Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The A-Team” Pilot

Dear Frank,

How weird is it that last week, two days after you said to me, “Liz, what happens in the 1983 pilot for the A-Team?” the show’s co-creator Stephen J. Cannell dies? The answer is that it is seriously weird, and makes me suspect you have secret psychic powers.

In tribute to the work of Mr. Cannell, we shall not mention once this summer’s feature adaptation of the series and instead focus on what matters: Bad-ass 80s-style action and adventure conveniently available on Hulu. Plus an important message: Smoking is cool!

The A-Team pilot is like, BAM, you wanna know what this show about? We’re gonna tell you RIGHT FUCKING NOW, during the main credits. (This is such a great theme song, by the way. Mike Post also did the theme for Doogie Houser! The man is an 80s synth legend.)

It’s a helluva premise — dudes escape from military prison to clear their names and solve crime — and a helluva cast. By my standards, anyway. My standards being “Oh, my god, Lt. Barclay from Star Trek: The Next Generation? NO WAY!”

Oh, and Mr. T, of course. Even though he’s been famous for decades, it is still surreal to see his name on screen. “Not only will my client receive final placement in the title sequence, but please confirm that ‘T’ is preceded by ‘Mr.’ in its abbreviated form.”

So this episode is called “Mexican Slayride,” which I’m pretty sure is a terrible pun. Though does it count as a pun if the first scene features a bunch of ruffians terrorizing a village of poor Mexican farmers? Well, no one gets slain or ridden right away. So I guess the title’s not literal yet.

Though that American journalist hiding in the village (who reminds me a lot of Darren McGavin, maybe because of the hat) does have a pretty low life expectancy right now, what with him getting nabbed by the banditos. When we smash back to America, his editor thinks that Darren’s just on vacation, but Plucky Young Reporter Dame suspects foul play. I’m not sure if she has a name, because the editor keeps calling her girl and baby and sweetheart and whatever (HEART YOU WOMAN’S MOVEMENT), so we’ll just call her April O’Neil for now.

April is on the case to find out what happened to Gavin, and she’s also looking out for a team of ninja turtles commandos there have been rumors about. A nerdy researcher who is totally her bitch tells her that the A-Team is nothing but urban legend, but then in the very next scene he proceeds to detail their entire life stories, complete with dossiers and full-color candid photos. A-PLUS STORYTELLING HERE.

Oh, and then we finally meet, you know, the main characters of the show. It only took fifteen minutes! (Well, three of the main characters. No sign yet of Lt. Barclay.)

John “Hannibal” Smith gets a real hero’s entrance — wearing a rubber sea monster costume on a film set. The director’s asking him to stay underwater for three minutes; Hannibal’s kind of cranky about the whole that-will-probably-kill-me thing, and so when Mr. T and the Pretty Boy (okay, his name is Face, I’ll go with that because it’s shorter) show up to say that the fuzz is onto them, he’s not heartbroken about skeddalling.

And then there’s an exciting car chase through Universal’s studio lot! It’s actually kind of entertaining, mostly because Hannibal’s still wearing the sea monster costume whilst smoking a cigar. Frank, this show may not be highbrow entertainment, but it’s actually kind of adorable. They escape by trapping the Colonel chasing them in the Red Sea attraction. ADORABLE.

Hannibal calls Lt. Barclay, who’s currently camped out at the VA mental hospital, to warn him that the Army is on their trail. But guess who’s already hanging with Barclay? April O’Neil! She wants the A-Team to help her find Darren McGavin, but Barclay’s focused on acting crazy in a really posh room — his own bathroom, a basketball hoop, a Pac Man machine? Your government dollars at work.

But Barclay’s Looney Tunes mystique appears to be key to keeping the Colonel off the A-Team‘s scent — the Colonel just stopped by to visit and there was a whole lotta blather about that and I got kinda bored and looked at the internet for a while. (There’s gonna be a Troop Beverly Hills/Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead double-feature in November, Frank!)

Before April left Barclay’s sweet bachelor pad, he told her that if she wanted to hire the A-Team, she had to wait in a dark alley at 2 AM. She does so, which leads Hannibal, in a series of disguises, to taunt her for no discernible purpose. One of those disguises? A chop-socky Chinaman who makes Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s look like The Joy Luck Club.

But they take the job. Hooray! Hannibal and BA pick up April while Face gets Barclay out of the hospital so that he can fly a purloined Gulfstream to Mexico. BA’s a pussy about flying with Barclay (what with Barclay being crazy), not to mention flying in general, but then Hannibal drugs him with novocaine and manhandles him onto the plane. Leadership skills!

And we’re off to Mexico! On the plane, there’s a lot of bitching about how April only has $25,000 to pay them with, which “won’t even keep them in jet fuel.” Jesus that’s a lot of money to spend on saving someone who looks like Darren McGavin.

Once the A-Team gets to Mexico, they start poking around Acapulco looking for clues. That translates into “bar fight,” by the way, one of those amazing classic bar fights, up to and including the moment where Hannibal punches a guy through a plane glass window. It’s pretty awesome.

But then it’s all “let’s get a bunch of stuff to go take on the banditos,” which they do by telling the Mexico Film Commission that they’re making a feature starring “Bo” (Derek?) and “Daryl” (Hannah?). SMOOTH UP TO DATE REFERENCES TO 1983’S BIGGEST STARS! For a bunch of guys who just broke out of military prison, the A-Team sure is Hollywood savvy.

Prep prep prep. Fun fact about Mr. T — he attracts packs of underprivileged children wherever he goes.

But when they finally make their move, the banditos prove to be worthy adversaries with a lot more guns and weapons, thus leading to Hannibal, Mr. T and April’s capture. I suppose it’s all very exciting, but because I have no idea why exactly April is willing to spend my yearly salary to save Darren: Eh.

Classic dialogue: “We’re going to escape! Give me your hat!”

That line is uttered because Hannibal puts on another disguise, this one not terribly offensive to any minorities, to help them break out of their bamboo prison (FUN FACT: Mexico is known for its fertile bamboo fields). And then everyone escapes. Whee. There’s a standoff with the banditos, but that village of poor farmers? They come fully loaded with machetes!

The Big Bad Bandito gets defeated when Hannibal jumps out of a helicopter onto a moving Jeep to fist-fight the duder. Like you do. And then the guys discover April’s tape recorder/secret diary where she’s been recording her observations about her new crime-fighting friends — “it’s a great story!” she says. (The real April O’Neil would never betray the Ninja Turtles that way.) But then she strikes a deal with them to help out on their adventures, like a true and proper Girl Friday — her first official duty? To drug Mr. T again so that they can fly home to Los Angeles.

And they all lived happily ever after, Frank. For five seasons! Which is surprising. You’d think they’d have run out of Jeeps to flip over by Season 3. But I guess that’s just HOLLYWOOD MAGIC.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on October 4, 2010, in All the Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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