Friday, December 18, 2009

Television Review: THE A-TEAM– "TAXICAB WARS" (1983, Gilbert M. Shilton)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Mr. T, George Peppard, Dwight Schultz, Dirk Benedict, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside, Brion James, Donald Gibb.
Tag-line: "Heroes for hire."
Best one-liner: “If I catch you talkin’ to your socks, I’m gonna split your personality- PERMANENTLY!”

So the first Ironside week will come to a close with a 1983 TV episode that is extremely peculiar for a number of reasons:

This one is a real head-scratcher. It’s a second season episode of THE A-TEAM entitled “Taxicab Wars.” The A-Team is brought in to help out a small cab company facing off against ruthless, bloodthirsty rivals. This episode aired November 1, 1983. But then, there’s a film: D.C. CAB, directed by Joel Schumacher.

It was released about a month later on December 16, 1983. It, like THE A-TEAM, stars Mr. T, and features whacky rival cab companies. Furthermore, both feature incredible, eclectic casts that seem to represent some incredible astronomical convergence– “Taxicab Wars,” in addition to the A-TEAM regulars, features terrific character-y guests like Michael Ironside, Ernie Hudson, Donald Gibb, and Brion James. D.C. CAB features mind-blowing actors and personalities like Gary Busey, Irene Cara (singer of “Fame”), The Barbarian Brothers, Bill Maher, and Bob Zmuda (Andy Kaufman’s partner in crime).

So which came first, the chicken or the egg? “Taxicab Wars” or D.C. CAB? Conventional wisdom would suggest that the film, D.C. CAB, had a longer production schedule and thus had been in the pipeline longer, but who knows? Maybe they wanted to do “Taxicab Wars” for season 1 of THE A-TEAM, and T was like “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’re only DOIN’ it, if we can do it RIGHT!” and then it got pushed back? The only common ties between the two projects are the plotline and the presence of Mr. T, aside from the fact that THE A-TEAM aired on NBC, and D.C. CAB was distributed by Universal…hmmm. Perhaps these two oddities were the result of some cigar-smoke-filled backroom deal, but to what end? So that Americans would begin to subconsciously associate Mr. T with whackiness and taxicabs? He was already associated with whackiness, so why taxicabs? I don’t think we can guess the fat-cats’ motivations all that easily, but I can tell you that these were definitely nefarious motivations, based on what they try to do to Ironside. More on that in a bit.

Everything that happens in a regular A-TEAM episode happens here. There’s lots of violence but no injuries, the black van gets to peel around some corners with tires squealing, Mr. T gets to do some zany shit, George Peppard gets to don a silly disguise, Dwight Schultz gets to act like an obnoxious lunatic, Dirk Benedict gets to have a half-assed pseudo-romance, etc., etc. Basically, it’s a live action SCOOBY DOO. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes that’s a great thing, and sometimes it’s an extremely grating thing. I guess that’s part of the charm.

We begin with Ernie Hudson, playing a likable cab dispatcher. Wonder if he got the gig through Ironside based on their SPACEHUNTER collaboration, if it was the other way around, or if it was just a coincidence.

Hudson’s “Lone Star Taxi Co.” is engaging in a battle of wills with Michael Ironside’s “Love Cabs.” They are both ‘generals’ in this taxicab war, if you will. Hudson tries to coordinate his last two cabs in an attempt to pick up a fare. It backfires, and Ironside lets Lone Star know that he’s not fucking around- he kidnaps and brutally beats the rival cabbie infringing on his turf, then torches the car! Plus, he employs an army of ex-cons to do his dirty work! Damn!

Their cab torched, Ernie Hudson ruefully muses- “File this business under ‘nice try.’ Too bad we couldn’t get a hold of the A-Team…” Well, what do you suppose happens next?

Anyway, we get to spend some time with Ironside and his gang, which includes Donald Gibb (‘Ogre’ from REVENGE OF THE NERDS, ‘Ripper’ in JOCKS, ‘Mad Dog’ in MEATBALLS PART 2, and ‘Ray Jackson’ in Golan-Globus’ BLOODSPORT) and Brion James (‘Leon’ in BLADE RUNNER, SOUTHERN COMFORT, RED HEAT, CHERRY 2000, HOUSE III, TANGO & CASH, etc.), who you have to admit are pretty amazing henchmen for a guest star on THE A-TEAM.

Gibb looks like he just strolled off the set of a Golan-Globus production, whereas James looks like he just left the set of Friedkin's CRUISING– is that a leather beret?!

Anyway, Ironside is lecturing his team, when–

wait a second– do I see–

is that– no, it can't be–

LIPSTICK? BLUSH? EYE-LINER? Ho-ly shit, what are they doing to Ironside?! I realize this is TV, but what were they thinking? Is this part of some sinister stuffed-shirts’ plot to make Ironside seem less manly? Or is there something else at play? Upon further study, it appears that Ironside's trademark scar (supposedly from walking through a plate-glass window while drunk) looks fresher than usual. NBC thought they could cover it up? If that’s the case, they went overboard with the concealer, yet didn’t succeed in concealing the wound. Perhaps this will remain a mystery for the ages.

In the meantime, the A-Team hooks up with Lone Star and begins to wage their war against Love Cabs. This involves a lot of Hannibal (Peppard) dressing up as a cowboy, Mr. T aggressively gathering fares (and beating up Donald Gibb), and Murdock (Schultz) doing this really fucking annoying ‘Captain Cab’ routine that involves a sock puppet.

The writers even realize how infuriating the whole ‘Captain Cab’ thing is, because Mr. T frequently threatens him– “This is my talking fist- his name is KNOCKOUT!”

“If I catch you talkin’ to your socks, I’m gonna split your personality- PERMANENTLY!”

Anyway, the A-Team pulls an offensive on Ironside’s lawn. Peppard infiltrates his estate, dressed as the “cowboy mogul.”

Ironside does not react well to Peppard dressed as a cowboy mogul.

But he reacts even less well to the A-Team fucking up his garden furniture:

Ironside: “THIS GUY WANTS …A WAR?!?!?!”

Things begin to spiral out of control. The opposing sides shoot up a bunch of cars,

and then Mr. T builds a homemade tank, which he uses to chase around Ironside. I can’t make this shit up.

Ironside looks most like Jack Nicholson when he's being chased around by Mr. T's homemade tank.

Murdock becomes so tiresome that I was hoping Ironside would eat him alive. No such luck.

Taking the whole 'Captain Cab' thing a bit too far. Murdock sure knows how to crank up the funny.

Ironside ends up having to surrender, but at least he does it fashionably, wearing a three-piece suit.

Ignominious defeat at the hands of live action cartoon characters.

It was a nice try, Ironside, but I guess this is what happens when you go up against the A-Team.

Gilbert M. Shilton, director of this episode, went on to direct Ironside again in three episodes of V and one episode of RAY BRADBURY THEATER, so they must’ve gotten along well. Also of note, Richard Christian Matheson (writer of THREE O’ CLOCK HIGH, frequent Tobe Hooper TV collaborator, and son of sci-fi master Richard Matheson) worked as a story editor on this episode, and Craig R. Baxley (director of ACTION JACKSON and STONE COLD, stuntman on PREDATOR and THE WARRIORS) was the second unit director on this episode. So clearly, there’s a lot going on here.

In all, a fine episode of the A-TEAM and a prime example of vintage Ironside. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


GuyR said...

Hey there,

Your analogy of the A-Team and Scooby-Doo is seriously interesting. Could they be the same product of different decades?

And thanks for Ironside week, now I wanna watch Scanners or Total Recall again (and again). I'm anxiously awaiting more Ironside wisdom in february!

In the meantime, happy holidays, and I hope IronSanta brings you cool gifts. Perhaps a leather wifebeater?

Sean Gill said...

Glad you enjoyed Ironside week!

Here's hoping IronSanta leaves me that leather wifebeater, and maybe some Labatt Maximum Ice. At the very least, perhaps a copy of MCBAIN.