The A-Team and Frankie look at some football equipment

“Never in my life did I think I’d hear Ferris Bueller’s dad say Joe Namath could be bribed!”

Christmas Eve continues. Santa’s out being tracked by NORAD, last-minute shoppers are finishing up their not-well-thought-out purchases, and I’m still here, doing what I do. Something tells me I’m getting the better end of the deal.

Quarterback Sneak

Wild Guess Preview: For some reason Hunt Stockwell hates nothing so much as the Los Angeles Rams football team, so his first mission for the A-Team is to wreck their season as much as possible. The team finds this ridiculous and vows not to use any weapons against the players, but they manage to complete Stockwell’s directive by tricking the Rams into trading Eric Dickerson to the Colts.

The Recap: I suspected Stockwell’s presence would mean a more international flavor for the show, but I didn’t quite expect that to mean a big soccer match at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. It’s East Germany against Team USA, and let’s just say our side is not doing that well. Up in a guest box is a guy called Eisher (it’s Lyman Ward, Ferris Bueller’s dad!). On the limo ride back from the game, Eisher and his Bjorn Borg hairstyle tell a (hairless) guy called Dr. Strasser that his “endurance program” helped the players a great deal, but that “your work on Project Victory is well behind schedule” and therefore the East Germans have placed his wife under house arrest.

Murdock shows B.A. some heart underwear
Elton John asked me to inspect these.

Things are going better at the A-Team’s new headquarters in Virginia – Murdock is, inexplicably, trying to sell underwear to B.A.; he’s become “Inspector 6″ at a clothing factory. Face and Frankie are just back from a double date, but when they return to the house, Stockwell explains their dates were actually his agents. Then he gives them a mission: rescue Dr. Strasser, “one of the world’s leading biochemists,” and bring him to the U.S. Even though he’s already at Giants Stadium with Ferris Bueller’s dad? Oh, Carla says he won’t defect without his wife, who’s still in Berlin, so they’ll have to go overseas. As always, they’ll get no official support. “Just makes you want to run out and buy war bonds, doesn’t it?” Murdock says.

Murdock and Face question Eisher
“Tell Ferris that the A-Team hopes he gets well soon.”

But how to get to East Berlin to pull off this daring mission? Face and Murdock are in New Jersey posing as journalists and asking Chairman Eisher about the East German football squad. (Murdock is “Klaus Heinrichs, Socialist Daily News.”) They stage a debate in which Face accuses Eisher and Strasser of using “superdrugs” on their players, but Murdock, playing the Commie, pretends to defend them. Then Hannibal walks up in his Texas getup, claiming to be Billy Bob Smith, the owner of a semi-pro football team, who promises his boys could whup any East German athlete any day of the week. At first Eisher ignores the taunts, but after Murdock urges him to “confront zis man” he accepts the American’s challenge.

B.A. arm wrestles a guy

Hopefully Sylvester “Over the Top” Stallone is next. Or, better yet, Marion Ravenwood.

So the plan is working beautifully – they’ve got an invitation to East Berlin, and they’ve got all sorts of football equipment. What they don’t have is players, so B.A. rustles up some guys he knows from his high school team and other places – he seems to be holding arm wrestling contests and car pushing as tryouts. Several guys suggests using someone called T.J. Bryant on the team, but B.A. is emphatic that “we don’t need T.J. Bryant!” Ok, but who is T.J. Bryant? Hey, why not see if the Duke from Season 4 wants to play?

Hannibal and Jim Brown talk with Joe Namath
Banacek and Slaughter team up with Joe Namath

Face looks at the roster of guys, and it looks like they’ve got a team – minus a quarterback. Murdock has a suggestion: “Didn’t I hear T.J. Bryant was in town?” B.A. sort of shifts in his seat, and Hannibal asks “you’re not still holding a grudge against T.J. Bryant, are you?” Yeah, he is, but he decides to put it aside and go see T.J. at his new restaurant – and T.J. Bryant is none other than NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath! He smiles wide when he sees B.A. and says “my man, where’ve you been? It’s been a long time!” B.A. socks him in the mouth. It comes out a bit later that T.J. snuck into the coach’s office and threw out B.A.’s application for a football scholarship – and, B.A. reminds the others, “I wouldn’t have blown away on gambling like that fool did!” Oh wow, Jim Brown is on this team too! He reminds T.J. of a time when he threw a game. Jeez, it’s Pick on Joe Namath Day.

The higher-ups in East Berlin are most displeased that Eisher accepted the challenge of despised American football. The commissar, Brecht, says they’re going to go along with the game, but only because there’s an American applying for a visa (Murdock) and they know his background is a hoax; they want to catch him spying and embarrass the US: “The propaganda triumph will be worth a hundred football victories.”

The team is in East Germany now; Face is even listening to German language tapes on his Walkman. The players get off the team bus, with Jim Brown and Joe Namath carrying an unconscious B.A. Hannibal tells Murdock they have roughly two hours to find the Strassers and hide them somewhere. And since they already have Murdock pegged as a spy, he’s going to keep the secret police busy while the others find Dr. Strasser. And one more thing, says Murdock: “I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to inspect my shorts on this trip.” “I know I’d feel confident in anything inspected by Number Six,” says Hannibal. Wait, if Murdock is Number Six, then that means…

H.M. Murdock is The Prisoner!
I am not a Murdock… I am a free man!

Anyway, the teams, football and A, check in with a border guard, who, after seeing Murdock, radios someone and says “The American eagle has landed.” Then they all check into their hotel rooms. B.A. wakes up and screams about not wanting to fly, but Face tells him “it’s too late, we’re already here.” Oh.

Dr. Strasser is shouting too, at commissar Brecht; he’s mad that he has to spend time working on a football game when there’s research to be done. Nonetheless, Brecht has a strategy to humiliate the Americans: bribe T.J. Bryant, who, as Eisher says, has a “typical capitalistic weakness for money. He can be bought.” Never in my life did I think I’d hear Ferris Bueller’s dad say Joe Namath could be bribed!

The team is working on its own plan. Face is posing as an electrician, though he tells Hannibal this is going to be a problem; what if he actually has to fix the power for somebody – or, for that matter, speak German, when all the German he knows is part of a joke about a traveling salesman? “I don’t even understand the punchline!” he says. But Hannibal has faith.

Murdock inspects underwear
Matt Drudge’s lingerie stash? No, just Murdock doing his inspections.

Murdock is in his room, inspecting more undergarments. “Sorry, pal, but only the strong and the well sewn are inspected by Number Six,” he tells one pair of undershorts, while tossing them into the “REJECT” pile. Then he leaves the hotel room to start his diversion, and, as expected, the secret police are watching… that is, until he puts an “Inspected by Number Six” card over the camera! They mobilize a bunch of their soldiers, which is just the opening Face needs to get out of the building.

B.A. and Frankie are doing actual electrical work; they’ve tied a guy up and are cutting the power to part of the city – or trying to. Frankie calls himself “death to current,” but ends up shocking himself and causing a lot of smoke. “You cut the wrong wire, fool!” B.A. says.

Face tells the German traveling salesman joke
I bought a “Face Live in Hamburg” DVD off eBay. He tells this same joke for an hour, then dances with David Hasselhoff.

Face heads to Strasser’s lab building and speaks to the front desk clerk, by saying “Ja, ja” a lot. Then he finds Strasser, who’s thrilled to see him. He and Face set up plans to meet again the next day at the football exhibition, but first Strasser wants Face to take the live bioweapon culture from Project Victory. Better to take it now, he says, rather than risk something wrong during the escape. Face heads out, and he does have to use his traveling salesman joke on the way out.

A good first step, but Face feels that “this plan is von schtinken” because Strasser’s wife is stuck in house arrest and because he’s hiding a powerful new biological weapon in his hotel sock drawer. “As good a place as any,” Hannibal says. The delay also means that they’ll actually have to play the football game – the original plan was to sneak away with the Strassers the night before the game. “If we don’t play,” Hannibal says, “we blow our cover.” Hoo boy.

The team meets with the footballers at the stadium, and the players aren’t too happy. “We haven’t had scrimmage one,” a guy says, and so the players are convinced they won’t get to play or get paid for the trip. Hannibal levels with them about the game being a front and about their mission to rescue Strasser. “What we’re asking you to do is what you came here to do,” Hannibal says. “The difference is, I’m asking you to do it for your country.” T.J. says “let’s give it a shot,” and the others concur.

The stadium has no fans and a lot of guards – so much for the plan of sneaking the Strassers out through the crowd. Not to worry, Hannibal says: “we’ll call an audible.” As the players run to the field, Brecht pulls T.J. aside and warns him that the East German players are being instructed to beat the crap out of the quarterback, which happens to be him… unless they can “come to a satisfactory arrangement.” T.J. looks nervous. On the field, Jim Brown, or “Steamroller,” as it says on his jersey, is going over strategy with the offensive line: “The guy opposite you? Knock him on his butt.” Good strategy. There’s a cute moment where Murdock is walking through the tunnel to the field, whistling “The Star Spangled Banner”; when he sees the border guard he switches on a dime to “Deutschland Uber Alles.”

And now it’s game time; Hannibal sits down with Brecht and tells him that the American team’s moves might “make you jump out of your seat.” The East Germans come out hard, though; they use five of their guys to tackle one American, and get away with all sorts of rough play. And they manage to score a touchdown on their first pass play, prompting the announcer to declare Billy Bob Smith’s semi-pro team “may be just a little outmatched.” And outsmarted, too – T.J. takes a dive on a pass play when one of his receivers is wide open; some of the players are furious and even the announcer thinks it’s fishy. Head coach Frankie says he’s got a new tactic that might help: “the Frankie air cannon,” which he uses to blow an East German pass out of its trajectory. “Anyone for a foot-long weenie?” Hannibal says, inexplicably.

But then Frankie keeps T.J. on the bench after all, to Brecht’s disappointment. Hannibal suggests “maybe his tummy hurts.” Sure enough, the Americans score on the first play with a different quarterback. I do have to point out here that the team is supposed to be dead, and yet here they are in a big international football game supposedly being broadcast across the US. You’d think sentences like “B.A. Baracus, up the middle for six!” might make someone in the Army suspicious?

Murdock is not at the game; he’s been driving around East Berlin as part of his diversion. And he has a big problem: his coat has a busted seam on the shoulder! He looks in the pocket and finds a slip of paper saying “Inspected by Number 1.” “Even the master makes mistakes,” he says. I love this bit. He spots Mrs. Strasser at the window, but the guards keeping her under house arrest spot him and drag him inside. They call Brecht at the game (he uses a briefcase phone, how high-tech) to tell him “American operative Number Six” has been taken in custody. He tells the dudes to bring Murdock to the game in a chopter – ah, I see where this one’s going.

The East German team has scored again, to make it 14 to 7, but the Americans intercept a pass and do a quick Pick-6 to even the score. Hannibal tells Brecht that his boys are just warming up, but Brecht tells him that they’ve got Murdock and they’re aware of the Americans’ plan. “Lose this game, Mr. Smith,” Brecht says. “Your friend’s life depends on it.”

Hannibal breaks the news at halftime, and the football team is not happy; they were just starting to play well! They do have Face disguised as an officer, though; he’s practiced one important line of German so he can get into the Strasser home. The guard answers his one line with a question. Face has no idea what he says, so all he can do is tell the salesman joke again. Luckily the guy puts his gun down as he questions Face, so Mrs. Strasser picks it up and fires into the air. When the guard turns around, Face waffles him with a chair and they head to the stadium on a moped. More good news: Murdock takes control of the chopter, though he has to endure a retelling of the traveling salesman joke first. (“I heard that one this morning,” says another soldier. Ha.)

The East Germans score another touchdown. Brecht is happy, so happy that he tells Strasser that after the victory, he’ll be curious to know how the Americans found out so much about Project Victory. Gulp. Brecht gets another phone call; “Frau Strasser has fled her home, apparently with some help,” he says, and orders all the stadium entrances sealed.

The football players are getting sick of throwing the game, so they’re happy to see Murdock in the upper part of the bleachers. Since he’s safe, Coach Frankie says, it’s time to use “a new strategy…. REVENGE!” The players love it, and score another pick-six touchdown to cut the East German lead to four points with 30 seconds left on the clock. Then they do an onside kick; the East Germans recover, but the Americans force a fumble and recover the ball. Trouble is, they can’t move the ball down the field. At this point T.J. volunteers himself back into the game; Frankie doesn’t think Hannibal will like the move, but T.J. says “if we score a touchdown he’ll go for it!” He calls a play B.A. remembers from the old days… “only this time,” he tells B.A., “don’t drop it.” Ouch. They snap the ball, T.J. fades back, throws… right into B.A.’s arms for a touchdown. The Texas Angels win, 27 to 24. Do you believe in miracles?

Brecht doesn’t like this one bit; he wants Murdock shot immediately. Hannibal says he’s got a sample of Project Victory, maybe they can do a trade. Brecht says fine, but do it now or he’ll have everyone on the team shot as a spy. T.J. turns on the team again, though; he wants to save his own neck and grabs the Project Victory case out of the equipment bag. Brecht is happy to have his patsy back, but T.J. has a surprise for him: he was only pretending to cooperate, on Hannibal’s orders. “I never sold nobody out – not my old team, not these guys, and especially not my country!” And he throws the case down and it explodes! Brecht gets a full dose and has to cough a lot; the smoke and bioweapon-ness of it all gives the team and the footballers a chance to pummel the East Germans. “The old quarterback sneak,” Hannibal says, impressed with his own brilliance. “Gets ’em every time.”

B.A. and T.J. hold onto the chopter
This episode clearly has better stunts than the “Super Bowl Shuffle”

Murdock brings the chopter over, and they all pile in – even Face and Frau Strasser, who’ve just arrived on the moped. T.J. takes a shot to the leg and B.A. has to help him toward the getaway. This is a problem, because Murdock’s started to take off; B.A. has to grab the legs of the chopter – and T.J. has to grab his legs. “B.A.!” he yells. “I’m sorry I tore up your scholarship application!” Good thing West Berlin isn’t too far away…

The A-Team watches football
Do you think Hannibal loves it when a play comes together?

The team is back in Virginia, watching their game on TV; Stockwell’s a little cheesed off because they managed to spend $600,000 on the mission. Carla says the Strassers are doing well, and have passed along their thanks. Murdock rushes in with big news: he’s been promoted, and is now Inspector 1’s first assistant. The doorbell rings, and the two ladies from Face and Frankie’s date are inviting the boys on a ski trip. Face and Frankie they think it’s a setup, but Stockwell says “Susan and Maggie are on their own time!” They look at each other and rush off. The end.

Well that was a refreshing return to A-Team style episodes. The international aspect is a change of pace; it’s definitely outside of the formula, though I can’t say it was bad. Certainly the running gag with the German traveling salesman joke was good, and it’s the best Frankie episode yet. I also loved Joe Namath and Jim Brown. So yes, it’s still a strange new world, but it has some good stuff in it.

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