Jackson was also unhappy that the series didn’t turn out to be the very serious very feminist-centred series that she’d wanted it to be. And then Jackson was offered the lead role in Kramer vs Kramer (which she thought would have made her the biggest star in Hollywood) and the producers of Charlie’s Angels made it clear that if she tried to do a Farrah and break her contract they’d see her in court.
So the atmosphere on-set during the making of the third season was tense to say the least, with Jackson frequently refusing to talk to anybody. Finally by the end of the season producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg had had enough and Jackson was fired.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like Kate Jackson in Charlie’s Angels, and I like Sabrina. And I think that the third season lineup of Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd was superb. The three stars balanced each other perfectly. Each actress, and each character, had her own strengths and the combination was, at its best, television magic.
The third season saw Farrah Fawcett back in the series as a guest star in several episodes. Farrah had broken her contract and walked on the series after the first season (to pursue what she fondly imagined would be a glittering Hollywood film career) which led to much legal wrangling. Part of the deal finally struck was that Farrah would return for several guest appearances in the third season. The problem is that by the time she did return her star was already beginning to wane and that glittering film career was turning into a total washout. The sad truth is that by season three Charlie’s Angels no longer needed Farrah Fawcett. Her replacement, Cheryl Ladd, had become hugely popular and to be brutally honest Ladd had more star quality than Farrah. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Farrah in the first season, it’s just that Cheryl Ladd was even better.
Charlie’s Angels was still riding high in the ratings during the third season. As for the scripts, let’s just say that they’re kinda variable in quality but the highs do outnumber the lows by a comfortable margin.
One minor factor which needs to be mentioned is the notoriously penny-pinching approach of Spelling and Goldberg to budgeting. These guys liked saving money when they could. The problem with this approach is that the Charlie’s Angels formula is all about glamour. A series about three hot lady PIs needs an atmosphere of wealth, luxury and glamour and to achieve that you do need to spend at least some money. At this stage the series was still fresh and exciting and the stories were mostly very entertaining and it didn’t matter too much but there are times when the series looks just a little cheap.
The third season kicks off with the two-part story Angels in Vegas. Casino owner Frank Howell (Dean Martin) hires the Angels after two of his employees are killed in what he considers to be very suspicious circumstances. It quickly becomes obvious that somebody is out to get at Frank, but why?
Sabrina goes undercover as Frank’s personal assistant and pretty soon romance is blossoming between them. Dean Martin at 61 does not look in good shape - he doesn’t just look 30 years older than her, he looks 40 years older at least. There are still brief glimpses of the Dean Martin charm. Kris’s cover is as a backup singer for fading singing legend Marty Cole (Dick Sargent). Kelly poses as a dancer.
Suspicion falls on rival casino operator Mark Haines (Vic Morrow). There’s a subplot about a professor using a computer (OK, it’s just a pocket calculator) to wipe Frank out at the craps table.
It’s typical Charlie’s Angels stuff. The Angels have no idea what they’re doing and all three manage to hopelessly blow their covers. They basically just muddle through the case but they do so charmingly and the Las Vegas setting provides plenty of glamour.
Angel Come Home saw the first of Farrah Fawcett’s guest appearances in season 3. Jill has become a racing car driver(!) and she’s engaged to be married to another racing car driver. There’s also yet another driver with whom she’s been romantically involved and she’s going to be driving his car in the Grand Prix. It’s a brand-new super-high tech car that is going to revolutionise the whole automobile industry but someone is trying to sabotage it.
Farrah Fawcett is quite OK in this episode although you’re never for one minute going to buy her as a Formula 1 driver. And somehow Farrah has lost just a little of her sparkle.
Angel on High seems at first to be just another recycling of a very hackneyed idea - a young man (in this case a stunt flyer) who may or may not be the long-list son of a tycoon. But there’s a twist - he may or may not be the heir to two entirely separate fortunes. One of the joys of Charlie’s Angels is the way the Angels keep on doing wildly unprofessional things, like falling in love with people they’re supposed to be investigating and then entirely forgetting to do their job properly. In this case it’s Kelly who falls for the stunt flyer. While Kelly is busy falling in love Kris is busy pursuing another guy and totally forgets all her professional training as well. The most interesting thing about this episode is the ending, which is not the kind of ending you expect in a 70s network TV show. Overall it’s an enjoyable episode.
Angels in Springtime takes the Angels to a ritzy women-only health spa. Famous ageing actress Eve le Deux died there in a freak accident but her niece is sure it was murder and Charlie is inclined to agree. The Angels go undercover - Sabrina as a dietician, Kris as an exercise director and Kelly as a client. They quickly discover that this spa is more like a prison. They also notice an overwhelming lesbian vibe. It’s so obvious that I don’t think any viewer, in 1978 or today, could possibly miss it. Kelly certainly very obviously notices it when the staff physician examines her. As usual the Angels fail to take even the most elementary precautions to preserve either their covers or their skins.
This episode really does have a delightfully bizarre atmosphere. It’s more like a women-in-prison exploitation movie. There’s a wheelchair chase. There are cool murder and attempted murder methods. There’s another ageing actress, Norma Powers, at the spa who is worried about the missing manuscript of Eve le Deux’s autobiography which apparently includes a lengthy description of Norma’s many and varied perversion. Including foot fetishism! This episode is just so much weird twisted kinky fun.
Winning Is for Losers is another female sports star in peril story. This time it’s up-and-coming golfer Linda Frye (Jamie Lee Curtis). There are some pretty obvious suspects. Kris gets to chase a suspect in a golf cart and she gets to wrassle gators. Yes, gators. Is she awesome or what?
The paranormal and the occult were huge fads in the 70s and if there was one thing that Charlie’s Angels did really well it was satirising those kinds of cults and fads. And in this episode the show really goes to town, with thunder crashing as attempts are made to contact the dead in the world beyond and every ghost movie cliché you can name. And it works because the tone is just right - it’s outrageous but it doesn’t go too far over the top. There’s a real murder to solve and the mystery is not bad and it’s taken fairly seriously. A very good episode.
Pom Pom Angels is about cheerleaders. Someone has decided that cheerleaders are wanton hussies who must be eliminated. The Angels have to save the cheerleaders. Seriously, can there be anything more Charlie’s Angels than a Charlie’s Angels episode about cheerleaders? Of course I know you’re thinking the same thing I’m thinking. Which of the Angels will have to go undercover as a cheerleader? Will it be Kris or Kelly? Obviously it won’t be Sabrina. Well today the gods who watch over cult TV fans are really smiling on us. We quickly learn that we’re going to get to see both Kris and Kelly as cheerleaders. How awesome is that?
The most notable thing about this episode is how competent the Angels are. The follow the obvious leads. They spot the obvious clues immediately. They don’t make any dumb mistakes. When Kris doesn’t show up to a meeting Sabrina and Kelly realise immediately that she’s in trouble and swing into action. When Sabrina is descending a staircase and is faced by a bad guy further down the stairs who is an imminent threat she doesn’t try to punch him out or wrestle with him, which just wouldn’t work. But a well-placed kick to the head works just fine. It’s the sort of thing a sensible lady detective would do.
Of course the real reason to watch this episode is to see Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd jumping about in their cute cheerleader outfits, demonstrating why Charlie’s Angels got labelled Jiggle TV.
Mother Angel features another Farrah Fawcett guest appearance. A 12-year-old girl, Samantha, claims to have witnessed a murder. Charlie, Bosley and the Angels don’t really believe her story until Jill finds some evidence that suggests it may be true. The audience knows the identity of both killer and victim from the start but we have no idea why the murder was committed. The Angels know even less. There’s some dialogue, a well-constructed plot and a good chase scene at the end. Another very good episode.
Angel on My Mind is odd because there’s really not much plot at all, and no surprise twists. Kris witnesses an assault then gets knocked out and loses her memory. She wanders off and nobody can find her. And being a witness to that crime means there is now someone out to get her. There could have been some real suspense here but it falls flat because Kris just never seems to be in much danger. Cheryl Ladd gives an effectively subtle low-key performance. She really does seem like a lost little girl, retreating into childhood memories. Ladd’s wonderful performance makes this a surprisingly good episode, even though it’s a very hackneyed idea. Against the odds this one really works.
Angels Belong in Heaven has the makings of a fine suspense story. A man is killed while in the process of telephoning the Townsend Detective Agency with important information. There’s a professional contract out on one of the Angels. It’s more interesting than most such stories because the Angels don’t know which one of them is the killer’s target, and the viewer doesn’t know either. It plays out as a taut and pretty effective thriller episode.
For those who like to look for subtexts there’s Kelly’s houseguest Sally, an old friend from summer camp. Does she have a girlcrush on Kelly? Or is there some lingering resentment? We know of course that Kelly would have been the most beautiful and most popular girl at the summer camp, the sort of girl obviously destined for perfect success in life and romance while Sally would have been (and still is) the slightly awkward, slightly socially inept not-quite-pretty girl destined to always lose out in the game of love to the perfect girls like Kelly. And one can’t help notice that Kelly’s fondness for Sally is just a little tinged with pity. Overall a very strong episode.
Which makes the next episode, Angels in the Stretch, such a disappointment. There’s dirty work afoot at the racetrack, including murder. It’s not awful, it’s just terribly routine and uninspired. Nobody seems very interested. In most episodes at least one of the Angels gets to shine but here they’re just phoning it in.
Angels on Vacation takes the Angels to a tiny town in Arizona where Kris’s uncle is sheriff. They start to notice that everybody is terribly nervous and eventually they figure out that something really bad is going down. The problem here is that the viewer already knows exactly what’s going on, and this sort of story really only works when the viewer is as mystified as the protagonists. The way the Angels finally deal with the problem isn’t too bad. And the Angels actually get to kill bad guys. An OK episode which should have been better.
It had to happen. We had to have an episode with fake Angels. Evil doubles taking the place of the hero or heroine was a staple of TV in this era. So we get Counterfeit Angels. Three phoney Angels have been staging daring robberies. There are a couple of nice touches - having the real Angels having to impersonate the women who are impersonating them is a cute idea. The Angels get a good action scene at the end where they have to react with lightning speed to save themselves. Overall it’s a mixed bag but there is some fun to be had.
In Disco Angels a series of murders of old men seem to be linked to a disco. The Angels investigate, and pretty much blow their covers right away. There’s lots of craziness in this episode, there’s Zalman King (one of the great bad actors) as the most unhinged DJ in history, there’s a cool catfight between Kris and the disco owner’s mistress, there’s a surprisingly high sleaze factor (Kelly is posing as a record company flak promoting new discs and is flatly told by the DJ that he won’t play them unless she sleeps with him). It all adds up to wonderful entertainment.
Terror on Skis is a two-part episode and I’ve never been convinced that two-parters were a great idea. TV writers (in this case Edward J. Lakso) who were quite competent at writing 48-minute TV dramas sometimes struggled when trying to write a story at feature-film length, and having a story split over two screenings a week apart did tend to dissipate the tension. We’re into spy thriller/Bond movie territory here. Enemy spies are planning to kidnap a rising young politician. A government agent is onto them but they’e onto him as well, and they deal with the problem by killing him. Since they obviously have a security leak the Feds call in outside help - the Angels. The Angels as usual have enormous difficult maintaining their covers and the bad guys know straight away what the Angels are up to. The good guys and the bad guys are equally incompetent so it all evens out.
Angel in a Box features one of Farrah Fawcett’s guest appearances. Kris is kidnapped but the kidnappers seemed to think they were snatching Jill. The trail leads Bosley (along with Sabrina, Kelly and Jill) to a resort hotel but that trail may have been deliberately laid. Which is obvious to everyone but the Angels. A fairly weak episode.
Teen Angels sounds like guaranteed fun. Kris goes undercover as a schoolgirl at an exclusive school for rich girls, where there’s been a murder. You might think Kris would stick out like a sore thumb as the world’s oldest schoolgirl but luckily all the other schoolgirls there look like they’re pushing thirty as well so no-one notices. Kris is going to be up against a trio of mean girls, and these are really mean girls. With a blonde named Donna as the queen bee uber-bitch. And there’s also a black-gloved killer. Someone tries to barbeque the Angels, there’s a cool motorcycle chase with Kris doing an Annie Oakley bit from the sidecar. This one is so silly and goofy that it works. And Audrey Landers as Donna is a delightful evil bitch. I liked it.
In Marathon Angels a female marathon runner is kidnapped by two guys in Halloween masks. Her friend and running partner Helga (with the thickest phoney Swedish accent you’ve ever heard) calls in the Angels. Helga runs a health spa. She and her friend were about to compete in a women’s marathon organised by a ladies’ sportswear manufacturer. Charlie’s Angels was always particularly awesome when it dealt with 70s California craziness so this sounds like a promising setup.
But first things first. Kris’s pigtails. This is two episodes in a row in which she’s sported pigtails. In the previous episode the pigtails were combined with a baby doll nightie which was…interesting.
Anyway, this episode offers women in skimpy costumes, beautiful girls bound and gagged in very fetishistic poses, snakes, oil sheikhs, a female reporter who wants to expose the race as patriarchal oppression and marathon runners performing impromptu song-and-dance routines in the middle of the race. You have no idea what the story is all about or what craziness it will throw at you next so you just have to keep watching. It’s very very bad and at the same time engagingly goofy and weirdly fascinating. I think I liked it.
Rosemary for Remembrance takes the series into more serious emotional territory. Prohibition-era gangster Jake Garfield has just been released after forty years in prison. Someone is trying to kill him, but what Jake really wants is to re-open a 44-year-old murder case - the murder of his wife Rosemary. Kris is assigned to act as Jake’s bodyguard and it turns it that she is the spitting image of Jake’s deceased wife.
Where things get interesting is when Kris starts to get drawn into Jake’s memories of the past. It’s not just that Jake starts to think that she’s his dead wife - in a spooky kind of way Kris is getting drawn into the past as well. This one has a reasonably OK mystery plot but it’s the sense of the past and the present bleeding into each other, and the identities of Rosemary and Kris bleeding into each other, that makes this an excellent episode. Plus Cheryl Ladd looks terrific in slinky 1930s dresses and hairstyles and she does some pretty decent acting as well.
Angels Remembered is a clip episode, one of those cheapskate money-saving episodes made up almost entirely of clips from earlier episodes. Even by the standards of clip episodes this one is feeble. A terrible terrible way to end the season.
On the whole this is a strong season despite a few dud episodes towards the end. And the good episodes are classic Charlie’s Angels stuff and they’re very good indeed. If you loved the first two seasons you’ll definitely want to see this season. Highly recommended.