Business is getting done in this third season of Charlie’s Angels, courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment’s classy Blu-ray Complete Series set.
By Paul Mavis
Maybe not “art”…but certainly business. Everyone is putting their noses to the 6-day, 14-hour shooting schedule grindstone, and making lots of moolah doing it. Scripts are being written; people are showing up for work; bikinis are getting properly fitted, doubles are executing the least dangerous stunts imaginable for the stars, and escaped Angel Farrah has been manacled and spirited to the set—spitting and clawing the whole way—for the first of her three legally-mandated guest appearances for this 1978-1979 season. And the ratings, while dipping, ain’t bad at all, considering….
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However, trouble (as always) is brewing behind the Charlie’s Angels disco-infused, sequin-studded scenes. Often when you read about Charlie’s Angels, the uninformed, lazy dopes that haven’t even seen the show categorize this junior session as the only season without a cast change…but of course (being hacks) they’re wrong. Sure, no on-screen changes happen, but before the last “clip show” episode aired in May, 1979, producers Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling finally had had enough…and publicly fired lead Angel and head troublemaker: brainy, scrawny, androgynous Kate Jackson. It was just one more bit of orchestrated chaos for the TV land publicity mill, but it would help set the ball rolling for the show’s demise two seasons later.
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To sum up all the sturm und drang: apparently, there was no dealing with the already-difficult Jackson this season. Now, you have to remember that in her reality, she was the “star” of Charlie’s Angels. The series was originally designed with her at its center (producer Aaron Spelling—and audiences—loved her in his cop show, The Rookies). She received top billing on CA, and, at first, more money-per-episode than her little-known co-stars. She claims to have not only partially come up with the show’s title, but also to have suggested that the elusive Charlie character stay hidden throughout the series (should have got a producer/co-creator credit for that, Kate—that’s where the real residuals are).
Imagine her surprise, then, when the series immediately took off in 1976…and all anyone was talking about was Farrah and her hair and her nipples, and Jackie’s damn classy looks and body and sexy voice. It’s almost as if Jackson didn’t exist for the publicity machine. Taking her own character to heart—the “brains” of the three Angels—Jackson tried to stake out some kind of territory with the viewers and critics by becoming the “voice of quality” for the series, lamenting in public the paucity of good scripts she and her co-stars had to work with, while agreeing with dismissive critics that the show was pushing T & A over feminism.
Perhaps she (secretly) thought the balance might swing back her way when Farrah hit the bricks after the first season. Maybe it was time for Jackson to re-establish herself as the center of attention in the Charlie’s Angels universe, and make the show the Kojak it always needed to be (…and that nobody wanted or asked for). Uh…nope. Farrah’s second season replacement turned out to be funny, genial little hard-body sex shooter Cheryl Ladd, who immediately endeared herself to the CA crew and to the viewing public, and who became an enthusiastic “team player” for Spelling and Goldberg—an attitude that Jackson despised. When the Nielsen ratings went up that second season, I can’t imagine Jackson was happy that they did so despite her criticisms (I wonder if she ever considered that her very public condemnation of the show, repeated to anyone in the media who would listen, might very well have had an effect on ratings going into this third season?).
Not helping Jackson’s mood, either, was the fact that she was newly married (after a brief six-week courtship) to tiny Pomeranian-American actor Andrew Stevens. The Angels themselves have detailed the punishing shooting schedule that was employed for this hour-long action series, and the toll it took on their personal lives and marriages. It wasn’t one to make for happy relationships…particularly if the husband was not nearly as famous or successful as the Angel wife (ahem).
There’s a hysterical June, 1979 People magazine interview with Mrs. and Mr. Kate Jackson, published right after her firing, that supplies more than enough ammo for the argument that Jackson was a total pain in the ass for the producers, and was aided and abetted in her bad behavior by her supportive husband. Mr. Jackson is on record in that interview stating his wife had problems with both Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd, asserting the former was all about securing “material comfort,” while the latter was all about becoming a “star.” Apparently, Kate Jackson was the only person connected with Charlie’s Angels that was concerned with “quality”—certainly not the producers, who ignored her complaints. Now that’s a big mistake in Hollywood: even producers of fluff don’t like being talked down to.
But the killer of all time for Jackson this season had to be the knowledge that she came this close to breaking into classy big-screen moviemaking, and then lost it…thanks to small-screen producer Aaron Spelling. You see, during Charlie’s Angels’ second season hiatus, Jackson was given the opportunity of a lifetime, particularly for a TV actress: a starring role in a prestigious A-level motion picture. Robert Benton, the screenwriter of Bonnie and Clyde and What’s Up, Doc?, and the director of cult Western Bad Company and noir masterpiece, The Late Show, offered Jackson the plum co-starring role in the trendy divorce/child custody drama, Kramer vs. Kramer, opposite superstar Dustin Hoffman.
The role was hers for the asking…but Spelling politely but firmly informed Jackson that there was no way the Charlie’s Angels company could shoot around Jackson during the third season. Jackson had no choice but to bow out (no doubt the legal morass that Farrah had endured convinced Jackson it was unwise to walk out on Spelling and Goldberg). The role went to relative unknown Meryl Streep, who went on to win an Oscar for Jackson’s part in Kramer vs. Kramer…which also became the highest grossing movie of 1979. One could surmise that when a furious, suicidal Kate stood in line to see it…she paid for Mr. Jackson’s ticket, as well.
So, imagine you’re Kate Jackson, starring in an innocuous T&A jiggle show you’ve publicly stated you hate, and you have to report to work opposite, say…a boozy, leathery, half-dead Dean Martin breathing in your face, instead of with one of the top movie stars in the world in a picture that everyone in Hollywood was talking about before it was even made. According to all reports (including Jackson herself), this last event did nothing for her on-set deportment. There were accounts that Jackson wouldn’t speak to anyone for days on the set, before flaring up into public screaming matches (there were also rumors of substance abuse).
As the 1978-1979 season wore on, it became pretty clear to the producers and ABC that something would have to be done about Jackson. Generous production deals were advanced by the network, while Spelling offered to cut back the grinding schedule if Jackson and her toy husband would simply shut up about her beefs with Charlie’s Angels. The message was: let’s simply ride out the planned fourth season and clean up at the syndication bank…provided you shut yer trap. Remarkably, Jackson refused (she said she left over a million bucks on the table. For “artistic integrity,” fercrissakes!), and that, as they say, was that: Spelling lowered the boom on her in April, 1979, and fired her ass, publicly stating for the record, “Due to problems on the set, Kate has been let go for the good of the show.”
I’m going to guess that this remarkably candid professional rebuke was deemed actionable, because almost immediately, everyone pretended that this statement was never made to the media, and that Jackson had actually “walked away” from the show. Ah, Hollywood phonies and their lawyers! And if you’re wondering what happened to the Liz and Dick of 70s television, they went on to make a pilot for a proposed reboot of the old Topper series—it was dire—before splitting up after two years of wedded bliss. Jackson summed up their soulmate status thusly: “I felt as if my ex-husband drove up to my bank account with a Brink’s truck.” And they said it wouldn’t last!
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So. When you’re watching this third season of Charlie’s Angels, amuse yourself by keeping an eye on Kate Jackson pasting a sickly smile—or an overt sneer—over a seething, rage-filled interior. Let’s get down and boogie with the individual episodes.
For the special September 13th, 1978 2-hour season premiere, Angels in Vegas, Spelling and Goldberg pulled out all the stops when it came to wowing the yokels at home with guest stars: Dean Martin climbs out of his crypt for a shaky visit, as well as Hong Kong Phooey, Vic Morrow, and Replacement Durweed. In other words: “Honey, set the Betamax!” It’s another one of those “vaca-episodes,” where the cast and crew get to frolic somewhere glamorous while the boob tube rubes gawk at home (weird how the traditional opening credit sequence is missing—almost looks like a TV movie opening). It didn’t hurt the synergy, either, that the producers had a new detective show called Vega$ premiering on ABC the following week.
You see, old Dino owns the Tropicana, and someone is bumping off his friends. So he hires the Angels to come in and see what’s what. He may have made a mistake. I’m not sure what happened to their detective skills over the summer break: if Dino goes to the trouble of providing separate covers for the Angels, and separate quarters and phone lines and all that…why do the girls then immediately go out front and jack-ass around with “stranger” Bosley like they’ve all known each other for years?
Scatman Crothers does his usual shtick (is that cat taking a dump on him, after the Dodge Power Wagon mows Hong Kong Phooey down?), while Dick Sargent is screams as a nasty-eyed faux-Steve Lawrence-aping-Frank Sinatra lounge singer (he can’t even lip sync the vocal track, but wait till you see that powerful body clad only in a zip-up safari jacket…seductively gathered at the waist). Super-talented Vic Morrow looks like he always does in these kinds of shows (slumming), while Jaclyn Smith has little to do except participate in Joe Agosto’s skim of the Folies Bergere (Kelly’s drink of choice? Scotch stinger. Class). And how about that “computer” James Hong is breaking the casino with, huh? It’s, um…a hand-held four-function Texas Instruments calculator.
The main attraction is obviously 61-year-old Dino and 30-year-old Jackson’s pairing, and it’s deliriously wrong (he looks at least 10 years older). As usual, Jackson comes over as prissy and frumpy, but sleepy walking corpse Dino is glam enough for the both of them, with dirty blonde highlights (way before Duran Duran), pink bunny rabbit eyes, and a Silly Putty® approximation of his face. When he goes in for the kill on Jackson, she looks like she just kissed the ashtray in my old man’s ’72 Buick Riviera (4 packs a day. Didn’t phase him. Dead at 48). When Kris catches Bree looking wistfully at the slightly wobbly receding figure of Dino, she says knowingly, “There are worse things,” (yeah…like a date with Jerry. Oh lady!). Martin, once a fine dramatic actor, is sadly reduced here, so it’s fascinating to watch him freeze-up, even with one-sentence takes (“You’re suffering from struc-tur-al thin-king,” he barely manages). A great, screwed-up start to the season, capped off with a funny cameo from Robert Urich as “Dan Tanna,” stealth-plugging the producers’ new series (Ladd looks him up and down like a bum ready to pounce on a baloney sandwich…).
I’ll be honest: I don’t remember any hype surrounding Farrah Fawcett-Majors coming back to Charlie’s Angels with this episode, Angel Come Home. Then again…not too many people were talking about Farrah in the fall of 1978 the way they used to talk about her in 1976, and there would be even less interest, after the late September release of her first big-screen starring vehicle, Somebody Killed Her Career Husband (it utterly failed to generate any excitement at the box office). Sure, it’s nice to have visibly erect nipples back on the CA set, but that new ‘do…hmmm, no.
Still, Farrah is so sweet and tentative and just plain likeable here, it’s nice having her back….even if I never bought her as a Formula One race car driver. You can figure out scripter Stephen Kandel’s plot in five minutes, and the “ick” factor, which is “high” when Horst Buchholz shows up, goes to “Threat Level: Midnight” when Stephen Collins jumps Farrah from behind (Farrah evidently was clairvoyant: she screams, “You sick maniac!” at his touch). How, exactly, does the whole beach house thing work out? Kris was supposedly staying there as a guest of Jill’s…but now Jill is back, but she’s acting like a guest, so…awkward. Not to be outdone by the hype, Ladd crosses the goal line in the episode’s final seconds, reasserting her domination as Charlie’s Angels’ number one hottie, strutting around in a stunning red and black one-piece, while Farrah gets lost in lots of flowing, draped linen and a bulky cardigan (forget sex…let’s read a book!). They seem fine together in their scenes (if a little diffident for sisters), but who wouldn’t have given a day’s pay to see how they acted when “Cut!” was called?
Angel on High has rich invalid Bert Freed looking for a long-lost son out there…but the mother of the child has recently been snuffed by the mob in quiet little Caine’s Corner, California. The prime candidate for the filial position is free spirit barnstormer, Michael Goodwin, who certainly catches Kelly’s eye. Can the Angels help Freed come together with Goodwin, or more to the point: can Kelly help Goodwin…okay you get the joke.
Series regular Edward J. Lakso serves up a tighter little mystery than one expects at this point in the series, which is fine, but unfortunately the emphasis on sleuthing doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the fun we expect from Charlie’s Angels, either. There is Ladd in a jaw-dropping pink string bikini (she is impossibly fine in those two shoelaces), and we get this rather…telling description from Smith on her first flying date with Goodwin: “Well, I’ve been to 10 thousand feet, I’ve been upside down, downside up, frontways, backways, some ways I can’t explain,” (truth be told, I passed out at the “backways” trigger, and had to re-run the episode for the rest of the quote the next day…). Interesting that there’s really no resolution at the end of the episode, nor a Charlie voice-over wrap-up (where he might have reminded Kelly that her job ain’t to fall in love with the clients or suspects).
A true Charlie’s Angels classic: Angels in Springtime. At an exclusive women-only health spa, old timey stage actress Marie Windsor gets parboiled in the sauna, and her librarian niece—from Lima, Ohio!—wants not only answers, but her aunt’s diary, which supposedly has some saucy things to say about her fellow thespians. Charlie, having tread the boards with Windsor back during the Punic Wars, tells the niece the investigation is on the cuff, and soon our Angels are undercover: Kris poses as an aerobics instructor; Bree’s a dietician, and Kelly is a guest. Oh, and Bosley shows up as an electrician, to no avail. The main suspects are icy, menacing prison matron spa manager Pat Delany; burly, butch prison guard physical therapist Nancy Parsons, the strangely-attracted-to-Kelly prison doctor spa physician Joan Hotchkis, and gravelly-voiced, wheelchair-bound prison old timer guest Mercedes McCambridge.
Apparently…the Angels have wandered into an all-women prison picture, not a spa. Angels in Springtime satisfies most of the genre requirements of a WIP flick (sorry—no naked delousing scene, or whippings). When thick-necked Parsons barks at sauna-snooping Ladd, “This happens to be my territory…so stay out of it!” I started to get giddy, topped off by her classic prison guard threat to our Angel, “A pretty little neck…I bet it would break easy.” Classic. Delany may as well be a warden intimidating the guards with her employee orientation speech (“Fat is the enemy here. You’ll regard it like a social disease,” and my favorite from page 13 in the employee handbook, on guest relations: “You will become their slaves,”). Even weirder—and definitely sexier—is man-hating Hotchkis’ uniquely erotic approach to giving Kelly a physical: a breathy, “You’re very beautiful…why are you here?” before she warms her stethoscope and lasers in with a direct, “Would you open your blouse, please?”
Angels in Springtime (what a great title for this sick little passion play) has a surplus of amusing moments, kicking it up into “classic” status in the Charlie’s Angels oeuvre. That peephole in Jaclyn Smith’s room: is that the biggest one you’ve ever seen in your life? The Exorcist’s Mercedes McCambridge makes a point of insisting she’s not a foot fetishist (if you have to say it…). Instructor Ladd commands that her students “Boogie!” and “Make it feel good!” (check and double check). Smith has the old Scientology trick pulled on her (hypnotize, taped confession, extortion). David Doyle has the single best pick-up line I’ve ever heard for any all-women’s institution: “If you’ll show me to your fuse box?” And Ladd has a flat-out hilarious fight with Parsons (she’s thrown around like a rag doll), before she’s almost steamed like a clam (I got rolfed into a semi-conscious state once…but can you get herbal wrapped to death?). Superior fun.
Back to reality. Winning is for Losers is a rather tired retread of previous sports-related CA episodes (Game, Set, Death from last season, in particular). Kris’s friend Jamie Lee Curtis is the new phenom on the links (yes, strangely it’s the women’s league), and so she’s naturally getting death threats. Who’s doing it? Maybe it’s Cheryl Ladd’s Josie and the Pussycats’ co-star, Casey Kasem (“Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the ceiling—hands up, you mother!”)? Kasem actually has a nice dramatic scene with aging, worried pro, E.J. Peaker (a fine actress who never got her due), but that’s about it for an episode that features all the women wearing nylons under their shorts. A bit of ABC synergy when Curtis’ exasperated manager Gary Bisig welcomes female detectives on the case: “I’m ready for Laverne and Shirley if they can help us.” Oh: Kris wrestles a gator (in California…) when her sawn-through footbridge collapses (yes. You read that). And how many times in the finale did they make green-around-the-gills Doyle run? He looks like he’s going to croak!
The 1970s’ obsession with ESP and psychic powers plays an integral role in Haunted Angels. At the Rossmore Institute for Psychic Research, some funny shenanigans are going on…and that becomes Bosley’s business, because his long-time bridge partner, Gretchen Wyler, donated the estate that now houses the Institute, in the hopes of contacting her beloved dead nephew. Now, someone is trying to convince her that her nephew is speaking from the dead.
Not a bad little mystery at all, actually, with a fairly nifty explanation for all the subterfuge and shaking bottles and ghostly voices. Don’t get me wrong—I love hilarious exploitation episodes like Angels in Springtime, but Charlie’s Angels certainly could have used more genuine mystery outings like Haunted Angels to occasionally help ground the overall series. Always nice to see old Canadian pro Peter Donat, here playing a psychic who’s realistic about the game. One fun line, though: Kelly is asked if she has “ever been out of body?” to which she silkily replies, “Not since puberty.” Cue the smelling salts.
More deja vu with Pom Pom Angels, which feels an awful lot like a mash-up between Angels On Ice and Angels in the Backfield from season two. California religious cults are spliced into the plot of missing cheerleaders for a twist…but it’s not much of one. I don’t even think scripter Richard Carr had much respect for his own story, considering he named the cheerleaders “The Bow Wows.” Best to just keep one eye on some droll (unwittingly or not) performances; in particular, Rick Carsola, as a dorky, dominated mama’s boy, essays a perfect sideways-glancing Charlie’s Angels pervert (much love for his distinctive dating method: “I think a lot…and I stare a lot.” Amen, freako. Amen).
Familiar face Ben Davidson is another recognizable Charlie’s Angels type: the hyper-sexualized hulking half-wit (that’s “HSHHW”). You’ll die giggling at those zooming close-ups of gruff-voiced Davidson moaning, “Mary Ann…Mary Ann!” over a picture of his unrequited love. And seriously…what the hell kind of passive/aggressive bullsh*t was Aaron Spelling playing on poor Anne Francis? That gawd-awful chopped wig? That potato sack dress? Was this some kind of revenge for Honey West not taking off? Sad to see such a talented performer in such a nothing role.
Um…excuse me, but where are Charro, Vic Taybeck, and Ann Jillian? In Angels Ahoy, the Angels board the Pacific Princess…which strangely has an entirely different crew than The Love Boat. As well as an entirely different manifest: someone is using it to smuggle refugees on the run, and Captain Parley Baer wants to know what’s what…or who’s who. Is it lounge singer Peter Brown? Or pursor Doug Sheehan? Or how about charming cynic, ‘ol Doc Jack Murdock?
I’m sorry, but I was expecting just a little bit more crossover appeal with Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg’s The Love Boat series, besides just using the same sets. You couldn’t get just a walk-through from Julie and Doc? And why they didn’t make Doyle assume the “Gopher” position (yes, it’s like it sounds) I’ll never know. That seems like a natural for some laughs (he’s quite good, as always, in his “mature romance” scenes, this time with Janis Paige). And seriously: no one told Jackson how stupid and annoying that New Yawk “cover” accent was that she pulled out on every other episode? Maybe she got fired for that. Why someone didn’t complain to the BBADL by that point is a genuine mystery (the “Bowery Boys Anti-Defamation League”).
Some hysterical non-perils for Smith, including her running towards a falling winch (???), an engine room fire that the killer manages to simultaneously set on both sides without his moving, and my favorite: almost drowning in the vast pool…because she refuses to swim five feet to the center to avoid the henchmen. Old pro Jack Murdock really puts this one over with his gamey, booze-soaked goblin charm, leering at Smith while delivering lines like, “I’m a good man to know…if you like gin,” or “Take two aspirins and come to my room at midnight.” His confession at the end (oh go to hell with your “spoiler alert” crap—it’s a 40+ year old episode) is particularly funny and acidic: “My motive was dreary and unexceptional: greed. I have to retire. All these glistening bodies lying about the pool, gleaming like sardines. Why should they live in indolent luxury while I end up with little more than varicose veins?” Had just one Love Boat regular like Florence Henderson, Rue McClanahan, or Ethel Merman showed up, Angels Ahoy would have gone into automatic “classic” status.
Dreary goings-on with Gary Collins, the processed imitation cheese food spread Robert Redford. In Mother Angel, a “precocious” child witnesses a murder and…see, I’m out. That’s it. I despise precocious children in movies and TV, so I’m not writing anything about Mother Angel, except that Farrah is back, and she looks seriously depressed (can you imagine the limo ride she had every day to the studio, knowing that a lot of people hated her for what she did?). Hermione Baddeley has a nice bit, I suppose (the same shtick, but it’s a good one), and future heavy Robert Davi looks amused at his stupid lines. But Gary Collins as a heavy—smartly dressed for a day out yachting and killing—is strictly from hunger. Doyle doing a Valley Girl imitation (“Gross out!”) at the end does not save this episode.
Much, much better is Angel on My Mind. Kris, leaving by the Cafe Espana’s back door after having lunch with the Angels (dine and dash), witnesses irate customer Michael Whitney zap the cafe’s owner, right before he gives her a “Toronado Trunk Ride” (not what you think, perv) right into a pile of garbage cans (Lynch totally stole this scene for Mulholland Drive…). Whammo! Instant amnesia: television’s most popular malady! With Kris wandering off like one of those sweetly blank actors in a dementia medicine commercial, it’s up to the Angels to track her down.
This is one of my favorite Charlie’s Angels episodes, primarily because Cheryl Ladd is wonderfully lost and beautiful (just how I like ‘em!). A clean, simple storyline from Edward J. Lakso, and relaxed direction from Curtis Harrington, giving Ladd plenty of time to quietly emote, mark Angel on My Mind as a special one. Now of course, there are still moments of Charlie’s Angels tomfoolery, like Smith telling Billy Barty—with absolutely no irony—that she wants to have “a little conversation” with him, or hobo Dix Turner, who plays the kind of 1970s TV bum who still dresses like Red Skelton, and who can pitch a tent (just stop it) and build a campfire on a patrolled public beach, and no one complains.
However, most of Angel on My Mind consists of shots of Ladd looking longingly out towards the sea, remembering her childhood (there’s a rather spectacular shot of her alone on the beach—from a TV series not especially known for its visual splendor—that’s quite lyrical and almost scope-ish in impact). Ladd has to carry the whole episode by playing the amnesiac, and she does very well with it, not going for the obvious cliches that that kind of role lends itself to, but rather playing it still and quiet, achieving a mysterious and enigmatic effect (isn’t she the very picture of the pretty amnesiac we all wished we could meet in our movie dreams?). In an equally surprising wrap-up for a Charlie’s Angels episode (it’s actually…sad), lovely, melancholy Ladd describes her existential journey back to her childhood: “It was sort of peaceful. I liked remembering it. I’d like to go back…but I guess I can’t.”
Angels Belong in Heaven is mostly interesting for Kelly’s house guest-from-Hell, Tracy Swope. Now, there is always-fun Lloyd Bochner as an ice cold assassin for hire (Bochner would look perfectly groomed in a plane crash), and one of the guys who pushed Ironside’s wheelchair around (he’s like a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of Paul Newman…if Newman was a colorless, generic TV actor). And there’s a fairly interesting hostage showdown at Smith’s picture-book Better Homes and Gardens showplace, after Bochner purrs to Smith, “I don’t normally notice these things…but you’re very pretty,” (in Jaclyn Smith’s perfect world, such an admission is weakness, punishable by blowing away Bochner with neurasthenic aplomb).
Better though, are all the hysterical scenes of Smith’s more-than-possibly closeted friend, Swope, who flips out anytime Smith’s attention is drawn elsewhere. So who visits someone’s home with the intense desire to lay their personal burdens and troubles on the host (“I want to share it with you!” she commands her secret lover Smith)? Even funnier is Swope’s air of being unnecessarily put out over her emoticon-vaca, when a possible murder botches her plans for ice cream, back issues of Mademoiselle, and a slap ‘n’ tickle fight with Smith: “I’m not going anywhere until someone tells me what’s going on!” she thunders as she’s hustled out of harm’s way (uh…it’s not your house. Understand, dimwit?). When an unnerved Swope snivels to best friend-from-camp Smith that, “I guess I’m still looking for your approval,” the look of amused disgust on self-assured, always-in-control winner Smith, is priceless. And of course Swope must know this; her barely-submerged hatred for such perfection burns hot and bright when she kisses-off Smith with a sneering, “You’re still taking care of me.” Just like at camp, you perfect bitch. Absolute heaven.
The sport of kings. In Angels in the Stretch, the Angels are called to the track when a gambler, Sidney Clute, is killed. You see, Clute had a foolproof system (don’t we all, brother…) that included memorizing all the physical details of the ponies. And that knowledge probably got him killed…because someone wants to pull the old bait-and-switch to clean up at the windows when a plow horse is replaced with an identical-looking thoroughbred.
I haven’t been to the track since a certain nag named Paul’s Fancy Boy crossed the line two weeks later and put my van in hock, but I can tell you that the racing atmosphere in Angels in the Stretch is completely bogus. It was never this much fun. First things first: if you’re Kate Jackson, and you’re pissed that you’re not Meryl Streep, and you can’t stand those other two hotties on the show capturing everyone’s attention…do you really let the producers make you an “exercise boy” in a horse-racing episode? Okay, sure…“feminism.” Right. But you are not helping yourself, sir.
James “Bobby Meatballs” Gammon is back (from Angels on Ice)! He has a paralyzingly funny heart attack, mid-shovel swing, as he tries to brain an Angel (“Okay…nosey lady jockey!” Swooosh! Aaaarrrrggghhh!). And speaking of meatballs, okay, watch for this: when Jackson and ersatz Irish groomsman John David Carson go to lunch together…what’s with that extra (in the foreground) wearing an electric blue plastic Members Only jacket, making his plate of food disappear with his “magic napkin” flourish? The director let that go? Unbelievable. Worse is Kris’ tan cowboy boots over black jeans…with a plaid shirt. Jesus no.
And then there’s Mr. John David Carson, an actor to whom I physically respond in much the same way Jeff Caro reacts to a pickle touching his sandwich (we blanche). He’s obviously graduated from the Barry McGuire School of Twinkling Irish Drunks, because a word like “shirt” comes out “shart.” Come to think of it…that’s a pretty good one-word summation of this skills and career. His romance with Jackson is…unconvincing, to say the least.
Hugely disappointing. Angels on Vacation should be surefire: the Angels and Bosley, given a vacation by Charlie (thanks, Master), are traveling way back into the California mountains to see Kris’ aunt and uncle (Jeanette Nolan and John McIntire). However, the quaint little town is strangely stand-offish to returning local Kris and her friends, and before you know it, we got a gang of criminals waiting to use this mountain retreat for a bust-off of a Mafia kingpin who’s passing through on his way to prison.
How can you go wrong with ripping off Bad Day at Black Rock, the most imitated movie plot on 1970s television? The little town with the deadly secret? Your characters arrive; it’s picturesque…but the friendly locals aren’t so friendly. And little by little, the intimidation starts, before your characters have to find out the secret…or die trying. Come on—it writes itself! Not here. Edward J. Lakso comes a cropper with a downright lunkhead script, not aided by Don Weis’ deadly slow direction. Why in the world do they reveal the story’s mystery to the audience in the very first scene? How about some suspense, guys?
And how about the gang’s plan to get the snoopy Angels to leave town: let’s disable their car…so they can’t leave town! The only thing that saves this outing are the veteran old-timers who still command our attention, no matter what stupid things they’re forced to say: John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Lyle Talbot, Denny Miller, Jason Wingreen and Herb Vigran. Oh…and that ending. Where the Angels try to dress and act like old ladies but wind up looking like rejects from an Annie Hall Look-a-Like contest? One of the most incompetently directed finales in the series’ history. What a shame—the plot had so much potential.
Counterfeit Angels finds the girls fighting for their very lives as three Angel look-alike criminals (Hilary Thompson, Linda Scruggs Bogart, Robin Eisenman), masterminded by third-rate comedian Paul Cavonis, go around robbing sports arenas and jewelry stores, while posing as the Townsend Agency (Cavonis even sets up the scores over the phone, using his expert Charlie imitation). Unfortunately, mobster Wynn Irwin wants in on the action…and that could prove deadly for the real Angels, who are on the run from the cops.
Not top-flight CA by any stretch (particularly because scripter Richard Carr fails to take full advantage of the “evil twins” framework), but Counterfeit Angels is entertaining anytime we see the regular cast’s stunt doubles doubling for the actresses who are doubling for the regular cast (got that?). Memorable moments include Bubba Smith playing on that cool Pong® table that we last saw in Charlie’s office, and Bree showing again she’s a tad too aggressive interrogating witnesses, especially when they’re initially friendly (she blows it big with the old lady who at first believes the Angels are telling the truth). And seriously: enough with the Slip Mahoney accent and gum snapping, Kate! It’s played, okay? Ladd’s amusingly catty as she’s assessing “Fake Kris” Eisenman’s body (which is insane), while that ping-ponging pistol that the Angels shoot back and forth on the carpet, is the stuff of dreams. The episode wraps with everyone doing celebrity voice imitations (what fun): Charlie is Bogey (nope); Kelly is Kate Hepburn (acceptable, but she’s easy, anyway); Kris is Vivien Leigh (uh…next), Bree opts out, of course (bet they loved that on the set), and Bosley is Sydney Greenstreet (killer).
Yaaassssssss: disco and a psychotic strangler equal an automatic “Excellent” rating. In Disco Angels, someone is killing bums who ride the bus to the beach, and they’re somehow tied into the city’s hottest disco, Freddie’s. When informed of these crimes against hobo-manity, Charlie, instead of murmuring a polite, “Thank you,” to the unseen “Bus Strangler” before moving on to new business, decides to take the case for club owner Peter MacLean (who’s having trouble with the wife, Diane McBain—sad to see her in such a nothing role). So the Angels go uncover at the disco, with Kelly pretending to be a writer; Bree a record promoter (“Um…that’s okay, Miss Duncan—you don’t have to sleep with me so’s I’ll play this record,”), and Kris is a paid dancer.
Where to begin…. Okay. Freddie’s Disco is L.A.’s hottest club…with the world’s smallest dance floor (looks to be about 8 x 8). Club dance pro Gregory Rozakis appears to be the love child of George Maharis and George Chakiris. And what’s with his crazy father Titos Vandis, immediately flipping out after dancing with Kris, yelling about killing all senior citizens (I mean…I get it, but you are turning the lady off, sir). There’s a nifty cat fight between Kris and tall blonde Shera Danese. And again with the Angels breaking cover immediately, hanging out and putting their heads together and whispering stuff even though they’re supposedly strangers to each other—even the dishwasher can see something’s up.
Disco Angels really belongs to future Two-Moon Junction (heehee!) director Zalman King, who plays the club’s openly psychotic D.J., bugging his eyes out behind Harold Lloyd spectacles while screaming like he’s still shaking off 6 darts of animal tranqs. A frequently terrible actor (that’s why he went into directing), he’s nevertheless always a welcome sight because he seems completely oblivious to what a ham he is. It’s endearing. And at least he’s committing to the role (Smith looks genuinely freaked out when he roughs her up). Even better: he is the worst D.J. you ever heard? What’s with adding, “ah” before and after every other word (“Ah come on-ah, Ah come on-ah! Moooooove it-ah!”)? At one point, his patter included, “Age abuses God’s patience.” I grew up during disco: if a DJ screamed that from a booth, down would go the 7 and 7s we obtained with our fake IDs, and up would go our thumbs for a ride. Flipping out to the end, screaming that his “army” of fans will be “nothing” with him, King is the perfect kind of villain for this entertaining CA episode.
Terror on Skis! or…The Cast and Crew Make a Coke Run to Vale, While Miss Smith Gives Her Fiance Another Gig! A delicious winter outing with an All-Has-Been Cast!
Now, Dennis Cole is not only a champion skier, he’s also a Special Envoy to the U.N. (don’t laugh…have you seen the people at the U.N.?), and he’s in Vale, Colorado for a Pro-Am ski tourney and for some important negotiating and thinking and ciphering and stuff. Someone wants him dead, and those someones are Rossano Brazzi, Cesare Danova, and Francois-Marie Bernard, Italian radicals who are ticked off about something or other…some kind of massacre (frankly, when they were explaining it, I was getting a sandwich). Enter Christopher George, a no-nonsense icy pro G-man spy who’s out to get the guys who killed his pal in Vale. The Angels are called in to help, so it’s mixed doubles for everyone: Kris gets crabby George (he just needs love, can’t you see that?); Kelly gets lunkhead Cole, who falls for the fab brunette faster than you can say, “Hey, Jaclyn, can I borrow the credit card…I got a date tonight!”; Bree gets inexplicable Bernard; and Bosley hooks up with Cole’s shy secretary, Kathleen Nolan.
I smelled trouble with Terror on Skis when it opens with a kill on the slopes…and no one would spring for some cheap stock footage of a small avalanche (I would think that’s a given, yes?). But luckily, the episode gets even worse, so the laughs swoosh and swish by with regularity. It’s great to see Vale before the middle-class riff-raff invaded it, back when the only kind of person you could bump into was Jack Nicholson, for a bump of Vale’s other snow.
A surprising amount of snow action (no, the real snow) here, with some sweet skiing and snowmobiling (Kawasakis!) delightfully ruined by process shots of the stars that look like they’re out of Abbott & Costello’s Hit the Ice. It pains me to see how delighted Smith looks every time she eyes Cole up and down like a pork chop (couldn’t she see?). My wife, by the way, dropped to the floor and spoke in tongues when she saw Smith’s full-length fur coat. Someone couldn’t get Ladd into a bikini for a winter sauna (again: this kind of thing is prescribed by Scripture)? Terror on Skis’ weirdest element is Doyle acting like he’s starring in 9 ½ Weeks, ordering poor Nolan around, telling her what to wear. Decidedly odd, and Doyle doesn’t pull it off.
A very minor effort this season, Angel in a Box finds Kris kidnapped by crazy John Colicos, who wishes to avenge the death of his race car driver son. Wait…did you say “race car driver?” Yes, I did. What did you think I just said? So who might be connected with him? Very good! Jill, that’s correct! You’ve been paying attention! (This is why my kids hate me). Yep, Farrah’s back (wow…these court-mandated appearances are just the worst), and she “knew” the kid (in that way…), so now Bree has to play a French maid (yep…fast forward), and all sorts of malarkey follows (Biden for Emperor of the Violent Ward!).
I mean…what’s to discuss here? Doyle dressing like Dr. Watson, jack-assing around with a golfing cover that wouldn’t fool the kid from Deliverance? Farrah exclaiming, “I’m hot,” before stripping off her pullover (sure she was “at alert”)? Farrah and Jackson crashing into a maid’s cart like the Three Stooges? Jackson doing her other accent, this time from the Maurice Chevalier School of Helping Nazis and Chasing Beaver? The 25 mph car chase with the Orange Creamsicle Pinto? It’s all too dreary to go on (…and this episode stinks).
An all-girls school episode??? I get the Weinstein whim-whams, man. In Teen Angels (steady, Paul…), the Angels go undercover at Blackmoor College, where some funny stuff is going on…like murder. Head college punk, Audrey Landers, rules her underlings with an iron fist and a smart mouth. But she’s no match for new English teacher Kelly, new Art teacher Bree, and new 27-year-old student, Kris.
If Teen Angels has any drawbacks, it’s that I wish there had been more of the black glove giallo killer p.o.v. stuff that we get in the first strangulation. Granted, Audrey Landers’ crime syndicate is more than entertaining enough to carry the episode, but a few more kinky killings like the first one could have elevated Teen Angels into “classic” status. Oh, yeah, before I forget…did you notice how the dorms at Blackmoor look suspiciously like luxury apartment sets left over from other Spelling/Goldman productions?
I know she’s the villain here, but anyone else out there in love with Donna’s smart mouth and procuring skills? You wouldn’t want a girlfriend that focused and driven? And talk about prepared; anything you want she’s got: “booze, happy pills and downers.” She’ll even burn a barn down for you, with whomever you want gone, inside. A keen ability to read people also helps; when explaining why she torments a shy student, Donna responds, “She loves it. She needs it.” Landers could play sweet, and she could it play mean…and she was always more fun playing the latter, with a snotty, needling tone to her line deliveries that are priceless (I love her dismissive opening insult when hazing Kris: “You seem moderately intelligent, Kris….” Too bad there weren’t more scenes between her and equally disturbed handyman, wealthy-hating reverse snob, Hal Englund, who also won my heart when threatening an Angel: “You ain’t gonna do no more talking to nobody, pretty lady!” (my new motto). Teen Angels is a fun, amusing little TV drive-in exploiter.
Marathon Angels is the kind of episode you start to think is massively stupid…and it is. But then that very fact, along with its weirdly genial tone, starts to crack you up and you wind up loving it. So…Walter Brooke, a wealthy sportswear manufacturer, has dropped $25k into a marathon, for the express purpose of promoting his latest line. Unfortunately, two runners have suddenly disappeared, including the best friend of statuesque runner Danuta Wesley, who hires the Angels to go undercover at the marathon.
Once you start realizing that they’re serious with that plinky plinky music, you get that Marathon Angels is one massive goof. For an episode that cuts back constantly to two spectacularly beautiful women tied up and struggling in a van, Marathon Angels comes over as improbably light. Of course the marathon framework allows for almost continuous jiggly T & A shots (which is fine by me) once the race starts. Before that, though, we have about 20 minutes inside the race headquarters, staged in this strange barn of a set (it doesn’t match the park building exterior they show at all), where everyone hangs out three feet from each other, pretending those around them don’t see what they’re up to (like the runner petting her bagged snake—who couldn’t see that; she’s right over there!).
Once the race begins, it’s one amusing gaffe after another, sort of a running Gong Show, as contestants stop to audition for reporter Sarah Purcell, inbetween the Angels racing the clock to find the missing runners (some fun shots of the Pico entrance to the Fox lot, as well as leftover Hello Dolly set-ups, are a big bonus). I honestly can’t tell if Marathon Angels’ charm comes from the complete and total incompetence of director Bob Kelljan’s staging, or from some divinely-inspired brilliance that…yeah, forget that; it’s most probably the first one. Either way, it’s entertaining as hell.
A rather somber entry, Angels in Waiting is a Bosley-centric outing. Bosley, having met and instantly charmed Patricia Crowley at a restaurant, becomes increasingly upset when he returns to the office, faced with days’ worth of paperwork. What he really wants to do is return to Crowley, and that’s just what he does, getting ticked at the laughing Angels in the process when they rib him about being so predictable. He challenges them to “find him” as he disappears with Crowley for the day…but he doesn’t realize he’s being stalked by killer James B. Sikking.
While I find the central plot mechanics for Angels in Waiting faulty—why didn’t Bosley just ask for a longer lunch and go back to Crowley?—I did rather like Doyle’s increasingly angry responses to the girls’ initial indifference to his obvious discomfort. It gives a bit of reality to the Bosley character—he seems to only exist at the office, outside of being undercover with the Angels—that’s welcome. And Doyle, a good actor (when he’s not mugging the comedy lines), does very well with Crowley in the romantic/dramatic scenes (too bad I can’t abide Crowley…). The whole Sikking assassination plot is minorly interesting, until you figure it out (early), but overall, it’s Bosley’s coming to terms with his life and work (or does he?) that makes Angels in Waiting quite interesting.
In Rosemary for Remembrance, an old gangster friend of Charlie’s, Ramon Bieri, has been released from prison after over 40 years in the clink. Still stuck in the past, he lives in his huge, mortgaged mansion and drives a massive antique car, but still pines for his lost love Rosemary, whose murder he was unfairly imprisoned…and whom looks exactly like Kris. When someone tries to kill him, Kris goes maybe a little too far undercover to solve both mysteries.
Another surprisingly contemplative episode, Rosemary for Remembrance won’t be mistaken for The Great Gatsby, but it is a mildly intriguing take on the past, and romantic regret, with Ladd once again proving to be quite good at conveying ambiguous, unspoken emotions (she works quite well against huge bear Bieri). Why does she immediately begin to assume the appearance of Rosemary, putting up her hair, and wearing her clothes? She later says it was to jar his memory…but she certainly seems gripped by some other thoughts when she’s watching herself in the mirror. Does she enjoy the romantic nature of this obsession? Of course I enjoy the sillier episodes of Charlie’s Angels, but I wouldn’t have minded more serious efforts like Rosemary for Remembrance.
And finally…Kate Jackson tells Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg to kiss her ass in the season finale, Angels Remembered, a rather pathetic “clip show” where Charlie calls and congratulates the Angels on three years’ worth of casework…while Bosley and the women eat cake and drink champagne and keep one eye on their Longines and the other on the stage exit door. The clips are far too long, giving us almost mini episodes (like the Hawaii outing from season two), instead of lots of short “best of” shots. The only thing of interest here is the last shot of Jackson, toasting everyone and exclaiming, “…and to many, many more [years],” which had to be a laugh riot on the set, considering the writing was already on the wall for the actress when this was shot (and perhaps that’s what necessitated the need for a clip show…). Clip shows can be tedious and entirely unnecessary, or they can be fast and fun, sparking our memories of episodes and moments we loved from a series. Other than the bikini shots, Angels Remembered ain’t one of the latter. It’s a bum way to close out the season.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.