I wasn’t sure if I should start writing a review of ABC’s revival of Charlie’s Angels. There is a definite sense that the show is not long for this world. I certainly wouldn’t bet on it getting a full season order. Based on what I’ve seen it doesn’t deserve one. It is one bad piece of television.
The original Charlie’s Angels ran from 1976 to 1981 and featured Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett-Majors (as she was then known) and Jacklyn Smith as three young women who had gone through the police academy but found the reality of their lives as cops less than fulfilling – writing parking tickets, acting as crossing guards and doing office work – until the mysterious Charlie Townsend took them away from all that. The show used the same plot all the time; the women go undercover to solve the crime of the week along with their “handler” (for lack of a better term) Bosley. Somehow the cases all took place in locales where the women had to be skimpily dressed and with minimum of “support”. Farrah Fawcett-Mjaors once said, “When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.” It was the epitome of T&A TV from Fred Silverman. In fact when Shelley Hack replaced Kate Jackson on the show and ratings started to fall, Hack was fired; it was rumoured at the time that super-model Hack was fired because she didn’t have enough to jiggle. She was replaced by Tanya Roberts (who did have a lot to jiggle) and ratings continued to fall. ABC insisted that the show was empowering to women by showing them as being capable and in non-traditional roles. The series was later rebooted as a pair of theatrical movies starring Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz as women who, although not trained as police officers, had various skills that the never seen Charlie (played in the original series and the movies by John Forsythe) felt would be more useful as private detectives than in their traditional fields. While the original series played it fairly straight – well as straight as any show featuring three women solving crimes wearing as little in the way of clothing as the broadcast censors of the time (who were apparently more liberal than they are today if Farrah Fawcett’s comments about bras is accurate) – the movies are described as “action comedies.”
The new Charlie’s Angels has ex-criminals as it’s lead characters instead of former cops or experts in various fields. Abby Simpson (Rachel Taylor) is a former cat burglar, Eve French (Minka Kelly) is a former street racer, and Kate Prince (Annie Ilonzeh) is a former Miami detective who was caught taking bribes. Even Bosley (Ramon Rodrigues) – now given the first name of John, and not looking at all like David Doyle or even Tom Bosley – has a past. He’s a hacker who now uses his talents for good. He still acts as the Angel’s handler but in this version of the show he goes out on cases and even goes undercover. Canadian actor Victor Garber supplies the voice of Charlie (replacing Robert Wagner) and is not seen at all; in the original you nearly always saw Charlie, or at least his hand or the back of his head or the women who surrounded him.
In the most recent episode of the show, Charlie has an assignment for the Angels. They have to find a missing investigative journalist, who just happens to be the woman who broke the story of police corruption that resulted in Kate being caught. The woman, Amanda Kane (Tahnya Tozzi) was last seen aboard a cruise ship. So naturally the Angels go undercover on the ship. Kate becomes a cruise director on the ship while Abby temporarily takes on the role of a IT tech on the ship. This allows her to break into the ship’s security office and hack into the video records, which she downloads to Bosley. Eve takes on the role of a passenger. Abby gets her upgraded to the suite that Amanda had previously occupied. This not only gives them a base to operate from but also gives them the chance to search the room at their leisure. In the room they find a mysterious plastic cylinder. On the security files they find Amanda on the ship and discover her being manhandled by a man who they identify as the croupier in the ship’s casino. Eve goes to the casino and wins a lot of money playing Blackjack – card counting of course – which attracts the croupier’s attention. they head back to his suite, which gives Eve the chance to search it. She finds a cylinder like the one they found in Amanda’s room, this one containing an unusual flower. She takes a photo of the flower with her cell phone.
Bosley and the Angels somehow link the croupier with four major crime figures who are also aboard the ship. They decide to have Bosley replace the one man that the croupier hasn’t met by having Eve “incapacitate” during a massage. Bosley is given one of the flowers by the croupier which gives him entry into the suite. They’re there to bid on a mysterious product but to ensure security, not only are they stripped of their weapons but any electronic device they may have and then are drugged. They disappear from the ship only to wake up on an island.
Needless to say, the Angels and Charlie are anxious when Bosley doesn’t check in. Conveniently there are only three islands near where the ship was when Bosley disappeared. They’re privately owned but while two are owned by Hollywood celebrities, one is owned by the mysterious Morgan Finch. Moreover they are able to determine from satellite imaging that one of the buildings on the island is radiating a great deal of heat. Somehow Charlie arranges to get the Angels off the cruise ship and onto a boat which allows them to infiltrate the island to find Bosley and hopefully Amanda.
The big building that is radiating so much heat is a huge greenhouse and refining operation. The mystery flower – still unnamed – produces a drug that Morgan Finch (D.B. Woodside) calls Island Ice, something that he describes as being like Heroin on steroids. Finch is auctioning off exclusive distribution rights for the whole country to one of the four criminal cartels represented by the people brought to the island by the croupier. Everyone but Bosley seems eager to bid without even knowing that the drug was legitimate. He was the only person to ask for evidence that the drug was as potent as Finch said it was. Finch provides proof in the form of the only person currently addicted to the drug: Amanda Kane. Unfortunately when the auction restarts it halts again when the croupier brings in a cell phone with the picture of the man that Bosley is supposed to be replacing, who of course looks nothing like, him.
On the island, armed with high powered weapons the Angels infiltrate into the combination greenhouse and processing lab. They proceed to split up with each taking on a different job. Abby will look for Amanda, Kate will search for Bosley, and Eve will try to destroy all of the plants by connecting the irrigation system into a barrel conveniently labelled “Poison.” In short order all three of them get captured before they even have a chance to use the fancy weapons that they brought with them. And in equally short order they are able to administer a major ass-kicking to the people who captured them. I think the most laughable example of ass-kicking comes when Eve and the guard fight in the greenhouse as the irrigation system – you know, the one now pumping poison to the plants – is drenching them, and incidentally getting into Eve’s mouth. In short order the bad guys are all subdued, Amanda and the captive labour is freed and the Island Ice is destroyed. All by four people. In the coda, Charlie calls to tell the Angels – minus Kate – that the Bahamian government has agreed to extradite Finch to the United States (for reasons I’m not entirely clear on; he operated his growing and processing operation on an island presumably in Bahamian jurisdiction, and the ship that he abducted Amanda from was registered in the Bahamas so that crime was “legally” committed in that country. Frankly I’m not sure what crimes he had committed in the United States. Meanwhile Eve was meeting with Amanda, now going through rehab, although they’re apparently not meeting at the rehab facility. Eve wants to tell her that she’s really happy that she was caught as a dirty cop because it was a wake-up call about what she was becoming. The end.
There are any number of things about this episode and the show in general that I find to be just wrong. In a lot of cases things happen with little or no explanation, as if someone had waved the magic TV wand and no explanation was needed. Except I needed a little bit of explanation. Just as an example, how did the croupier, apparently working alone, manage to get four people from his suite (and incidentally I believe that cruise line employees are required to live in staff cabins on board ship, but that’s minor) to whatever boat took them from the cruise ship to Finch’s island without someone from the ship – passengers, hotel staff or crew – noticing that he was moving four unconscious people around the ship. The magic wand reappeared when Charlie – or someone was not only able to get the Angels off the cruise ship in mid-ocean but also got them a boat and some hi-tech appearing weapons. And of course Charlie apparently has access to real-time infra-red satellite imaging for the island which allows them to find the heat signature of the greenhouse facility. That goes a bit beyond willing suspension of disbelief.
It goes beyond that of course. I’ve watched two episodes of this and quite frankly I don’t really understand the characters because there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of character development. In the second episode (the first that I saw) we met Eve’s former fiancé Detective Ray Goodson, played by Isaiah Mustapha (who should hang on to the Old Spice gig) who may be a recurring character if the show lasts long enough – which I doubt, and in this third episode we met the woman reporter who turned her in. I still don’t feel like I have any grasp of their characters. Of course that may be because the character development of these people are thinner than the actresses who portray them. That’s a real problem. I don’t know if Taylor, Kelly and Ilonzeh are doing a good acting job because I don’t know what the characters are supposed to be.
The writing is bad, as we’ve established, but the concept is also badly realized. The two Charlie’s Angels movies were billed as “action comedies.” The modern TV version of Charlie’s Angels isn’t an action comedy. I was going to say that it would be more accurate to say that it isn’t deliberately trying to be an action comedy, but I can’t because that would create the impression that the show was so bad that it was funny. It doesn’t even qualify as funny by accident. Show producer Alfred Gough, who with his partner Miles Miller created Smallville, has said that he wanted to avoid doing anything “retro” or “campy.” In other words they’re playing it relatively straight. This is a problem because for all that Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg who produced the original series paid lip service to the idea that their show had some sort of feminist quality back in 1976, it was never meant to be taken seriously. I don’t think you can get away from that in a revival – particularly thirty-five years later – unless you do some serious re-imagining of the concept. That’s what Miller and Gough did with the Superman mythos by approaching it as the story of Clark Kent’s development into a superhero. I think a different sort of approach could have worked here as well.
In the past thirty-five years a lot of things have changed. Women’s roles have evolved far beyond what they were when the original Charlie’s Angels debuted, and television’s portrayal of women has evolved as well. In fact television has evolved in a lot of ways. I have to believe that this show would not have been made if it weren’t called Charlie’s Angels. I’m not sure that we needed Charlie’s Angels back at all, but I am absolutely sure that we didn’t deserve to have this version of Charlie’s Angels. Between underdeveloped plotlines with holes that you could march Godzilla through, gossamer thin characterizations, and a determination to make the show much the same as it was thirty-five years ago, the result is indescribably bad. I am literally unable to express just how bad I think this show is forcefully. The good news is that I don’t think it will be around much longer. The bad news is that it took the place of a show that could have been better. The really bad news would be if ABC didn’t have anything better available to them.
Update: As a lot of people expected, Charlie's Angels has been cancelled after airing its fourth episode. ABC will air the remaining four episodes that have been shot. There's no word about what will replace it once the remaining four episodes have aired. At least we found out something about the "new" Bosley and his link to Charlie before it was cancelled.