The Great Muppet Guest Star Caper Blogathon – Cheryl Ladd

This post is part of the Muppet Guest Star Blogathon hosted by Gill at RealWeegieMidget and Rebecca at Taking Up Room. Cheryl Ladd guested on episode 3:24 of The Muppet Show Tonight performing a trio of musical numbers. Oddly her starring role in Charlie’s Angels isn’t mentioned despite both shows sharing a home with ABC. Maybe it was Ladd’s choice given she had an album out to promote at the time, though her duet with Miss Piggy I Enjoy Being a Girl does at least give her a chance to practise some 1970s’ karate chopping which does not end well for poor Kermit. It’s her closing ballad though watched by an adoring Fozzie Bear which put me in mind of the Charlie’s Angels episode Harrigan’s Angel in which Ladd’s character teams up with a hapless sad-sack private eye to investigate a warehouse robbery. 

The season 4 line-up now comprised of the only remaining original Angel Jaclyn Smith, newcomer Shelley Hack, and Ladd, though former star Farrah Fawcett would guest star in two episodes. Charlie’s Angels had a decent stable of directors on their roster including Allen Baron (Blast of Silence) and Curtis Harrington (Night Tide, The Killing Kind). Guys who had made some interesting movies back in the day but now worked mainly directing episodic television. Harrigan’s Angel is helmed by Don Chaffey, best known for Jason and the Argonauts and the Disney movie Greyfriars Bobby. As is usually the case with Charlie’s Angels, the episode opens by establishing who the bad guys are. A gang led by Felber (Michael Cavanuagh) and made up of Crail (Michael Baseleon) and Belkin (Robert England) carry out a heist on a warehouse containing computer parts. They pull this off by using a truck which has a replica of the warehouse facade printed on the side to fool the guard manning the security camera.

The warehouse is owned by an electronics firm run by George Starrett (Ed Nelson) who approaches the Townsend Detective Agency for help, despite already having another private investigator working the case. Harrigan (Howard Duff) is a shambles. Arriving late, dishevelled, clearly hungover, and with a story about his car getting stolen, Harrigan mumbles his way through the introductions. “You mean I have to work with girls?” He also sticks his nose into Starrett’s glass and guesses the brand of whiskey AND the mixer. A true sign of the professional drinker. Neither party is happy about working together and the Angels are bemused when Harrigan assumes he’ll be taking lead, but as Bosley (David Doyle) points out they’ll be getting double-time so who cares?

Harrigan wants to brief the Townsend investigators over breakfast and ideally a drink, but Kris (Ladd) takes them to a cafe that doesn’t serve alcohol. This will reoccur throughout the episode as Kris finds ways to keep Harrigan sober. Though he wants to take lead on the case he admits he’s got nothing and his shotgunning “theory of investigation” is really just making notes on pieces of paper. And he’s left those at home in a shoebox he keeps under his bed. He doesn’t even have money for the payphone and has to cadge a dime off Bosley. While he’s making a phone call to the police to see if they found his car Kris tells the others Harrigan reminds her of her father who was a decent guy but also turned to drink in later life. She reckons she can handle him and resolves to keep the Basset Hound-faced Harrigan out of the way while the other Angels and Bosley investigate. Neither Kris nor Harrigan notice when they drive away they are being followed by a pick-up driven by Crail.

Harrigan’s home is a mess. Fast food cartons, empty bottles, and clothes strewn everywhere. It’s clear he lives alone and doesn’t really take much care of himself. There’s a nearly finished bottle of whiskey, (I’m Scottish but will spell whisky with an e because it looks like an American brand) out of which he empties into a glass before remembering his manners and offering Kris a drink. She accepts and takes the triple shot he just poured for himself and reminds him about his notes. Foiled again. Harrigan goes to his bedroom and pulls out an emergency bottle of whiskey and his shoebox. She pours the whiskey into a cup by the sink. Guess he’ll find that later when at some point in the future he decides to do his dishes. Harrigan’s anxious when his phone rings and asks Kris not to answer it, but she’s worried it might be Bosley or the other Angels. Instead it’s the police who have found his car outside a bar called O’Reilly’s. “Strange, I was there last night in fact.” Kris being a private detective deduces somebody probably gave him a lift home. Harrigan reaches into his pocket and finds his car keys.

“You drive, I’ll pour.” Kris lets Harrigan take the wheel so he won’t drink. To make sure she drops the emergency bottle on the road smashing it, much to the old man’s horror. Had they cast a different actor they could have made this pathetic figure more comedic, but there is in veteran actor Howard Duff’s demeanour an element of dignity. Harrigan is a burn-out but we gradually learn there was more to him once. Most of his notes are just scribbled observations or grocery lists for whiskey but Kris finds one that’s interesting. A truck with North Valley Industrial Photo-Engraving stopped outside the warehouse for a minute then left. No delivery, or pick up. And they’ve never been there since. When they visit NVIPE Belkin is behind the counter and politely tells them what the business offers to potential clients but there’s an underlying edge to his conversation. After they leave he phones an unnamed person and warns them “Harrigan and the blonde” paid him a visit. They still haven’t noticed they are being tailed.

Meanwhile Kelly and Tiffany are interviewing the boss of the trucking company whose rig was used in the robbery. It’s Felber, who like Belkin is perfectly friendly, but in a weird bit of deductive reasoning Tiffany thinks he’s dodgy because he did not offer them a coffee. They also inform Felber they will be in charge of security for Starret Industries deliveries from now on. Crail calls in from a payphone outside a fast food place. “Harrigan’s trying to drink a milkshake.”

Crail finally makes his presence known in the valley by trying to run them off the road. Having managed to keep Harrigan sober Kris is back behind the wheel, but it’s the old man who saves the day by using an evasion technique he perfected during WWII in occupied France. Kris makes to go left, but then accelerates hard to the right driving down a side-road and sending Crail in the wrong direction. Back at the Townsend office exposition guy Bosley has run a background check on Felber and found he did time for grand theft auto. Kris and Harrigan explain their outlandish but accurate theory about Belkin using his photo engraving skills to create a replica of the building to fool the camera, but there’s nothing to prove they were involved in the robbery. Harrigan wants to talk to Starret because he believes he’s the lead investigator but Kris is still keeping him out of the way. Kelley and Tiffany are the ones who update Starret, who claims never to have met either Belkin or Felber, but they along with Crail are listening in the next room. Starret ripped off his own company with the help of the robbers. The only reason he approached the Townsend Detective Agency was because the insurers demanded it. “How was I supposed to know that drunk and those three broads would figure it out?” Starret wants them all dealt with. Especially Kris and Harrigan who work too well together.

Kris takes Harrigan home. While putting something away Harrigan knocks over a pile of boxes. Kris notices a bunch of old framed photographs. Harrigan alongside President Eisenhower, a photograph of his late wife, and a commendation from a WWII General. “Can’t figure it can you?” says Harrigan who knows full well Kris has been trying to keep him sober and away from the rest of the team, but he’s not angry. “You made all the right moves.” The bad guys haven’t though. Crail and Starret’s attempts to run Kelly and Tiffany off the road fail when the Angels recognise the pick-up from Harrigan’s description and turn on their would be pursuers approaching them with guns drawn. Crail folds immediately not wanting to face an accessory to murder charge and warns the Angels about the impending hit on their friends. Action finales tend to be bloodless in early 80s’ TV show and the showdown takes place without any serious injuries. Harrigan is already out of the door when the warning call comes and he’s wounded but not hurt. Kris knocks Felber over the balcony and gets the drop on Belkin before he can finish off Harrigan.

Charlie’s Angels was beginning to fall away in the ratings by the end of season 4. The show missed Kate Jackson’s off-kilter charisma and her replacement Shelley Hack was a little too similar to Cheryl Ladd in appearance and style. But Harrigan’s Angel is a high point. Howard Duff and Ladd (as the bad guys pointed out earlier) do work very well together. If anything Harrigan’s Angel functions as a better backdoor pilot to a potential spin-off than the later season 4 episode Toni’s Boys, which introduced a trio of gender-flipped sweater-wearing planks led by Barbara Stanwyck. The epilogue sees Harrigan receiving his missing car and promising to stay on the wagon. The script might make it seem like everything’s nicely wrapped up and Harrigan will be fine but the actors play it differently. They might say the words that promise a feel-good ending, but their eyes are telling us something else. Harrigan won’t be sober for long and both of them know it.