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Charlie’s Angels even got glamorous in prison

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of the premiere of WGN’s Underground, we’re honoring TV episodes about great escapes.

Charlie’s Angels, “Angels In Chains” (season one, episode four; originally aired 10/20/1976)

From its very first episodes, Charlie’s Angels began rising to the top of the 1976 TV ratings, with the irresistible premise of three beautiful detectives on often-glamorous adventures. But episode four, “Angels In Chains,” falls somewhere around a gratuitous parody. Whether by design or accident, it celebrates the storied history of the hottie women prison drama, like House Of Women or Caged Heat. There are shower shots followed by tiny towel cover-ups, and a hosing down for delousing (one Angel asks the guard, “When’s the last time you were sprayed?”). The corrupt prison, of course, is a cover for a prostitution ring/sex farm led by a deceptively sweet female warden, helped along by a couple of good-old-boy law-enforcement patsies. You can spot future Oscar winner Kim Basinger as a fellow inmate, and future Love Boat cruise director Lauren Tewes as the trio’s original client, looking for her lost sister. And that’s cult movie queen Mary Woronov as the hard-nosed guard who is extremely interested in Farrah Fawcett’s Jill (“I’ll try not to bruise her tender skin too hard”).


Although most of “Angels In Chains” had this bleak prison setting for a backdrop, leave it to Charlie’s Angels to find a way to get the girls into seductive evening gowns even while incarcerated (at a mandatory sex farm party). In this early episode, the roles of the individual Angels were still being formed, with Kate Jackson’s Sabrina as the brains of the outfit; Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly the heart, as she tries to befriend poor troubled Basinger; and Fawcett’s Jill’s the show-stopper, talking back to the guards and recklessly climbing on top of a truck as the three make their eventual escape.

Because of course the snoopy Angels ask so many questions that they’re soon found out, and are shackled and driven to their doom. Angels being Angels, they choke their drivers with the very chains that bind them, then make their unlikely escape into the weeds, tracked by bloodhounds. This image of the Angels in shackles and prison blues became one of the most iconic images of the episode, and possibly the series. The 2000 movie version even included a clip of the new Angels, also in chains, using Fawcett’s classic quote: “I am not a yo-yo!


Sure, they looked great even while traipsing through a swamp, but these early episodes featured an palpable chemistry among the three leads, as Jill cautions Sabrina after she gets cracked in the back by a guard for mouthing off, and Kelly and Bri shake their heads as Jill climbs on top of that moving truck. Years after the series, veteran Angel Jackson (who stayed until the end of season three) pointed to that first season with Farrah Fawcett (the only one she was in) as the show’s high point, and the most fun for them. She said, “When you think about Charlie’s Angels, you think about three specific people. You think about Farrah Fawcett, and Jaclyn Smith, and me,” which is true, even though Cheryl Ladd, Farrah’s replacement, lasted far longer (future castmates Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts were hardly Angel-worthy). The show, especially that first year, was an out-and-out sensation, and “Angels In Chains” shows the provocative seeds of that winning formula.

Availability: “Angels In Chains,” as well as the rest of Charlie’s Angels’ five seasons, is available on DVD and for streaming purchase on Amazon.