Screw Gidget—Charlie’s Angels Goes Hawaiian and for five crank it-worthy episodes the fifth and final season of the ABC female detective series is nothing short of a frenzied whack-fest…particularly when newest Angel Tanya Roberts displays her insane Barbie doll bod.
By Paul Mavis
Reality, however, comes crashing back to the mainland, and that’s where the original—the only—Charlie’s Angels suffers its final death spasms and expires. Finishing up our Drunk TV look at Mill Creek Entertainment‘s dishy Blu-ray set, Charlie’s Angels: The Complete Series after a bit of delay (with Roberts barely clothed for 30 percent of the season, I needed to rest up and drink plenty of fluids), this truncated 16-episode fade-out was a ratings’ disaster for the 1980-1981 season. However, that magical 100 episode mark was crossed during this production run, ensuring the optimal number of shows for syndication, so…producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg had plenty of one thousand dollar bills to dry their cancellation tears.
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The story so far…. It’s spring 1980, and producers Spelling and Goldberg have just sh*t-canned toney Shelley Hack; whatever publicity value and ratings’ spike they thought they’d get out of having the original Charlie perfume girl on their show, went largely unrealized. The hunt for a new Angel was on! It’s important to remember at this point in the story that despite so many fans saying the writing was already on the wall for Charlie’s Angels by the time Hack arrived—that the show was played out and everyone knew it was soon to be a goner—in fact the ratings were more than solid at the end of Hack’s season. Coming in 20th out of all the shows on TV in the 1979-1980 television season wasn’t too shabby at all. Certainly it was worth the producers’ while to keep Charlie’s Angels going: more episodes meant more and bigger potential sales in syndication (Charlie’s Angels‘ incredibly lucrative foreign sales didn’t even start to roll in until Hack’s season, when Farrah‘s season one was just starting to debut internationally).
So the notion that Tanya Roberts was joining some sinking ship is a tad simplistic. True, the production staff and the cast (particularly Jaclyn Smith) were by this point tired of the routine—not to mention largely fed up with the scripts—but had this fifth season of Charlie’s Angels performed as well or even a bit below Hack’s fourth season, there was no reason to believe the producers wouldn’t have gone on with a sixth run. Outside factors we’ll discuss later influenced that decision…as well as the ratings, which created a shame spiral of certain cancellation.
Many of the press stories about Tanya Roberts at that time stressed that she “came out of nowhere” to land the Charlie’s Angels role, but of course that angle makes better copy than actual biography. Indeed, Spelling and Goldberg had already worked with Roberts just a few months prior, in an unsuccessful Vega$ back-door pilot, The Golden Gate Cop Killer episode from March, 1980, where Roberts and The Mamas and the Papas‘ Michelle Phillips were female Frisco cops. Now, whether Spelling and Goldberg had a contract with Roberts, or just a good experience working with her (ahem), isn’t clear, but either way she certainly didn’t just pop up out of nowhere when it came time for the new Angel hunt (…although she doesn’t seem to have left much of an impression after the job: check out that video interview with Goldberg…who, when prompted about the last Angel, can’t even remember Roberts’ name).
Robert’s “Julie Rogers” character was supposed to be one tough cookie, and by the looks of Robert’s bio, that wasn’t going to be much of an acting stretch. Born in the Bronx (top of the food chain, m-f’ers) with not a lot of money, Roberts eventually eloped at 15 and hitchhiked across America and Canada, before the union was annulled and she returned to New York. Making some headway as an actor (off-Broadway and cheap B movies, like Forced Entry) and model (Excedrin and Ultra Brite, among other TV commercials), Roberts eventually remarried and went to Hell-A, where she did more Bs (the excellent California Dreaming, cult classic Tourist Trap), as well as a couple of unsold TV pilots (Zuma Beach, Pleasure Cove, and Waikiki, all of which no doubt took advantage of Roberts’ notably smoking hot body).
Once she won the part of Julie Rogers, Tanya Roberts was on the cover of everything, as befitting a serious marketing push from one of the “Big Three” networks. I do remember some of the hype (and who could forget Robert’s startlingly blue eyes, red hair and um…everything else)…but I also remember not caring all that much, either, since the “new Angel hunt” heat had long since dissipated with first Ladd’s bow, and then Hack’s. It just wasn’t all that special of a publicity event by 1980.
Fate, unfortunately for Roberts, stepped in, in the form of a Screen Actors Guild strike, which delayed the summer shooting schedules and the subsequent fall premieres for many shows, Charlie’s Angels included. Audiences were already preoccupied with the Presidential election coverage that was filling in a lot of those blank slots in the network schedules (don’t worry: the world righted itself when Carter got the hook). So when their escapist entertainment was postponed, they were upset, and they went looking elsewhere. ABC couldn’t premiere Roberts’ first episode until November 30th—a full two months past the usual fall premiere period—when the network tried to gin up some interest with a blockbuster three-hour marathon of Angels bait: Julie’s introductory 2-hour episode, Angel in Hiding, followed by fun in the Hawaiian sun To See an Angel Die.
Regrettably, the suits at ABC did this on the worst possible night for Charlie’s Angels—indeed, CA‘s new night for 1980-81: Sundays, at 8pm. Big mistake. Sunday was “family night” for television in those days, when parents and kids tried to squeeze a few more hours out of the weekend before returning to work and school. And back in 1980-1981, they did that overwhelmingly by tuning into CBS, where 60 Minutes (3rd in the Nielsen’s), Archie Bunker’s Place (13th and directly against the Angels), One Day at a Time (11th), Alice (7th), The Jeffersons (6th), and Trapper John, M.D. (17th) ate up the majority of viewers. And, if there were any teen boys left out there at 8pm, they were watching CHiPs (24th) over on NBC.
Charlie’s Angels‘ ratings quickly plummeted, so much so that ABC, fearing it was hurting their popular The ABC Sunday Night Movie (24th in the Nielsen’s), hurriedly compounded their problems by moving Charlie’s Angels to Saturdays in the winter of 1981, where it continued to lose traction, even with more successful Spelling/Goldberg lead-outs The Love Boat (5th) and 17th’s Fantasy Island (to be fair…nothing was working on any of the networks at any time on Saturdays, except for those two shows). By the end of February, Charlie’s Angels was all but cancelled when episode production was halted. Four episodes were still in the can, and these were burned off in June (ironically in their old Wednesday time slot, where the show should have stayed), long after anyone still watched the show. Charlie’s Angels finished 59th out of 65 shows in the ratings, and was officially canceled, to scant media attention.
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Now…is it true what Roberts has repeatedly stated: that the producers would have produced a sixth season had Jaclyn Smith agreed to an extension of her 5-year contract? Roberts states the producers were game, as was Ladd, but that without Smith, the producers felt the show wouldn’t have a solid anchor for the viewers. I suppose it’s possible…although those Nielsen numbers would give pause to any network executive and producer who wanted to gamble more good money after bad. Regardless of what might have happened, the last three Angels went on to varied success after the series was axed. Smith, the only Angel to appear in every episode (along with Bosley’s David Doyle), did very well with subsequent made-for-TV movies, as did Ladd (although Smith hit the motherload branding herself as a low-budget fashion icon with her Kmart clothing line). As for Roberts, she made The Beastmaster, which was highly profitable, and Sheena, which drew good notices from surprisingly hefty critics (Pauline Kael of all people loved it). Her stint as a Bond girl in A View to a Kill was regrettable, and that was about it for her, until she scored a well-liked supporting gig many years later on the popular sitcom, That 70s Show.
I’ve seen all of these Charlie’s Angels episodes so many times over the years, I can’t remember at this point if I actually did catch Roberts’ debut way back in 1980…but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had. That shot of her running on the beach alone would have made it appointment TV for this horny teen boy, no question (if they had put stacked Denise Miller in a bikini over on Archie Bunker’s Place, I’d have watched that instead. They didn’t). Later in Roberts’ career, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the few things I saw her in (she’s not the worst Bond girl…but she’s damn close), but I have to say, watching her now with an eye on the context of her employment, the show’s backstory, and the pressure she must have been under…I thought she did remarkably well, particularly in her opening bow, Angel in Hiding.
Her most distinct aspect is that she’s so unlike the other women they had on the series: tough-talking, cynical yet vulnerable, and most importantly, with enough energy for the other two Angels, as well. If I thought Ladd was spunky, then she looks catatonic next to Roberts, who’s literally beaming out an itching-to-go vibe. And had the producers properly exploited it (they chickened out), she’s palpably erotic, too. She can’t help but be, with that body, so why didn’t they let her loose? A shame—too early on the network television time line, I would imagine. As far as acting goes, she’s no Meryl Streep (she might not even be Minnie Pearl), but when she’s in her narrow lane, she plays a tough cookie real nice (and that adorably squeaky, scratchy voice gives me the electric whim-wams). Fair or unfair, Hack got a lot of instant public flack when she “failed” on the show, but since Charlie’s Angels was rapidly going off everyone’s radar screens by the time Roberts did her 16 shows, she pretty much escaped any primary blame for the show’s ultimate demise. And quite rightly so.
In Angel in Hiding, Nebraskan farmer Jason Mills (Earl Colbert, in a quiet, believable little turn), hires the Angels to find out who strangled his daughter, model Jody (Nancy Harewood), in an alley. Since Tiffany is “back east” (translation: Hack’s “career alternative enhancement”), it’s just going to be Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) and Kris (Cheryl Ladd) who infiltrate Christopher Lee’s modeling agency. Despite their advanced years, the girls wow Count Chocula, and get the okay from his subordinate, greasy Dack Rambo. Only problem is: the agency is up to some very shady stuff, including drug dealing (courtesy of an uncredited Don Stroud—take that to mean what you like…), prostitution, and my favorite, moral turpitude, when once A-level girls are bounced down to the seedy Tenderloin “model shops,” where pervs take their pictures. One such funster, Willy Wonka‘s Grandpa Joe, is quite taken with Kris…which could prove deadly. Good thing model/undercover mall cop Julie Rogers (Tanya Roberts), is working with Vic Morrow to help take down the cruds.
Okay, okay: I hate the new narration. John Forsythe sounds off, but more importantly, I want them to stay “little girls.” And don’t give me that feminist horsesh*t. This show is about the clothes and the hair and how good the women look; the fairy tale aspect of the opening narration is fun and playful and if you’re offended by it, you seriously need to relax. And why in the world did they make Julie a model? Couldn’t she have been a former model, now cop? I mean, she’s working with a cop…so just be a cop. You can’t pretend to be a model, like everyone else does? When I see those stupid modeling set-ups in the opening credits, I wonder how many people tuned in to see the new Angel…and tuned right out again. Oh, and check out the new 3-way walk; it’s fascinating. Jaclyn looks over at Cheryl (who’s off camera), but then nobody looks at anyone else. Not too terribly welcoming to Roberts (at least she gets two bikini shots in her credit sequence).
Written by (whom else) veteran CA contributor Edward J. Lakso, Angel in Hiding is agreeably obsessive in the seedy details here, on how the modeling shops and agencies really work; I felt delightfully sordid after watching. I was glad to see some things hadn’t changed in the Charlie’s Angels universe: Jack Albertson, after hilariously galumping down the hallway in those enormous Earth Shoes, pushes over Amazonian Roberts with six empty cardboard boxes, in that hermetically sealed alleyway (couldn’t Roberts utterly decimate 110-year-old Grandpa Joe? A Brownie could whip his ass). By the way: wouldn’t tossed-aside model Nancy Bleier have already known Albertson from the A-level parties, if he was one of Lee’s most important clients? When you’re laughing at Albertson, watching his toupee glue melt just looking at Ladd, try and remember he’s an Oscar winner. Then…laugh harder. Give him credit, though, for reciting word for word the Official Serial Killer Motto: “I didn’t want to kill that girl! I just wanted her to be nice to me! She made me do it!” (Amen, brother).
My new alias is “Jimmy Joy” (I love Don Stroud—always a favorite—but why didn’t he want anyone to see his name in the credits? Oh, wait…I got it. Never mind). Vic Morrow looks unusually sour, which is saying something for him (what a great actor, stuck in entertaining garbage like this). And Christopher Lee is one of the series’ best villains: he’s so snide and marvelously disdainful of his lines. Oh! And how about the show’s official dismissal of Hack? After getting the case lowdown, Ladd asks Bosley, “Just the three of us on this, Bos?” to which he replies, “I guess so, in that Tiffany’s decided to stay east for awhile.” Ladd nods to this in exactly the same manner one would acknowledge the info that bananas are on sale at Kroger’s. As for Tanya, her entrance is memorable; stepping out of an elevator in a sheer pink number with a sequined jacket, the only verdict is: hot cheap trash (thank Christ). Whether rocking an orange bikini (the other Angels wear one-pieces. You know what that spells? That spells “surrender,” ladies), or believably buying drugs (it’s Sunday night!), or having a pretty good go at being emotional during Vic’s death scene (they shoot it different than John Landis; Vic gets to keep his head here), Roberts makes an indelible first impression. With a box of Kleenex at the ready, Hawaii…here I come!
Apparently, the Townsend Agency has offices in Hawaii and Paris, too, so in To See an Angel Die, the gang arrives at the spectacular “office”—which is really an oceanside mansion—where Kris promptly leaves to get champagne before getting kidnapped (yes. Charlie springs for completely arbitrary “working holidays” in far-flung locales…but he can’t stock up on cheap champs). You see, Cameron Mitchell‘s wife was busted for hooking by Kris, back when she was a Frisco flatfoot, and she killed herself that night in the cells. Well…it’s revenge time, so Mitchell and his two kids, Gary Frank and Katie Hanley, are going to off Kris back at their backwoods nursery. Will psychic Jane Wyman, the poor thing, be able to help the Angels find Kris in time?
Uh…where’s the sense of fun? We’re in Hawaii for god’s sake! I want luaus, and hula dancing, and roasted pigs, and surfers, and a narrow-shouldered Elvis eating a pineapple, and a delirious Vincent Price trying to decide which Brady boy he was going to molest first, and a volcano exploding with James Franciscus getting his balls melted off, and all the other cool things that tourists see every day on the islands.
What do I get instead? A mummified Jane Wyman, straight out of The Snoop Sisters‘ road company, carefully making her way so as to not break a hip, as she hears a phantom heartbeat and plays with Kris’ toys (you’re telling me you wouldn’t think something was “off” if a coworker always carried around a doll and picture book wherever they traveled? Yes you would…). Thank god for Roberts and her bikinis. They have the power to raise the dead. Which is this episode.
Before we blow this episode off, I’m a little confused: a brown Z28? First: ick. Brown. And second, a Chevy? No more Fords for the Townsend Agency? Someone’s gone native. Hey, how long is that truck ride for Kris? Back to the mainland? How badly are the shots mismatched when she’s talking to Frank? And how many times are they going to conveniently stare off into space so she can jump off? That “breadcrumb” trail looks painted on (and yes, I did get the allusion to Kris’ favorite book, Hansel and Gretel. It was a masterstroke of subtlety). And for the thin action finale…can’t she just hide, instead of making sure he can see her hiding?
Hmmm…that hokey ESP crap at the end just about cinches it: “Who are you?” a dazed Kris asks. “A friend,” answers a kindly psychic Miss Marbles, Jane Wyman. “I know,” answers a teary Kris…which should have immediately begged the question, “Then why the hell did you ask?!” A precarious start to Charlie’s Angels, P.I. (oh…and if you start out with Roberts and Wyman suddenly pops up, just ride it out).
Far out. Sad, past-it hippies Sonny Bono and the other guy from 2001: A Space Odyssey have stolen a boatload of Maui Wowie from weasely gangster Bradford Dillman. Dillman reported the boat lost at sea, but he actually scuttled it in shallow water so he could unload the drugs without anyone finding out. Guess who also found the wreck? That’s right: Julie, who’s suddenly become an avid skin diver (ah got the vapahs, Mother dear…). Well…everyone wants to kill everyone else before the drugs get sold to Anne Francis (yep…she’s a doper), and right in the middle of all this silliness is Julie’s diving pal, Patti D’Arbanville, who may know a lot more than she’s letting on.
Not nearly enough Huggy Bear in Angels of the Deep. We finally get some scenery, though; some travelogue stuff, mostly in the form of the sub-par Thunderball action scenes below the ocean’s surface. Is it me or does it seem a little early in her employ for Julie to be goofing off skin diving all the time? I mean…this is a working vaca, right? Shouldn’t she be learning the ropes, answering phones, or Hoovering the rugs? Doyle gets a funny bit flopping around in the pool when Charlie calls, cracking the whip (they never gave Doyle enough to do), but Smith and Roberts get the biggest laughs, beating the crap out of losers Gary Lockwood and Bono.
Sonny Bono’s the perfect sort of “guest star” for a late entry Charlie’s Angels. He’s both funny and pathetic at the same time. I distinctly remember that Bono—once a huge TV star, and obviously a big recording act prior to that—was considered at this point in his career an embarrassing has-been. So seeing him spring up in something like Angels of the Deep is a double dose of fun: bad acting and flailing career move. Bonus! Good actor Bradford Dillman is still doing his laughably bad gangster shtick from Frankenheimer’s 99 and 44/100% Dead!, while we wonder yet again if Anne Francis was in some kind of hock to Aaron Spelling after Honey West. Why did she do these regrettable once-a-year appearances on Charlie’s Angels, made up to look so old and ugly, when she wasn’t? It’s maddening.
Frankly, the best element of Angels of the Deep is Patti D’Arbanville, who walks off with the episode playing a sly little wiseass who doesn’t seem to give a sh*t about anything (pity she couldn’t be on again—how great would it have been to have the series stay in Hawaii, with her being one of the new detectives?). Oh, I forgot the clothes. When I asked my wife what they call that kind of shirt Julie has all knotted up in the front, she icily replied, “It’s called a, ‘She’s a whore,'” and left the room. Point taken. Smith wears a crocheted coverall over that same green bikini she always wears, while Julie sports a lilac-y suit that didn’t do it for me at all. Surprise, surprise, though: Ladd, like one of those mature elks who suddenly decide to amble down the mountain and show some new buck who still rules, dons her skimpiest black string bikini—for the briefest of moments—and shows once and for all who’s still the all-time P.O.A. champ on Charlie’s Angels. Well played, Cheryl!
In Island Angels, Julie proves to be key in identifying a “Red Circle” terrorist who is headed to Hawaii. Apparently, a few years ago, Julie was a witness to assassin Don Knight’s mass shooting assault in a Mexican train station. Now, Julie is needed to spot this guy among a whole plane full of “singles club” tourists (I know, I know…if she knew what he looked like then, why didn’t she I.D. him then? And why do they need her now, when a picture would do just as well?). Led by Barbi Benton, the “Aloha Singles” include an absolutely hysterical collection of has-beens including Richard Jaeckel, Lyle Waggoner, Randolph Mantooth, and Carol Lynley (was The Love Boat booked up that week?). They all have secrets…including one who may also be an assassin.
I’ll admit it…I pretty much zoned out on Island Angels, mostly because the plot was so ridiculously familiar and easy to figure out, and partly because the director, Don Chaffey, decided to distract me every 2 minutes with some anonymous ginch striding through the shots.
For that I thank you, Don. But only that. Doyle’s porn stache works miracles here; not only does he get Carol Lynley (in her post-Poseidon “my face is too shiny” career stage), but lord have mercy Playboy‘s Barbi Benton, no less, who mischievously comes alive when interacting with Doyle (by this point she had plenty of practice making average middle aged guys feel special). Did you see that mocked-up photo that revealed the assassin? Who did that? Their heads were huge; they looked like the Peanuts kids. Some last minute dramatics with Doyle and Lynley (he’s always good when his love life implodes) can’t save the day.
Okay, in Waikiki Angels, some “mainland biker bums” are hassling the tourists on deserted beaches. Actually, they’re doing more than hassling: they’re attempting murder and kidnapping, when they try to run over Denise DuBarry’s new husband, and then spirit her away for drugged sex games. The leader of the pack is Grizzly Adams, with 77 Sunset Strip‘s Kookie as his beady-eyed, cowardly sidekick. The Angels are asked to help when its discovered that DuBarry is Congressman Oscar Goldman’s daughter. Undercover as lifeguards, they’re soon right in the middle of it, when Grizzly takes a liking to pretty Kelly.
One of my all-time series favorites, and that’s right down to Dan Haggerty. One of the best Charlie’s Angels villains, Haggerty ditches his put-on family-friendly Grizzly Adams facade, and shows us the Dan Haggerty of all those biker movies he made in the 60s. Unlike so many of the cardboard bad guys that show up on Charlie’s Angels, hulking, menacing Haggerty is believably scary. Super-creepy, with that soft, unconvincing baby-talk to the women (“My precious,” “Hey, sugar,” “That’s right, baby,”), he can flip in an instant, with a wholly realistic nasty edge to his voice, suggesting a smack in the mouth (or something worse) is coming if you don’t do what you’re told.
Director Dennis Donnelly is crudely adept at suggesting, without showing, precisely the kind of physical abuse he’s meting out to DuBarry (we know what they intend when she whimpers, “Please…not again…”). If you heard the stories I’ve heard about Haggerty, well…anyway, the measure of his effectiveness is the look of genuine concern on Smith’s and Ladd’s face, whenever they share a scene with him.
Don’t worry, though—Waikiki Angels has plenty of unintentional laughs, too. What, exactly, is Patrick Wayne doing here? Was he on vacation and just happened to wander into the shots? And why does he call that sweet, sweet orange Ford Bronco a “jeep?” Kookie makes a good weasel (life imitating art…). Julie’s cinched jump suit perfectly matches her eyes—it’s startling. The lifeguard try-outs is a series-best scene: Smith is just…lush and full, the completely feminine woman; Kris, gorgeously tanned and proportionally, considering her height, stacked beyond belief, and Julie is ripped. Now, I mention all that because I have problems and…what the hell does pretending to be a lifeguard do for their undercover work, when they act like complete idiots when they’re on the fake job? I don’t like to blame the victim, but Kelly and Kris deserve getting kidnapped at the guard tower—have they ever worked as detectives before? They have guns for god’s sake! Oh well…thank god there’s Bosley, driving that Bronco as slow as he can, before he comes up with the brilliant idea to insanely smash through the house gates (there are two outdoor tables in the courtyard: good thing he blindly turned left rather than right, and hit the one that was empty). A perfect episode.
In Hula Angels, gravelly club owner Gene Barry, in a pre-Showgirls snit, tells choreographer Joanna Cassidy to get rid of elephant feet Shawn Hoskins. Go back to the Midwest and get married and have babies—you can’t dance, lady! (You’d be shocked how close that is to the real dialogue). Okay, so…the Three Little Pigs (masks) show up and kidnap Steve, take him to a warehouse (the dreaded “Warehouse A”) and hoist him up in a metal cage 25 feet off the ground (I know! I thought it was the Alpha Delta Pi girls, too, but it’s not!). Soon, Steve’s wife, Patricia Crowley (cringe), gets a one million dollar ransom demand. But guess what? Highly successful Steve doesn’t have that kind of dough…so the Angels are called in to start shimmying their asses around again to solve a crime.
A marvelously stupid episode (my favorite kind), Hula Angels looks like about 95% of it was shot back in L.A. studios, with some Hawaiian pick-up shots to give it some flavor. I find “Steve’s Tropic Nights” an irresistible Hawaiian club. Even though it’s 1980, the entertainment is stuck in a 15 year time warp, with the wretched emcee singing The Beat Goes On and only that, night after night, while the dancing troupe seems to be auditioning for ol’ Dino’s Dinaling Sisters act, with babes in cages as the rest of the, ahem, “dancers” spasmodically throw themselves with abandon at the very latest dance crazes like the Jerk and the Swim (it has to be with “abandon,” because they have no “talent”). With entertainment like this…who needs the beach?!
Is Patricia Crowley in the same banana boat as Anne Francis? Does she owe Aaron Spelling something? What a thankless role (that’s okay, though—I never could stand her). Tanya simply can’t dance, but she’s adorably awful when she’s hopelessly shucking around, those big mitts waving around (all is forgiven when, sans bra, she’s seen striding about, riding high, wide, and free, baby). Unfortunately, someone didn’t understand that Joanna Cassidy had one of the best bodies in Hollywood at the time. You’re telling me that you put a perfectly tanned JC in a black halter top bikini (“…and then suddenly, the floor rushed up to smash my face in as I passed out,”), and you let the shot last about 3 seconds? Come on! Please respect the bone, dude! Oh, and I want to be that speaker voice thing—it’s the snottiest, funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time (“It’s feeeeeeding tiiiiime at the zoooooo,” and my favorite, “Oooohhhhhhhhh thaaaaaaaat’s briiiiiiilllllliiiiiiaaaant,”). Did a young Jonathan Demme internalize this and steal it later for The Silence of the Lambs? The truck chase at the end is kinda funny; at least we’re not in the studio anymore.
Back to reality. No more hot sands and cool ocean breezes. No more sun-kissed bodies, tautly poised to…. Anyway, in Moonshin’ Angels, thar’s a-fussin’ ‘n’ a-feudin’ a-goin’ on back in them thar hills, and it’s all ’cause a that corn likker that Andrew Duggan and Dabs Greer make so durn well. Now, they got youngins who is a-courtin’ behond thar backs, but some big city mobster types want to move in on thar territory, in order to sew up political influence in the state. It’s a-goin’ be up to our Angels to settle things down a-might.
I’m sorry. I’m still in bikini mode. I really thought maybe they were going to stay in Hawaii; you know, like turning into Hawaii 5-O or a pre-Magnum, P.I.. You know I got it bad, Angels, when even a hillbilly outing doesn’t rouse me out of a funk. If they ain’t a-dressin’ like Hee Haw Honies, ahm a-goin’ tune right out. And lest you think I make fun, I got more shine in my family line than blood, so you jest git on back, hear?
Luckily, Moonshinin’ Angels is so patently ridiculous I was soon giggling like a 10-year-old Girl Scout who just successfully skimmed 20% off the cookie money. Kelly sets the tone by incredulously exclaiming, “Charlie…are you kidding? Moonshining?!” Your skepticism is warranted, Goddess Who Has Alighted to Show Us Lowly Humans Perfection. While I must say I was disappointed not only in the costuming (no Daisy Dukes? No bib overalls sans shirt?), but also in the lack of the de rigeur interaction of besieged Angel and toothless, rather disturbingly engorged hillbilly (I mean…they have a guy set us up with, “You don’t shoot something that pretty…till you try and trap it first,”), enough silly stuff happens to delight your doozy sensibilities.
Such as the notion that yes, yes…of course highly insular, suspicious hill people involved in federal crimes would welcome complete strangers to come in and work for their shine business. “Organic chemist” is a calling card for the Hatfields and McCoys now? Okay…. Check out that badass Plymouth Fury that Kelly whips around like a pro over the same “mountain” roads those Duke boys used (and M*A*S*H and Planet of the Apes and a million other shows). Speaking of other shows, the mobster lives at the Hart to Hart house. Fun. Bosley wears a leisure suit with a cravat. Mixed signals. Barbara Lang has a wonderful bit as a sharp-talking hillbilly version of Florence Jean Castleberry, laughing and telling a customer, “Oh you gotta train him better than that,” as she wipes up the spilled coffee…and then squeezes the rag back into a cup behind the counter.
He Married an Angel begins with that teen heartthrob David Hedison (Andy Gibb must have been busy) pulling a banking scam on a couple of sisters, who decide to go to the Angels to help bring down the con artist. The plan? Kris will convince Hedison she’s a scamster, too, and together, they’ll pull a big score on art expert Beege Barkett…that is before the Angels pull a switcheroo. The only complication? Hedison has made Barkett fall in love with him…and he’s asked her to marry him.
An enjoyable-enough little Sting effort, it’s surprising that anything works in He Married an Angel, considering all the questionable elements. The dialogue is frequently terrible (“Your cup runneth empty.” “You know what they say: empty cup, full heart,”), although I do like Hedison declaring my new motto: “Here’s to sticking it to the suckers.” Hedison is a pretty laid-back conman; he’s a little long in the tooth at this point to be pulling in pretty marks, too, dontchathink?
Did Aaron Spelling install a low-flow shower head in his casting couch office? The Angels’ hair is distressingly flat. And what’s with that Op Art slaughterhouse? Is it a left-over Avengers set from the 1960s (I love the fake painted sides of beef, though)? The final mechanics of the sting are agreeably done, but am I alone that there’s something more than a little unsettling about the Angels making the decision to saddle poor Barkett with a con artist, regardless of whether or not he’s forced to stay (because of the threat of death from his father-in-law)? Just desserts for Hedison…but what about her? Seems out of character for the Angels.
In Taxi Angels, the girls have their work cut out for them. Someone is trying to put Sally Kirkland’s taxi service out of business…which includes blowing up her husband. Who’s the culprit? Unfriendly grouch mechanic Norman Alden? How about screwy war vet Scott Brady, who has PTSD flashbacks about WWII? Or how about…oh wait: those are the only suspects. Still, it takes three Angels and a Bosley to solve this particular case (this is starting to sound like a Polish joke set-up), with Kris waitressing at a driver hangout, Julie becoming a dispatcher, and Kelly a driver.
I love when Sally Kirkland guests on Charlie’s Angels. She’s always right in the moment, no matter how stupid her scenes or dialogue. You buy her performances and here she’s no different. Frequently you find yourself becoming drawn into her plight…right before someone says or does something ludicrous and you’re right back in Angel Land. Such as…Kelly going, “No!” when she’s informed she’s going to be a taxi driver. Right in front of taxi driver Kirkland. Like it’s Charlie suggesting she become a prostitute again. Also: would it have been too much to ask that Ladd be made to snap some gum if she’s going to be a roller skating waitress? I mean, that’s a given. Get it straight!
Is it me or have they totally given up on the Julie character? She should be knocking heads together here, since we’re literally out on the streets. Brady, a terrific actor, has yet another embarrassing 70s episodic TV appearance; he clearly doesn’t care how he comes off. The best scene has always funny Robert Costanzo, a visiting New Yawker taking a sightseeing taxi ride with Kelly…right when the brakes go out. Whether expounding on alternate car routes to take in the Big Apple, or exclaiming, “Hey, are we in a movie or somethin’?” when things go south, big laughs are generated from this dependable character actor (they should have had Roberts do the driving here—Smith doesn’t do much more than roll her eyes at Costanzo). Of course the biggest moment in Taxi Angels should be when the team realizes they got Brady killed for no reason—something Bosley clearly states (“Yeah we…we were wrong. We were wrong,”). But the guilty moment passes too quickly, and there seems to be little emotional fallout. It might have been an interesting aspect to explore…but by this point, no one cared to, obviously.
The phones are ringing at the hottest L.A. singles club called, what else, The Hot Line Club. There, you can get overpriced drinks and bad cabaret from transvestite hypnotist Margo (Bruce Watson), all while continually answering the stupid phone that keeps ringing at your table from the drunk insurance salesman from Duluth over by the bar who keeps telling you, “Hey…hey baby, what’s your sign? You’re, you’re beautiful, you know that? You know what I’d do to you? I’d…”(click). That’s why you’re almost relieved when the maniac killer who stalks the club decides you’re too pretty to live, and your quarter is now up. Will Kelly man-up long enough to solve one of the easiest mysteries to ever appear on a Charlie’s Angels episode?
I don’t know. I mean…I enjoyed Angel on the Line, as long as it took place at night, where the director, Kim Manners, managed to create a nicely obsessive feel to it. The minute we get out into the SoCal sunshine, though, the whole thing deflates. Can you please powder down, Margo? What a dripping mess. Is the A/C off? Bruce Watson is a good actor, but I’m sorry; we need a voice on that telephone line that is either menacing or seductive (or ideally, both), and Watson’s just doesn’t possess that. It doesn’t grab our imagination at the beginning, so we can’t even pretend to feel that Kelly is in any kind of danger.
And something needs to be said about her here: get your sh*t together, girl. I mean, you’re a hardened pro. You can’t handle a psycho by this point in your career? It’s happened how many times already? Jesus, quit crying, quit obsessing, quit looking for sympathy (yaaaassss she is, don’t even…), wash your face, and get out there and get it done! That knife fight is pretty good, actually, with the fish-eye lens and the final splat in the mud (I love my psychos whimpering like dogs when they’re brought low). I absolutely refuse to believe that the once-mighty Diane McBain was reduced to doing that stupid throwaway waitress role! One of the most criminally unrealized talents of the 60s, the incredibly sexy, smart McBain deserved A-level stardom…not anonymously tossing off cynical one-liners in a Charlie’s Angels episode. Sad.
Speaking of “sad,” in Chorus Line Angels, someone is sabotaging the tryouts of a smash new spec Vegas musical. Dancers—who stink—keep disappearing, so the Angels go undercover, trying to figure out who in this cast of nobodies (except for poor Michael Callan) may be behind the kidnappings. No mystery about who screwed up this episode, though: that would scripter/songwriter Edward J. Lakso and director David Doyle.
Do you hear that, children? No? It’s the sound of the few remaining 18-34 year-old-viewers turning off Charlie’s Angels for good. I guess I don’t understand their disinterest: you mean young people don’t want to see a crappy 30s backstage musical plot grafted onto a mystery that features ersatz rootie-tootie music from the Gay 90s? Lakso is an abominable songwriter; the Sleepless Rag should be labeled the Hopeless Shuffle and then put down like a rabid dog. Someone expresses it exactly (I was already zoning, so I don’t know who): “I’d like to tell you how good this is…but I’d be lying.” Director Bosley opens with a trucking crane shot: Hello, Johnny LaRue! To say he does bad Busby Berkeley is to say we humans breathe air. Wait…now Kris says she can’t dance? Since when?
Is anyone even trying at this point? At least Kelly has the sense to look pissed off most of the time (I love when Callan says she’s not a good dancer, and Kelly, quite menacingly, responds, “What did you say?” as she hefts her gun). The finale, Pals, Buddies, and Friends is the kind of song act they have high school kids do at Cedar Point or Kings Island while you wait for a ride, eating your $12 hot dog. And my god they repeat it twice! I’ve never seen anything approaching that kind of punishment before on national TV.
Stuntwoman Angels takes place at Mammoth Studios, where a mysterious Robin Hood “Merry Men” archer is terrorizing the moviemaking personnel, shooting people at will (but not killing them). The Angels go undercover to see if they can help studio head Pat Cooper, meeting gate guard Gerald S. O’Loughlin, who calls a picture of Errol Flynn, “Sire,” and watches reels of old film in an abandoned store room (any lost Doctor Dolittle scenes?), and stuntman Denny Miller along the way.
Show me a 10-second shot of the old Hello, Dolly! sets rotting in the Cali sun, and I’m in…but Stuntwomen Angels is still a slog at times. The biggest problem here is the whole thing should have been shot on the old Fox backlot. Stay outside. If you want to make some statement about the passing of good moviemaking (yes. The producers of Charlie’s Angels okayed a story lamenting how low the industry had gone. You can’t make this stuff up), then show those moldering sets. It sells 90% of your message.
God I can’t abide Pat Cooper. He was never funny. Never. Not once in his life. O’Loughlin is an extremely good actor (check him out in something like Desperate Characters) with a way around a quirky line reading…but they don’t fit here, particularly with that stupid Irish accent. The stunt scenes with the Angels are quite fun, particularly the slo-mo bag jumps that clearly show the actors’ stunt doubles (Julie’s adorable when she confesses, “I cheated,”). The episode’s best line, Cooper describing the archer: “He’s not only weird…he’s a film critic.” Amen, Pat. Amen.
In Attack Angels, Julie must go undercover at Western Techtronics. Why? Because four board members have already been suspiciously killed, and numerous attempts to take over the company have occurred. Why? Because they just made a big breakthrough in geothermal energy. Why? I don’t know, but that’s not important. What is important is that Julie gets hypnotized during her typing test (same thing happened to me in high school) and turned into the hottest mindless assassin ever.
Attack Angels has a cool Coma / Stepford Wives vibe to it, a credible sci-fi effort that looks and sounds good, and is played with just the right amount of straight face. Eric Braeden, no stranger to interesting sci-fi (Colossus: The Forbin Project, Escape from the Planet of the Apes) is perfect for this kind of outing. You know he’s a single-minded, cold, ruthless genius when, after completely hypnotizing Julie (it took like…5 seconds with her), rendering her compliant to his every wish…he proceeds to turn her into an assassin and not his nude companion for a month in a cheap Tijuana motel. By the way, speaking of that typing test (cool strobe effect): Tanya Roberts’ ass was made for that Lucite chair. I love the final stage of her conditioning: she’s turned into a gherkin, stuffed into a large pickle jar (that water is green). They should have let Roberts kick someone’s ass every episode—she’s very good with the physical stuff. The episode’s best part? The company’s shrink is Dr. Joyce Brothers. Don’t worry: if you can’t handle her questions, it’s alright—she’s already been supplied with the answers (look it up…). A fun season-best episode.
In Angel on a Roll, computer genius Mark Pinter has designed an ATM machine with one nice little feature: he’s able to remote in and steal from it. His company has installed 12 of these machines and 12 different banks, so…$250,000 later, he quits his job and becomes an immediate suspect. However, the Angels have 12 suspects to run down (Pinter used disguises to open the phony accounts), so Kris eagerly chooses him when she sees his snap (easy, girl…). She also helps him escape pissed-off club owner Joseph “King of the Voiceovers” Sirola, who wants to help himself to Pinter’s cash. Should be an easy assignment, right? Wrong. Kris falls in love with the thief.
An episode like Angel on a Roll all depends on the chemistry between the two leads, and Ladd and Pinter do very nicely with their tentative attraction, and subsequent wise-ass banter, and then serious romantic talk. They pretty much make the episode work, because the rest of it you’ve seen a hundred times before if you’ve seen it once. I’m always impressed with Ladd when she gets those soft, quiet romantic scenes; she conjures up a gravity that’s quite attractive (they have a long, effective scene in a car, where they discuss their dreams and wishes—it’s beautifully played). The plotting may be familiar (and wait till those humorless, woke, jack-booted, brownshirt cancel thugs get a hold of Pinter’s Asian imitation!), but Ladd and Pinter make this one of the better season offerings.
Up next in Mr. Galaxy, hulking weightlifting brute Roger Callard needs a bodyguard (heehee). So the Angels are hired to hold his hand because someone is trying to take him out of the “Mr. Galaxy” competition—the competition he’s gonna nail this year. So who’s after Roger, girls? Who isn’t, you mean! Chief suspect is Ric Drasin, another barbell boy who’s won the competition year after year. Does he want Roger to hang up his glittered banana hammock and miss the Galaxy showoff? Or is it skeezy promoter Joseph Ruskin, who’s had it in for Roger ever since he quit boxing—the training of which Ruskin paid for? The only thing we know for sure is, for some strange reason, this is the only case where the Angels aren’t hit on….
An amusing 30s boxing flick with the background changed to weightlifting, it’s pretty cool to see two of the giants of old school weightlifting—Callard and Drasin—appearing alongside the Angels. With a little bit more care, Callard might have been decent in a project suited to his limited acting talents. Here, he’s pleasant enough, but sometimes the requirements of the role get the better of him. Like…getting his ass beat. When Ruskin’s thugs beat him up, I honestly thought I was going to vapor lock from laughing. He has his back to the wall, and these two totally unintimidating guys pretend to hit him in the stomach, and Callard’s face is…just a blank. Like nothing is happening to him at all, like he’s not even there, before he manages a totally flat, “Stop it.” I rewound that scene 4 times. It was funnier each time.
Guys, don’t tease me with a promised “lift-off” and then jerk my chain. And no, the build-up to the aborted lift-off isn’t homoerotic at all! No, it’s not!, what with the rom-com music and the staring and the bulging and the feeling that at any second they’re going to fall into a big heap with each other. The “Mr. Galaxy” contest is pretty funny. I’m sure they’re popular, but what do you do at one of those things? Get a hot dog from the concession stand and cheer in the gallery (on second thought…)? Thanks to the clarity of Mill Creek’s Blu-ray transfer here, decorum now forbids me to ask what that spot is on the back of Callard’s Spandex undies. All’s well that end’s well, I guess, when the muscle boys decide to join forces and bury the creeps, an association, we’re told, that will continue after the episode’s end. We wish those two boys all the best in their future.
And lastly…the final episode of the true, the only, Charlie’s Angels: Let Our Angel Live. After a botched confrontation with a suspect, Kelly gets a bullet to the noggin and Bosley can only stand there gorping for a second, before he flips out and subdues the man. That’s it for the mystery. Yep. The rest of the episode is a clip show while we wait to see if Kelly bought the farm. Oh…and Charlie finally shows himself.
I suppose the clip show was necessary since everyone knew the show was cancelled, and no more money was going to be dumped into a loser. Maybe it was a logistics problem. Who knows. I do know that the clips they chose are fairly lame and not too indicative of the series as a whole. But whatever. Nobody was watching this in June, 1981, so…. I love the slo-mo shot of Bosley just gaping at the shooter after he nails Kelly. If I was Kelly, I’d have Charlie fire Bosley, or sue. What kind of backup is that clown?
Ladd looks believably sad in the hospital scenes. Must be feeling blue about the show ending…or it’s tears of joy now that she won’t have Spelling’s scabby hands furtively seeking purchase on her naked body (I’m not saying that happened. I’m saying I want that to be the truth. Big difference, folks). Roberts looks like someone cold-cocked her. If that YouTube clip of her on Johnny Carson is any indication, she expected the big money to be rolling in the next season. Sorry, it’s back to franks and beans, kid (that appearance—sniff sniff—might be an indication why Roberts never made it big in Hollywood…). As for Charlie, it is admittedly clever that they gave the fans what they wanted—a glimpse of Charlie—without revealing too much.
It’s just a shame at this point…because no one cared.
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.