"What a trap! On a show where there is very little that is truly witty, truly intelligent or terribly clever, to have to play 'the smart one'...please! Kate pulled it off cause there was a quirkiness about her--she had the voice and an offbeat humor and a big personality. When Shelley came in, she took it too seriously. She didn't understand how kind of...stupid this show was. She wanted to be good in a 'I'm a good actress' kind of way instead of concentrating on just developing a character."
- Cheryl Ladd, as quoted in Charlie's Angels Casebook
Wow, the DVD Talk reviewers have not been kind to Charlie's Angels. The smash-hit first season warranted just a "rent it" recommendation from Shannon Nutt: "My memories of how good this show was didn't quite live up to my experience watching the first season again." Season 2--which featured the debut of Cheryl Ladd (my favorite angel) fared even worse with Robert Spuhler, who advised us to "skip it" with just 1.5 stars (say it ain't so, Rob!): "The show is poorly written, poorly acted and just a bore." The same rating and advice was dished out for Season 3, where Jeffrey Robinson writes "the show offers several poor attempts at a crime show that fail on almost every level."
I'm guessing they all just don't (insert annoying open quote here) get it (end quote), and I shudder to think what they would have to say about Season 4--which features the least popular Angel ever. But don't worry, Charlie...the bad reviewer men won't hurt you any more (two of them have already disappeared under mysterious circumstances). I'm here to restore some order in the universe, and won't let those meanies come near you again (I'm looking at you, Jeffrey...for shame!).
You know the drill: Three private investigator babes and their comic relief handler solve cases for their unseen boss Charlie (voiced by the soon-to-be-on-Dynasty John Forsythe). They go undercover, don an impressive array of disguises, flirt, brandish guns, sport stylish gowns and hairstyles, unsuccessfully try to pull off Southern accents, squeeze themselves into bikinis...lather, rinse, repeat. The also drive Fords (and, to hammer the product placement home even harder, so do many of the culprits), and Ladd still has the coolest of them all--the Mustang Cobra II, one of the baddest ass cars ever (I can't say the same for the orange Pinto, which Hack inherits this season).
I won't try and convince you that the show is original, well-written, important or enlightening. I frequently laughed at some long and boring dialogue-free stretches that scream "writers block", like the 10-minute opening scene in the first episode. But it's fun and harmless, a self-aware blast of pop culture bubblegum that lets women be the ones in control for a change--thus giving little girls across America the hope they can be just as tough as the guys. Where's the harm in that? Relax and enjoy!
Season 4 faced an uphill battle from the start: Having already lost breakout star Farrah Fawcett after the first season, the show was now without the services of Kate Jackson, who was ready to movie on--and still bitter after missing out on an opportunity to star in Kramer vs. Kramer (her role went to Meryl Streep, who went on to win an Oscar...ouch!). That left Jaclyn Smith as the only original angel, although Ladd had situated herself quite well--giving hope that lightening would strike twice. The producers settled on Shelley Hack, a model/unproven actress whose claim to fame was being a "Charlie Girl" in the popular Revlon fragrance commercials (perhaps the convenient name association was enough to convince producers she was the way to go).
Hack beat out a lot of other names mentioned for the role, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Barbara Bach (who reportedly got the role first but was then turned down), Catherine Bach and...oh lord...Kathie Lee Gifford (thank heaven!).
Enter Tiffany Welles, a WASPy New Englander intended to being a sense of class and chic to the Townsend Agency: She plays the violin, reads the society page and speaks Latin. Kelly Garrett (Smith), Kris Munroe (Ladd) and John Bosley (David Doyle) let us know in the season's opening minutes that Sabrina Duncan (Jackson) is now married and pregnant. Fawcett also comes back as Kris's older sister Jill in three contractually obligated episodes--her last of the series (rest in peace, Farrah...you are missed).
Chances are you've heard that as the season progressed, the ratings suffered and Hack was blamed by many for it. She didn't really mesh with her co-stars or the show and frequently comes across as awkward. She's too slow and careful with her lines, and her tone of voice and method of delivery is stuck in "cheery" mode most of the time, with too many inappropriate smiles during uncomfortable situations. Her movement isn't much better: She's sometimes a tad lurched and clumsy with a gun, just a little less convincing than her co-stars.
Hack's tough transition behind the set has been well-documented in print and on screen. In the 2002 E! television documentary TV Tales: Charlie's Angels, Smith and Ladd were nothing but complimentary of Hack, but other tidbits hint at issues behind the camera:
- Nolan Miller, costume designer: "I don't know what happened to her. I think she was in over her head a little bit...I think she felt very insecure and she got to where she wasn't being so pleasant. She got very demanding and kind of difficult about her wardrobe and everything, which was not what any of us expected."
- Cheryl Ladd: "I don't think enough time was taken with her character or how she was going to fit in with us...it was really unfortunate and unfair for Shelley." Of the season: "It was missing something. We didn't know what. I think people got disillusioned a bit with the show."
- Leonard Goldberg, executive producer: "The chemistry never clicked. She wasn't terribly happy doing the show. It wasn't working."
- Shelley Hack: "I never expected to be there more than a year, and I wasn't...I did my year and I moved on. That was just fine--that was plenty for me."
And in the fan essential book Charlie's Angels Casebook by Jack Condon and Daniel Hofstede, more is shared:
- Jaclyn Smith: "Shelley came in with stronger opinions than Cheryl did, which can sometimes be a mistake in an ensemble show...Cheryl really tried to fold into the groove of the show, but Shelley had her own ideas."
- Ed Lasko, writer: "I kept pulling lines away from her [in the season opener]...I danced around it, because I didn't want to say that Shelley couldn't act."
- Kim Manners, director: "She never really had fun with her role, so I don't think she was ever comfortable."
- David Doyle: "You didn't get the feeling that these girls hung out together away from the office."
- Ladd: "There was a whole bunch of things going on that Shelley took a lot of shit for that she didn't deserve."
- Johnny Carson: "When Hack's 'A' is put where her 'T' should be, it still doesn't jiggle."
But for all the criticism, it's really not fair to completely blame Hack--while she doesn't quite spark on screen, deliver her dialogue with much variation or gel with her co-stars, it's not like we're dealing with Masterpiece Theatre here. This is Jiggle TV, remember? How can you resist the box cover?! Season 4 doesn't do anything new, but it's entertaining--and also brought me back to the good ol' days (remember when you were a little girl and assumed an Angel's identity while playing with your friends? Uh...me neither!)
Here then are some highlights from my journey through the 26 episodes of the 1979-80 season:
Episodes 1 & 2: Oh, yeah...it's Aaron Spelling crossover time! While "Love Boat Angels" has a lot of slow moments, lazy detective work from Kelly and Tiffany (who are more interested in lounging on the beach while Kris puts her life in jeopardy) and some stilted dialogue, there's too much excitement to care. Starting with a long and silly crime that re-defines the term "highway robbery", it also has a shirtless Bert Convey playing bad and horny (the password is...naughty-cal! tee hee...get it?), Kris in an underwater knife chase, Dick Sargent as a client, a funny Audrey Landers fake-out, one of Tiffany's silliest hairstyles (but a great shot of her on a speedboat), bad accents, bikinis and plenty of cheesy dialogue--including this exchange between the Angles and Gopher when the trio boards the Pacific Princess:
Captain Stubing: "Mr. Bosley's waiting for you in cabin 2A."
Tiffany: "Where's that?"
Gopher (eyebrow suggestively raised): "Cabin 2A! Cabin 2A is...slightly forward...I can take you there."
Captain Stubing: "This is Gopher. He's also slightly forward."
Episode 3: "Angels Go Truckin'". Need I say more? (Watch for the ridiculous inner tube scene.)
Episode 4: A Very Special Kelly Episode lets Smith get all serious and emotional as heroin threatens to end her life: "The real addicts...what they must go through! God I feel sorry for them!"
Episode 5: A young Kim Cattrall is far less annoying than the older Sex and the City Kim Cattrall. She plays a bride-to-be who doesn't realize the real danger she's in, while Kris gets locked into a closet and needs help to get out (sigh...the Girl Power here isn't always impressive).
Episode 6: Farrah returns for her first of three episodes--and is under the influence of the dashing yet dastardly Timothy Dalton, who the writers perceptively describe as "a man with James Bond-ian tastes, means and charm." (!) We also get our first of many snake appearances, and...(drum roll please)...rooftop karate standoff!
Episode 7: One of the juiciest episodes--featuring a guest spot from Sally Kirkland--has Kris going undercover in a women's prison. She gets hosed down by the staff and subjected to a bunch of mean bitches--including Big Agnes, who calls Kris "chicken" and has an ulterior motive (wink wink). Let's see if you can figure it out:
Big Agnes: "I told you , you gotta pay your way in here!"
Kris: "You've already taken everything...my makeup, my money..."
Big Agnes, laughing: "That's not everything!"
Kris: [pauses and stares blankly]
Big Agnes: "...think about it..."
Kris: [pauses and stares before the light bulb finally goes on]
Big Agnes: "If it's not me, it'll be them...however and wherever they say. You decide."
[note to Kris: anyone else would be better than Agnes...]
Episode 8: Kelly and a purse-twirling Tiffany pretend to be high-priced hookers in "Angels on the Street" (oddly, the budget only allowed for one whore outfit apiece--I hope they washed those!). "A thousand each?!" asks Bosley. "Boz, we work as a team!" "A team? That's pretty kinky!" You also get a Ron Jeremy-ish guy named Larry, and an apparently popular-for-its-time quip: "Does Macy's tell Gimbels?"
Episode 9: Farrah's second episode this season. The word "haberdashery" is used, and I laugh.
Episode 10: Oh yes...you're reading this right: "Angels on Skates"! And...wait for it...Ed Bagley Jr.!! He stars as one half of a highly rated roller-skating pair--and needs a stunt double (in a terrible wig!) for the more difficult tricks. The episode features one of the most hysterical abductions ever: His female partner is kidnapped by two men who wheel her--on her skates!--into a van. Um...honey? You're wearing skates--not only a great weapon for kicking, but also for getting away (did I mention she's also wearing clown pants?). We also learn that Tiffany has man ankles ("No offense gorgeous one, but with a set of ankles like you've got, I suggest you skip the sneaker skates!") thanks to flamboyant skate shop owner Freddie Fortune--a guy who wears a pink-striped windbreaker and says things like "Girls, you are looking at the next Zigfield!" (I slso enjoyed the funny ending, where our kidnapee seems shockingly refreshed and instantly ready to skate despite being locked away for days...)
Episode 11: Tiffany gets her first shot in the spotlight when she goes undercover in "Angels on Campus". Gary Collins goes against type as a bad professor, and a few sequences remind me of stalker shots in Happy Birthday to Me and Pieces, which is a good thing (as for Tiffany's hunched-over gun posture? Not so good...) The term "white slavery" is used and makes me feel uncomfortable (how, um, unnecessary of the writers). Equally odd is the final "funny" exchange in the epilogue: "I'm just so glad to be home!" "I don't know...I think Tiffany would have looked great behind a harem veil!" (see, sexual slavery is funny!).
Episode 12: The Angels are stuck on an island and hunted like animals in a nod to The Most Dangerous Game. The director and editor in charge of constructing Tiffany's encounter with a tiger should be fired ("Nice kitty!").
Episode 13: This Bosley-centric episode is mostly a bore (gold bullion?!)
Episode 14: Tiffany takes center stage again in a cool haunted house story that finds Kris dressed up as a sexy gypsy/pirate. The opening sequence features the most fantastically bad stunt double cover-up ever when a man in drag--purple drag!--is poorly edited into a wheelchair fall down the staircase.
Episode 15: A Very Special Kelly Episode #2--airing the same year Pat Benatar's "Hell is for Children" was released--tackles child abuse and is actually kind of moving.
Episode 16: Bikini Kris! Bosley disguise! Snake threat #2!
Episode 17: The Angels try to save a wannabe singer/country bumpkin who has been lured into the shady world of pornography (Carnal Highways? Love it!). The sappy song is almost too much to take, as is the girl's attempt at learning to read (I know, I know...I'm going to hell for laughing at it. I'll see you there...).
Episode 18: Another snoozer (this took four writers?!) can't even be saved by Bikini Kris, and an out-of-place scene involving an Asian butler shows further insensitivity and stupidity. I'm not sure what I'm more offended by: the stereotype speak ("He busy!") or the dreadful attempt at humor ("He's really gonna be bugged if you don't tell him about his bugs!")
Episode 19: The Angels look fierce in Nolan Miller's gowns (Tiffany in particular is a vision) worn at a dance contest that's about to get ugly. Add Cesar Romero to the mix, and you have a winner.
Episode 20: You'll either love or hate Howard Duff's turn as an alcoholic old-timer who works with Kris on a case. His shtick wears thin fast ("I can't eat on an empty stomach!" and "I have perfect vision, young lady...what are those?" are a few of the eye-rollers), but the episode plays better on repeat viewings. Also watch for Robert Englund sharpening his villainous teeth in a pre-Freddy Krueger appearance.
Episode 21: Farrah's final appearance ever has her kidnapped and at the mercy of an evil dad and his two sons--including "retarded" Harley, patterned after a more famous character from Of Mice and Men. Oh no...they didn't actually write this dialogue, did they? "I'm gonna have a dog and he's gonna have puppies and I won't squeeze 'em very hard till they're big dogs!" (Don't get me started on the sloppy cake eating...) Sadly, Jill goes out with a whimper--and has no scenes with Kelly. Boo!
Episode 22: Tab Hunter!!!
Episode 23: Boring Episode #3 has the Angels dividing and conquering a con artist, with Kelly doing a horrible Southern twang ("Just hold your horses! My friends and I are gettin' a might nervous!"). One of their clients, a professor played by Lee Terri (making her third of four series appearances as different characters), is perhaps the worst actor (and singer) the show has ever hired ("I am a most learned fool...and a very silly woman!"). That makes Bosley's final comment ("You know, you could have been a terrific actor!") all the more delicious (oooh, you evil writers!).
Episode 24: Ladies and (gay) gentlemen, I present to you the best episode of the bunch, reason alone for having this set in your collection. That's right, I'm talking about "Toni's Boys". Intended to be a spinoff that cast Barbara Stanwyck as a grand ol' dame in charge of three hunky male investigators (see, it's Bizarro Charlie's Angels!), it's a terrible idea for a series (shocking no one, it never got picked up)--but a rockin' idea for an episode (I wish they were recurring guest characters introduced far earlier). The Angels face near death at the hands of Robert Loggia, who plays a jilted, Charlie-hating criminal fresh out of jail (Kelly's Mustang gets blown up after four fine years of service...but then isn't edited out of later inserts!). For their own safety, the women reluctantly agree to be paired with their sexy protectors. There's champion rodeo rider, roper and trucker Cotton Harper (Stephen Shortridge); former U.S. Olympic champion Bob Sorensen (played by 1968 Olympic pole vault champion Bob Seagren); and Matt Parrish (Bruce Bauer), a master of disguise and weapons. Says Kris: "I feel like we're on a triple blind date with Captain America, James Bond and the Lone Ranger!"
My dear readers, where do I begin? How about the fact that Matt Parrish is so obviously gay, making his attempt at seducing an obvious lesbian villain the most awkward moment of the season? ("I'm at my best after 11!") Did I mention that Matt gets assigned the task at the model agency?! If you still doubt me, check out the scene where Tiffany locks him...are you ready for this?...in the closet. But it gets even gayer--Bob is assigned to a strip club with Kris--but it turns out to be a male strip club (yea for me!), which gives the show an excuse to get Seagren shirtless. It also leads to an unforgettable astronaut routine performed by a, um, spirited dancer named Arnie (Dusty Deason, in his one and only "acting" gig).
Then there's the absurd yet amazing conclusion, which includes Bauer in a terrible fake beard and accent that fools the bad guys, Seagren pole vaulting over an electric fence and Shortridge lassoing and stopping a plane (!) while on his horse (!!!). I bet you can match each character with their closing cheesy lines below:
"All it takes was a little teamwork!"
"Mixed with a sense of style!"
"And a big dose of horse sense!"
All of that plus a witty Kelly line ("I never would have guessed you were an Edgar Allen Poe fan...") to boot? Buy. This. Set. Now.
Episodes 25 & 26: A young and adorable Patrick Duffy makes Kelly, Kris and me fall in love with him, leading to a rare dose of Angry Angels set against an emotional story where we learn more about Kelly's past. Guest stars Robert Reed and Ray Milland lend some class, and the finale features a tough Tiffany I'm not used to seeing--she takes charge with about 19 minutes left in the season. Sadly, that's about 1,248 minutes too late. Methinks if Hack was given this kind of material and performed it this well from the start, they might have kept her for Season 5. I was actually anxious to see how this story played out, which is saying something for this series.
So there you have it...what the heck are you waiting for? This collection had me at its box cover...glittery pink and purple spandex pants? Heavenly, indeed!
"Can you imagine being fired from Charlie's Angels for not being a good enough actress?"
Presented in their original full-frame broadcasts, these episodes actually look pretty good considering their age. There's lots of grain, especially in many long shots and inserts (which also suffer from more dirt and film specs), and the overall tone is dull. But by and large, most of the video holds up well and had more detail than I expected. This isn't as sharp or colorful as the Dynasty transfers, but it doesn't disappoint.
The 2.0 track is equally decent. You can't really expect much, but I never had a problem with dialogue.
Sadly, once again, I'm underwhelmed by the trailers. For a series this popular and with such a juicy story behind the scenes, I wish we got something.
Who cares if Shelley Hack was the dullest Angel? Season 4 was still a blast of bubble gum featuring Farrah Fawcett's final three performances, more bikini-clad Kris and her Ford Mustang Cobra II, some Very Special Kelly Episodes and a handful of other classics--including a can't-miss gem that, while it may have failed to start a spinoff, still stands as one of Charlie's finest hours. Recommended, just like the first three seasons (don't listen to those other DVD Talk reviewers!).