Back in 2004, I watched the original airing of the TV movie, Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie’s Angels, with a couple of friends. Expecting it would be mostly terrible, we were surprised to find it was actually trashy good fun. I liked it so much I later picked up the DVD, which I watched again recently. I still found it highly enjoyable—it was certainly better than it needed to be.
The movie was the second in a series of NBC productions that focused on the behind the scenes drama surrounding popular ‘70s TV programs. The first centered on the sitcom Three’s Company, while the third was about the show that made Robin Williams a star, Mork & Mindy. But don’t bother searching them out—like I did—as neither are worth your time (we told you how much the Mork & Mindy one stinks).
Charlie’s Angels was a surprise hit for ABC during its first season in 1976, and made one of its three female leads, Farrah Fawcett, a massive star. It was slammed by many critics for lacking substance and exploiting women (one reviewer called the program “family-style porn”), but there were others who viewed it as a groundbreaking show centered around three strong female characters.
A publicity still for the infamous ‘Angels in Chains’ episode, 1976.
Behind the Camera explores the controversial aspects of the show, but there’s also a lot of interesting details regarding how Charlie’s Angels got made, and examines how its stars, especially Fawcett, handled their fame. But the movie never gets too heavy, keeping things light in a knowing way. Lines like, “We must stop nipple protrusion on ABC,” and “We’re private dicks, not purring pussies,” are a total riot and deliberately trashy. Forced camp almost never works, but it absolutely does here.
Some of the casting is noteworthy. It’s remarkable how much Christina Chambers (Jaclyn Smith) and Lauren Stamile (Kate Jackson) resemble the actresses they’re portraying, as they not only look just like Smith and Jackson, but nail their cadences, too. On the other hand, Tricia Helfer doesn’t look that much like Farrah Fawcett, but she still does a fine job. Then there’s Dan Castellaneta (best known as the voice of Homer Simpson), who’s a tour de force as the legendary pipe chewing producer, Aaron Spelling. He shoulda won an Emmy!
Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie’s Angels is fun, funny, and slyly smart. It isn’t streaming on any of the usual sites we’d hoped to find it on, but the 2005 DVD is apparently still in print. New copies are usually priced at less than 10 bucks on Amazon.