The A-Team movie is coming out soon and its sure to stir up the standard anger from the show’s loyal fans like most of these things do, but what is it about the A-Team that has made it such a cultural icon? Is there more to this ragtag group of mercenaries than meets the eye? You bet there is. So let’s take a deep look at the je nais sais quoi that allowed this somewhat formulaic show filled with cartoonish levels of violence to become a long-standing success story.
Image via Wikipedia
A Custom Role For Mr. T
Almost everyone’s favorite character in the show is B.A. Barracus, played by Mr. T. The funny thing is that the entire concept of the character, and largely the overall show, was based around Mr. T’s public persona. In fact, when NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff pitched the show, he presented is as a blend of The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, Seven Samurai, Mad Max and Hill Street Blues, with “Mr. T driving the car.”
Naturally the character based after Mr. T shares his love of gold and his mohawk. In the show, he got to point out that the look is not related to the Mohawk people, but is instead an African symbol.
Image via Wikipedia
What’s With B.A.?
Since the show’s inception, B.A. was said to stand for “Bad Attitude.” It was even spelled out in the pilot episode when reporter Amy Allen explains, "Bosco Baracus. Known as B.A. for 'bad attitude.' The man is a mechanical genius. He also has one of the worst conduct records in the army. He likes to slug officers." In season 4, you learn that the letters are actually his real initials, as his real full name is actually Bosco Albert Baracas.
In other countries (the show has been notably popular outside the U.S., particularly in the U.K.), his character’s name changed so he could maintain a cool nickname. In Spanish-speaking countries, his character is named Mario Baracas, so the M.A. can stand for “Mala Actitud,” which is an accurate translation of the original. In Russian, he is D.N., or “Durnoi Nrav,” which similarly means “Bad Attitude.” In Italian, his name is P.E. Baracas, which stands for “Pessimo Elemento,” which is similar to saying “Bad Guy.” In Hungary, his name also means Bad Guy, but they simply call him “Rosszfiu.” The weirdest translation I found was the name they give the character in Taiwan, “Guay Tou” which seems to translate to “Wacky Head.”
Mercenaries or Heroes?
The members of the A-Team are often referred to as mercenaries because they are such tough guys who are willing to kick butt for money, but the plots almost always required them to fight bad guys for an innocent client (usually a girl) and they often refuse to accept payment in the end.
Additionally, the team is made up of loyal Army soldiers who are only on the run due to a serious misunderstanding. The story is that during the Vietnam War, they were given orders by their original commanding officer to rob the Bank of Hanoi to help put an end to the war. Unfortunately, when they returned to base after the mission, they find that it was burned down and that their commander was killed by the Viet Cong. This erased all evidence that they robbed the bank under orders and they were court-martialed for the crime. They were sent to Fort Bragg, but escaped prison.
Image via herzogbr [Flickr]
Ratings Rule The Plot Twists
When the show came out, it was incredibly successful. The first episode was broadcast after Super Bowl XVII on January 30, 1983 and reached over 25% of the viewing audience. Over the first three season, ratings continued to place the show consistently in the top ten for its time slot, but by the fourth season, viewership started to decline. Some people say this was because more people started to watch family-friendly programs like The Cosby Show, but the network execs thought it might have to do with the show’s predictable plot lines. As a result, they changed things up in the fifth season by letting the team get captured by the Army and work to do suicide missions in exchange for a pardon. Unfortunately, fans hated the idea of the team working under someone else’s orders and viewership decreased even more, resulting in the cancellation of the show after a total of 98 episodes.
The show was big enough at its peak to attract a number of popular celebrities of the day, including Boy George, Isaac Hayes, Hulk Hogan, Rick James, Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
Also, a bit of merchandise was released during the show’s reign including everything from action figures to a Mr. T cola-flavored popsicle.
Cartoon Violence Brought To Life
One of the most widely-remembered things about the show is its cartoonish levels of violence, which almost never actually resulted in injury or death. While some estimates claimed that the show often had as many as 46 different violent acts per episode, co-creator of the program Stephen J. Cannell argued that these acts were not of any consequence because the violence was so unrealistic.
Cannell also admitted that the violence without injuries even got to the point where it was a running joke for the writers, who would often test the limits of realism on purpose and incorporate things like unbelievable helicopter crashes where the victims would simply get up and walk away.
Image via SiamEye [Flickr]
Sexism On and Off The Screen
During the show’s run, critics often called it sexist because the females on the show were almost always playing the damsel in distress. The only recurring female characters were those of the “assisting reporter.” It’s one thing to have the appearance of sexism on screen, but both of the actresses were notably disliked by other cast and crew members who simply didn’t think a woman needed to be on the show.
The first of these two actresses, Melinda Culea, was fired after she started demanding more lines and more action scenes. She was quickly replaced mid-season with Marla Heasley who was expected to be more fragile and feminine. Even so, she was quickly let go by the start of the third season when the producers decided they didn’t need a woman cast member.
Heasley claims that her first day on set she was approached by George Peppard, who played Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith on the show. He told her:
“We don't want you on the show. None of the guys want you here. The only reason you're here is because the network and the producers want you. For some reason they think they need a girl.”
Later on, he shared his same sentiments in an interview with the Australian paper, the Sunday Mail:
“Whenever the studio slips an actress on to the team, she becomes a distraction. She always slows down the action. She's someone who's only there for the glamor shots. Everything stops for the sexy smiles - and I can't see why that's necessary on The A-Team.”
Dirk Benedict (seen above), who played Lieutenant Templeton "Faceman,” recently remarked that the show was made to be a guy’s show and that if it had to be made in modern times, they would force it to me so much more feminine that a more proper name would be, “The Gay-Team.” I can’t help but wonder if he feels that way about the new movie, particularly considering that Jessica Beil is playing a ruthless Army officer dedicated to tracking them down.
Image via Marrevee1 [Wikipedia]
Changes For The Big Screen
Speaking of the movie, that’s not the only major change that’s taking shape in the plot. Instead of being Vietnam vets, the team now served in The Gulf War. They are still on the run after being accused of a crime they did not do and are branded war criminals. Both Jules Daly and Stephen J. Cannell, the show’s original creators, are working on the project. One thing you’ll have to say goodbye to though is the cartoon violence as one of the lead writers has said they intend to have the film be far more gritty and in the vein of Casino Royale and Batman Begins.
Mr T. was offered a cameo, but he turned down the offer and Ice Cube was originally offered the role of B.A. Baracus and John Singleton was assigned to direct the film, but both ended out being pulled from the project. Instead of Mr. T or Ice Cube, MMA fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson will be playing B.A. Baracus.
Poster image via Wikipedia
So how about it A-Team fans, are you going to check out the flick?
Sources: Imdb, Telegraph UK, Wikipedia #1, #2, #3