They take C.J. to a fancy mansion – maybe Rick James’s house? – and bring C.J.’s defense attorney, Devin. C.J. explains that in prison he uncovered an armed robbery ring running through the prison. A guard named Quint, who’s in charge of the work-release program, has his prisoners pull heists while out on work details. C.J. says he has proof of the whole operation on audiotape, but unfortunately it’s “under the floorboards in the workshop.” Devin wants to bring C.J. back to prison and explain, but Hannibal says that’s not safe, at least not until they catch Quint and his people. And that’s what they’re gonna do – find ’em, follow ’em and “give ’em an old fashioned hoedown” (?)

A prisoner and Hannibal as an old guy
Hannibal’s like “I’ve got a fake beard and crutches, let’s see what I can do with this.”

Jeez, finding ’em wasn’t hard – they’re across the street from a jewelry shop. The guards hand weapons to the prisoners and they bust in, but instead of actual staff, they find Hannibal, disguised as an old Jewish dude; when he opens the safe, the crook finds not jewelry but Murdock, wearing an oxygen mask and singing “Who Put the Bomp in the Bomp-She-Bomp-She-Bomp.” Then Hannibal comes back out front and shoots at Gravedigger with a gun hidden in his crutch! Gravedigger heads for the door, but he runs into Face and B.A. at the van.

Isaac Hayes thanks Hannibal and B.A.
If you guys ever need a good skip tracer, give me a call.

The team drops the dudes off at the police station and heads back to the fancy mansion, where Devin the lawyer has arranged for C.J. to turn himself into the warden, who’s already his biggest fan. C.J. can’t thank the team enough, but B.A. says all they want as repayment is “tickets to your next concert.” C.J. says there won’t be a next concert, but thanks just the same. But the warden isn’t acting like C.J.’s biggest supporter anymore: he’s yelling at Quint about screwing up the jewelry heist! He wants C.J. taken care of immediately – and, “it’s got to look like an accident,” he says. You’re almost certainly bad at your job if you want Isaac Hayes dead.

Devin is back at the mansion (hey, Face’s Corvette is back, it’s in the driveway), and she tells Face and Murdock that C.J. has been put back in prison. This sounds massively fishy, and Face and Murdock begin to suspect the warden was in on the scheme from the beginning. That means they’ll have to get in the prison somehow or C.J. will likely meet with an accident. “Maybe K-A-Team Radio could throw a party for C.J.,” Murdock suggests. “I mean, the warden can’t kill the guest of honor and not attract attention!” This they do, using their rock star buddy as the draw: yes, the A-Team is going to smuggle Rick James into jail. That’s a new one. The warden doesn’t want to green-light the show, but the governor and the mayor are all for it so his hands are tied. He tells the prison guard maybe they can get hold of the tapes he made and then he can just rot in jail.

The A-Team as roadies for Rick James
When I say that funk is here to stay The A-Team understands it

And now it’s time for a Rick James Concert Setup Montage, to the strains of “Jailhouse Rock.” The team is posing as roadies, wearing blue jumpsuits with “Rick James” written on back. Murdock brings Rick James to meet the warden; he Rick hands the warden a tape recorder of songs to give to C.J. for the concert. The warden is suspicious, but when he plays the tape all he finds it music, so he has it sent to C.J. Later, when C.J. listens to the tape he hears B.A. – the big guy’s got a receiver hooked into the tape machine! He says they’re going to get C.J. out of jail and he should just “be cool.”

Hannibal and Face are groovy roadies
It’s 220 wiring, daddy-o!

But first they need to find those hidden tapes – Hannibal and Face blow some fuses accidentally on purpose, and because they need extra power the guards let them into the workshop area, which is the whole point of the scam. They’re both sort of doing groovy-beatnik voices, cause they’re cool, man, like cool. They find the tapes under the floorboards, but the warden finds them, and he tells Hannibal and Face he knows who they really are. Uh oh.

Still, the show must go on, and so Rick James plays “Super Freak” for an audience of prisoners, guards and the mayor. It’s all right! This show’s all right! C.J. is not all right; he tells B.A. again that he’s giving up on music. But B.A. gives him a pep talk – “what you do is you – it’s something inside you!” This is sufficient to get C.J. up on stage, at least once more, and while he doesn’t do the theme from “Shaft” he does do a smooth version of “Steamroller Blues.” Backstage, the warden grabs B.A. and Murdock and tosses them into the same machine shop room as Face and Hannibal. Seriously, a machine shop room? Aren’t we at a prison? Amazed at this stroke of luck, the team does a montage while C.J. and Rick James play their tune, and they weld and drill press their way to freedom.

Just in time, too – Quint the prison guard is rigging C.J.’s amp so as to short-circuit and electrocute him, right onstage. Hannibal puts an end to that plan by shooting holes in the buckets, and then the team takes on the prison guards while the band scatters. (The prisoners, for whatever reason, don’t take this opportunity to riot.) The warden says Hannibal will pay for this, but Hannibal has gotten hold of C.J.’s infamous tapes again, and he plays one into the mic. The mayor hears the evidence of the warden threatening to kill C.J. and the mayor, too, and warden is toast. Rock on!

Murdock in a cape
James Brown’s valet is frantically looking for that cape right about now.

Now we’re at the Hollywood Palladium, and Murdock’s in a gold cape and sunglasses, introducing C.J. in a Wolfman Jack voice. C.J. has big sunglasses on and is rocking out, so, as the marquee says, The Mack is Back. Damn right.

This was a mind-blowing entry all around. Guest star episodes can be terrible, but this was decidedly not terrible. Rick James is not much of an actor, but he’s better than I expected, and Isaac Hayes more than holds his own. I just wish we could’ve seen either or both of them taken on some dudes; Isaac Hayes was Truck Turner, after all! Dude knows how to bust heads! I can say without reservation that every A-Team episode named after a Huey Lewis song is worth watching.

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