Nearly all the elements that made the glossy detective series Charlie’s Angels popular are present in the feature-length telefilm that preceded the weekly show, and yet some early ideas that were later abandoned are in evidence, as well. The pilot is just as fluffy and silly as the rest of the series, although the T&A quotient is relatively tame considering how much focus was later given to displaying the series’ leading ladies in bikinis, cheerleader costumes, low-cut gowns, and such. Rather than cleavage and legs, the caveman-mentality focus is primarily on the “novelty” of beautiful women demonstrating competence as private investigators, although the distaff detectives get even more male supervision during the pilot than they usually did in their weekly adventures.
The pilot introduces the three original protagonists—Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett-Majors), Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith), and Sabrina Duncan (Kate Jackson)—receiving their first assignments from mysterious employer Charles Townsend (the never-seen character whose voice is provided by John Forsythe). In a brief prologue that later became the show’s iconic opening-credits sequence, viewers are told that the women graduated from the police academy only to be given thankless jobs, and then were hired to work for Townsend. The Angels, as Townsend calls them, take instructions from their direct supervisor, Woodville (David Ogden Stiers), a character who was dropped before the first regular episode. The ladies’ other male colleague is fellow detective John Bosley (David Doyle), portrayed in the pilot as a cheerful buffoon and later reworked as stalwart coworker.
Written by series creators Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts—veteran screenwriters whose collaborative record stretches all the way back to the James Cagney classic White Heat (1949)—the mystery that the Angels explore in the pilot isn’t really a mystery. Undoubtedly bearing the fingerprints of producer Aaron Spelling, who made a fortune playing to the lowest common denominator of the American viewing audience, the narrative is spoon-fed to viewers, with every complication explained in a condescending manner. The daughter of a wealthy California vintner disappeared years ago, and now that the vintner has also disappeared, his estate may fall into the hands of his unscrupulous widow. It’s up to the Angels to determine whether anything shady is happening, thus prompting the usual cycle of Jill, Kelly, and Sabrina masquerading as various people in order to find information.
The supporting cast features solid players Bo Hopkins and Diana Muldaur, as well as a young Tommy Lee Jones, and the whole thing drags a bit, not just because the thin story is stretched to almost 80 minutes but because composer Jack Elliot uses the series’ signature twinkling musical sting so many times the cue becomes annoying. Seeing as how Fawcett-Majors was the first season’s breakout star thanks to her dazzling barrage of big hair, erect nipples, and shiny teeth, it’s interesting to note that Smith gets the most screen time in this initial outing. As always, she’s lovely but vapid. In any event, Charlie’s Angels the pilot movie is exactly as disposable as any episode of Charlie’s Angels the series, so the appeal of watching the piece (besides eye candy) is the opportunity to examine the unremarkable beginnings of an enduring pop-culture franchise.
Charlie’s Angels: FUNKY