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 - they wanted to do more than just be tough men imitations, they brought feminine care and warmth to their business as well as seduction and ballbreaking. 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-- 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; 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, 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 unobtrusive).
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 it. If so, or are just curious, I have my handy episode-by-episode guide to help you find the good and skip the bad. Just follow my handy 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 the 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.
Cons -Jill wears a hideous lavender hat while stalking the swamp. It's so distracting, ugly, and wrong for the case it's baffling; David Ogden Stiers is all-wrong as Woodrow, a smarmy aide to Charlie who wouldn't last past this one-off. 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 MASH, where he fit perfectly as the slightly less neurotic 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 very low riding 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
Pros - Sabrina puts a screetch in her voice to portray the local circuit driver, and of course nails it. 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. She and Sabrina both have great tans and glow like the wind. Kelly is also ravishing in very 70s tight flared jeans and the bits where she 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 damn tone tan arms in one scene, and she stares down the badass butch rival driver with great aplomb: eyes rock hard, meeting her gaze while voice all calm, threatening without seeming at all displeased. Like the previous episode, the Angels aren't just about identifying the enemy but fleecing their wallet and catching them in the act so they're sure of a conviction. Sabrina 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 bounce into a car with a suspect after snooping around his apartment.
2 - The Mexican Connection
Pros: Consistently strong acting, some good camera work, the whole thing flows 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 Latin 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 come across. Once they knew they had a hit with the kids, I think they eased back on the bad sexy pun throttle. Of course te 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 she would 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 gets to play two roles here: one is a murdered model in a terrible wig, so Kelly shows up at the agency to unnerve the killer, Laura-style, though of course that leads to complications. There's a pool shoot, some sordid undercurrents: the lead suspect is an either gay or sexually frustrated German designer; the killer leaves a rag doll by his victims... connection? "Put her in the white bikini," says open-shirted decadent Kevin St. Clair (Soap's Richard Mulligan), pissing off his sulky wife, who if she knew what was good for her would be in bed with the pool boy. Instead she huffily labels Kelly's resemblance "some freaky reincarnation." 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 event the Angels attend and even Ironsides would have been able to grab the killer when they catch him in the hotel room, but the Angels let him get away, barely try to stop him --what bodyguards they'd make... Since it's a horror-ish episdoe, 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 tossing in Kelly. A model should know how to fight by the side of a pool without falling in 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!
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 the picture (ripped from some magazine) never left my possession for most of my childhood, no matter how many Wacky Packages were offered in trade.
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 scorr - it's silly to even suggest such things! Oh hohoh. 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-- you're nine--might be terrifying stuff. 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.
4. Angels in Chains
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 The Angels all look good in their prison blues, though, 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) and look great in prison blues. 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 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 worry that 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. There's only a single Kelly! "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 get up in a ref's face as the coach for a girls' basketball team. 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 all 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 no parking zones in his driveway. Will they get to see him at last? No. Some good twisty synths on the score, though, whenever the killer's onscreen watching slides of the next Angel to be hit. The plot to this one is more or less recycled for the Drew-Lucy-Cameron reboot of 2000.
Cons: Sabrina's over-protective cop ex-husband moping after her is even more tiresome than she realizes and she's pretty tired of him. Luckily no long-term boyfriends, husbands, or ex-husbands would be seen after this. We wanted our Angels for our own fantasies. They should be nuns of our Godlike omnipotence. 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.
It seems pretty dumb to waste a cab 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.
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 -- it's just basic survival. It's why there's Witness Protection for gosh sake.
Pros: It's always good when the bad guys got some color to them, Loggia's got it-- and there's a dame on the hit squad --a stern Swedish masseuse named Inga, and her massage scenes are pretty risque: "Did you two want to be alone!?" asks Jill of Kelly as she interrupts the Inga's quest for her deep tissue. "Another minute," retorts Kelly, "and I thought she'd be playing 'Strangers in the Night.'" It's borderline homophobic but on the other hand it's great to hear them giggle, and exchange lame quips in low whispers while naked under white towels. They seem to having a great time, 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: Jill poses as a tennis instructor; Kelly poses as a freelance journalist writing about Moonshadows and saying groovy 70s swinger Cali nonsense like "I'm really getting turned on by the California sun." She asks what the hassle is with them 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 using sex like a squid uses ink fail 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. He means tennis, yes he does.
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 coming onto 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.
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 cancelled!"). It's also great to see Jill pulling all sorts of stunts like tricks with door jams, picking locks, 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 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.' Sabrina blows another half point by dressing in a hideous granny frock during the big stable-set climax but Loggia's indomitable presence counterbalances. But then 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
Even without all that baggage, and without the lame Southern California boardwalk neorealist vibe, this is one lazy piece of writing. Dopey, unrealistic coincidence (naturally wherever the Angels go, even on their days off, murders are popping off right and left) and working class fifth business stereotypes--the goombah pizza guy, the old timer peanut vendor, the sleazy printer--kill the necessary space between commercials while examining Kelly's picture and then pointing Bosley and the other two Angels in the direction she last staggered.
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. She's acting like the kind of tiresome parent we watch the show to get away from! 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, they'll blow you away where you stand, and even a two-bit hood would know that. You don't shoot kids, or priests, or Jaclyn Smith... but Lasko doesn't think that far ahead. So our alleged detective Kelly once again displays a lack of the instinct about people so essential to law enforcement, rivaling even Sheriff Dewey from the SCREAM series. 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 worse--that towhead.
8. Lady Killer
Wait a minute... wry double entendres, adult themes cleverly disguised, bad jokes, trenchant observations (Sabrina suggests after it's all over Tony, try dating another girl over twenty), and Jill cleverly giving the one guy's key to the other guy? Whoa, feminists could still have a sense of humor about sex in the 70s and here the Angels are on top of things, and a good time is had by all... for a few more years anyway. 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--badass. Kelly Garrett lip syncs "Embrace Me" but is supposed to be singing (yet Bosley 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! Something about those crooked 'looking up at a giant modernist apartment building in the pale gray cloudy afternoon' giallo sex switch hit. 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 page is not afraid to reveal itself at the moment.
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 is using that skill, via a dating service. 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 70s time capsule moments and clothes: Trendsetter athlete Jill wants to ride the "paved wave" on her new skateboard; Jill, her Diana Von Furstenberg style dress open to the navel, earns the trust of of a female suspect by telling her the john she's with is LAPD Vice; 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. 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
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 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 driving 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); and Hugh Morris (Dick Sargent), the sole beneficiary of the roller girls' life insurance and victim of his own half-baked "Texas" accent (Jill calls it 'angel instinct' that he's not involved--but we don't believe it). Meanwhile Charlie bribes phone operators (with sexual favors) to back up the Angels' resumes as working for the state board of insurance. They cover their bases this time. 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 me 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 old wood panelling and red curtains with around 20 people 'gambling' - 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.
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. "Such a pretty head," he tells her, "and full of much information." Whoa, 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 we had to get tough and let them know. 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!" He's right! A smoov tall Jewfro D.A. with a George Segal vibe comes onto Jill at the cop station; Bosley uncovers silent partners in the porn business; Sabrina and Kelly rock more of that slightly gay vibe here. Sexual or not, they love each other and Jill's kind of the little sister. And there's some real connection with Jill and the D.A. guy - 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 easy, so most would rather go to jail quietly than die in a blaze of glory. They are after all, white collar, and usually white.
And Kelly is especially luminous, with a perfect hair wave and looks great in red, and she 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 and Vegas stock footage, and much sleuthing and sneaking ensues. A standard 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 Scharf he's being bilked.
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; she talks about coming to Vegas for a showgirl gig and her refusal to return to prostitution if that doesn't pan out. Her eyes moisten as she fights back tears in classic acting chop display. Our Angels are glad they were never so broke and lonesome they had to consider it 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 creepy would-be swinger and possible murderer "the kissing intern" Quincy's sad little hook-up room, with its wine and pasta, and a sad little twin bed. But she comes on as full bore. Jill's like OK Quincy, whip it out, and he freezes and stalls. Yeah! Love that shizz as you well know from my incessant going on about The Seduction (1981) and my own personal experiences. 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 a 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 most terrified of being penetrated, is our Bos.
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, letting a suspect get her alone in the basement, unarmed. Bosley's too busy brushing his teeth to hear a delivery for him three feet away - allowing his roommate to get the confidential papers. The banter between the old nurse and the crotchety roommate are nowhere near as endearing as they all seem to think - though he 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, orderly notes). Pills are so easily switched, it is in fact a bit like 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 competent in the series 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.
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 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 detective photographer's replacement, basically the same role she played in the pilot. Once again, Smith shows she can be truly foxy as hell 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 and convinces the owner to do disco, which she hears is all the rage. "The Hustle" is the newest dance to be taught (we even learned it in grade school gym class). Sabrina once again wears nerdy glasses to disguise herself as a gullible widow. Lots 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 the from 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 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. And Bosley massaging Brie's feet after she and the gigolo dance all night. 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 Brie's nasally 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." They'd be out of business in no time flat with that economic logic.
20. "I will Be Remembered"
BA rich old movie star is being gaslit. "Laura...Laura.." calls the ghostly voice, but her name is Gloria Gibson and she's played by the great Ida Lupino, and she sees a figure hanging from her tree on a dark and stormy night which mirrors a movie she was in. 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, car doors and chimes, and 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, they were indulged and 'let it all hang out.' Lupino underplays, enunciating every word like she's determined not to seem unbalanced (or drunk), and that's one reason it's such a stellar example of this. ("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.") 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 (the lumber, etc. being the sort of thing Jonathan Haze would chase hobo food for Audrey down in for Corman's Little Shop of Horrors). 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 always willing to throw themselves into a throwaway scene.
21. Angels at Sea
B-Bosley drinks a neat whiskey. Someone is sabotaging a guy'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. The long monologue of impressions he delivers while they try to get him to tell them where the bomb is startling, but kind of creepy due to context. I wrote them all down anyway: Bing Crosby, Bogart, Ed Sullivan, Richard Burton, Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, W.C. Fields (meh), Bela Lugosi (awful), John Wayne (fair), Cary Grant, Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon, 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, 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, Harry. But nonetheless, this compendium of impression-monologue wankery and half-assed nods to ESP, nonetheless 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 one paces.
Cons: 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 70s and classic black and white Hollywood we all want and even need. The whole shortwave radio bomb squad defuser thing drags on longer than Gorshin's monologue.
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 undercover vice from AZ but is stunned when her partner suggests she put on fringe hip-huggers, and 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 landlord--wants everyone to wear leaves ("actually first, tiger skins. But where are the tigers today? Nowhere!") Now his temple, "violated - filled with cloth worshippers" - did some termite rewrite guy get the idea of Brezhnik as God ("Paradise" as Eden), or am I just hoping/ The always great Timothy Carey shows up as the owner who wants the crooked cops he pays off to cover up his murder of some john (never explained). He's shot way too early, but at least he gets a few lines of dialogue in his own voice, 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 to former Paradise masseuses (Vidonne [below] gets off a great stoner laugh and her lame outfit replete with huge black choker-scarf combo, was ubiquitously 70s). The props rental seems mildly higher than usual during the scene Starbuck takes Kelly to a fancy restaurant.
Mainly, though, the show has value as time capsules, for it never failed to incorporate passing fads and politics, skateboards, UFOs, singles bars, and 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 Saturn 8. 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.
But most of all, we must remember that feminism was still new and was 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.
So see these shows again, without the judgment of doofus reactionaries--and let them slow your racing heart and widen your attention span with their leisurely pace, and realize the 70s difference. 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 with understanding and warmth, 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.