Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Charlie's Angels: Angels Undercover (1976)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar

Join TV's favorite trio of sexy female private eyes in their original action-filled adventures.

To Kill An Angel: A trip to the carnival leads to a tunnel of horrors when Kelly gets caught in the crossfire between two paid killers and an autistic child.

Night Of The Strangler: The Angels bare it all - almost - as undercover fashion models while investigating a kinky case of multiple murders.

Director: Phil Bondelli and Richard Lang
Cast: Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, David Doyle
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono, Spanish, Digital Mono; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; no chapters; rated NR; 100 min.; $24.95; street date 10/3/00.
Supplements: Bonus Trailer; "Angels Forever" Exclusinve Featurette; Talent Files.
Purchase: DVD | Book - The Charlie's Angels Casebook - David Hofstede

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/C+/C

Because of the existence of Charlie's Angels, we now know of something called "The Westy Swensen Principle". You see, my friends and I were all big fans of CA during its late-Seventies hey-day; our prepubescent selves really dug these hot babes who also could kick some butt. As such, we collected a variety of merchandise related to the show, such as posters and trading cards.

Even back then I was an obsessive collector, and I just had to have a complete array of these cards. I had almost all of them but still needed a couple. It just so happened that a) my "friend" Westy possessed doubles of one that I required, and b) I had an extra card that he needed as well. Done deal, right?

Wrong. Westy refused to make this trade for one simple reason: because I wanted to do it. That's right, he declined a mutually-beneficial arrangement simply through his own perverse sadism; he'd rather see me disappointed than both of us happy.

My disappointment quickly dissipated, as I found the card on my own soon thereafter. At the end of fifth grade, Westy and his family departed for terrain unknown, and I know not what happened to him. If you're out there, Westy, this is for you: screw you, pal!

In any case, thus was born "The Westy Swensen Principle": when someone denies you pleasure because you desire that pleasure. What does all of this have to do with the new Charlie's Angels: Angels Under Cover DVD? Nothing, but I really like that story.

This DVD packs in two episodes from the first (1976-77) season of CA. This was the only year during which Farrah Fawcett-Majors (as Jill) appeared full-time on the show; thanks to both the series and some rather popular posters, she became an absolute sensation and quickly sought to shed her attachment to the program that got her there. History still debates if this was a good or a bad move; Farrah's still a star, and she's worked pretty steadily since the Seventies, but her career never re-approached the heights she experienced during the glory days of CA.

Cheryl Ladd replaced Farrah for the subsequent seasons, though Farrah returned for six episodes during years three and four. Kate Jackson, who Sabrina, one of two other original Angels, departed after the end of the third season, and for good reason: she actually had cause to believe CA was harming her career. According to "Angelic Heaven", a cool fan site I found ( - oh, how mad the various powers-that-be must feel that they let that address slip away!) Jackson was offered the main female role in Kramer Vs. Kramer. Since she couldn' t get away from the series long enough to make the film, the part went to Meryl Streep instead. The Big "M" took home her first Oscar for her performance, which must have given poor Kate a splitting headache.

All of that turmoil was well in the future when the shows included on this DVD were filmed. "To Kill An Angel" ran seventh during the 1976-77 season and shows Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) at work with "Skip", an apparently-orphaned autistic boy. They go to the carnival where Skip finds a gun dropped by a thug and accidentally shoots Kelly. Skip then vanishes, which precipitates both a chase for the lad and a search for the baddies.

One must give credit to the show for being ahead of their time. Everyone made a big deal out of the portrayal of autistic folks in 1988's Rain Man, but Charlie's Angels covered that territory 12 years earlier! Neither program did so very accurately, however. As much as I dislike RM, this Angels episode was easily the bigger offender of the two. From the description of Skip's problems, he should be severely autistic, whereas he actually seems to be very high-functioning for a child with that disorder; he has solid speech and communication skills despite a slight stutter, and he also is very connected with others in his environment. Honestly, the boy shows virtually no signs of true autism, but hey, it's Charlie's Angels - we don't exactly expect true-to-life drama.

In "Night of the Strangler" (broadcast third), the angels track a murderer who strangles (duh!) his victims and leaves rag dolls on the scene. Creatively, he becomes known as the "Rag Doll Murderer". Each Angel goes undercover to work with the fashion designer and others who knew the victims and they piece together the culprit through their sleuthing.

I find it odd that this DVD was subtitled "Angels Undercover" since they really don't do any of that sort of work in "To Kill An Angel". It's a pretty straightforward show in which they simply try to follow the leads presented by the missing boy. It also demonstrates that perhaps the Angels aren't too bright; when a hospitalized Kelly is visited by a thug who claims to be Skip's father, she gets a call from the other Angels who provide his true first name of "Bobby". However, the hood called him "Patrick". Granted, she's not in great shape, and the sedatives could have affected her judgment, but old Kel sure takes a long time to put two and two together and deduce that the "father" was lying. She comes to this conclusion after she' s told the baddie where to find Bobby. Oops!

Similar brain-power - or lack thereof - is on display during "Night of the Strangler". It takes the Angels so long to figure out the killers that it's positively frightening. Even then, dopey old Bosley (David Doyle) doesn't understand what occurred. Yikes!

Well, no one ever watched Charlie's Angels for the taut plots or the witty repartee. Why did we watch the show, anyway? I guess it was the best place to see some attractive women play detective in a very glamorous manner, and it worked well in the period.

Right now, however, is a different matter. For nostalgic reasons, I enjoyed these episodes of CA, but I can't imagine that I'd ever actually want to see them again, at least not for another few decades. CA was a pretty dopey show and hasn't held up particularly well over the years. It makes for some camp fun but not much else.

You get no bonus credit for figuring out why Columbia-Tristar (CTS) have released this DVD right now. In case you're as slow as Kelly, here's the answer: a brand-new Charlie's Angels feature film comes out exactly one month after the October 3 2000 release of this disc. Sounds like a great time to capitalize on the connection, doesn't it?

The DVD:

Charlie's Angels: Angels Under Cover appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture showed its age and TV origins at times, I thought it provided a generally satisfactory image.

Sharpness usually looked fairly accurate and well-defined, though some moderate softness could interfere on occasions. Despite that tendency toward slight vagueness, most of the time the shows seemed adequately crisp. Moiré effects appeared on a few occasions, but I saw no problems with jagged edges. Source defects displayed light to moderate grain during much of the presentation, and I also witnessed some mild white speckling and black grit.

Colors were a little drab-looking but they generally seemed accurate and satisfying, with no substantial concerns. Black levels also showed mildly bland tendencies but they appeared acceptably dark and solid, and shadow detail was fairly clear and not overly opaque. Make no mistake: this is a TV show from nearly a quarter of a century ago, and the DVD doesn't present a picture that rises above those origins. Nonetheless, I still found it to look pretty nice given the source.

Also relatively satisfying was the monaural soundtrack of Charlie's Angels. Dialogue seemed acceptably clear and intelligible, though it occasionally displayed mild edginess and it often appeared slightly dull. Effects were similarly bland but respectably crisp and accurate, and the show's disco-influenced score sounded decently bright and clean, and it also featured some moderately-nice bass at times. At times a light layer of tape noise could be heard. For a 24-year-old TV show, I thought the audio was quite acceptable.

One sound note: the DVD also offers Spanish soundtracks for both episodes. Out of curiosity, I flipped over to it a few times. I noticed that the quality of the Spanish mix was simply atrocious. It was thin, harsh and seemed exceedingly artificial. To anyone who has to watch the shows with the Spanish audio: I feel bad for you.

Somewhat surprisingly, CA includes a few tasty supplements. First up is a solid featurette about the show called "Angels Forever". This 20-minute and 35-second program doesn't give us much of a look at the show's history. Instead, it's a "fan's eye" piece that discusses CA from the perspective of viewers. A little bit of Angel history appears through the remarks of co-producer Leonard Goldberg - the only person affiliated with the show to be seen here - but mostly we hear personal thoughts from these fans. Frankly, I'd prefer a general Angels overview, but this piece offered a decently-entertaining discussion of the show. By the way, keep an eye out for Mike Pingel, the head of "Angelic Heaven", the great website I mentioned earlier.

One nice added feature is the theatrical teaser trailer for the upcoming CA film. This fun clip teases the audience by making them initially think it'll be a Bond film, but the truth quickly becomes apparent and we see the three lead actresses - Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore - plus Bill Murray as Bosley go through some karate-motions. My bet: this movie will either be absolutely terrific or a complete disaster - there'll be no in-between for it. Anyway, the trailer appears letterboxed in a 1.85:1 ratio and offers Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (which seemed somewhat distorted, actually) and it's a cool addition.

Finally, the DVD includes "Talent Files" for the three original Angels, David Doyle, John "Charlie" Forsythe and co-producer Aaron Spelling. Unlike the vast majority of biographies found on CTS DVDs, these actually provide very solid looks at the lives and careers of the participants. Even more fun, the Forsythe listing also includes a "biography" of Charlie himself! Hello, CTS - this is the way to do your "talent files"!

Actually, this whole package represents a positive way to present TV shows on DVD. More than two episodes would be nice - especially when the package lists for $24.95, as does this one - but at least it features a few nice extras. Charlie's Angels wasn't a great show, but I must admit that I get a small nostalgic thrill from seeing some of the old episodes. The DVD provides these programs with decent but unspectacular picture and sound plus a couple of cool supplements. For old-time Angels fans like myself, these shows are worth a look.

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