Hack attack smacks Angels off-track with thwack to Nielsen nut sack!
By Paul Mavis
So…I’ve got one ear to the radio, idly wondering if our gnomish governor has finally lifted his restrictions on non-essential activities, like bowel movements or independent thought (nope and nope), when I spot online a small p.r. item from over-the-air oldies broadcaster Cozi TV. Apparently, their ratings are up 25% since this whole “for giggles, let’s just destroy America” panic set in. Seeing as TV viewers now have to wear a Hazmat suit just to buy a burrito at the gas station, they’re sating themselves with endless repeats of Emergency!, The Six Million Dollar Man, Highway to Heaven, and of course, Charlie’s Angels…which leads right into my Mill Creek Blu-ray complete set Charlie’s Angels Season Four review of the iconic jiggle TV series—also known as the “Shelley Hack era,” or more commonly, the “Which one is Shelley Hack again?” era.
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Our story so far. With long-suffering Charlie’s Angels producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg having finally lowered the boom on obstreperous beanpole Kate Jackson, the search was on for a new Angel in the summer of 1979. According to accounts at the time, everyone and their sister were looked at for this coveted role (including starlets like Kathie Lee Gifford, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Barbara Bach). Charlie’s Angels, despite a downward trend, was still a big, big ratings hit (it closed out its 1978-1979 third season as the 12th most popular show on television). Landing close between Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd (I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers…but I feel the vapors comin’ on) would make anyone an instant worldwide celebrity.
Back in those pre-internet, Big Three TV network days, even starring in a 30-second commercial could catapult someone into the national consciousness. And that’s just what happened to tall, blonde Shelley Hack. Already a familiar (if “nameless”) face to many Americans because of her years as a bona fide print “supermodel,” Hack scored icon status when she appeared as the TV face of cosmetics giant Revlon’s Charlie perfume ad campaign. Hopping out of a Rolls and striding jauntily into a restaurant, beguiling several men on the way, before literally beaming at her unseen date, while New York cabaret legend Bobby Short rasps the commercial’s unforgettable jingle (“Kinda young, kinda now, Char-lie…Kinda fresh, kinda ‘wow!’ Char-lie!”), glamorous, gorgeous, saucy Hack instantly made a connection with the public that resulted in Charlie becoming the world’s biggest selling fragrance. Anyone—and I mean anyone—who watched TV back in the mid-70s knew that jingle, and knew who the “Charlie girl” was.
But did the public know—or indeed care—who “Shelley Hack” was? I’ve always suspected they didn’t. Apparently, Aaron Spelling put great stock in the promotional notion of the famous “Charlie girl” becoming a “Charlie’s Angel,” but that girl in the ad, isn’t in the show. Hack, with a rather tony Eastern background (born in Greenwich, Connecticut, father a wealthy Wall Street financial analyst, mother a former Conover model, educated at the exclusive Greenwich Academy and Smith College), may have invited a patrician label, but that reserve is nowhere to be found in the Charlie ad. There, she’s sassy and carefree and profoundly unserious. She seems wholly and delightfully conscious…of how delightful she really is.
So…how do you square that indelible, effervescent persona with the constricted, oddly-inflected, rather stone-faced grump we get with the Charlie’s Angels’ “Shelley Hack”—at least for the first several episodes? Certainly a novice performer could be forgiven for appearing a bit stiff (or even scared) in such a high profile debut (she had previously appeared in two movies: a well-remembered bit in Annie Hall and a co-starring role in the notoriously awful Joe Brooks romance, If Ever I See You Again). However, Hack’s entrance in the season opener, Love Boat Angels, is awkward by any measure. Her hair positively frizzy and blown-out (where’s that sleek, glossy Charlie flip?), Hack’s overly-measured, almost unfriendly demeanor (how dare she cut off the Angels and demand, “Could we take that again from the top?” as if she runs the joint), incongruously juxtaposed with her familiar Charlie open-mouth smile (she looks deranged), creates a decidedly unwelcome first impression.
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I don’t blame her, though. Later in the season, her hair looks great (being a professional supermodel, she wears clothes like nobody’s business), she eventually comes over a lot more confident and loose, and she ditches that gorping smile (no doubt after sensing where her stint on CA was headed…). She’s actually quite good in the one or two dramatic scenes they give her, too.
But therein lies the problem: what they give her. You can point fingers as to who actually ran the show, but ultimately, the buck stops at producers Goldberg and Spelling, and for whatever reasons, they totally drop the ball by failing to establish a viewer-friendly character in Hack’s Tiffany Welles (I always thought the producers should have directly referenced the Charlie ad in some way when introducing Hack for the first time onscreen—even to the point of copying it or parodying it when she made her first entrance. The audience would have instantly adored her for that playful wink and nod to them).
What were the producers even going for with Tiffany? It’s mentioned in the opener that her father was a Boston cop friend of Charlie’s, and that she’s a college-educated cop, as well. Okay…so cop, or Eastern blueblood? She’s certainly directed to act haughty and aloof in that first episode (or was Hack genuinely intimidated by the situation?), but why in the world would the producers want that particular contrast on Charlie’s Angels? In an interview, Goldberg stated quite openly that he and Spelling desired that “cold Connecticut” look and feel from Hack. Forget the laughable, ridiculously outdated notion (even back in 1979) of chilly Eastern blueblood college gals: how does that kind of character fit in as a team member on a show that is designed strictly as light entertainment?
Besides, Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly already had the “cool, reserved” beauty angle—what does Tiffany’s design offer in addition to that, other than somewhat brittle friction? They hired the actual “Charlie girl.” They had all that built-in audience goodwill for that TV icon…why the hell, then, didn’t they just mint that character?
Of course the irony is that the producers and scripters and directors then proceeded to drop that Eastern stereotype almost immediately, and basically ignore Hack for several episodes. Was the writing on the wall from the start? Was that lack of chemistry with the other actresses noted right off the bat, and thus a chill slowly descended on the chilly Tiffany Welles? Hard to say. Someone reported (take that with a grain of salt) that Ladd felt Hack didn’t understand the show’s intent, and took it all too seriously by actually trying to find a character and motivation in what was designed as really not much more than a “type” (working with Woody Allen might have done that). Did Hack mistakenly feel she had to fill Kate Jackson’s shoes, as the “voice of integrity” when it came to Charlie’s Angels? I somehow doubt that…but who knows.
What is clear is that despite a brief bump in viewers (no doubt the curiosity factor of checking out the new Angel), Charlie’s Angels’ ratings dropped even further as the 1979-1980 season wore on, and the lack of attention given to Hack by the producers—whether by design or simply poor planning—indicated that Spelling and Goldberg had probably made up their minds about her fate long before her ignominious dispatching. Infamously, in February, 1980, Smith and Ladd received Valentine’s Day telegrams from the production team, officially asking them to return for a fifth season. Hack did not, and learned the next day from a reporter—not the producers, not even ABC—that she had been canned. Remarkably, she still had episodes to shoot (that had to be a fun set!).
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Hack coolly blamed the producers for this publicity stunt/“new Angel hunt,” and asserted she had only planned to stay one year, anyway (perhaps the truth, since the CA gig raised her profile…but cut into her once-substantial modeling money). But no one bought her rebuttal (for the record, the remaining cast stated they liked her and wanted her to stay…but nobody threatened to walk in protest of her firing, either). Her tenure seen as a failure (she was let go, after all), it’s important to remember that Hack’s sole season of Charlie’s Angels still garnered a more-than-respectable 20th place finish in the Nielsen’s, down only 8 slots from the previous year. If viewers didn’t warm to “Shelley Hack,” it’s not because they didn’t like the “Charlie girl.” It’s because they didn’t like “Tiffany Welles.”
It makes sense that the season premiere episode, Love Boat Angels, would be a Spelling/Goldberg crossover outing with their Pacific Princess crew, since that series was at its peak, ratings-wise. This time, the producers at least get the context right (unlike the ersatz LB episode last season, Angels Ahoy): the entire Love Boat cast is (briefly) on hand to welcome the Angels aboard for a typical Pacific Princess week of fun, sun, murder, and the ever-threatening STD outbreak. Unfortunately, Love Boat Angels is more CA than LB, with Captain Stubing, Julie McCoy, Gopher, Doc, and Isaac quickly dispatched after a few amusing scenes, such as the obligatory “swimsuit parade” on the Lido Deck for our Angels (Isaac’s pained “Lord have mercy!” at absolutely ripped Ladd’s green string bikini is hilarious, and yes, when Doc says he wants to change his pants, the scripters meant just what you think they meant…). Why the hell didn’t someone write a brief comedy/romance scene with Ladd and Gopher (complete with laugh track)? Why didn’t Charlie talk to Captain Stubing? Why didn’t Julie play at being an Angel, even for just a day? Ah…missed opportunities.
As for Hack’s debut, I already described her initially disappointing entrance…but it gets worse as she continues to annoy with that strange, halting delivery and school marmish disdain (she praises Bosley’s Latin pronunciation as if he’s a dullard child who just learned how to button his fly). I can’t imagine a more unprepossessing introduction to loyal viewers of the series, many of whom tuned it to see what happened to Kate Jackson (the producers gleefully skewer Waldo with a not-at-all-veiled dig, explaining away her disappearance on marriage and pregnancy…right after Charlie (voice of John Forsythe) snidely offers, “I hear the honeymoon is over.” Classic Hollywood pettiness!). The rest of Love Boat Angels is acceptable action, with some decent production values (that opening helicopter/armored car gag is rather elaborate—the statues inside survived the fall?—while the shoot out-on-boats finale has some oomph), and one or two amusing performances (I wish they hadn’t made favorite Bo Hopkins so serious, but Barry Sullivan cracked me up when he admitted with a reasonably straight face that he gained pleasure watching a girl’s neck broken). Overall, Hack was in trouble right from the start.
Angels Go Truckin’ can be forgiven for just missing the whole CB craze (didn’t they know that Kris Kristofferson’s Convoy finally gave America the excuse to say, “We’ll have quite enough of that…”). However, it’s still a fun entry, with our Ladd and Hack going to trucking school (heehee! Those bitty girls can’t drive them big rigs!), becoming gear-jammin’, hot truckin’ mamas to help out Joanne Linville, a friend of Charlie’s (her all-girl trucking company is getting ripped off). Royce D. Applegate comes off best as good-natured slob Bingo, who sparks to spunky choke ‘n’ puke waitress Smith (“I have never seen anyone eat as much as you!” she exclaims to Bingo, while trying not to throw up, who delightedly beams back a big, “Thank you!”). Ladd is particularly loose and funny here (watch her pinch Smith’s fanny in the restaurant), while Hack—looking tall and rangy in her Urban Cowboy gear—seems more at ease. Some cute Smokey and the Bandit action (the girls have fun hiding hunky moonshiner James Carrington from a bear), with a fistfight or two thrown in for laughs. Love that Benny Hill-style fake country music!
“Jaclyn Smith in…The French Connection II!” Talk about a switch in tone: gone are the Love Boat crew and Smokey Bear truck slammin’, now replaced in Avenging Angel with Jaclyn Smith being turned into…a heroin junkie!! And truth be told…she does quite well with it (once she’s on the horse, her scenes with Mitchell are increasingly intense, and she pulls them off). Dope fiend Cameron Mitchell is finally out of the joint, and he’s going to pay back Smith for testifying against him in court. Only problem is, he was set-up by evil drug company guys Ray Krebbs and Stephen McNally, and they mistakenly believe Kelly might now know where that $12 million worth of heroin went, that Cameron stole.
I don’t have much of a problem with Smith attempting an ultra-“serious” episode here, but it’s entirely possible that loyal viewers tuning in had to be scratching their heads at the tone shift. This is more Kojak than CA, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what fans wanted. Even more distressing is the trend this season towards focusing one one Angel per story, rather than making the case-solving a team effort. Did that come about to satisfy Smith and Ladd, who wanted more screen time, while also getting a break in the production schedule when it was someone else’s turn to star? It’s possible. But what’s lost is that feeling of camaraderie among the detectives that is so crucial to the show. After all, it’s called Charlie’s Angels, not Charlie’s Angel.
And despite what today’s fans insist, a primary element of “fun” is necessary, too. I don’t watch CA for a heavy message. Kudos, by the way, to perv Cameron Mitchell for first checking out an unconscious Smith’s feet (a man after my own heart). And I laughed out loud at Hack’s attempt at pissy consternation (“What…the devil…is going…on there?”), before she offered an irritating, “Shall do,” to a Bosley instruction. “Shall do”?? Cripes….
An exceedingly tiresome episode, Angels at the Altar finds Smith attending her friend Kim Cattrall’s wedding, where characters like Robert Walker, Jr. (looking even more pinched than usual) and John David Carson (that actor…is just the worst) all have a secret, exchanging furtive glances at each other between the fake assassination attacks on groom Carson. Hack, the newest Angel, is completely ignored here. Why? How does that help the show? Somewhere between the shrimp puffs running out and the preacher announcing, “I now pronounce you…guilty as charged—hit the dirt, scumbag!” we get old pros Parley Baer hitting on anything in a skirt (he almost gets Kelly…), and Marie Windsor croaking out, Oh, Promise Me to paralytic effect.
In Fallen Angel, the “Ice Cat” Timothy Dalton brazenly lifts diamonds from his jet set brethren. Rhoda‘s Johnny Venture doesn’t want his opera singing sister to get her fabulous Blue Heron diamond jacked, so he hires the Angels to seduce Dalton in order to catch him in the act. There’s only one problem: Dalton must be gay, because he fails to respond to any of the Angels’ ministrations. Kris, as a potential tenant in his condo, goes right for the throat and asks, “Are you still keeping it up?” (booooiiiiiiinnnnnnnggg). Unfortunately, she’s talking about his sailing, so he blows her off (strategic mistake). Kelly, engaging her ridiculously fertile pelvic girdle in a beach run, tries repeatedly to get his attention: no go (Tiffany is dismissed with a sneer from Dalton that looks all too real, frankly). So…is he gay? No! He’s screwing Jill Munroe (court appointed cast member Farrah Fawcett-Majors)…and she likes it. She likes it so much…she’s willing to help him steal the diamond.
Of course we never believe for a second that Jill has gone rogue, but it is fun to see a seething, dismissive Farrah turn on her little sister (she spits at her once that she’s “poison”) and her friends in her undercovers undercover effort. Dalton slums nicely, as always (that opening scene, where he kisses the hand of the woman in the shower he’s robbing, is quite amusing), while we wind up with a cobra in the diamond box, and a sweet rooftop kung fu battle. A nice little Bondian outing, with Farrah scoring points for telling the Charlie Angels‘ cast and crew what she really thinks of them.
Oh baby what you do to me. If you’re going to repeat yourself, you might as well mint from the best, and that would be season one‘s Angels in Chains. Caged Angel finds Kris in minimum security lock-up, undercover as a con to see what kind of shady deal is going down in Calejo Prison. Okay, wait. Nothing gives me the Hong Kong bing bang bongs like a good old-fashioned woman in prison flick, and Caged Angel (mostly) delivers. Things start off promisingly when Kris is greeted at the gate with, “Hey, foxy lady.” Later, she’s welcomed to the block with, “New chicken coming to the roost.” Better, better…. Once we got to the skin search (“Start chucking, down to the pink. Just pretend I’m your mamma,”) I was hyperventilating, before the jackpot hit: a humiliating delousing! And…I passed out.
Alas…Caged Angel plays it too seriously at times for what should be just a guilty wallow in filth. I mean, when The Honeymoon Killers‘ legend Shirley Stoler holds down Kris with a threatening, “Just take it easy, chicken,” I don’t want Kris to start crying. Like she actually means it (and by the way: was that part of her act? Because it doesn’t look like it. Kris is supposed to be tough…now she’s losing her sh*t in prison? Tough it out, b…). Sally Kirkland walks away with the episode, starting off as scary bruiser Lonnie, who later turns out to be quite sensitive: she tells Kris all you need to do is “talk to someone” when you’re scared (knocking heads works better).
In Angels on the Street, stiff, proper Ford Rainey runs a dusty conservatory of music and dance on L.A.’s Skid Row, along with his shy daughter, Amy Johnston. She’s a whiz at paying the bills (considering they have all of 3 students), but for some unknown reason, she keeps getting her ass beat by pimp extraordinaire Richard Lynch. Whatever he knows about Amy, she doesn’t, so the Angels are hired first as students—and then hookers—to see what’s going down on the streets.
If Angels on the Street was another one of those later-series push for “realism” on Charlie’s Angels, with a tougher, more socially relevant storyline…well, it’s a laughable misfire. Forget the non-mystery of good girl Judy/bad girl Rose: if you can’t tell what’s going on between the poor makeup job and song lyrics such as, “If I could see, the sum of I and me…,” may I suggest you watch Vertigo, Homicidal, The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil. Just concentrate on the Highlights version of what it means to be a hooker and pimp here. Lynch (one of the best villains of the 70s) is positively Puritanical in his approach to keeping his hos in line (right…he doesn’t rape Kelly and Tiff to first “try them out” and then discipline them for mouthing off). At one point, Gold Award Girl Scout Kelly actually gives your mom’s “that school yard bully is really just a coward” speech to Lynch’s girls (they somehow manage not to die laughing). If they wanted to look at sexual exploitation in a serious, hard-hitting manner, they wouldn’t have Kelly joking about her and Tiffany—as a “team”—costing a thousand dollars (“That’s pretty kinky!” Bosley exclaims, to which Kelly responds—quite rightly—“That’s why it’s a thousand,”).
By the way, Kelly looks hot as hell as a whore (if a bit too glamorous, still), while Tiffany looks like a background player who wandered off the Irma La Douce set (that girl can’t catch a break). Is it unkind by this point to ask: what kind of detectives are the Angels? They give Judy all of 30 seconds when they first meet her, before grilling her gaining her confidence. Later, they do that whole “let’s congregate as strangers in front of the perps,” tipping off even the slowest criminal, while using (what else) their real names (how many times was that plot device used?). Angels on the Street is one of my favorite episodes this season…but I’m pretty sure not for the reasons the makers intended.
Ugh. In The Prince and the Angel, Farrah is back, and she’s fallen in love with Prince Leonard Mann. The only catch? She doesn’t know he’s a prince. He’s hiding in America, wishing to become independent, while eluding assassins and falling for blonde goddess Jill.
There’s not much to say about The Prince and the Angel. It’s a hackneyed plot you’ve seen a million times before, headlined by an actor that, frankly…I don’t understand the appeal (at one point the girls say he’s an “11.” This of course can be accounted for by President Carter’s gift to America: insane inflation). Farrah is really breathtakingly pretty here; even with the dumbest material she can connect with the audience on a visceral level that’s pretty rare. As for our “Charlie girl”…she finally looks pulled together, with minimal makeup, her hair soft and natural, and her clothes preppy and crisp. Too bad she and Kelly and Kris have little to do in this Farrah-centric outing.
Finally, something truly meaningful: roller disco. Venice, California, the center of all that’s sun-bleached and vacuous. There, the Angels are learning how to roller skate, but tragedy hits: roller god Ed Begley, Jr. holds court in a oily parking lot, but his stacked partner Lory Walsh is kidnapped. That means the big roller disco competition at club owner Rene Auberjonois’ Roller Boogie Palace is in question. Can Roz “Pinkie Tuscadero” Kelly help the Angels find rich heiress Rita?
Delicious…but ironically, not enough roller disco. Auberjonois (deliriously crass and hilarious) gets the best line in Angels on Skates when he declares he’s going to “make roller disco a household word.” If I remember 1979 correctly, he was amazingly successful: everyone talked about it for 3 days…and then Roller Boogie and Skatetown, U.S.A. came out and that, as they say, was that. It’s too bad there weren’t a ton more scenes of said discoing…but you take what you can get. The plot is stupid and obvious, of course (why again does Rene take Kris back as a chorus member when he knows she’s a detective?), while all pretense of The Townsend Agency being run as a “for profit” business has been abandoned. As expected, Roz Kelly walks off with the episode. It’s a shame she blew up her own career; she’s so wonderfully energetic and sassy and raring to go, regardless of the material. And just to make sure we understand that Angels on Skates is really nothing more than a kidnapping caper slapped onto a 1940s Hollywood musical, our plucky heroine is rescued from her chains and literally skates right out onto the rink (post-torture hair and makeup looking perfect, girl!) to win the big contest! A favorite this season.
Another college campus one…. In Angels on Campus, it’s “Pledge Week” at Tiff’s old sorority, Kappa Omega Psi (which coincidentally was located right down “Fraternity Row” from my frat: Delta Handa Poka). A legend with the girls, she’s Rush chairwoman and she’s there to help. So’s her old house mother, Jo Ann Pflug, who’s still around checking locked doors and shooing out the equally decrepit panty raiders. Well! There’s a nasty little secret on campus. No, not that Gary Collins is a famous Chaucer lecturer (snicker. snort), but that there’s a white slavery smuggling ring…and it is not an approved intramural activity (one can audit it for credit, though). Enter new student Kris (again???).
It’s not Satan’s School for Girls, but it’s breezy enough. Angels on Campus finally gives Hack a chance to headline an episode (a little late, guys), and the story’s a good match for her strengths. She comes off as cool, collected, commanding, and best of all: collegiate (she looks so…clean). The highlight of the episode has to be the sorority volleyball game (pass the smelling salts…) that Tiff coaches; her put-down of frat bro Richard Hill (“I like men…not boys,” she sneers, standing over the prone Hill as she twirls her whistle); and her post-shower menacing in the locker room (she needs a shower after just coaching?). Hack looks good at the finale, wasting everyone while brandishing that Smith & Wesson (and while we’re at it—how cool is that jump cut/recoil shot for Hack’s credit sequence intro, as she fires right into the camera?).
Jo Ann Pflug must have thought she was appearing in Caged Angel; her performance is nothing short of “hard-charging lesbian prison warden.” And Gary Collins, usually so blandly heroic, essays another smooth villain for the series; he’s good at it (he gets laughs believably hitting on both Tiff and Kris within five minutes of each other). And finally, just in case you might think Angels on Campus has something serious to say about the still-horrific problem of human trafficking to Middle Eastern countries, don’t worry: Kelly knows how to look on the funny side of life. At the wrap up, she coolly offers, “I don’t know…I think Tiffany would have looked great behind a harem veil,” (oh you scamp!).
In the ridiculously entertaining Angel Hunt, the girls are stranded on Diablo Island, off Mazatlan. They’ve been kidnapped by one of Charlie’s arch enemies, Lloyd Bochner, who wants a ransom for the Angels. If Charlie doesn’t come in person to pay it (so Bochner can stab him to death with his precise diction), an Angel will get dusted each day until there ain’t no more. Too bad the island was a former game preserve…complete with hungry tigers (yes. Tigers).
Yet another variation on The Most Dangerous Game, Angel Hunt piles on one ludicrous situation and coincidence after another…which is exactly what we want in this kind of episode. It’s tough to single out the most egregious example. Maybe it’s the Angels being terrified of…a peacock calling (are they the dumbest detectives ever?). How did Kelly get that beach fire started, when she left everything on the boat? Can Lloyd Bochner ever stop sniffing in disdain? How in the hell did Tiff spot a single cigarette butt, amid the jungle debris, from 15 feet away? When the Angels zap a slumming L.Q. Jones with a dead fall (pretty cool), they don’t grab his gun? Hands down winner, though, is Tiffany taming a ferocious tiger who apparently had EST training (“You stay in your space, and I’ll stay in mine,” Tiffany offers, as the blase tiger walks off). A total hoot of an episode, its most poignant moment is a clearly desperate Shelley Hack begging the other Angels to accept her “as family”…to absolutely no discernible impact on an impassive Smith and Ladd (she does look fab tied up, though—those pins!). Oh…and we get a new “back of Charlie’s head” actor for some reason. A late series classic.
A nice change of pace mystery, Cruising Angels isn’t another hooker episode (unfortunately). Bosley is buying a boat for Charlie (the Wayward Angel, of course), from sexy Beverly Garland. But he doesn’t realize that the Angel is involved in a plot to smuggle gold for a crooked Latin general. Will Bosley’s heart be broken yet again?
Of course it will. And to David Doyle’s credit, he handles these once-a-season romance episodes with aplomb. He’s smooth and charming when romancing Garland, and he’s believably vulnerable and hurt when he gets the inevitable kick in the balls (so to speak). The marina atmosphere is a big plus here, along with a supporting cast of pros (Rodolfo Hoyos Jr., Reni Santoni, Gene Evans) that are always welcome faces, particularly Garland (talk about a talented actress who was rarely stretched to her capabilities) and the marvelously sinister Peter Mark Richman (still with us and going strong!)—one of my all-time favs. Oh…and the “D” is missing from the Orange Creamsicle badge.
Back to goofy. In Of Ghosts and Angels, ESP “sensitive” Tiff is having weird dreams about a murder at a spooky old mansion. Cue a weekend invitation for all the Angels from Tiff’s old friend, heiress Robin Mattson. She’s newly married to stiff, wealthy Paul Burke, and they live in a mansion…that looks exactly like the one in Tiff’s dream! Is someone gaslighting poor Robin, or trying to kill her…or is she truly haunted?
Episodes like Of Ghosts and Angels are foolproof. You just need the right production design (spooky house, low lighting, creepy music cues, a stormy night), and plenty of long shots of characters walking around a house, being scared while listening for sounds, to make it work. Easy. And they succeed here. You don’t have to be a bona fide medium to figure out what the real plot is…but you might question the introduction of supernatural elements into the story. I guess I don’t care if we find out Tiff once tested positive as a “sensitive” at university and worked with a ghost hunter, and held seances, and all that stupid crap. Whatever, fine. But somehow, a supernatural element introduced into a straight mystery/detective series such as Charlie’s Angels, with no fully established precedent (and no subsequent follow-up), is more than jarring and distracting from the overall “realistic” bent of the series.
What’s completely out of line in Of Ghosts and Angels, however, is the “following” of the haunting spirit outside of the mansion (where the story was self-contained), and into the Townsend Agency, where one of the most embarrassing shots in the entire series occurs: a doubting Bosley has his desk levitated, straight out of The Exorcist. Having an insular ghost story anchored at a haunted mansion is one thing, but to violate the series’ safe, steady, reliable homebase—the Townsend Agency office—with such a cheap geegaw joke that we’re supposed to take seriously, is a colossal miscalculation of what the viewers would stand for. No wonder eyeballs were bailing on the show, with nonsense like that fade-out.
Well…I bitched about “realism,” so I got it. And you can have it. In Angel’s Child, Kelly has to work with volatile cop Simon Oakland on a case of warehouse robberies. On a stakeout, Kelly stops Oakland from zapping a perp who killed Oakland’s partner. Thanks to her efforts, Oakland instead blows off steam by beating his kid, Michael Hershewe, for watching TV (probably watching Diff’rent Strokes over on NBC). The criminals are hot to kill Kelly, but she’s more interested in bringing father and son together.
By this point, Charlie’s Angels is all over the map. One week we’ve got the Angels joking about being hookers, the next a noob talks down a tiger; followed by spookums lifting Bosley’s desk, to then this episode—a rather somber, depressing outing which yet again eliminates the “team Angels” effort, while focusing on a distasteful subject matter that wasn’t going to move many CA dolls and posters at the mall. I get that Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd, by this point, wanted more “serious” subject matter to star in, but frankly, that kind of swinging-wild tone shifting was undoubtedly a factor in the show’s declining ratings. Hey, as a kid, if I wanted to see someone get beaten by his old man, I’d look in the mirror. Or I’d catch Kojak or Police Story or even Dragnet or Adam-12. Not Charlie’s Angels. Charlie’s Angels was escapism, pure and simple. If a hint of “realism” was needed or wanted at times, just to mix things up, fine…but this episode goes too far afield of the series’ original entertainment intentions. It’s a downer. Give credit where credit is due, however: Jaclyn Smith is extremely strong in her dramatic scenes, showing an underlying core of talent and ability that’s impressive (she’s also lovely and soft and caring in her scenes with the boy).
For One of Our Angels is Missing, Kris goes undercover as a rich, horny heiress in order to lure thief Jonathan Goldsmith (“The Most Interesting Rapist/Murderer in the World”) back to Los Angeles. Why? He skipped out on bondsman Don “Red” Barry’s bail, and Charlie has no way of getting Barry’s money back—short of kidnapping Goldsmith. Can Kris keep handsy Goldsmith off her long enough to survive the drive from Phoenix to Hell-A?
A fairly suspenseful, mean little outing, One of Our Angels is yet another mostly-solo effort, giving crafty Ladd plenty of opportunity to think and plot and tap-dance her way out of Goldsmith’s clutches. This one works primarily because it stays nice and simple: she’s the bait, and he wants her, but she has to keep him sweet without giving herself to him. A big help, too, is handsome Goldsmith, who’s contrastingly oily and sleazy. You buy he’s a crumb when he opens his seduction with champagne (dude, that’s a closer), and then flowers (Ladd’s “yuck” is priceless). And I’m always in for one of those action finales where the principles scramble all over big, abandoned machinery (a quarry rock crusher here). Notice, too, how they’re not even bothering to try and include Hack in the office scenes anymore? She’s clearly in the process of being frozen out. Straightforward tension, nicely realized.
Back to porno. In Catch a Falling Angel, poor, illiterate hottie Elissa Leeds has been convinced by her gangster/porn producer boyfriend Gary Wood that the kind of movies she makes (raped by cavemen, raped by bikers) are “art films.” She wants to be a singer, too, but she doesn’t want her old boyfriend from back home, Robert Pierce, around…which Wood facilitates by running him over with his Ford LTD. It’s up to the Angels to find out what’s going on.
Who’s getting tired of Kris always being the undercover slut? Even she’s not trying to hide her boredom anymore (and those ridiculous outfits they put the Angels in, when they want them to be tarts). Worse, the script doesn’t even put her in a porn shoot situation that she then has to get out of (talk about teasing the audience). Catch a Falling Angel makes noises about the Angels feeling sorry for poor Leeds (her wide-eyed, little girl performance helps). But when push comes to shove, this is fairy tale time, with a Woody Allen-look-alike director on set for laughs, and Leeds’ insane body on display just long enough to quash any pretensions the producers may have had about “saying something meaningful about something…or other.” Enough with the dopey songs, too (when Tiff helpfully plays a cassette of Leeds’ song over her unseen porno, I was praying for battery failure). A bus ticket home to mama makes everything okay for porn star Leeds, thanks to the Angels.
Real estate and home burglary are featured in Homes $weet Homes. Slimey, glib Dick Gautier runs the most exclusive realty company in Beverly Hills, staffed only by beautiful women (see where we’re going?). Funny thing, though: he seems to be around every time one of those swank mansions gets boosted of priceless swag. Is he casing these joints? Is it time for (who else) Kris to go undercover as a realtor?
An amusing outing, thanks to some funny performances by pros Dick Gautier and one of my all-time favs, Vito Scotti, playing a caterer with a phony accent and an endless ability to grovel (Smith gets laughs pretending to be a Beverly Hills matron who feeds her poodle off Scotti’s silver fork). Hack is given the role of a wealthy society babe looking to unload a house; she tries on a slow, breathy voice that’s supposed to sound sexy, but comes off like she’s been sedated—cartoon style—with a 2×6 to the noggin (you really feel for Hack at this point in the season; it’s clear the producers have zero interest in her). Doyle scores as a loudmouth buyer who has trouble with a waiter at a too-cramped outdoor bistro (“You call that fat boy and see if he can get my coffee over here without knocking me outta ma chair!”). Gautier holds the whole thing together with his smarmy charm. With his shirt literally unbuttoned to the waist, and his too-slick smile, he’s quite amusing, making 3-way jokes (“You don’t believe in multiple listings?”) with catty, jealous Mini-Skirt Mob babe, Sherry Jackson, or pulling a “Spelling” “Epstein” “Weinstein” when he hauls Kris into his “bomb shelter” playroom and demands sex (actually, he winds up pulling a “Cosby” with a spiked drink). An energetic barbell fight winds up the show, with a hot tub flip for player Gautier.
A lovely little throwback. In Dancin’ Angels, the team goes undercover at the failing Dancetown ballroom, where band leader Cesar Romero is trying to bring back the old days with a $5K marathon dance contest. The Angels are hired when wealthy contestant Lindsay Bloom disappears. Who dunnit? The tough talking gangster owners, Norman Alden and Lee Delano? Or rival contestants Jason Kincaid and Pamela Peadon?
A surprisingly effective old Warner Bros. gangster/musical rehash (with a little bit of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? thrown in for pathos), Dancin’ Angels walks a nicely fuzzy line between “today” (1980), and the obsessive fantasyland created by the participants’ sheer willpower. Romero, still impressively suave and debonair, effortlessly lays it on an impressed Kelly when he dances with her: “The perfect name, for the perfect lady,” (ironically, the same line he used on Van Johnson when they first tangoed at the Trocadero). As much as he wants to bring the old days back, he’s constantly made aware that the players around him are just that: players pretending they’re back in the 1930s, and he visibly resents it. At the fade out, he sadly laments, “There doesn’t seem to be a place for me anymore…you know what I mean?”
Delano has a field day as a side-talking wannabe gangster who idolizes the old movie tough guys like Bogie and Cagney. In a strange, wonderful little exchange with Kris, he describes, “the good old days,” when guys saw something and took it…if they wanted it (such as dames like Kris). Kris, slightly incredulous, corrects him: “Those were good old movies. Pretend, you know?” But Delano isn’t having it: “No. Movies reflect life. So there had to be guys like that,” he humorlessly insists. Kris, unmoved by the nostalgic pretense and openly laughing at him now, flippantly replies, “Well…whatever.” It’s a marvelous slap in the face to movie and TV lovers like myself, who occasionally forget how false (and frankly, inconsequential) the objects of our adoration were, and continue to be. In a nice switch, Hack looks absolutely fabulous in a slinky number, while Smith—unbelievably—looks rather cheap and tawdry (too much décolletage). One of the best entries this season, from longtime producer/writer Edward J. Lakso.
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Speaking of charming, in Harrigan’s Angel (notice it’s singular), Kris volunteers to work with down-on-his-luck gumshoe Howard Duff. You see, Duff was hired by electronics firm owner Ed Nelson. His warehouses have been hit by burglars and his insurance company insisted he hire two investigative firms. Thus, Harrigan and Kris, Inc. is formed. Can they crack the case, before Harrigan cracks open another bottle?
If any Charlie’s Angels episode deserved a spin-off, it was this one. Forget the plot’s main mystery—who the hell can’t tell shifty Ed Nelson is behind the whole thing? What’s delightful is the byplay between Ladd, who always seems to “get” working with older male actors, and Duff (at one point, a suffering Duff is asked by a sympathetic Kris: “Is it bad?” “Yeah.” “Where?” “My stomach. Inside. Omelette.”). We learn that Kris’s father was a drunk, too—but also someone who cleaned up into “quite a guy,” hence her immediate soft spot for Duff (Ladd comes alive when she’s playing off a pro like Duff; you can see it in her eyes—she’s really listening).
Duff, a delightfully versatile performer (and critically—a former radio star), could put a vocal spin on his delivery that made even the most mundane lines sound hysterical. Wisely not overdoing the “drunk” bit, Duff is only slightly wobbly, only somewhat hazy on where his next drink is coming from, but he’s watching, watching his co-star, setting the timing perfectly for his next deliciously off-center reading (there are so many classics here, but it’s a toss-up between, “I can’t eat on an empty stomach,” and his incredulous, “What are those?” as he spies an offered plate of innocent cookies). When they part, the looks exchanged between these two actors are about as real as Charlie’s Angels ever got. Why didn’t someone see how well these two played against each other, and bring them back together when Charlie’s Angels folded the next year? A real missed opportunity.
The Final Farrah. Farrah, kidnapped by her agent, her lawyer, her business manager and her accountant, has been deposited outside a mountainside gas station, where she witnesses paw paw L.Q. Jones and his sons Tracy Walter and John Dennis Johnston rob and kill the owner. She’s quickly snatched and the ride of her life begins, as the psycho mountain family tries to contain their lust for Jill as they bust out over the hills to Canada. There’s only one problem: the menfolk are all scrappin’ and fussin’ with each other. And that would be because of Johnston, who may be genuinely challenged (or just exceedingly annoying). After hearing him talk about trying to fish for 10 minutes, Jill begs them to assault and kill her. After hearing Johnston talk for 30 minutes about their mother trying to bake a cake, his brother Walter begs everyone else to assault and kill him. And when Daddy hears Johnston say for the 20th time, “Gee! It sure is bumpy!” on their ride, Jones begs everyone else to assault and kill him. Farrah doesn’t stand a chance….
Impossible not to like, An Angel’s Trail is a satisfying drive-in hillbilly actioner, sort of a Grissom Gang short subject minus rape scenes and bad language. Johnston’s grotesquely overwrought portrayal of a mentally challenged Steinbeckian “Lennie Small” (“…and I won’t squeeze the puppies too hard…but I always do!” he squeals) is also impossible not to laugh at (check out Farrah’s reactions to his overacting—they’re priceless). Walter is, as always, perfectly weaselly and sneeringly treacherous, while that old pro L.Q. Jones nails his part, alternating between phony courtly Southern charm, undisguised lust for Jill, and blank, cold, murderous intent (he gives an Emmy-worthy monologue where he describes what he did to his cheating wife: “…and I put her in a place where she ain’t ever gonna be able to run away again,”). Of course, none of this would work without the victim being both empathetic and cunning in her strategy to survive, and Farrah exits Charlie’s Angels on a high note, perfectly capturing a scared-but-smart abductee who is genuinely sympathetic to Johnston, while not at all hesitant to do what she must, to escape. It’s a fine performance by Farrah, and a fitting swan song for her time on the series.
In Nips and Tucks, plastic surgeon Louis Jourdan is in love with one of his greatest creations: Joanna Pettet. However, she’s hiding a secret. She already knows crook Tab Hunter, who just checked into Jourdan’s exclusive clinic and spa. Is Hunter—who looted a pension fund and who is on the run for the government—there to get a new face? Can the Angels and Bosley stop him before he goes under the knife?
Unfortunately, accomplished farceuer Jourdan plays his role far too seriously in Nips and Tucks, which I guess should have gotten him some kind of reward for maintaining a surgically straightened face. Couldn’t someone have added an element of low-key horror that this storyline so obviously begs for? Everything is so flat and obvious and resolutely determined to be unexciting. Oh well. A few scenes amuse, most centering around Bosley’s torture at the spa (Ladd gets a big laugh running down Doyle’s looks to surgeon Jourdan: “I understand you’re quite a miracle worker…and I’m sure it’s pretty obvious by now that that’s why we’re here….Nothing could be worse than the way he looks now.”). Hack is quiet and thoughtful in her scenes with patient Lisa Shure…but she’s not even invited to the episode’s final wrap-up (a fairly obvious snub/oversight). Speaking of Shure…that’s a hell of a makeup job under all those bandages. And let’s not forget the last Angel, Kelly, who somehow manages not to get fired for insubordination and idiocy when she corrects Charlie’s “hitman” reference: “hit person,” she helpfully offers.
Scrap bucket scripting. In Three for the Money, the Angels are hired by three separate clients who were conned by slickster Vincent Baggetta. It’s up to the Angels to time their cons precisely so he won’t find out.
Were these leftover story ideas that didn’t somehow flesh out into full scripts? Were they cobbled together here because of production schedule problems, perhaps due to Hack leaving the series? Hard to say…but this is a pretty poor excuse for an episode. The Sting it ain’t. It’s biggest drawback…besides the obvious con plotting, the desultory performances (Baggetta isn’t up to headlining one episode, let alone three mini ones), and the story inconsistencies (at one point, Kelly just shows up without the slightest bit of explanation)? It’s all exposition. Nothing but talk…and precious little of it entertaining or original or even competent. A drag.
Hoo boy…Toni’s Boys. Okay, so…someone is trying to the kill the Angels career. So Charlie hires another detective agency to keep an eye on our game gals. The agency is run by Toni Blake (Babs Stanwyck), a widow who inherited the agency from her detective husband. She has three operatives—all male, all handsome—and they include: Bob Seagren, a master Olympic champion; Bruce Bauer, a master of weapons and disguise; and Stephen Shortridge, a master rodeo rider, roper, and tracker. The Angels take one look at these dolts and ditch them—quick—but eventually, they realize these guys are zero threat to them over at Spelling Productions, so they let the boys stumble along in their efforts to bring down bad guy Robert Loggia.
The infamous back door pilot Toni’s Boys, a high-concept CA rip-off that Kris lays out very clearly: “a triple blind date with Captain America, James Bond, and The Lone Ranger.” I wish there was more to make fun of here, but oddly…it’s a pretty flat, undistinguished affair, with little to recommend or damn it. When they put together the three beautiful women in Charlie’s Angels, the actresses seemed to become more feminine and beautiful, just from the cumulative effect of their pairing. Somehow, though, with the handsome, masculine guys here…the opposite is true: these are the gayest butch operatives I’ve ever seen (and don’t bother pinging me about that joke…).
Then again…how are they supposed to be manly when their boss sounds like Charles McGraw in drag? I love Babs…but she looks surprisingly frail, and not at all comfortable doing this kind of “drop-in for a scene or two” episodic television (later on, it is funny how she channels her Cattle Queen of Montana character at a wine-tasting free-for-all). By the way…if Toni’s is such a successful, well-heeled detective agency, doesn’t this confirm that the Angels are the worst detectives in L.A.? They never even heard of their competition! Thank god Roz Kelly shows up again (did she and Spelling have something going on?). She’s an absolute hoot, flatly telling real-life Olympian Seagren, “Take your shirt off—I want to see the merchandise,” while she looks at him like a pork chop. If only she could have had more screen time…who knows? Maybe Toni’s Boys would have been picked up.
Goodbye, Tiffany…we hardly knew ye. In the special two-part season finale, One Love…Two Angels, attorney Patrick Duffy (snicker) shows up at Kelly’s door with the good news: her orphan days are over! Rich hotel owning curmudgeon Ray Milland is her Daddy, and that’s that. Kelly isn’t so sure, so she goes to San Diego with Duffy to meet the old bastard, and promptly falls in love with him. Duffy, not Milland. Just when she’s ready to accept her destiny as the owner of the fabulous old-timey hotel, Milland kicks it, and now Kelly is one rich heiress. Except, of course, that’s she’s not. Because someone wants her to be an heiress. Is is shifty nephew Robert Reed…who owes some dough to the mob?
Okay, first: major props to Duffy, the first character in any season (I believe) to nail two out of three possible Angels in the same episode. Gotta respect that (even with those weirdly foreshortened legs and that elongated torso). And not just nail them: he makes Kelly and Kris fall in love with him…and refuse to give him up! Dude must be like Kryptonite. Anyhoo, One Love…Two Angels is a pretty standard love triangle, worked out quite well with spiffy pacing and solid thesping from all involved (Milland’s always funny doing his crotchety pissbag character). Most interesting is the open warfare that erupts between Kelly and Kris when they find out they’re both getting boned by the same guy. I always wondered what would happen if two of the Angels latched onto one man; it was bound to happen eventually (especially the way they all slept around). Fast friends and loyal teammates my ass.
Viewers who read the tabs did know that this was Hack’s swan song (not sure if it’s the last episode in production order), so it’s fascinating to see her dealt with by…not being dealt with. No final close-up, no hug with the girls or Bosley (Kris and Kelly make up and cry…while Hack is firmly out of the shot). At least Waldo got a goodby champagne toast. A pity…because by this point, Hack has her act down very well: collected and smart, and very, very beautiful (her hair is sleek and long and natural, while she wears her preppy clothes like a dream). Whatever the dynamics were behind the scenes, the “Charlie girl” acquitted herself quite well, by her final anti-climatic fade out. If she could take any satisfaction away from the situation, it would be that her replacement the following year fared no better—indeed worse—with viewers.
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.