The A-Team “The Taxicab Wars” (part 1 of 3)

SUMMARY: The A-Team helps a small taxicab company stave off an evil rival cab company led by Michael Ironside. Also, Murdock goes insane… again. Seems to be a pattern with the fella.

In 1983, one of the hallmarks of cheesy ‘80s television began its five year run. The A-Team has always been a personal favorite of mine. I’ve already discussed how it influenced my taste for action films in other recaps, so let’s get to the important stuff.

Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo, The A-Team revolves around the adventures of four members of an Army unit who were drummed out of the service on trumped up charges back in 1972. Hell, I don’t even need to give that much background; it’s only in the intro to every episode.

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In many ways, it was the quintessential ‘80s action show: gratuitously violent (but not graphically so), cheerfully over the top, utterly unrealistic, and endlessly entertaining. Oh, and dumb, too. Very dumb.

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

The show was a surprise hit and ran for five seasons. I thought I’d start off my look at the series with a typical episode. The series followed the same formula for pretty much the entire first four seasons. Some changes came in the fifth season with the addition of Robert Vaughn, but we don’t need to dwell on that now.

Every episode can be boiled down to a few main elements.

  1. Honest, hard working folks under threat from bullying bad guys.
  2. First appearance of the team will generally involve Hannibal in some sort of disguise.
  3. Any plan will involve the alteration of a vehicle in some way that’s hilariously impractical, yet utterly effective. Regardless of the setting, the altered vehicle in question will be turned into some sort of tank.
  4. The tone will be lighter than air, even when explosions are going off and the location looks like it’s being used for a demolition derby. Nobody dies, ever, even after being shot at with a full clip from a machine gun. At the end of the day, it’s a kids show, after all.

These four elements made for four very entertaining years of television, and one mediocre one.

Our episode today features such ‘80s perennials as Ernie Hudson, Brion James, and V’s very own Michael Ironside as our guest villain. Let’s begin, as always, with the opening titles.

They start off with stock footage from the Vietnam War, and then the Los Angeles skyline, as a narrator fills us in on all the backstory we need.

Narrator: In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… The A-Team.

The screen goes red, and some cheesy bullet effects spell out the title of the show, leading to the great theme song written by Mark Post and Pete Carpenter. Our stars are introduced amidst action sequences and some humorous clips. Let’s meet them, shall we?

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

First up is John “Hannibal” Smith (George Peppard), the laid back leader of the team. He’s a master of disguise, and evidently also a guy who moonlights as an extra for monster movies. Well, at least that’s the impression I get from the clips of him in a cheap Godzilla outfit.

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

Next is Dirk Benedict as Templeton “Faceman” Peck, the ladies man of the team. He’s really just there to get women to watch, given that the other guys on the show aren’t exactly GQ material.

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

Melinda Culea is next, playing the team’s reporter friend Amy Amanda Allen. She was basically there to keep people from getting all up in arms about the show being a huge sausage party. It didn’t exactly work, and she left the show midway through the second season. Well, at least she’s cute.

Melinda later showed up a few times on Family Ties as Alex’s boss, and had a one-shot appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation as an androgynous alien who Riker falls in love with.

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

We go from normal to less than normal with “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz). Murdock is basically the comic relief of the show, though it’s tempered by the fact that he’s also quite handy with a machine gun, and he’s a good pilot. Not by much, but at least he’s useful comic relief.

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

And last, but not least, is the guy who everybody thinks of when they think of the show. B.A. Baracus, played by the one, the only—at least, until the film comes out in June—Mr. T. The B.A. stands for “Bosco Albert”, but since he’s the mechanic and muscle of the unit, I’d imagine he gets to be called whatever the hell he wants.

Some more random action bits pad out the rest of the theme song, and it’s off to the episode proper. We begin inside a cab from the Lone Star Cab Company, as the driver gets a call from the dispatcher, played by noted fourth Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson. The driver smells a setup, but evidently the cops aren’t going to be any help. Well, yeah, because on this show they’re about as useful as a heater in the desert. Why else would your average citizen actively seek out the A-Team?

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

Two other cabs are sent to make sure the first cab doesn’t have an accident, and then we cut to a guy in a suit radioing his boss. The boss turns out to be none other than Michael Ironside himself, one of my favorite character actors. Ironside has a way of playing villains that’s just endlessly entertaining. Hell, he even makes Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone worth watching. Sort of.

The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars" (part 1 of 3)

The guy in the suit is posing as a fare, and one of the Lone Star cabs pulls in out of sight, staking him out. We learn that Ironside runs a rival cab company called Love Cabs. Oh, bitter hand of irony. Why must you use the glove with spikes when you slap me upside the head? It makes my hair look like hell.

Yes, Ironside is the owner of a rival cab company, and at this point I have to ask if the writers just drew professions out of a hat and decided, “Okay, this is the mundane job the good guys and bad guys have this week that brings them into contact with Hannibal and the team.” Rival cab companies? Seriously? No mafia connections or anything, no front for a drug operation? Just an evil cab company? Okay.

Regardless, the guy in the suit gets his Lone Star cab, and the other two cabs fall in behind them. The Lone Star driver explains to the guy that they’re having some trouble with another cab company, but it’s “nothing we can’t handle.” And once again, I have to chuckle at how rival cab companies are being treated like two warring countries.

The guy has the driver stop in an abandoned lot. Well, there’s one way to get your ass handed to you on a plate, I suppose. But right now, I’m just waiting for the setup to end so we can get to the part where the A-Team shows up.

The guy gets out and tells the driver to wait. You know, even camp counselors in Friday the 13th movies have better judgment and ability to sense danger than this guy. Sure enough, two cars from Love Cabs show up and cut off the other cab. Eventually, the Lone Star driver gets the crap kicked out of him. And yes, there is a difference between getting the crap kicked out of you and the shit kicked out of you. When you get the shit kicked out of you, there’s actual blood. And the sound effects are louder.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: The A-Team "The Taxicab Wars"

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  • Actually, in the episode they say Love Cab drivers also do sell drugs out of their cabs. That’s why they often hire ex-cons to be drivers. There’s even a scene where they bring in a new ex-con looking for a job, and Ironside asks if he knows the deal, and the con says he’s cool with it.