The TV Series:
So, it's come to this. The twilight of an epoch, a sea change for ABC and Aaron Spelling … 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.