Charlie's Angels is from a different era, a time when detectives would sometimes (not always) stand slack-jawed before the most obvious of clues, forgetting nearly everything they allegedly learned at the Police Academy one moment and then devastating bad guys with some half-baked karate or quick driving-firing combo maneuvers the next, only to drop their guns and run away the next time the same thing happens. But that's like, you know, real life? Maybe?
You can say that's sexism, but there's more at work in Charlie's Angels than simply one facet of the then erupting 'women's lib' consciousness. The Angels wanted to do more than just be tough men imitations, or dumb sex objects. They brought feminine care and warmth to their business as well as seduction and ball-breaking. And most unique to the emotionally open time it was made: cop show compassion. Killing has consequences and more often than not, bad guys are just trying to scare people off or whatever, like in Scooby Doo.
And most importantly, especially for the multi-generational (pre-VCR; pre-cable) viewing audience-- there's rarely if ever any overt sexual violence. No matter how compromised our heroines become, they're free of all molestation, allowing for humanistic compassion and adaptability to always win out over brute slavering. If they talk a bad guy into dropping his gun or coming down from a ledge, for example, they don't run over and pin him to the ground as soon as he's clear, they help him up, give him a nurturing smile, and walk him down the hill, his hands in theirs (with another Angel bringing up the rear, with the gun, just in case, but unobtrusively).
That said, The Charlie's Angels series, which ran for 105 episodes, was wildly uneven, slowly getting worse and worse with each season, sunk more often than not by lazy writing, which sometimes-- as the legends go--merely recycled old scripts from earlier Spelling cop shows (like The Rookies and Honey West), the characters changed around (barely) to fit the Angels, resulting in one or more of them playing the simpering victim intimidated by the simplest of stalker tactics, which makes no sense since they'd be kicking ass before and after that week.
But, especially in the first two seasons, there's enough good episodes to make it all worthwhile, presuming perhaps you're in need of a mellow, gentle 70s nostalgia kick, or--like me--spent some formative early years of childhood obsessed by it, hoarding the Topps gum cards, collecting pictures (ripped out of newspapers and magazines and put in a big scrapbook). If you are the same, or just a curious kibitzer, I have my handy episode-by-episode guide to help you find the good and skip the bad. Just follow my letter grades (given on a curve, naturally) and its impossible you should coast amiss.
March 1976 (Pilot)
Pilots are always fascinating glimpses of directions never taken and here all sorts of innovative details not in the subsequent seasons (if there ever are any) come and go, and everyone's on their best behavior. Everyone's actually trying. Here, Charlie has a much more godly all-knowing deux ex machina power, and everything is much ritzier than in the actual show to come. The girls are all upper crust, rich, so they cater to the top 1%, the pony set, as it were. We learn Sabrina is a big equestrian; Kelly has her own pool; Farrah has a tennis court. Since it's a TVM two hour time slot the plotting is broadened to allow for extra slyness and inexorable snap-trap momentum; we never know quite what the Angels are up to in their scheme until it gets away from them, and I like it better that way.
Pros: Kelly looks extraordinary in her biker blacks, and a then-unknown Tommy Lee Jones rides around in a pick-up with an old hound dog! Bo Hopkins' easygoing good old boy/James Dean hybrid charm makes a good foil for the ladies (as does Tommy Lee's of course). Hardworking TV actress Diana Muldaur is Mrs. LeMair, the second wife (widow?) of a missing vintner. Kelly poses as the true heir, a daughter long vanished, and she gets the Hitchcockian warm milk treatment. And it's sweet the way Tommy Lee Jones says "go shake 'em up, Sabrina," before the big climax. Damn if he didn't know how to play a scene, even then.
Best of all: the team's overall level of intelligence is a pretty far-out benchmark as far the Angels showing initiative, guts, intellect, being able to handle themselves and use their hotness in service of the operation. They're also --and this aspect would soon be jettisoned, alas --more privy to info than we are (ala say Mission Impossible) which works well for the suspense when things actually do eventually get out of their control.
As for clothes and disguises: Sabrina looks great in fur while under a rich girl cover and later in commando black, and Jill rocks a PG version of Claudia Jennings shotgun-toting swamp rat in Gator Bait. I like when we learn how much the Angels are making and we get to see them enjoying the good life, as they should --their beauty and multi-talented wondrous competence seems to fit better that way; and here we learn the agency made a cool $250,000 on the case. Their office here is in a suitably Olympian looking temple, probably a bank in real life. Damn, fighting crime pays!
Until it doesn't, of course, and the farther the series got from this shining moment, the dumber the Angels got -- going the opposite of learning from their mistakes, and letting the most incompetent of crooks walk all over them, their lovely jaws agape in befuddlement, and the less dough they made, until Bosley is kvetching any expense and the sets get tawdrier and the extras leaner.
Cons -Jill wears a hideous lavender hat while stalking the swamp. It's so distracting, ugly, and wrong for the case it's a baffling sartorial choice; David Ogden Stiers is all-wrong as 'Woodrow,' a smarmy aide to Charlie who wouldn't last past this one episode and with good reason. He's just too innately snobby to work as a good guy; his sharp little laugh at the end comes across as snide. He does make us appreciate the baggy pants geniality of David Doyle as Bosley. And the Angels don't carry guns at all, which is slightly strange, and hopefully not some prejudice the actresses or producers had. Fortunately the guns would be there eventually and Stiers found his own bag over on M*A*S*H, where he fit perfectly as the slightly less neurotic and infinitely more haute bourgeois replacement for Frank Burns.
Another thing that didn't work was their use of a tag symbol commercial breaker, as Sabrina's riding pants in the silhouette and their postures made them all seem to have low-slung asses (below); it would be replaced by the much more pro-active sleek 70s fashion silhouette with the explosion behind it, which emphasizes the era's sharp-angle slacks and the great hair as well as emphasizing their versatility and chutzpah (vs. the whole praying 'cuz dey angels' aspect which is way too passive and droopy).
Sept. 1976: Ep.1 - Hellride
Damn right we did.
Pros - Sabrina puts a sweet water screech in her voice to portray the local circuit driver, and of course nails it perfectly. Jill repeats her hot young hillbilly look (35-24-34 she gives as her measurements when a sleazy driver asks her what her religious denomination is), and again Bosley is her cracker daddy, this time a hokey race track preacher in an art school smock and bible. It's nice to see Jill fleece the bad guys at poker, asking all sorts of nosy questions like they're just occurring to her in a ditzy makin' conversation style way. She and Sabrina both have great tans and are born to ride like the Santa Anna wind blowin' hot from the north. Looking ravishing in very 70s tight flared jeans, the bits where Kelly comes onto a slutty racer at a bar are pretty risque for a prime time 70s ABC show; Sabrina does a nice W.C. Fields impression and rocks some toned, tan bare arms, and she stares down the badass butch rival driver with great aplomb: her eyes rock hard, meeting her gaze while voice stays all calm, threatening without seeming at all displeased, giving the thousand yard stare like Wyatt Earp saying hello to the Clampett's in Darling Clementine. Like the previous episode, the Angels aren't just about identifying the enemy but fleecing their wallet and catching them right in the act so they're sure of a conviction. Kate fake-drives very well, and the car is even the same color as her "real" one (that red hatchback with the white Nike stripe) so we know who she is on the track.
Cons: It's pretty dumb how Sabrina and the mechanic can't tell a guy's right across the street watching them at the cop impound lot. It's also pretty dumb that Jill would just jump into a car with a murder suspect after snooping around his apartment, not knowing where they're going or how to get in touch with her sisters.
2 - The Mexican Connection
Pros: Consistently strong acting, some good camera work and nice pacing makes the whole thing flow like the wine in the non-heroin bottles. Kelly calls Sabrina's corny one-liners "very tacky." And Sabrina's got her thinking cap on and so do the writers. It's a solid example of the Angels in their prime. And there's drugs! "Get some heroin and put it in a bottle for her" is a great line when spoken by the smoov Danova.
Cons: It's one of those where the client doesn't seem to have the amount of money that would be needed to finance such an elaborate set-up. Even the show doesn't seem able to pay the amount of money that would be needed for a decent drug czar compound. Then again, I have the reverse problem with Miami Vice. Also, the dialogue can get a little too self-consciously 'naughty' in these first few episodes. The more they try to talk 'adult' the more juvenile they seem, ala Spencer Gifts. Once they knew they had a hit (all the rage with us kids) I think they eased back on the bad sexy pun throttle. Of course the kids with parents who didn't make them go to bed at unreasonably early hours could then repeat these awful puns at recess, and drive those of us sent to bed at 9 PM into paroxysms. Once again, though, the Angels are very anti-gun, which kids--whatever their bed-times--do not care for. Kids LOVE guns! Sabrina handles one she picks up like it's a super gross frog and passes it off to the pilot instead of brandishing it like a real detective would -or like she would have no problem doing in later episodes. Get over it, girl. You're on the Police Academy firing range in the goddamned opening credits!
3. Night of the Strangler
B+Jaclyn Smith, in a dual role, plays a murdered "high-fashion" model in a terrible wig. In her regular dynamite hair, she signs with the agency to unnerve the killer, Laura-style. "Put her in the white bikini," says open-shirted decadent Kevin St. Clair (Soap's Richard Mulligan). She's so radiant in that white bikini, Smith's appearance marks a highlight of the entire series but pisses off St. Clair's sulky wife who, if she knew what was good for her, would be in bed with the pool boy instead of moping around the poolside, labeling Kelly's resemblance "some freaky reincarnation."
Some sordid undercurrents let you know the show was still on at the 10 PM slot: the lead suspect is an either gay or sexually frustrated German designer; the killer leaves a rag doll by his victims... connection? Of the gay designer, a bi-racial model, notes, "he digs nobody, just men." Because of the ritualistic murder scene, the police dismiss it as 'a sex thing.' In other words, the show tries to ape the Italian giallo style of the era, but instead seems like a sixth-grader trying to bluff his way through an adult conversation.
The 'ritzy' peek into the world of high fashion culminates at a swanky opening that looks like every other cheap Italian restaurant-held event the Angels attend and even Ironsides would have been able to grab the killer when they find him in their hotel room, but the Angels let him get away, barely try to stop him, in fact. What bodyguards they'd make! Since it's a horror-ish episode, even St. Clair gets a super creepy look on his face saying "didn't you know? I have affairs with all my models." His wife tosses herself in the pool after tying to toss in Kelly. A model should know how to fight by the side of a pool without falling in, that's something they need to master before they ever get their first assignment! It takes too long to re-do your hair once it gets all chlorinated. Read a book, ladies!
With his fashions straight off the bargain K-Mart rack and his habit of incessantly pawing his 'girls,' St. Clair is exhibit A in why all successful designers are gay.
Pros: The girls are finally armed. "There's a killer on the loose, don't you know?" Well duh! "A wonderful film for the sadomasochistic, Charlie." Jaclyn Smith is so stunning in that white bikini she never left my thoughts, all through my childhood.
Cons: Jill's still a bit of an airhead. "Do you know what happened when Trigger died? They stuffed him!" Kelly makes some terrible boners, like trying to flag down a van racing out of the parking garage after interrupting a would-be strangling, never imagining it's the strangler driving, or that the driver won't politely stop to help. I mean, two people are dead from that very same agency that very same week, and girls still think they'll be perfectly safe going down to a creepy parking garage in the middle of the night unarmed and alone. When an Angel suggests they travel in pairs, the models scoff! It's silly to even suggest such things! There's way too many deaths for there not to be at least one real cop around, that there isn't just makes it resonate like a giallo-esque nightmare logic miasma that-- if you're nine--might be terrifying stuff. I couldn't tell you since I was in bed at the time. God damn it.
4. Angels in Chains
The beginning, with an innocent girl getting either shot for escaping or roped into brothel-work is pretty disturbing --hinting at the way this series might have developed had kids like me not rescued it with our passionate interest. Tall scrawny "Foul Owl on the Prowl" listening dirtbag "Curtis Harrington's Sid Haig" character actor Anthony James is a rapist guard; Neva Patterson is the friendly warden with the pitch on the House they call the Rising Sun. The musical score is at its most 70s cop show funk bangin' and the sight of the three Angels in prison blues and a chain gang chains is one of the most quintessentially iconic of the entire series.
Hick rapist sheriffs were all the rage thanks to the hit movie Jackson County Jail (1976). Even the word is used in this, way more adult early entry. I generally avoid WIP films and sordid rape-revenge sagas, but the Angels all look good in their prison blues, and who shows up as one of the innocent girls forced to work in the brothel? A very young Kim Basinger! Don't worry, y'all. The Angels wreak some fiery vengeance before their honor is unduly compromised (prison induction aside). Kim is saved. Hurrah for Kim!
5. Target Angels
B+Someone's put a contract on the Angels, or have they? The killer, a hired merc with a limp, watches slides of each Angel before the attempted hit. The Brain from Planet Arous himself, John Agar, is Col. Baylock, Sabrina's dad, an arms expert who notes that Uzi ammo is very hard to get. Is he the role model for Bill Paxton's character in Haywire? He's either drunk or had a stroke. Maybe both. He's great. The plot is mainly an excuse for us to see the Angels' home life and the various exes and boyfriends that think what the girls are doing is too dangerous. "You mean a great deal to me," Charlie says, "all three of you." Lay off the embalming fluid, Charlie. "You've grown into a beautiful woman, Kelly," notes the geriatric orphanage nun.
Pros: Sabrina is firing on all engines figuring out the plot just as we do, faking her own death, searching the killer's hotel room and planning ornate snares one minute, reminding her ex-husband his fretful control freak anxiety is why they're "not playing house anymore" the next. Miles Cavendish is the name of an arms dealer; Jill gets up in a ref's face as the coach for a girls' basketball team in her off hours; Kelly romances a pre-fame Tom Selleck ("you kiss better than you cook"); Kelly reveals she has trust issues--it's weird to see her with a boyfriend, even if the boyfriend is Selleck and supposedly a surgeon. It's all weird, and it ends with a mysterious visit to Charlie's pad, which is really clearly a country club, unless Charlie has phone booths in his lobby and a no parking zones in his driveway. Will they get to see him at last? No, but there are some good twisty synths on the score and fans will note that the plot to this one is more or less recycled for the Drew-Lucy-Cameron reboot of 2000 which may explain why there are so many damn boyfriends in it. No more boyfriends, Charlie!
Cons: It seems pretty dumb to waste a cab ride rather than just look around the grounds for the guy with the dynamite. He's not exactly a master of camouflage and it's hard to believe he'd get the drop on a professional mercenary and not even look around for the money he went to jail for.
Luckily no long-term boyfriends, husbands, or ex-husbands would be seen after this. We wanted our Angels for our own. Lovers were allowed only on the condition they were arrested or killed by the end of the episode. The guys we see here were just basically dumped all at once 'cuz they can't stand the gaffe. Or Spelling or Goldberg realized their disdain would be universal. They understand viewer psychology the way few others do, to their enduring credit.
6. The Killing Kind
A-Dirk Benedict (Starbucks on Battlestar Galactica) directed this punchy little entry. Moxy-encumbered journalist / beach dweller Brooke Anderson vows that if anything happens to her she'll spill all that she knows about Moonshadows, a sleazy mob resort run by Mr. Terra Nova (Robert Loggia). Here's a tip: never leave a mob guy no way out of a bad situation except to kill you, especially with no witnesses around. He might have frogwomen waiting to pull you under when you swim out to your little raft to get away. Everyone knows that!
Pros: It's always good when the bad guys got some color to them, Loggia's got it, of course-- and there's a dame on his hit squad / Moonshadows staff, a stern Swedish masseuse named Inga! Her massage scenes with the Angels are a big highlight: "Did you two want to be alone!?" asks Jill as she interrupts Inga's quest for Kelly's deep tissue. "Another minute," retorts Kelly, "and I thought she'd be playing 'Strangers in the Night.'" It's great to hear them giggle, and exchange lame quips in low whispers while naked under white towels, even if it's a bit homophobic (did they even have that word in the seventies?)
This is just the kind of thing the Angels do super well and we love them for it - low stress crime solving in relaxing getaways where they can interview character actors while posing as instructors and service people of all walks of life. Here, Jill poses as a tennis instructor, allowing for all sorts of klunky fifth business with dopey smitten bra salesmen; Kelly poses as a freelance journalist writing about Moonshadows, saying groovy 70s swinger Cali nonsense like "I'm really getting turned on by this California sun." She asks what the hassle is with Mr. Nova not letting her take pictures. "The other resorts couldn't have been more cooperative." They sure couldn't, sweetheart. It's cool to see instances where an Angel uses sex like a squid uses ink, but it fails to work. Mr. Big isn't buying it, nor any other mobster at Moonshadows. "Let me give you a tip," the lackey to Mr. Big says, "people around here don't like a lot of questions," then he adds that dirty old men and prostitutes come here. "You are one of the pros, aren't you?" asks a swaggering Texas underwear big shot of Jill. He means tennis, yes he does. That 10 PM slot, oh boy.
That was risque stuff in the 1970s, and in its way, with the macho older guys out on the boat and the women doing all the heavy lifting, it's a kind of children's eye view of Playboy. Does Jill even know what whipped cream is? Even so, it's Kelly's episode and Smith nails it. Her come-ons suddenly seem very deadly when she keeps after Mr. Big, teasing him for not having a sense of humor when he catches her shooting his documents with a spy camera. Jaclyn Smith's restrained acting style is put to good use in these scenes. She's like a cold-hearted mannequin zombie killer. It's awesome. We see the way her character could have gone in the future, had tired formula not slowly leaked the air out.
Pros: This is the episode where Kelly busts some karate and flips her hair perfectly in the red sleeveless turtleneck, as seen in the credits. (Mr. Big snarls: "Bug her room! If she gets out of line... I want her reservation canceled!"). It's also great to see Jill pulling all sorts of tricks with door jams, picking locks, snooping and seducing, and all with a tan and bubbly charm. Sabrina does some good defensive driving but her orange-red suit makes her look too much like a neutered hotelier.
Cons: This one is a few marks shy of a perfect score thanks to Bosley's callous overreaction to the cost of Sabrina's car damage after she bumps the bad guy off a cliff ("do you realize what bullet holes do to the Blue Book?") -- it's not funny or believable. But he reveals he's married (his wife packs brown shoes to go with his black tux - "I thought all cocktail parties were formal") which unfortunately says a lot - but none of his character details survive this one episode, maybe for the best. Jill asks if they can stop off at the store because she's "out of whipped cream" and it seems dubbed in after the show's massive buzz, to make it more sexy, but it just sounds out of character, like it's trying to be dirty rather than just 'free' like her character. Sabrina blows another half point by dressing in a hideous granny frock during the big stable-set climax, but Loggia's indomitable presence counterbalances it. But then it ends with Charlie describing a sunset to the real blind George, sharing a beer ("skoal!") and letting a blind man fry his fish.
7. To Kill an Angel
Cons: As in the later "Angel Trap," it's clear Lasko got the memo that audiences like to see kittens, or he considers them a substitute for an actual plot, for there's no other reason our wandering loner child bonds with one. Audiences like an engaging story and genuinely interesting characters, too, Ed, and no one came to this show to see a whole hour wasted watching Kelly fret dourly over the fate of a towhead moppet. Plus the killer's rationale for needing to eliminate her and the kid because they may have seen something makes no sense. The murder of some sleazy underworld tough will barely get a stir from the LAPD, but shoot down a blonde kid and a cute detective on the boardwalk and they'll blow you away where you stand -- even a two-bit hood would know that. You don't shoot kids, or priests, or Jaclyn Smith, who once again displays a lack of the instinct essential to law enforcement, rivaling even Sheriff Dewey from the SCREAM series as far as public endangerment and jaw-dropping incompetence. She's good at using her beauty as a weapon, sometimes, but terrible at thinking on her feet. She even drops her bag--and presumably, gun--when going into action against two professional thugs. Depending on last minute rescues like a junky depends on his dope, she's more concerned with her hair than her life, and ugh, ugh! That tow-head.
8. Lady Killer
Wait a minute... wry double entendres, adult themes cleverly disguised, bad jokes, trenchant observations (Sabrina suggests after it's all over that Tony should try dating another girl over twenty), and Jill cleverly giving the one guy's room key to the other guy? Whoa! So feminists could still have a sense of humor about sex in the 70s? I'd totally forgotten. It's lovely to see the Angels on top of things, so to speak, and a good time is had by all... for a few more years anyway. Sex was still no-harm / no-foul, but AIDS and slasher movies were coming like a virgin blood tide.
Pros: Attack by explosive tennis ball in a tennis ball machine. Very Sherlock Jr. Attack by electrified water bed? Genius! The good guys are swingers with chest hair blazing, and bad guys are uptight and moralistic in itchy suits and sweaty repressed brows. Kelly Garrett lip syncs "Embrace Me" but is supposed to be singing (yet Bosley is behind the stage with a tape player). The red herring virgin side bet jumps early so there can be a big surprise shocker anticlimax finale straight out of Maniac, Shivers, or Blue Sunshine! Nice touches include the killer keeping chloroform in the kitchen cabinet next to the tomato soup, and a wry reference to Gloria Steinem. That Sabrina recognizes the Angels are "the biggest chauvinists of all" for not guessing the killer's identity shows a very keen adult intelligence behind the glibness.
10. Consenting Adults
APart of the genius of the first season was sex, not just in the T&A way- that's just a side benefit --but in a power over men kind of way. The Angels make people nervous because they're attractive and smart and assertive; their womanly curiosity leads them towards clues and into locked rooms to snoop without a care for the fears that inhibit normal people. In this episode another girl--less angelic--is using that skill via a computerized dating service to get gullible male pigeons. First she gets a mama's boy mark to pay for her "school tuition" and then has his antique store robbed whilst he's away. A colorful David Johansen-esque low life quotes Andy's Gang: "Pluck your magic twanger, froggy!" as he steals a McGuffin of a ceramic frog from the shop. "That's not my kind of nostalgia," says the other robber.
One of the better mid-season Episodes, this has all sorts of priceless 70s time capsule moments and clothes: Trendsetter athlete Jill, her Diana Von Furstenberg style dress open to the navel, wants to ride the "paved wave" on her new skateboard, and earns the trust of of a prostitute by telling her the john she's with is LAPD Vice, though he's probably not. Audrey Christie plays Maggie Cunningham, the mother of the missing dating service patsy, she rattles on about her days as a compatriot of Harry S. Truman. Moral of the story: stay away from computerized dating services! But old Maggie's actually cool with the fact her son was dating glorified prostitutes. Meanwhile, turns out Bosley plays the horses, and a steed called Khaki is visited (Kelly rocks a nice pair of black boots with a slick black dress and pretends a donkey behind a fence is a race horse). Name-checked is Nadia Comăneci, the mind-blower of that year's Olympiad.
Sabrina rocks some really bad hair and outfits, like she's a 9 year-old boy, but gets to shout "Move and you're part of the wall" with a shotgun trained on the door--maybe that's why I felt so comfortable swooning over her at the time--she was one of us. These days I'm more about Jill going down the hill in a big awesome skateboard chase climax, though she looks suspiciously like one of the Dogtown Z-Boys crew in a drag queen blonde wig (which s/he is). So I guess I'm back at square one...
11. The Seance
Cons: Also, it's pretty dumb for anyone to go into a murder suspect hypnotist's office alone and let him hypnotize you, thinking it's a good way to grill him for information. After that, if you don't think the hypnosis worked, but can't explain the missing time, then you're just a moron. That said, it's a pretty familiar angle from 50s movies and 30s old radio shows and there was even an LAPD police unit created just to deal with these kinds of predatory operators, the Bunco Squad!
I'm not one, but there are fans of the infamous "Beamish" episode, including "the Arizonian" who notes, "Truly, Kelly Garret is one of the most enduring characters in TV history."
12. Angels on Wheels
A real unfunny aspect here is Bosley being so cheap at every step. Remember how ritzy the pilot was way back in 1976, when the Angels had two mediators between them and Charlie and were brought in from their swanky private lives to go fleece the bad guys and earn themselves a 250,000. fee? I guess that was so they could go pro bono on cracker cases like these the rest of their lives and endure Bosley's nickel-and-diming them on expenses like medical bills from attempted assassinations.
Jill poses as Karen's sister, "you're like any other jock on this team!" Jerry gets told to "use the napalm!" The usually clueless Kelly makes some good moves here and looks great in, once again, all black - this time a slick pantsuit that shows off her great, um, ass, though I hate to say it as I'm trying to be classy, but sometimes she and the others can look so undernourished they seem compressed in an improper aspect ratio. Even so, it hurts seeing her fall for the same trick twice, and drive sabotaged cars... also twice! Charlie plays deux ex machina by calling her out of the blue to tell her there's a bomb in her car, even somehow knowing she left the briefcase behind. Maybe Bosley does have a point about her wasting cars. Jill does some real skating (I think); the plot is complex without being obtuse and the suspects and bad guys are entertaining rather than rote thugs: a Cruella Deville-style blonde named Jessica Farmer (Andra Akers); a "roller game" dykeaholic named Bad Betty King (Kres Mersky); Hugh Morris (Dick Sargent), the sole beneficiary of the roller girls' life insurance and victim of his own half-baked "Texas" accent. Meanwhile Charlie bribes phone operators (with sexual favors) to back up the Angels' resumes as working for the state board of insurance. Yes, they cover their bases this time - a reflection of some good writing to compensate for Bosley's cheapness (besides the client always assumes the price of 'expenses'). Best is how the bad guy's Alpha thug is stuck on crossword puzzle and gets uppity when Kelly suggests he could be a male centerfold in her made-up magazine. "You Gloria Steinem types turn me off," he says.
Poor Steve Sandor, outwitted at every turn, both here and in the Tiffany Bolling classic BONNIE'S KIDS!
13. Angel Trap
|My dad's Time subscription was always ground zero for my nine year-old hormone carbonizing. |
I wasn't sure what it was about this particular cover that made my 10 year-old self feel so....
14. "The Big Tap-Out"
Pros: the casino is hidden inside an LA movie theater showing Altman's California Split, but the actual inside of the room is the same old old wood panelling and red curtain set, with around 20 people 'gambling.' To help with the con, Charlie recruits a presumedly real dealer who does some slow but interesting card tricks to amuse the angels. It's that sort of digression and ambling quality that gets me relaxed while, say, sick with a cold and home from work
Cons: It's hard to believe the Angels would bother with a con that clearly stretches over a course of weeks or days to lure a small time thief into doing one more big job, just to absolve an abusive cop, pro bono no less! It requires an extra dose of mindlessness to not wake up to these little things, but don't forget, you had to appease the kids, the old folks, and the parents in between, all at once on ABC in those days. You learned to just tolerate the stupidity, and after all--it was hard to remember the plot after the commercial breaks anyway, because you were still talking to each other and doing things in the 70s. We were still alive.
15. Angels on a String
CThe Angels get a three-day vacation 'with pay' - oh wow so generous. Bosley all but pisses himself. They've fallen far since their quarter million take home pay days in the pilot. Bosley is expected to stay home and man the books, thank god. Where is he from, the moon? Paid vacation is pretty common, you moron!! Right there I'm subtracting ten points for Lakso-hackso-itis.
Outside of the show, on the news, this must have been when everyone was talking about Lech Walesa. He's here in effigy as Peter Wycnski (Theodore Bickel in a terrible gray Beatle wig). Sabrina gushes all over him as he tells her what slivovitz is. "Such a pretty head," he tells her, "and full of much information." Whoa, Peter! That's, like, poetry. Kelly is playfully horrified that Sabrina has a crush on a "sixty year-old man!" It won't be the first time Kelly comes off as something of a prude--or is she jealous? Does the friendship of Kelly and Sabrina have an undercurrent of lesbian pair bonding? Walesa wouldn't be on the cover Time until the early 80s but this was the era when terrorists were white as often as not, and we did negotiate with them, and they started hijacking so many planes they were using them like cabs, so we had to get tough and let them know we would not negotiate with them anymore.
What does that have to do with anything? I forget.
Cons: Sabrina's gushing expository dialogue about the "war of words" seems a little off, as does her tacky maid disguise with glasses that all but make her blind. The dialogue is like Hemingway crossed with a sixteen year old trying to fake his parents' handwriting. I'm being mean, but sometimes Lakso just gets my goat, as do painted-gray Beatles wigs meant to seem 'Polish.' And the idea that a big political meet with heavy security looks like the same wood paneled restaurant set we see over and over, for nearly any occasion. Or am I jealous, too?
16. Dirty Business
Pros: A red herring Che Guevara type named Tolchak gives Sabrina a deranged but accurate harangue about the evils of white bread, "the rape of the innocent strong wheat!" Alan Feinstein plays a smoov D.A. with a great Jewfro who comes onto Jill at the cop station; they exhibit some real chemistry together and he's very good at radiating a strong slithery charm that's suspicious but not obvious. There's a good chase up a hill with Kelly and Sabrina, their guns out, after knocking over the bad guys. And I always like when the motives of the bad guys were at least at one point well-intended; and when violence isn't going to lead anywhere, most would rather go to jail quietly than die in a blaze of glory. They are after all, white collar. Best of all, Sabrina and Kelly rock more of that slightly lesbian vibe here. Sexual or not, they love each other and Jill's kind of their de facto little sister. Whatever they've got going on, it's making Kelly especially luminous, with a perfect hair wave. She looks great in red and rocks a great naive hick twang coming onto the adult film director.
17. The Vegas Connection
AThe girls go to a Vegas of L.A. studio interiors cut with stock Vegas B-roll. Much sleuthing and sneaking ensues. A typically good first season episode; as usual the tone is more adult and the Angels more on top of their game than in subsequent seasons.
Pros - Can that possibly be John Agar in a black toupee and leisure suit as Cass Harper, sleazy entertainment coordinator / pimp to a Vegas casino called the Versailles? No, it's a guy named Michael Callan. Kelly gets to kick the ass of a rude Gina Gershon in Showgirls 'pro.' It's pretty nasty since all the girl does is push her once in a girly way and Kelly uses all her karate moves, tosses her into the scenery and bruises her face in order to get her out of the picture so she can take her place as Bosley's prostitute! All to no real result! Jill gets to outfox a dour tall tough guy who suspects her when he spots her in two disparate places; the action moves from poker games in a county where it's legal to going from LA to Vegas via a blackmail cartel; Blackie Dammett (great name!) is Freddy, "Anything you want, Freddy will get it for ya." And Sabrina kicks ass posing as a gambling commission accountant who points out to mob casino owner Scharf he's being bilked by Cass.
A good example of a single potent scene comes with an expertly delivered monologue Brooke Bundy as 'Elspeth' (a girl getting strung along by Cass Harper who becomes their informant) to "good listeners" Sabrina and Kelly in her one room apartment. She talks about coming to Vegas for a showgirl gig proffered by Cass and her refusal to return to prostitution when that doesn't pan out. Her eyes moisten as she fights back tears in classic method display. Our Angels are glad they were never so broke and lonesome they had to consider walking the streets to pay the bills. There's a nice parallel between Bosley cracking the Angels up by acting macho to impress Elspeth ("check out the electronic equipment!" he says on the way out, and they crack up), her getting a goodnight kiss from him, and Cass's overall slithery pimp trip. They apologize to Bosley for presuming the mastermind is a man, out to get prostitutes to a certain room for shakedown pics with blackmail-able high rollers. It's cool that the casino is all mobbed up, yet that's not the subject - they're Italian but decent guys who don't like their casino floor used for blackmail operations. Bad for business.
Cons - Bosley gets unbearably tacky posing as a guffawing, Texas high-rolling stereotype ("Bless you for an honest man!") Yeeesh, go easy Bos. The vibe is nice and mellow but once again there's the odd juxtapositions of cheapness with extravagance, Bos mentions billing clients for long distance phone calls like it's a ton of money, but no mention made of the rented Rolls they leave in the desert.
18. Terror on Ward One
BOne of my favorite psych moments in the series comes in this hospital set episode, wherein Farrah drops by the little in-hospital crash pad room of creepy "kissing intern" Quincy. With his wine and microwave pasta card table seduction, he's trying to be the Italian lover, but nothing can prepare him for Jill, who comes onto him full bore. Leaning back on his sad little twin bed, Jill's like OK Quincy, you're all talk or are you ready to throw down? He freezes and stalls. Yeah! Don't rush me!! Hahah I Love that shizz as you well know from my incessant going on about The Seduction , touting of Lacanian models of desire, and my own personal experiences at my ex-roommate's cocaine and models parties. Besides, any giallo fan will guess the real assailant a mile off. If not, well, maybe it's Dr. Danworth and maybe it's a patient named Halverston. Possibly it's the black-haired nurse who used to be blonde and "didn't have much luck." The old ugly nurse gives Bosley a thermometer up the ass ("Madame, you are a sadist") when he goes undercover as a patient ("a bone spur" in his toe). Once Bosley mentions his sharp eye and clever tongue, you know he'll end up zonked on pain killers."Halverston, you are a blunt instrument" says Bos to his hospital roommate. "Rape is a very frightening word," Charlie intones, but it's Bosley who's most terrified of being penetrated.
All in all, a solid episode that's relatively blandly filmed but screamed with great gusto. The word 'rape' is seldom mentioned in the show, but here it's more like a lame fumbling followed by being easily pushed into a table and then running away from or by a surgical masked assailant.
Cons: Sabrina's the most incompetent of them all this time, letting a suspect get her alone in the basement, unarmed. Bosley's too busy brushing his teeth to hear a special delivery arriving for him three feet away - allowing his roommate to get the confidential papers. The banter between Bos, the old nurse and the crotchety roommate is nowhere near as endearing as they all seem to think, though Bos does a good pill recovery voice (Sabrina notes "I'm glab do see you doo Bosley") He later tells the orderlies "didden I dell you I'm on the pill?" - You're a little old to be a mother, the orderly notes). Pills are so easily switched, it is in fact a bit like the 1972 movie The Hospital as far as criminal mismanagement. The idea of Bos getting someone else's pills and surgery is pretty hamfisted and wrong--he's blamed. Hawr Hawr. He was pretty competen in most of the old episodes up to now, he seems to have descended a few rungs of competence to become like a children's clown. That's what you get for being a pinch-penny, Bosley!
19. Dancing in the Dark
BA dance studio gives lessons to dotty rich old ladies as a front for a blackmail operation with towheaded Tony (future Jaclyn Smith husband Dennis Cole) as the honey trap. The Angels are hired by the widow of a Hall-of-Famer major league baseball player who had to pay ten grand to not have her honor (and therefore his) impugned. "Sabrina's a little spaced," says Kelly, posing as the sleazy blackmail detective's replacement photographer (basically the same role she played in the pilot). Once again, Smith shows she can be truly foxy when playing someone mercenary and confident, this time in an all-black fashion update on the trench coat and fedora.
Jill joins the dance studio staff and convinces the owner to add disco to the curriculum, which she
hears' is all the rage. "The Hustle" is the newest dance to be taught (huge at the time - we even learned it in grade school gym class!). Sabrina once again wears nerdy glasses to disguise herself as a gullible rich widow. There's a lot of wooden panelling and shag rug for the fans of 70s decor. When Sabrina pretends to pass out, Kelly comes in all in cat burglar black to take pics and Peter ties up her arm with a rubber tube and leaves a needle by the bed so it makes her look like a junkie! I wonder how much of this kind of racket has dwindled in the age of Photoshop. Now no one necessarily believes any photo!
Pros: Sleazy detective Schaefer is played by Logan Ramsey, who was the cop in Head (1968). He's got his eye on your punks. A deserted bowling alley gets a lot of mileage as a meeting place for blackmail payoffs and what in the end will inevitably a showdown involving lanes and pin tosses. There's all sorts of trying to pick each other up, with Jaclyn Smith saying "I do love pie" to the owner of the corrupt studio; Bosley massaging Brie's feet after she and the gigolo dance all night. There's also plenty of space for the Angels and Bos to spread out into the nicks and crannies of the scenes.
Cons: A hammy senior character actor (Benny Baker) swamps an apparently superfluous dance class scene and Sabrina's nasal-whine heiress schtick is so half-assed it's plain beneath her. The cost of their elaborate sting --lots of business and mansion rentals and posing and unposing all for a client to recover ten grand "and a nice retainer for the office" is ridiculous. They'd be out of business in no time flat with that economic logic.
20. "I will Be Remembered"
BIda Lupino plays a rich old movie star who's being gaslit. "Laura...Laura.." calls a ghostly voice (but her name is Gloria Gibson!) and she sees a figure hanging from her tree on a dark and stormy night which mirrors a movie she was in years earlier. The word 'gaslight' is used by Kelly: "If she isn't crazy it looks like someone is trying to drive her there." Wakka-wakka goes the guitar in the score; car doors and chimes; Lakso's name is not on the writing credits, so we can relax. The age of old 30s-40s divas-cum-70s battleaxes being what it was, these gaslit old stars making comebacks on haunted sets were not uncommon in TV detective series like the Angels. As far as they go, this one is pretty good. Waka-wakka-wakka Ba-ba-baroooum.
Pros: One of the great things about the 'battleaxe' era is that these broads have no problem struggling with old age, madness, and irrelevance on the small screen. Thanks to the phenomenal success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane a decade or so earlier, they were indulged and able 'let it all hang out.' Lupino--to her credit--underplays instead, enunciating every word like she's determined not to seem unbalanced (or drunk), and that's one reason she's endured as such a class act. ("You don't climb your way to the top, you claw your way there," she notes, "and there are those you hurt along the way.") We can feel in those words the pain of making it for so long as one of the only female directors in the business as well as an accomplished actress. Once on the set (within the set), a horde of older character actors get to shine too, like Richard Libertini and Aharon Ipalé as two talent agents Kelly sees to get a SAG card (they also do extra work in between booking other acts). Sabrina says "I remember the role of the mother, that's a good part," and we can't help but recall a certain Lee Tracy praising the 'Beachcomber' role to a drunk John Barrymore in Dinner at Eight. The bit with the fresco is actually pretty fascinating - and--take it as one who knows first-hand how chicanerous the art world is--plausible.
Cons: We learn "Laura" liked liverwurst with horseradish sandwiches from 'Lunchie', played by Louis Guss (the guy excited about Cosmo's moon in Moonstruck) and had them every day for lunch - which is kind of gross, but surely rich in valuable iron. It's funny in a meta kind of way that, though Charlie's Angels itself is filmed at a studio, the studio they're filming in for Laura's big comeback looks doubly cheap. For the second episode in a row Kelly winds up being shot at by the bad guys while climbing around behind partitions and the Angels race to the rescue. None of them have to fire a shot, but that's show biz. Lunchie can tell ya 'bout show-biz, especially back when it looked after its own as far as giving a day's pay to old Hollywood bit players like himself, who are--even today-- always willing to throw themselves into a throwaway scene. Old Lunchie...
21. Angels at Sea
B-Bosley drinks a neat whiskey. Someone is sabotaging a client's cruise line, so the Angels head aboard for "first-class accommodations." Since they won't be able to exit the ship once at sea, Charlie says they should vote on whether to go, which I think is cool, as his is the exact reason why I don't like boats. Frank Gorshin is the saboteur. A weirdly discomforting contrast occurs when the Angels grill him for info on where he planted the bombs and he delivers a long monologue of impressions. His Bing Crosby, Bogart, Ed Sullivan, Richard Burton, Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, are all good, the W.C. Fields is meh, Bela Lugosi is awful, John Wayne is fair, Cary Grant, Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon, are nicely done, sir, nicely done, and meanwhile the bomb is ticking so it's like man hurry up, do your Jimmy Stewart and let's move on. None of the Angels around him are smiling, thinking fucking shut up! Brilliant. He goes on anyway, he won't tell them a thing but he will do Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, then Boris Karloff, Lee J. Cobb, George C. Scott as Patton, Bogie (again), and, Bing- "Bum-Boom Boom Boom" re: the bombs and babbling and laughing as maniacally. We don't know whether to applaud or throw wrenches. Can he read minds? Did he learn to tell the future after an auto accident? I believe it, ut nonetheless, this compendium of impression-monologue wankery and half-assed nods to ESP falls rather short.
Pros: It looks at the end like the girls are going to triple-team some handsome young stud serving them drinks. "We'll be gentle," Kelly says. The Angels seem unusually giddy and free-wheeling this go-round, hazing Bos for getting his clothes stolen and conked over the head. They hit on a good trick to get the saboteur to out himself, even if it's so old it has whiskers, and Kelly gets to spring down from a vent all sleek in a catsuit. Badass, but then she's overpowered in a second, and the Angels ambush is escaped easily, so why bother? The whole advantage to holding a gun on someone is to be out of range of them taking it from you, because you don't need to be right up against someone with a gun, presuming you can hit the broadside of a barn at two paces. I'm just telling you, dear reader, in case it comes up!
Cons: The whole shortwave radio bomb squad defuser thing drags on longer than Gorshin's monologue.When Bosley's hit in the stomach he goes down flailing and rolling his eyes like a real spazz. Oh Bosley! The old fire in the engine room trick's so old it has whiskers on the whiskers the other thing had, but who watches this show for innovation? It's the link between the flare-pants and denim jacket 70s and classic black and white Hollywood that we all want and even need.
22. The Blue Angels
B-There's murders in the massage parlor ("all vehicles: respond to a purported disturbance at Paradise Massage"). Crooked cops are involved! Sabrina starts working a vice desk as a 'consultant' with an impressive record in undercover vice from AZ but is stunned when her partner suggests she put on fringe hip-huggers. Jill and Kelly head to work in 'the massage' business, there to wait for the corrupt cops to make their shakedown. This leads to some pretty weird interactions when the customers realize these Angels aren't down with happy endings. I mean, actually, it doesn't: We never see any of Jill's alleged massages or find out why she's the only one working there.
Pros: Brezhnik--the Paradise's landlord--wants everyone to wear leaves ("actually, first: tiger skins. But where are the tigers today? Nowhere!") and bemoans the body temple has been "violated - filled with cloth worshippers!" The always great Timothy Carey shows up early on as the massage parlor's actual owner. He's shot way too early, but at least he gets a few lines of dialogue, demanding protection from a crooked vice cop, eyes getting all wide and voice rising up in great waves of coiled beatnik madness in that wondrous Carey way, reminding us the real reason Kazan should have been booed at the Oscars was for dubbing Carey's voice in East of Eden.
Marilyn Joi and Vidonne are memorable as former Paradise masseuses. Vidonne (left) gets off a great stoner laugh and her lamé dress, replete with huge black choker-scarf combo, was ubiquitously 70s in a way that all us boys from the era remember as being slightly dangerous. The quality of set decoration seems more upscale than usual during the scene where Dirk Benedict takes Kelly to a fancy restaurant.
Cons: Jill seems contemptuous of the idea anyone would get a massage without expecting sex. What about the guys (as I have been) who just wanted a massage and were 'pressured' into sex, quite literally, or almost? It's absurd that, while they're hired by the DA to investigate possible crooked cop involvement in the massage business, they presume they must have got the license plate wrong when the car that chases them turns out to belong to a police academy cadet. The main bad vice cop wants to kill his female partner (Sabrina) within days for no real reason except she might get too close --which makes no earthly sense. Wouldn't a cop know a dead cop is suspicious? Not to mention why Sabrina lets herself get chased around an alley by a sedan driven by Dirk Benedict, choosing to drop her bag and gun at the first sign of trouble even though she's 'undercover' as a cop going undercover as a hooker, and should have at least some rudimentary skill with self-defense (as she has in the past), even a blind hooker knows how to defend themselves better than Sabrina does, and shooting a driver through a windshield is a piece of cake for anyone not cross-eyed and suffering the St. Vitus Dance. Could be she's scared and not thinking straight or that the writer is our old friend Ed Lakso, whose crime experience seems limited at best. Cue music!
Mainly, though, the show has value as time capsules, for it never failed to incorporate passing fads and politics, skateboards, UFOs, singles bars, and great clothes; Farrah's hairstyle singlehandedly and most unfortunately starting the trend that would eventually result in the dreaded 80s pouff.
Farrah would leave after this season, a big star whose promising career was promptly derailed by the maligned and endlessly-delayed Saturn 3. But I always kind of liked Cheryl Ladd just a tad better. Though she was supposed to be Jill's younger sister, she always seemed somehow more mature and womanly, less liable to let her guard down. But most of importantly Kelly and Kris-who would see the show to the end, still have Sabrina to bounce their energy off of, and her cop show savvy to guide them. Once Kate left after season three, the bulk of heavy lifting fell to Kelly and Kris, who seemed tired and resentful of the awful mauve pullovers they--by then--had to wear, slaves to fashion as they were they had to follow fashion down the tubes.
But most of all, we must remember that feminism was still new and was then called women's lib and though the Angels are remembered as airheads, that judgment reflects more on the shoddy backwards patriarchal trends that began to re-emerge in the 80s where women were either sexy and fun or good at their job, never both. Fans of the show know better. Watch the episodes before you label them sexist jiggle tripe. There's almost no jiggle at all - seldom a bathing suit, never underwear, always class and style, sisterhood, warmth and courageous forward motion, striding bravely into one male-dominated domain after another. These girls weren't just 'imitation men' action heroes, or mindless babes with guns, they were female investigators, and they always got their man, usually without killing him, and through a woman's strengths vs. a man's weaknesses. Confidence, intelligence and hotness all in one packet? Forgive Spelling his shallow trespasses. Like Hefner, or Roger Corman, beneath the surface tawdry is a genuine love of strong women that's so much better than the reverse, isn't it? Good lord. It better be.