The A-Team – When Mr T and Co. busted Monte Carlo and James Bond!
Forget the innumerable rip-offs, forget the big-screen reboot, forget the fact Mr T’s still living off a character he first played over 30 years ago – there was only ever one A-Team. And back in the 1980s, there simply wasn’t a bigger programme on television.
The brainchild of Stephen J Cannell and Frank Lupo, The A-Team was that rare programme that sort to put a positive spin on the Vietnam War. Its premise was explained every week over the opening credits:
“In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.”
Led by John ‘Hannibal’ Smith (portly erstwhile A-lister George Peppard), the A-Team comprised the dashing Templeton ‘Face’ Peck (Dirk Benedict from the original Battlestar Galactica), PTSD victim HM ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock (Dwight Schultz) and mohicaned muscle man BA Baracus (Mr T late of Rocky III). Between 1983 and 1985, the boys’ exploits – which invariably involved them righting a wrong after customising a motor vehicle – were enjoyed by vast numbers of teenage boys on both sides of the Atlantic.
As with all such things, the programme’s popularity was relatively short lived. Come the fourth and fifth season, The A-Team was running on empty, which was ironic since Peppard’s paunch had rarely seemed more swollen. But if the show seemed set to go out with a whimper rather than a bang, there was a final treat in stall for those who preferred their action shaken not stirred.
‘The Spy Who Mugged Me’ – someone should have won an Emmy for the title alone – saw The A-Team take on two gambling giants, the Monte Carlo Casino and the world’s most celebrated chemin de fer fan James Bond. With a plot that calls upon Murdock to impersonate a supposedly assassinated secret agent, this, the antepenultimate episode, gives the underrated Dwight Schultz the opportunity to play Sean Connery and Roger Moore simultaneously. As laudable a feat as it is laughable, it is but one of the many pleasures of an instalment so indebted to 007 it features minor characters called Kamal (after Octopussy’s big bad) and Maxwell (a nod to Miss Moneypenny actress Lois).
There’s also the small matter of the wonderful Roy Dotrice essaying a villain who, in the best tradition of Bond, has a disability and who shares his surname with Louis Jourdan of Octopussy fame. And as for his heavy, it’s none other than Harold Sakata who was Oddjob in Goldfinger and here plays a sidekick named after his boss in the Bond universe, Gert Frobe.
And the fun doesn’t stop there! For this adventure is so in thrall to Bond that Murdock (above as Connery/Moore hybrid Logan Ross) finds himself playing a few hands of baccarat in none other than the Monte Carlo Casino. Not that Schultz and Co. actually set foot on the French Riviera; with T’s gold chains eating up most of the budget, Irish-born director Michael O’Herlihy had to settle for conjuring up the South of France in Southern California.
But while ‘The Spy Who Mugged Me’ is long on laughs – not all of them intentional, admittedly – The A-Team wasn’t long for the world. Indeed, the show survived just two more episodes before our heroes shuffled off in the direction of syndication.
That there is now talk of a retooled A-Team returning to small screens in 2017 will no doubt be greeted with enthusiasm by the nostalgia brigade. Much though we recommend you give ‘The Spy Who Mugged Me’ a whirl, come the close, we’re sure you’ll agree that a reboot is one plan we wouldn’t love if it came together.