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I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

I love it when a plan comes together….

In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a high security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a roblem, if no one else can help and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.

Few paragraphs evoke such happy childhood memories as these words. As the military drum beat kicks in and that legendary theme swells, I am instantly transported back to Sunday afternoons at my grannies house, watching the A-Team and Monkey (not “Monkey Magic” as it is irritatingly and very incorrectly called by some people). Happy, happy times.

It’s one of the few tv shows from my childhood than I can actually watch now. Oddly enough Monkey is another, but when I try and watch say, Manimal, Airwolf, Knight Rider, Streethawk or any of their contemporaries I’m generally slightly appalled that I used to watch them. They are frequently tragically bad in almost every respect to the point that even nostalgia can’t save them.

For some reason the A-Team has endured the ravages of time. Even as I type this I have season 4 on DVD playing in the background. It’s an episode I’ve seen before and follows the standard formula that every episode (more or less) of the A-Team follows. It should feel boring and pointless and predictable but somehow it doesn’t. But why? Can it simply be that my fond familiarity with it cushions me from all the things I should hate about it? Is it just that the warmth of my memories for it are enough to negate it’s bad points?

Surely not. I am after all a cold, emotionless machine driven by logic and reason! So there must be more to it.

Firstly the formula is a good one. The setup, bad things happening to good people. No one else can help them so they seek out and retain the A-Team, followed by the first encounter between the team and the bad guys so Hannibal can formulate a convoluted and usually effective plan. The one or more of them are captured, they improvise their escape and soundly whip the baddies, deftly sidestepping the military police who always just narrowly miss the opportunity to capture them. Yeah it’s a bit corny, yeah it’s a bit predictable, but it’s a very satisfying configuration.

At it’s heart is a good versus evil conflict where the good prevail. Hannibal and Co. are considered outlaws but in the Robin Hood tradition, standing up for the weak and defenceless in the face of the corrupt powerbase in society. Hannibal particularly is driven by a moral compass that knows little equal and will eschew payment for the team’s services if it means they get the opportunity to stick it to the villains. His sense of justice is not limited by man’s laws but by an instinct for what is right. He shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness and likes nothing more than to see a bully get his dues.

Criticised for being too violent the makers took great pains to ensure nobody actually gets hurt. The A-Team never kill anyone. Clearly a sidestep to avoid the censors it fits nicely with the A-Team’s style. They aren’t criminals and aren’t interested in murder. Hannibal’s love of “The Jazz*” dictates that simply killing his enemy (despite numerous threats of his intention to put slime balls in the ground) is too easy and far too dull. Much more satisfying is the challenge of playing them at their own game and bringing them down for the forces of law and order to deal with. If they nearly get captured by the authorities in the process all the better. That Hannibal. He looooves The Jazz.

For what is essentially pulp tv the writing is surprisingly good. Yes, there are the spectacularly mental episodes (Cowboy George anyone?) but the consistent relationship between the team members is masterful. It’s the sort of male bonding experience that Kathryn Bigelow could only ever dream of realising. You get precious little of their back story but you know they all served together in ‘Nam, they all got set up together and they
all have nobody else to rely on but each other. Brothers in arms in the face of adversity. It’s the same dynamic that makes the like of Lethal Weapon succesful and it is no less succesful here. Loyalty is the order of the day. No matter what life throws at the A-Team, they can always rely on each other.

The other great key to the shows success is quite simple. Everybody loves a montage. Especially one in which four guys take some hay bales, a welding torch and miscellaneous scrap that they find lying around and turn it into an armoured assault vehicle. Sure, sometimes they end up with a vaguely peculiar contraption (such as a cabbage cannon, honestly) but it’s always satisfying to see those barn doors fly open at the behest of an armoured agricultural machine rolling eagerly out to punish those who would prey on the weak and defenceless.

So anyway, I love the A-Team. The fifth season went a bit mental, with Robert Vaughn pulling their strings in return for a pardon and the weird little special effects come CIA agent being added to the mix, but it’s still very satisfying to watch. Tongue in cheek and yet sincere where it needs
to be and brimming with a timeless heroism. I recommend it to everyone and feel very, very ambivalent towards the film (casting being my main issue – George Peppard is absolutely irreplaceable as Hannibal, Tommy Lee Jones may have been able to pull it off when he was younger but not now) but will probably watch it anyway just to see. Iconic to the last – the van, the catchphrases (I love it when a plan comes together!) it’s deeply satisfying formula – all of these have embedded themselves in our collective popular culture consciousness. I find it difficult to fault.

All hail the A-Team!

*”The Jazz” has nothing to do with the musical style and everything to do with the thrill of the chase. Hannibal is well documented as loving The Jazz and never takes the simple quiet course of action when he can stir up a hornet’s nest of danger to keep things interesting. Usually it involves the attentions of a couple of carloads of MP’s intent on sending them back to jail.

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