We meet our Angels in their natural habitats: Sabrina horseback riding (because she's the cultured one); Jill playing tennis (because she's the athletic one); Kelly in the swimming pool (because we needed a bikini). Each receives the same phone call: "It's Charlie, Angel - time to go to work!" We hope that's as much as you wanted in the way of character introduction, because that's all you're gonna get.
The girls have assembled at the office to receive instructions from their unseen boss Charlie, and go-betweens Woodville and Bosley. A cutting-edge slideshow presentation introduces the case: they're needed in Samarra Vineyards, California wine country, to investigate owner Vincent LeMaire's mysterious disappearance of several years prior. He's presumed murdered, but there's no proof. Vincent’s second wife, Rachel, now runs the vineyard (and drinks it) while Beau Creel, former foreman, now has run of the house and of the widow. Vincent LeMaire is about to be declared legally dead, and if his phantom heiress daughter Janet doesn’t show up to claim the estate, it all passes down to the drunk second wife. That’s where the Angels come in.
Kelly, dressed as a biker, rides up to Samarra on her Harley (it’s not a Harley) and introduces herself as Janet LeMaire with a rambling, vague introductory speech about how she just dropped in to see what the old house was like. Rachel and Beau appear to be dismayed and suspicious.
While Janet!Kelly goes upstairs to shower for some reason, Beau and henchman rifle through her rucksack, finding her faked passport. Kelly then contacts Woodville via secret walkie-talkie while wearing a bath towel in Janet’s childhood bedroom.
A scene between Beau and one Mr. Bancroft, an old family friend or something, reveals they’ve taken $250,000 out of the estate, and they’re afraid that the real Janet LeMaire might get an accountant to find out. Bancroft worries that Janet!Kelly could be a fraud.
When they meet, he tests her for validity by incorrectly reminiscing about obscure details of her childhood, and she goes a little overboard dropping corrections on her marks in a way that starts to sound ridiculous. They seem satisfied that she's Janet LeMaire - but not eager to lose the estate to her.
Out for a spin on her bike, Janet!Kelly accidentally / on purpose almost collides with a young Tommy Lee Jones (his name is Aram Kolegian but we're not calling him that) in his pickup truck. Apparently he's an old boyfriend of Janet’s whom she neglected to cover in her briefing. Janet!Kelly tries to fake her way through the encounter, but after too many vague responses, he grows suspicious. When she agrees to remembering "the old barn by the river" which never really existed, he knows she's a fraud but doesn't let on.
Come nightfall, Janet!Kelly's in bed reading magazines in a nightie, and Rachel carries a tall glass of poisoned warm milk on a teetering saucer up the stairs and serves it to her. She and Beau return later to find Kelly dead in her bed, intending to scoop her up and dump her in the swamp. Just then, they're called away by a knock at the door. Kelly opens her eyes with an Angel chime to assure us that she was just playing possum.
It's Woodville at the door, posing as an attorney and informing them that Kelly is an impostor, and that the REAL Janet LeMaire (Sabrina) will be flying in tomorrow. Thinking she's dead, they tell him that Kelly has gone out someplace - but when they return to dispose of her body, the bed is empty!
Downstairs, Kelly emerges from the shadows to startle the drunken Rachel LeMaire with further overuse of the Angel chime. She and Beau confront Kelly about their news of the “real” Janet. She admits to kidnapping Janet and using truth serum to force her to tell her life info, including the fact that the vineyards are hiding a secret fortune. Both with damning info on each other, Kelly, Beau and Rachel become partners in an operation to scam the real (fake) Janet (Sabrina) out of whatever mystery fortune lies on the property.
Next day, the bad guys observe Janet!Sabrina arriving via private jet with a mousy bewigged Jill (her secretary), and Bosley (undetermined) where she asserts her wealth by demanding an entire floor of the hotel for herself.
Janet!Sabrina and Jill arrive in their suite where a giant, bugged bouquet of flowers awaits them. Kelly, Bancroft, and Beau listen in as Bosley arrives and conducts a loud phonecall with Charlie involving "testing" and "equipment". They can't figure out what's going on (and neither can we).
As fate or terrible driving would have it, Janet!Sabrina also gets in a minor collision with Tommy Lee Jones as she approaches Samarra. She drops the act when he points out she's using the bogus info obviously passed along from Kelly. However, he seems like a good guy, and doesn't like Rachel and Beau, so he agrees not to blow her cover.
Janet!Sabrina meets the Samarra gang and details her benevolent plants to let Rachel and Beau keep Samarra - her only request is to take 40 acres of useless swamp to convert into a bird sanctuary. This is mostly good news, except for the fact that the swamp is where they hid Vincent LeMaire's body.
The bad guys go accost Bosley, who’s out in the swamp taking water samples or something and claiming to be a birdwatcher. They threaten him into telling them that the secret fortune of the vineyards: there's oil beneath the swamp. Unfortunately, they already sold the swamp land to some guy years prior.
Wanting to get the land back, Beau goes out to the guy's swamp shack - met by one Jilly Lou, armed with a rifle, claiming she and her grandpaw now own the land. She agrees to hand over the deed for a quarter of a million dollars.
The bad guys sneak out to their reacquired swamp by night to relocate the body before the oil people find it. The Angels and Woodville crash the party dressed as burglars and observe the bad guys going out into the swamp on a boat and pulling up a body. However, their plan hits a snag when Woodville gets knocked out and all three Angels get captured at gunpoint. They try to bargain, offering to return the money in exchange for their lives, but they know too much.
Suddenly, an unseen shadowy figure knocks out one of the bad guys. Seizing the opportunity, the Angels make their move, bowling over the henchmen and scattering into the night.
The mystery person turns out to be Tommy Lee Jones, who's randomly dropped in to save the day. Using Sabrina as bait, he gets the drop on one of the henchmen. Meanwhile, Beau chases Jill into the swamp; just as he raises his rifle to shoot her, the sheriff aims a spotlight at him from shore. Saved, the athletic one swims to shore instead of taking the murder boat.
As the bad guys are taken into custody, Tommy Lee Jones explains that somebody named Charlie called him (a stranger on the fringes of the case) and told him that the Angels might need bailing out.
Back to the office, the Angels learn that the real Janet LeMaire is their client. which is not a big enough plot twist to be revealed in this manner. Real Janet has hooked back up with Tommy Lee Jones and taken back Samarra. Now that that's all wrapped up, Charlie had better get back to the job at hand (a bimbo in a steam bath).
The credits end with the iconic full length "prayer pose" photo and Jill saying “Call if you need us - huh?”
• This is the only time all three Angels actually say the oft-imitated "Good Morning, Charlie" to the speaker box in unison.
• Why is the photo of young Janet LeMaire wearing a black wig? Couldn’t they just find a brunette child? Also, her outfit is distinctly out of the 1975 Sears Catalog - a photo of the real Janet should have been dated to the 1950’s.
• What kind of ill-advised illegal turn was Kelly attempting with her motorcycle when she almost got hit by a slow and practical driving Tommy Lee Jones? Did she plan this, or is she just a dangerously crappy motorcycle rider? She was on the wrong side of the road, riding into traffic - when she was a crossing guard she surely would have ticketed such behavior. Same thing happens with Sabrina later in her car. Why don't these people have any concept of how to drive on a two-way road without crashing?
• Dialogue like "rattling around all over the place on my bike" and “I jockey this bronco halfway around the world” does little to sell the idea that Jaclyn Smith/Kelly has ever actually seen a motorcycle before in her life. Has anyone ever really talked that way?
• Why does Kelly call the laced milk a milkshake? It’s just poisoned milk, yet she calls it a milkshake twice. People drink warm milk to help them sleep, not milkshakes. Milkshakes are used to bring all the boys to the yard.
• How did Kelly not only know that the milk was spiked, but whether it was poison or a sleeping pill?
• Is Sabrina supposed to be flying the plane she arrives in?
• Sabrina basically says that she's "very lucky" that all her relatives died childless. Seems like that could've been rephrased...
• Why do Beau's eyes bug out when Jill asks for quarter of a million (which is $250,000) when he had just offered $200,000 a second ago?
• The bad guys are in a hurry to get that body out of the swamp before the land is sold - but they already sold the land once before, apparently, to the swamp folk Bosley and Jill were pretending to have displaced. Why wasn't it an issue before?
• How nice for the bad guys that after 7 years in a swamp, that corpse is clean, rigid, and handles light as styrofoam! You can even see mannequin arm joints through the bag, come on. (Bodies don't decompose in the Angelverse, but if we're going to get realistic, all they'd be retrieving is a sludgy sack of loose bones anyway.)
• Charlie makes a quarter of a million dollars on this case! That'll help to cover the expenses of their many future pro bono cases.
• If the real Janet was the client and therefore involved in the case all along, and none of her former associates apparently have any power to recognize who is/isn't her, why didn't she just play Sabrina's role in this con herself?
BAD GUYS BEAT DOWN
SHOTS FIRED AT ANGELS
SHOTS FIRED BY ANGELS
DAYS TO SOLVE CASE (?)
FINDING THE ANGELS
We've all heard before that the starring role here was supposed to have been Kate Jackson as Kelly, until a last minute switch of characters with Jaclyn Smith. That explains why the Angel last billed, and somewhat new to dramatic acting, is called upon to carry the entire first act by herself, while the more qualified actor and intended "main Angel" Kate Jackson plays somewhat of a supporting role in comparison.
Kelly Kelly plays true to her initial street-smart characterization, and indeed does some of her best hustling here by working a con-within-a-con-within-a-con. Although her moments on the motorcycle are few, the shot of her whipping her hair out of her helmet remains iconic (leading Farrah Fawcett to later summarize her memory of the character of Kelly Garrett as "some motorcycle person"). For more motorcycle Kelly action, see Angels on Ice and Circus of Terror.
Sabrina According to the series' "character bible," Sabrina is supposed to be educated, refined, and elegant, as well as the Angels' unofficial leader. She's sorta established as the brains of the outfit here (she rides a horse and knows about the microphone in the flowers) however she doesn't really act as a leader as much as she will in the regular show, because right now Woodville's giving all the orders.
Jill Despite getting equal screen time to Sabrina, Jill comes off looking like the lowest Angel on the totem pole - she's saddled with two minor covers that are unflattering and of comparatively little consequence. Her real personality isn't really defined (and won't be any time soon) but you get the feeling she might be more, uh, personally interested in Charlie than in crime-fighting here. Throughout her tenure she'll continue to be the Angel most likely to make weird sexual comments to her boss in front of all her coworkers.
That combined with her professional behavior (the way she's still questioning basic concepts like why they can't see Charlie; the way Charlie praises her like a golden retriever, "Very good, Jill!" for making a basic observation), makes Jill pretty easy to read as the most recent hire whose head isn't all the way in the game yet.
Woodville and Bosley If Charlie's the boss, Woodville seems like the manager, while Bosley's a kind of pathetic secretary. Despite their distinct personalities and hierarchy, it's obvious while we're still in the first office scene that Bosley and Woodville serve pretty redundant functions in the cast. Woodville is never seen or mentioned in the rest of the series, and his only unique character function - being the only one allowed to see Charlie - will be passed along to Bosley, while his leadership role goes loosely to Sabrina.
FASHIONSpelling-Goldberg will continue getting its money's worth out of Kelly's iconic white bikini which made its debut here - she wears it again in Night of the Strangler and The Killing Kind, and so does a random beauty pageant contestant in Pretty Angels All In A Row. Also, Kelly likes her puffy pirate blouse / brown skirt combo that she wears it again in Target: Angels.
THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR HAIRSTYLE
... not that you'd know it! Be it by ponytail, hat, or wig, Jill’s soon-to-be mega famous hairdo was inexplicably hidden for much of this episode, leaving basically only the office scenes for us to get a good look at her iconic locks. ("Whatever you do, don’t show Farrah's hair" said the former producer whose first and last episode was this pilot.)
SCREEN TIME ANALYSIS
Charlie's Angels occupied a 90-minute time slot (actually running about 73 minutes) but seems longer. With about a quarter of its time free of main cast, it sets a decent standard for average Angel content.
Although it sure feels like it, Kelly's spotlight-hogging here isn't quite comparable to that of the later solo episodes. As a matter of fact, it's not even the most lopsided of the first season! Angels on a String spotlights Sabrina, and Hellride and The Big Tap-Out both spotlight Jill, more heavily than Kelly is here.
- HOW MUCH OF THE EPISODE HAS AT LEAST ONE ANGEL/BOSLEY IN IT 76%
This one saves its action for the last act. Having all three Angels sneaking around a swamp at nighttime seems to promise an action-packed climax, but really its moments of true action are brief and isolated. All the girls give their captors a kick or shove, but nothing particularly impressive.
Unfortunately, the coolest takedown stunt is given to a male supporting character, when Tommy Lee Jones('s stunt double) jumps out of a tree to tackle a henchman. If Jill or Kelly had been assigned this move instead, the Angels could've gotten the upper hand themselves.
This episode was written by Mission: Impossible writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and it really shows. M:I was all about the con, and this is one of the Angels' most complex and multifaceted cons. It’s smarter, slower and less glamorous - which isn’t really what Charlie's Angels would come to be about.
Though elements of the same set appear to have been kept, The Townsend Agency seen here is larger and more elegant than the office set ultimately settled upon.
For one thing, Charlie seems to have his own building, as opposed to the probably shared commercial space of the regular office building. Both are two-story, but this pilot office is shown to be on the ground floor (Bosley comes down those steps to join Woodville) instead of the upper floor as implied by some establishing shots of the regular office's second-story window.
Here we get a good look at a long hallway leading to the office, decorated with large paintings, marble busts, and all candelabra-style light fixtures. No regular-office equivalent is ever shown.
Although the basic layout and elements of the classic set are recognizable, the office interior is quite different. Perhaps most glaringly, the spot where the Angels' bar is classically located is merely an alcove for worldly knickknack display, while their prototype bar is glimpsed on the opposite side of Bosley's desk instead. Furthermore, the classic homey arrangement of sofas and fireplace is yet to exist; Bosley's desk instead faces an open, split-level area with a large window. Although this is used as the spot for their projection screen in both versions, time is taken to wow us by showing Bosley closing the curtains and lowering the screen with the touch of a high-tech button.
This fancy office, combined with the vaguely lofty airs everyone puts on, helps create an impression of a glossier and more self-important operation than the Townsend Agency we know and love.
OVERUSED ANGEL CHIME
Somebody's sure proud of the Angel Chime noise they created for this show and sprinkled it liberally throughout the show; it's used here to underscore events such as Kelly walking into a room, opening her eyes, or turning on a lamp. This overuse will continue midway through the first season.
ARE YOU TESTING ME?
Kelly is so obvious and over the top with her Janet LeMaire trivia it almost becomes farce. “Oh Mr. Bancroft, are you still running that lovely on Lawrence Street? Oh no, it was my seventh birthday, the pony was grey, and her name was Cindy, I like warm milk with nutmeg and my social security number is 237-54-8762. Are you testing me?”
Also, were these the few defining tidbits Janet knew they'd use to test her identity, like those secret questions you always end up having to use to hack into your own email account? If not, did Janet have to prepare, and Kelly memorize, a phonebook-sized list of hundreds of mundane facts/memories/preferences to cover anything that might come up? After all that, if the Charlie gig didn't work out, Kelly probably could've just stolen Janet's identity for real.
Both the opening and closing office scenes conclude with Charlie diverting his attention to a bimbo, thus beginning an unwelcome tradition that would continue through the first half of the series.
Billed only as "Bathing Beauty," this initial bimbo is one of only a couple ever to receive any dialogue and thus be named in the credits.
Greg's Rating: Like many pilots the characters on Charlie's Angels are not quite what they would become for years to come. Everyone is more professional and uptight than the four close friends we would come to know. The sophisticated gowns they put Sabrina in are a far cry from the down to earth appeal she would become known for. It’s weird to see her offer future health nut/athletic Jill an energy drink which Jill seems oblivious to. “Are you trying to make me fat? No. I’m trying to make you healthy.” Swimmer,tennis player b-ball player Jill doesn’t know what a healthy smoothie looks like? Weird. At other times Bri seems more sensitive and less rough around the edges as she would come to be. Sort of half Kelly and half Sabrina. Kelly, when not in her undercover role, is almost a cypher. Barely a hint of the character of Kelly Garrett is present throughout the whole show. The lack of glamour and action are also two strikes against it. On the plus side, the script is more clever and the Angels all seem smarter than what they would become. If the show continued in this vein it probably would not have become so iconic.
Holly's Rating: I keep viewing this episode and always come away wondering: How did ABC decide to pick this show up??
You’d think the movie-length time allotted to this launch episode would allow for an extra hour of Angel Action and time spent exploring and developing each main character, but no, instead producers packed in 60 minutes of mind numbing scenes focused primarily on the guest stars and a rather confusingly presented storyline that even baffled the characters themselves.
The best part about the pilot – for me – are the opening credits, an expanded version of the “three little girls” fairy tale which serves as the only real character background for each Angel. Despite the obligatory police academy footage, there’s really no explanation of how or why these girls were hired as private eyes, and certainly nothing is shown of whatever investigative merits they may have brought to the agency. The credits give the impression that they’re all rich playgirls and police cadet flunkies. A strange first impression. McG’s “Charlie’s Angels” films played off the pilot’s opening credits in their own opening sequences, showing the girls on-the-job in various cool action scenes, as well as glimpses of their fun-loving personal lives. I guess the genesis of those sequences are Bri’s horseback riding, Jill’s tennis and Kelly’s … pool lounging.
Pinto's Rating: It’s just as well I’m never going to be an heiress as I couldn’t tell you what I did on any of my birthdays when I was that young? And why the hell did they think to ask Janet LeMaire that of all things whilst she was drugged…What did you get for your birthday…was there cake…what games did you play….did you happen to ride down to see the family lawyer on your new pony?
"Do you remember that time down at the hayloft…" Come on Sabrina you can do better than trot out some unsubstantiated story. Hell the guy wasn’t even doubting you until you chose to drop in that little lie. After the things that Bancroft tried to catch Kelly out with, you would have thought that they would have put a call into good old Charlie. With all the clout he’s supposed to have, they couldn’t research Aram, to at least find out some other fact about him?
I like the little exposition dump as they get off the plane – obviously they could have discussed all the things when they got in the car…but that’s beside the point. Nice little scene. Finally….go team! As I’m on a mission to find ‘team moments’, Sabrina throwing her hat at Jill to direct her attention to the blindingly obvious place to put a bug must count as one. Why surely you only throw your hat at someone you know…right?
Why didn’t Bosley just write on a piece of card that the phone was bugged, no need to go through the whole rigmarole of unscrewing the mouthpiece of the phone. And that phone call….really, does Charlie need to throw in a sleazy pun…he’s supposed to be working.
39 minutes in and Mike the dog is my favourite character. Is this wrong?
It’s the boys who are getting all the action in this story. All the Angels do in this one is take orders from other people and need Charlie to rescue them. If Charlie had arranged for someone to rock up at the end with a pitcher of beer and a bucket of chicken I would have liked him more….and he would have had a bit of faith in his staff. The line. “You’ll never guess who ordered the chicken?” would have worked much better to my mind as the comedy payoff line rather than the one that implies that they only got through it because their boss knew they weren’t up to it and needed the help of the sheriff and a bunch of locals.
If that was me watching the pilot today….I probably wouldn’t be tuning in for the series. (Which is a long way from my original thoughts on this episode way back when…time is not always kind.)
Anna's Rating: You know that part where Sabrina throws her hat at Jill to get her attention? That's pretty much the only thing I truly like in this episode.
Okay, it's classic because it started it all, but that doesn't mean I have to love it - I find it more tedious than anything. There's not enough (any?) payoff to justify how intricate the con plot is, and I don't find the Angels to look especially capable, smart, pretty, likeable, or cool here. If I watched this when it aired in 1976, I wouldn't have been eager to check out the rest of the show.
I don't think I ever saw this until the series started coming out on DVD, and I remember being disappointed that it really didn't explain anything more about their origin than I already knew from the opening credits. In my opinion, just a teensy bit of backstory would've made it more interesting: How did Charlie contact them? Why did Charlie hire them in particular? Were they best in their class at exasperated typing/writing tickets/helping children cross streets, or were they just the hottest? (I gotta theorize it's the latter - most of those clips don't give you the idea they're excelling, especially Kris freaking out at that switchboard later on). Were they all already friends at the academy - did they come as a set, or did they all happen to get hired individually? Due to Jill's near-trainee status described above, and the way Sabrina and Kelly seem to act like the closer pair, it's my personal headcanon that Jill was the last addition to the agency and the friendship.
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