Elizabeth Banks’ new take on Charlie’s Angels hits theaters on November 15, and rather than wondering if it’s a necessary addition to the franchise (or how that first Drew Barrymore film is 19 years old?), we thought we’d go old-school and revisit the original TV series, which ran for five seasons starting in 1976.
ABC aired over 100 Charlie’s Angels episodes in those five years, all powered by cheesecake sexiness, some of the best hair to ever grace the small screen, and scripts that were all fairly similar in terms of structure, but varied wildly when it came to specific details. Some of the scenarios not on this list: multiple episodes in which the Angels posed as singers and/or sex workers (the show was also fond of gigolo-adjacent storylines, for what it’s worth); cases revolving around roller derby, the Ice Capades, magicians, cheerleading, ballroom dancing, and truck drivers; a Love Boat crossover; and an episode entitled “Sammy Davis Jr. Kidnap Caper,” which is exactly as advertised.
Truth be told, without all those ridiculous elements—and the fact that its main trio (Jaclyn Smith, plus whoever else was starring that season) was always extremely easy on the eyes, something the show openly exploited with jolly regularity—Charlie’s Angels might be kind of boring. The show tended toward lots of drawn-out chase scenes and favored plots with obvious baddies. But glamor and intrigue go a long way, and nobody did it like the Angels...even when faced with these eight especially goofy cases.
What was it about the late 1970s that made them such a boom time for circuses? And mimes? When a family-run circus starts experiencing accidents that feel a lot like sabotage, the Angels take the case and get some pretty outstanding cover stories as part of the deal.
Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) is a motorcycle daredevil, Sabrina (Kate Jackson) signs on as an apprentice mime, and Kris (Cheryl Ladd, who joined the show after the mega-popular Farrah Fawcett left after one season) becomes the scantily-clad assistant to the burly guy who throws knives. The Angels uncover a revenge-driven conspiracy to put the circus out of business, but not before we see Sabrina in full greasepaint do an entire mime routine, several odd interludes with a performer who’s apparently just a disembodied head sitting on a box, and Bosley’s (David Doyle) repeated attempts to rebuff a diminutive admirer whose stage name is “Tinkle Bell” (all hail Patty Maloney—she also played Lumpy the Wookiee on the Star Wars Holiday Special and Honk the alien on Far Out Space Nuts).
After a wealthy woman disappears, the Angels follow her trail to the Celestial Research Foundation—ostensibly an organization that can facilitate alien encounters. In reality, of course, it’s a front for a con man who preys on anyone with New Age tendencies that’ll fall for his flying-saucer fakery, with extra attention paid to gullible types with hefty bank accounts. Kris plays a UFO-obsessed airhead (with Bosley in tow as her rich “uncle”), while Sabrina affects a Bronx accent to play a skeptical interloper. Kelly must seduce the disgraced astronaut-turned-stunt pilot who’s become the celebrity face of the Foundation, but she also gets to pose as an extraterrestrial babe in order to wheedle some intel out of a dorky Foundation acolyte.
This episode features high-stakes corporate espionage at Mother Goose, a toy company run by a kindly gent whose wholesome approach to the biz has alienated one of his assistants, who has all sorts of ideas for horror toys—including a mini guillotine that really works, and a driving game where hitting pedestrians earns you points, possibly a nod to Death Race 2000, which came out the previous year?
At any rate, the Angels disrupt his scheme to hasten Mother Goose’s demise, with Sabrina stepping in as the daughter of a toy magnate based in Hong Kong, Kelly lassoing the dunderhead brought in to bug Mother Goose’s offices, and Kris handling a couple of strange tasks, though none so bizarre as hiding herself in plain sight by dressing up as a life-sized rag doll.
Jamie Lee Curtis—just ahead of her breakout in Halloween when this episode debuted in October 1978—pops up as a young golf pro on the rise who’s good friends with Kris, and who hires the Angels after she receives repeated threats before a big tournament. The threats range from scary but pretty uninspired (throwing a brick through her window) to standard-issue assassin stuff (being shot at) to full-on psycho (tampering with a bridge at her family home and letting a pair of furious alligators loose in the pond below). Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) and Casey Kasem are the other notable guest stars, but the MVP of the episode is Kris, who does not hesitate when it’s time to wrestle one of those pond gators into submission to save her friend. Pretty sure they don’t teach that particular skill at the police academy.
This Halloween episode takes the Angels inside a sprawling institute for psychic research, funded by a millionaire pal of Bosley’s who hopes the “gifted” test subjects will help her contact her beloved nephew. When the late young man appears to speak out from the beyond, everyone assumes it’s a ploy to keep the cash flow going—but then his former girlfriend, who claims to be a medium, dies in an apparently empty room after speaking with his voice. Was it the work of a spiteful ghost, or something far more insidiously human...perhaps someone with an ax to grind and access to technological trickery that’ll help sell the illusion? It’ll take mostly the work of Kris, who pops on a pair of smarty-pants glasses and transforms into a student of parapsychology, and Sabrina, who fakes her way through having ESP, to crack the case. And in case you were wondering—it is indeed risky to go undercover when there’s at least one genuine mind-reader in the mix.
The Venice Beach roller boogie scene is the backdrop for this enthusiastically corny episode, featuring guest stars René Auberjonois (as “Freddie Fortune,” the sleazy local roller rink kingpin), Chris Mulkey (as the cockiest skater on the beach), and Ed Begley Jr. (as a budding roller disco champ whose partner is kidnapped on the eve of a major competition). Kris, Kelly, and Tiffany (Shelley Hack, who replaced Kate Jackson after she left the series) just happen to be rolling around when they witness said kidnapping and agree to take the case pro bono—though it’s soon revealed that the missing young woman is secretly a runaway heiress. After the culprits (who make their ransom demands via the payphone right outside the roller rink), are collared thanks to a skates-and-bicycle chase down the boardwalk, we get to see the sequin-laden competition play out under a massive disco ball. And for that, we are all winners in the end.
By the time season five hit the air, the Angels consisted of Kelly and Kris, who were by then well-established as police academy graduates—and new addition Julie (Tanya Roberts), who’s touted in the opening credits as a graduate of “a top school for models.” So that’s...something, though progress might not be the right word for it. At any rate, its final season the show set several episodes in Hawaii, where the Townsend Agency set up a branch for solving any and all tropical cases—including “Angels of the Deep.”
The gang gets drawn into a double-cross over “two million bucks of good Maui grass” stolen from a shipwreck in a plot that involves some of the dumbest crooks in Charlie’s Angels history. (One them is played by Sonny Bono, in exaggerated far-out hippie mode.) The episode is mostly an excuse to showcase the beauty of Oahu—there are several scuba-diving sequences—but the bathing suit-clad Angels also get their due; the episode’s big-shot weed dealer is especially perplexed by the sudden appearance of all these gorgeous “girlies” (including a certain top school for models graduate) who have zero trouble fending off assailants by weaponizing their tasteful handbags.
The Angels uncover a deadly scheme—filtered through an otherwise unassuming staffing agency—to hypnotize attractive women into becoming dead-eyed assassins. That said, they don’t connect the dots until Julie, who poses as a typist at a “techtronics” company that’s seen several higher-ups die in suspicious accidents, unknowingly falls victim to the programming. Early in the episode, the oily overlord who’s pulling all the strings becomes aware that she’s actually one of Charlie’s detectives; you might assume this means he’d have her target one of the other Angels, Bosley, or even Charlie. But Charlie’s Angels, which only had a few more episodes to go in its run by the time “Attack Angels” aired, doesn’t have the energy for that kind of peril. Instead, it keeps things weird by making room for multiple scenes involving a sensory deprivation tank and ensures a happy ending by making sure Kris and Kelly intervene before Julie’s able to obliterate her new boss using her mind-controlled fists.
Do you have a favorite Charlie’s Angels episode that’s not mentioned here? Share your top choice in the comments—and remember, the weirder things get for the Angels, the better!
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