The TV Series:
So, it's come to this. The twilight of an epoch, a sea change for ABC and Aaron Spelling ΓΆβ‚¬Β¦ the year Tanya Roberts joined the fifth, final, and least fondly remembered season of Charlie's Angels.
Nearly a full decade after the disc release of the first season of this jiggle-TV icon, Charlie's Angels: Season Five has finally seen the light of day as part of the Sony Choice Collection line of made-to-order (m.o.d.) DVDs. The sixteen episodes of this shortened (due to a contentious writer's strike) 1980-81 season are spread across four discs, in this nice looking set.
The five-year run of Charlie's Angels neatly encapsulates the rise and fall of a typical, trendy TV series of yore. Year One was The Age of Farrah, a cheesy crime drama turned pop culture phenomenon somewhat overshadowed by Farrah Fawcett's blow-dried glamour. With Years Two and Three, the show had matured into a mainstream hit with the rock-solid trio of Jacklyn Smith as steady Kelly, Kate Jackson as smart Sabrina, and Cheryl Ladd as spunky Kris. With the sudden departure of Jackson, replaced with the not-bad Shelley Hack as elegant Angel Tiffany, Year Four saw Aaron Spelling and the show's creators coasting along with the expected lower ratings in return. While much of the blame at the time was unfairly placed on Hack, there was a more sobering reality facing Angels - it was too tethered to the '70s cop show aesthetic to change with the times. Year Five represents a last-gasp attempt at a return to relevancy, with a new Angel (gorgeous Tanya Roberts as streetwise Julie) but the same, tired old scripts. For the first time, ABC shuffled the show around on its schedule, prompting the ratings to plunge further downward. It was eventually put out of its misery at the conclusion of the 1980-81 season.
While it would also be tempting to blame the failure of this final Angels season on the newcomer in the cast, it's something of a relief to see that Tanya Roberts is actually kind of engaging as Julie Rogers, fashion model turned cop turned Charles Townsend Agency ward. Roberts' acting skills are not at the same level as the other regulars, however, and the lack of character development makes Julie the most vapid Angel since Farrah's Jill Munroe. There's also the nagging issue that she never quite fit in with the other regulars - but, strangely enough, the never-wavering enthusiasm of Jacklyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and David Doyle (sandpapery voiced as ever, as Bosley) is the single thing that buoys these mostly ridiculous episodes. This particular season is highlighted by a string of shows filmed in Hawaii, while other installments take the Angels to a film studio, the deep South, a singles' nightclub, and a high-tech corporation that covertly employs mind-control tactics. It may sound like kitsch heaven, but the episodes often get bogged down in dated '70s cop show cliches (using the same disco-era music cues on the soundtrack didn't help). Even when it gets downright implausible and awful (often, it turns out), however, there's something hypnotizing about this stuff.
While Charlie's Angels: Season Five represents the last gasp of the original series, we all know that this wasn't the last we'd see of the Angels. While the amped-up Charlie's Angels feature films and even the flop 2011 TV reboot are pretty well known, Spelling also attempted to revive the concept in 1984 (the pilot TV movie Velvet, with four beautiful crime fighters by night, aerobics instructors by day, and Polly Bergen as a female Bosley) and in 1988 (Angels '88 resulted in a highly publicized talent search and little else). Styles may come and go, but hot babes fighting crime is an evergreen.
The following episodes are included on Charlie's Angels: The Complete Fifth Season:
Angel in Hiding, Part 1 & 2 (S5 EP1; Nov. 30, 1980)
The season begins with an overlong two-parter which has its moments. A man approaches the Charles Townsend Detective Agency to locate his missing daughter, a model. When the woman ends up murdered at the hands of a perverted old photographer (Jack Albertson), the team deduces that she was a pawn in a drug-trafficking scheme run by her modeling agency's managers (Christopher Lee and Dack Rambo). With Kris and Kelly infiltrating the agency by posing as aspiring models (Tiffany's absence is explained with a throwaway line that she's visiting family in the East and may never return - buh-bye, Tiffany), they encounter Julie, a streetwise petty crook-turned-model who eventually comes to help the Angels out. Charlie and Bosley are so impressed with Julie's work, they hire her on at the Agency. Hello, Julie.
To See an Angel Die (S5 EP2; Nov. 30, 1980)
In the first of five episodes having Bosley and the Angels jetting off to Hawaii, Kris becomes the victim of kidnapping by a deranged man who believes that she murdered his wife. While the man and his two children abduct Kris and cart her off to some remote part of the island, the extraordinary abilities of a local psychic (Jane Wyman) become instrumental in tracking down her whereabouts. Decent episode is bolstered by being Kris-centered and having the classy Wyman as guest. The heartbeats on the soundtrack every time Wyman's character has a psychic moment count as one of many camp-tastic elements to this show.
Angels of the Deep (S5 EP3; Dec. 7, 1980)
The "Tanya Roberts in scuba gear" episode. Julie's scuba diving instructor Bianca (Patti D'Abranville) takes her to a shipwreck which, unbeknownst to Julie, contains a valuable stash of marijuana. After Bianca mysteriously splits, Julie and the other Angels trace the missing grass to the two aging hippies (Gary Lockwood and Sonny Bono) who blew up the boat, and an angry mobster (Bradford Dillman) for whom the shipment was meant. Despite the tropical scenery and a star-studded (?) guest cast, another indistinct episode - although it does contain an appearance by Anne Francis, the star of Aaron Spelling's early series Honey West.
Island Angels (S5 EP4; Dec. 14, 1980)
A sexier, more skin-baring episode than usual takes the Angels and Bosley to a swinging singles' resort to find the identity of a terrorist who tried to assassinate a diplomat visiting the islands - a plot that could only happen in Charlie's Angels land. The better-than-usual array of guest stars include Richard Jaeckel, Randolph Mantooth, Carol Lynley, Keye Luke, Lyle Waggoner and Barbi Benton.
Waikiki Angels (S5 EP5; Jan. 4, 1981)
A congressman (Richard Anderson) contacts Bosley and the Angels to help locate his daughter, kidnapped by meanies on dune buggies. The Angels, posing as lifeguards (swimsuit alert), stake out spots on the beach where the missing woman and her husband were last sighted. This decent episode highlights all three of the Angels equally, but how menacing can the villains be if they're played by Dan "Grizzly Adams" Haggerty and Edd "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" Byrnes?
Hula Angels (S5 EP6; Jan. 11, 1981)
The abduction of a manipulative nightclub owner (Gene Barry) prompts Kris and Julie to go undercover as go-go dancers in the retro-'60s show at the club. Eventually they find out that the masked marauders holding the man for a million-dollar ransom are led by the club's resentful choreographer (Joanna Cassidy). While Julie is also abducted by the team of professional fruggers, it becomes a race against time in the effort to save the duo, imprisoned in a metal cage (just like what the go-go dancers use!) in a remote warehouse. A campy outing, filled with all sorts of implausibilities (like Jacklyn Smith's lame-o karate moves), although Cassidy is a hoot as the tough-as-nails choreographer.
Moonshinin' Angels (S5 EP7; Jan. 24, 1981)
Bosley and the Angels return to the continent for this routine episode, which finds the group coming between a pair of feuding moonshine-distributing families in the Deep South. Overnight, Kris becomes a brilliant chemist, Kelly is a crack getaway car driver, and Julie takes on a waitressing job (at least they don't bother trying to saddle Tanya Roberts with a Southern accent, like the others). Together, they find that the family feud is being orchestrated by a big city businessman. One gets the feeling that this one was a result of Spelling saying "You know, that Dukes of Hazzard is huge with the kids; let's try somethin' like that on our Angels."
He Married an Angel (S5 EP8; Jan. 31, 1981)
A swindler (John Thornwood) is bilking single women in San Francisco and Los Angeles for cash in his oil exploration venture. The Angels are called upon to investigate, with Kris posing as a fellow con artist, while Kelly and Julie befriend the mousy gallery owner who is the man's next target. Eventually they and Bosley rope the man into a marriage ceremony which he incorrectly thinks is a set-up. Another forgettable episode with clunky dialogue and a distinct lack of action.
Taxi Angels (S5 EP9; Feb. 7, 1981)
"You know, that Taxi is huge with the kids; let's try somethin' like that on our Angels." Actually, this one has the Angels getting more serious than usual, in a gritty plot that harkens back to the earlier seasons. When a cabbie is badly injured due to a pipe bomb explosion in his taxi, the Angels are called into action by the man's concerned wife (Sally Kirkland), another cabbie. While Kris takes a carhop job in an eatery frequented by employees of the Archer Cab Co., Kelly goes undercover as a cabbie and Julie fills in on the dispatcher's desk. The crime gets traced to a delusional ex-military man and the Archer company's axe-grinding mechanic (Norman Alden). A decent, lively-paced episode which depends heavily on stock footage of 1980-period downtown Los Angeles (most will be bored; I find that stuff fascinating).
Angel on the Line (S5 EP10; Feb. 14, 1981)
More ridiculousness as the Angels are approached by a woman whose best friend was killed in the parking lot of a local singles' joint, The Hotline Club. Before she died, the victim was being harassed by one of the patrons of the club. Kelly attends the hotspot, scoping the crowd - narrowing it down to two suspicious men - but she can't make the final decision without the help of the club's brassy hypnotist. While it seems obvious that the hypnotist, a blonde named Margo, is really a man in drag, Kelly and the others are completely oblivious until her life is put in danger. This one has a lot of Jacklyn Smith fretting and acting concerned, which is negated by the un-frickin'-believable script.
Chorus Line Angels (S5 EP11; Feb. 21, 1981)
David Doyle stepped into the director's chair just once on Angels for this fantastically awful episode - complete with cut-rate musical numbers! Mostly set within a bare, cavernous rehearsal studio, the plot revolves around a stage musical director (Michael Callan) who must think quickly when his dancers keep getting shot with tranquilizer guns under mysterious circumstances. Could it be the doings of the show's prickly choreographer, or perhaps the creepy stagehand who lusts after one dancer in particular? While Kris poses as an investigative reporter on the scene, Kelly snags a role as a dancer in the production, with Julie on hand as her manager (who keeps hanging around the rehearsal stage, like she hasn't got anything better to do). As if the plot wasn't groan-inducing enough, this episode is padded out with skin-crawling original songs such as "Pals, Buddies and Friends" (performed twice, using the magic of recycled footage).
Stuntwomen Angels (S5 EP12; Jan. 31, 1981)
As Angels approached its third episode in a row with a campy, utterly ridiculous plot, the fans must have been tuning out in droves. For this go-round, Bosley and the Angels go to the Hollywood backlot of Mammoth Pictures to find out why a mysterious person in a Robin Hood getup has been randomly shooting dangerous arrows at the studio's personnel. After Kris, Kelly and Julie are put through the motions to be employed as stuntwomen (another padded-out segment), they witness another near-fatal arrow piercing on the set of Marian and Her Merry Maids, a cheap remake of the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. Among the suspects are the hotheaded spouse (Denny Miller) of another stunt performer, and the studio's poetry-quoting security guard (Gerald S. O'Loughlin). Although the series' regulars appear to be having a ball here, the routine plot on this one shares too many similarities with the 1974 TV movie The Phantom of Hollywood to be taken seriously.
Attack Angels (S5 EP13; Jun. 3, 1981)
After a long hiatus, Angels burned off its final four episodes starting with this wacky mind-control one - which happens to be the most polished, entertaining episode of this season. Guest star Eric Braedon plays John Reardon, a menacing scientist who has developed a way of reprogramming women into docile things who can be induced to kill without remembering what they've done. His minions are being used to kill the employees at a geothermal energy research company; an exec at that company (Brett Halsey) hires the Angels to investigate. While Kelly and Kris pose as junior executives, Julie goes to work at Reardon's research facility. When Reardon finds out she's an undercover detective, Julie becomes his latest hypnotized victim. This one plays a bit like a low-grade version of the feature film Looker, and is just as entertainingly cheesy. There are some especially enjoyable fight scenes here, too, such as when Julie lashes out at Kris and Kelly! Dr. Joyce Brothers appears in a cameo, as well.
Angel on a Roll (S5 EP14; Jun. 10, 1981)
A man uses various disguises to open accounts at several banks, then steals cash from ATMs across the city using a remote control activator. Identified as a handsome local gambler (Mark Pinter), the Angels are employed to help identify his tactics and stop him. Kris romances the guy, driving off with him to Las Vegas, where it is found that the stolen money is merely borrowed as collateral to help him win big at the casinos. A thoroughly undistinguished episode.
Mr. Galaxy (S5 EP15; Jun. 17, 1981)
Beefcake! In another "huh?" move, the Angels are employed to help protect a bodybuilder (Roger Callard) who has been receiving death threats as he prepares for the Mr. Galaxy bodybuilding competition. He's attempting to wrest the title from the conceited longtime champ (Ric Drasin), who appears to be the main suspect. There are other, more insidious factors at play, however. Despite the hunky guys in posing trunks on display, this is another routine episode that exploits a current fad (health clubs and fitness) in services of a strictly squaresville script. The Angels don't even get to do much here, comparatively speaking.
Let Our Angel Live (S5 EP16; Jun. 24, 1981)
The Angels hang up their wings with this one, a flaccid clip show. On a stakeout with Bosley, Kelly takes a bullet to the skull, rendering her hospitalized and at death's door. While awaiting word on her fate, the devastated Bosley, Kris and Julie cope by recounting their favorite memories involving Kelly and themselves (but, conveniently, not Tiffany, Sabrina, or Jill). A lame way to wind up the series, but at least there's some closure with a surprise appearance by Charlie, in the flesh.
These episodes were mastered from what appears to be sharp, color-saturated 35mm film prints - brassy, yet slightly nicer looking that what would usually be found with early '80s TV dramas. A few instances of grain and overly corrected dark scenes appear here and there, but for the most part the picture quality is as pleasant looking as the ladies themselves.
The show's original mono soundtrack is presented here in a pleasant mix with few apparent flaws (a couple of scenes where "s" sounds are distorted and hissy stand out). The Hula Angels episode also appears to have undergone music substitutions. No subtitles or alternate audio.
No extras, although including Aaron Spelling's Angels-inspired 1984 TV pilot Velvet (see above) or something about Angels '88 would have been sweet.
Charlie's Angels: Season Five finds the beautiful crime fighters' final season in a sometimes campy, often boring groove which suggests its time had long passed. There's still a lot of enjoyment to be had, however, in the chemistry between Jacklyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and David Doyle, and newest Angel Tanya Roberts has her moments as well. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.