Angels on Wheels


SUMMARY

It's the roller derby craze of the '70s! Amidst grainy stock footage of a roller rink scrimmage, we zoom in to witness "Bad Betty" King rocketing blonde teammate Karen Jason off the rink's railing and into the lap of a waiting bruiser who stealthily snaps her neck.

The dead skater's sister Barbara Jason hires the Angels because she believes her sister was murdered. Furthermore, it seems the victim's boyfriend, ex-con Joe Esposito, has also disappeared, along with a mysterious suitcase that was in his possession.

Posing as Barbara, Jill joins the Tornados and turns out to have a lot of skating potential. She charms the team's owner, Hugh Morris (a very Texan Dick Sargent) who owns not only the Tornados, but also a used car dealership and an insurance company which backs his roller players.

Undercover as a shrewd investigator with the insurance board, Bri visits the office of Hugh Morris' insurance company, managed by the no-nonsense Jessica Farmer. Bri learns that each roller derby player has a $250,000 life insurance policy where Hugh Morris is the sole beneficiary.

Meanwhile, Kelly heads to the Villa Beneda Apartments to check out Karen Jason's vacant digs where she discovers a baggage claim check for the city bus terminal. During her search of the room, Kelly is startled by the sudden entrance of Red Loomis - the shirtless, muscle-bound apartment manager who's come to investigate her trespassing on the property. Claiming to be a magazine writer, Kelly manages to flirt her way out of the situation, still in possession of the baggage check.

After Kelly leaves, Loomis phones Jessica Farmer, and the bad guys are furious to learn that Kelly may soon locate Esposito's suitcase, which is revealed to contain evidence Esposito was going to use as blackmail. Farmer wants Kelly put out of business - permanently.

Kelly heads to the bus terminal, learning en route that Joe Esposito's body has been found in the LA river. She claims Joe's suitcase, and finds it bulging with $180,000 in cash and several different fake drivers' licenses in Bad Betty's name. Unbeknownst to Kelly, Jessica's henchman, Jeremy, has strapped her car with a ticking time bomb. She's alerted by Charlie just in time to bail out.

Sabrina meets with an old friend of Charlie's at Gallop Brokerage Firm, who explains that Morris Insurance is liable to go bankrupt if it keeps taking part in odd settlements.

Back at the arena, Jill and Betty hit the locker room and get into a tense conversation about making some heavy bread with an as yet undisclosed racket overlorded by Jessica Farmer. Jill later dines with the two and is clued in about their insurance scam. Roller players will sustain "permanent injuries" in repeated "accidents" using fake identities - hence the stash of Bad Betty IDs in the confiscated suitcase. When Jeremy discovers that their cars are registered to Townsend Investigations, the bad guys set out to kill both Kelly and Jill.

Whiskey-swilling Jessica Farmer meets with Kelly at the Backwoods Inn where she tries to bribe her into turning over the false IDs. On the way home, Kelly finds her car brake-less, thanks to tampering by Red Loomis, finally careening through a fence and into conveniently placed bales of hay. She quickly calls Bosley and Sabrina to warn that the bad guys are planning to kill Jill.

Everyone races to the roller rink where the Tornados are facing off against the Satans. Bad Betty death-whips Jill over the rink's edge, where she punches her would-be murderer in the face just as Bri, Bosley and the police arrive to pull their weapons on him. Jill rolls back into the game, knocking Bad Betty down and beating her till she stops moving. Charlie told her she'd be a big hit on skates!

BACKGROUND CHECK

Angels on Wheels Episode #12 Season 1, Episode 12 Airdate: Dec 22, 1976 Writer: Charles SailorRick Husky, Jack V. Fogarty Director: Richard Benedict

WHAT'D YOU THINK?

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CURIOSITIES

• In a rare occurrence, Bosley actually hands the Angels three matching envelopes containing information about their covers for this case.

• Why does Hugh Morris leave Jill alone in his office when he has to go film his commercial?

• The oiled-up Red Loomis is suddenly much drier when he escorts Kelly back to her car.

• This episode features one of the few times we see the Angels eating. The three girls lunch together in what is likely a courtyard on the Fox Studio back lot. Can't really see what Kelly's having, but Sabrina has an apple and Jill Fritos and Pepsi.

• Bosley is always complaining about overhead and additional costs incurred by their cases, so whose decision was it to have plastic department store signs printed to differentiate the two telephones sitting on his desk (with their labels facing us instead of him)?

• It's the question most often raised about this episode: how does Charlie know there's a bomb strapped to the bottom of Kelly's car? And furthermore, how does he know she left behind the suitcase after she initially bolts out to safety?

• In the office wrap-up, Kelly asks if Charlie has taken Hugh up on his offer to replace her blown-up Mustang with an identical model. Seems like she might already know the answer was yes, considering she drove it to work that day. (See all 3 Angels' cars parked outside the office.)

BAD GUYS BEAT DOWN

BIMBOS

SHOTS FIRED AT ANGELS

SHOTS FIRED BY ANGELS

DAYS TO SOLVE CASE

COMPANY CARS WRECKED

TURTLENECKS

CHARACTER DEATHS

ACTION

This episode's got it! Not only do you get some wicked roller action out on the rink, with Jill getting knocked about and flipped over the railing - but also her revenge when she turns out Bad Betty's lights right on the track.

This episode is also the source of one of the most recognizable pieces of footage seen in the show's opening credits throughout its five year run - that of Jaclyn Smith running away from her exploding Mustang after a ticking time bomb went off inside.

FASHION

Wardrobe Repeats Sabrina has recycled her white hoodie from Angels in Chains. Honorable mention: Jessica Farmer's blue top was re-used in Angel Baby and Angels on Campus, and a guy in the background is wearing the blue and white jacket worn by Bosley in later seasons.
Farrah Fawcett Angels on Wheels Farrah Fawcett Angels in Chains

WHAT'S ROLLER DERBY ALL ABOUT?

Based on formation roller skating around an oval track, roller derby scores points as two individual players (called "jammers") circle members of their opposing team as both teams play offense and defense simultaneously.

In years past, roller derby was a professional (paid) sport for both men and women, however today's derby is predominantly female with over 500 women's leagues in 16 countries around the world. It usually functions on an amateur (unpaid) circuit, and tends to have a strong feminist vibe.

Originally created in the early 1920's, roller derby had its heyday and finally fizzled out in the mid-1970's, so Angels on Wheels was created on the cusp of the sport's departure from the popular scene. First glamorized in the 1960's during dramatically televised skating battles entitled "Roller Games" (whence comes Jessica Farmer's terse comment to Sabrina), the most famous team to emerge from the fray was the Los Angeles Thunderbirds - still in existence today.

All of the derby sequences featured in this episode were shot in downtown L.A. at the Olympic Auditorium - home of the T-Birds.

SCREEN TIME ANALYSIS

Because of the roller derby you might think of this as a Jill episode, but Kelly's various car/bomb shenanigans win her a few minutes more than everybody else.

  • KELLY
  • JILL
  • SABRINA
  • BOSLEY
  • HOW MUCH OF THE EPISODE HAS AT LEAST ONE ANGEL/BOSLEY IN IT 81%

UNIFORMS

Farrah's red-white-and-blue Tornados uniform was actually patterned directly after the uniforms of the most popular roller derby team ever to strap on skates - the Los Angeles Thunderbirds.

After a decade of the red-white-and-blues, in 1978 the Thunderbirds altered the colors of their team uniform to yellow-green-and-white, and it is the '78 - '88 uniform that Cameron Diaz sports in the opening credits of "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" during the replicated roller derby sequence inspired by Angels on Wheels. Furthermore, the uniform of the fictional "Satans", opposing Jill's team, is clearly a counterfeit of the real-life team, the Detroit Devils.

Farrah Fawcett Jill in the "Tornadoes" uniform, Angels on Wheels Farrah Fawcett Colleen Murrell of the 1973 T-Birds
Farrah Fawcett Dylan in the "Birds" uniform, CA: Full Throttle Farrah FawcettDebbie McCorkell in the T-Birds uniform used since 1978
Farrah Fawcett "Satans" uniform, Angels on Wheels
Farrah FawcettDiane Syverson of the Detroit Devils

BIMBO REPORT

Bimbo’s playing cards with Charlie poolside, and later she’s drinking while sitting on his desk. She’s one of only a few of Charlie’s Bimbos ever to get a name (Carlie Higgins – others are the bimbos in Dirty Business and Circus of Terror) and the only one ever to have any actual involvement in the case, when she answered the phone for Sabrina’s cover at the insurance company. She appeared as another bimbo (or the same one, whatever) in Night of the Strangler.

Read our article on Charlie's Bimbos

REPEAT OFFENDERS

Taylor Lacher: Jeremy later appeared again as the helicopter pilot Buck Willis in Angels on the Air.

Steve Sandor: Red Loomis later played Gerson, the creepy guy in The Sandcastle Murders.

Dick Sargent returned twice for Angels in Vegas and Love Boat Angels.

IMDb claims that Heidi Von Beltz (Grinelda from Angels in the Backfield) appeared uncredited in this episode, although we don't see her. Do you?

Richard Benedict also directed The Killing Kind.

Jack V. Fogarty also wrote The Mexican Connection.

Rick Husky also wrote To Kill an Angel and The Killing Kind.

OUR TAKE

Holly's Rating: 5 stars Just a few notes from my personal casebook ... (1) So Jill doesn't question why Charlie is randomly making her take skating lessons? (2)  At age 59, Winston, Esq. wistfully dreams of being young enough to get with Sabrina, despite the fact that he looks 75+. (3) I want to do more than just look.

Anna's Rating :2 stars Though all the talk of insurance policies is a bit dull, this episode has more than enough action, memorable lines, and classic scenes to compensate. The roller derby was a unique, interesting, and oh-so-70's setting that saved this episode from being just another humdrum murder/insurance plot.