Charlie’s Angels (original TV pilot)

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“Once upon a time, there were three little girls…”

I suppose my main surprise is how pedestrian this was. Action? Hardly anything to speak of at all, despite the credit sequence which shows them training as police officers. The story has them going undercover at a vineyard, whose owner vanished seven years ago, and is about to be declared legally-dead: his ex-wife (Muldaur) and the sleazy foreman will clean up…unless the daughter, also missing, shows up. Of course, the Angels play both a fake daughter (Smith) and the ‘real’ thing (Jackson) – the former is designed to be exposed, in order to get herself involved with the wife and foreman, and reveal what’s going on. Quite cunning, really.

Cunning, yes – exciting…not so much, unfortunately. It plays mostly like the TV movie it is, and is never more than fluffy, warm-hearted entertainment at best. It’s somewhat interesting to note the presence of David Ogden Stiers as another of Charlie’s henchmen, a role later dropped for the actual series, where Bosley was deemed sufficient for all normal purposes. However, the biggest shock is perhaps an unknown Tommy Lee Jones, playing a childhood friend of the heiress, who threatens to expose the Angels’ plot. He probably gets more screen time than Fawcett-Majors, who is barely used at all in this episode: she gets one real scene of note, an entertaining performance as a backwoods bimbo luring the bad guys into buying her land, on the basis they think it’s loaded with oil.

Otherwise, it’s hard to say why this became one of the most successful series of its time, running for five seasons and 110 episodes, as well as spawning [albeit twenty years later] a pair of Hollywood motion pictures. Even those expecting a full-on jiggle-fest will be very disappointed, as the costumes here are more functional than anything: the most skin is shown by whichever of Charlie’s babes is handing him a drink – and I have to say, the whole concept of women unquestionably accepting orders from an unseen Father-figure seems more creepy and patronising than anything else. The 1970’s were a different time, however, and it’s not really fair to judge work from another era by our own standards of morality. On the other hand, this is only sporadically entertaining and slowly-paced, and that seems an entirely reasonable criticism.

Dir: John Llewellyn Moxey
Stars: Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Jaclyn Smith, Diana Muldaur

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