1976-1981 ABC TV series produced by Aaron Spelling about three female private eyes, who would receive their briefings from The Voice, "Charlie". It was later remade as a short-lived 2011 series with the same theme (there was also an aborted attempt at a remake in the early 1990s, but sans Charlie).
Also spawned two feature films in the early 2000's which were implied to share some continuity with the original TV series (and with Jaclyn Smith from the original series making a cameo in one).
The Original Series
Three women, the Angels (originally Kate Jackson, the late Farrah Fawcett-Majors, and Jaclyn Smith), graduated from the Los Angeles police academy only to be assigned such duties as handling switchboards and directing traffic. They quit and were hired to work for the Charles Townsend Agency as private investigators. Their boss, Charlie (voiced by John Forsythe), is never seen full face (in some episodes the viewer gets to see the back of his head and his arms, talking through a phone while surrounded by beautiful women) assigning cases to the Angels and his liaison, Bosley (played by David Doyle), via a speaker phone.
Charlie's Angels is episodic in nature, as opposed to serial, thus each episode shows the Angels finding themselves in new situations in which they would go undercover to investigate. The undercover aspect of the show creates much of the plot interest and tension. In the early seasons of the show, the Angels, under their assumed identities, use a combination of sexual wiles and knowledge learned for the situation in which they are being placed, but by the third and fourth seasons, the writing has a tendency to stray from the sex appeal and focus more on the case at hand. The fact that those women changed so often is purely irrelevant.
The series is remembered today both for being one of the first action series with strong female heroines, and for the prominent fanservice.
The Revived Series
Brought back to television in The New '10s, the series uses the same premise as the original, with Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly, and Rachael Taylor as the Angels, and Ramón Rodriguez as Bosley. With the death of John Forsythe (Charlie), executive producer Leonard Goldberg is the only constant across all three iterations of the franchise. Where the original Angels were all frustrated policewomen, the new Angels are all convicts getting a second chance from Charlie. Drew Barrymore, one of the stars (and producers) of the movie versions, was one of the series executive producers (but didn't appear on screen).
Cancelled after four episodes (of eight produced).
Both series provide examples of:
- Action Girl: Well, that was the point. In the original series, this was quite radical.
- Fanservice: Very prominent in both the movies and the TV shows.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episodes have "angel" in some form in their names.
- Jiggle Show: The original series was the Trope Maker, with the Angels' very obvious lack of bras a major selling point. The later works followed in the original's footsteps, with less jiggling but lots of fanservice.
- Mysterious Employer: Charlie. Pretty much the premise.
- Power Trio: The Angels fit several variations of this trope.
The original series provides examples of:
- Absentee Actor: Charlie may not be seen (except for the Series Finale), but "Avenging Angel" is the only episode in which he also isn't heard.
- Action Girl: The original Angels seem pretty tame by today's standard, but in the 1970's women were still supposed to leave the fighting to the men. In contrast, the Angels not only could hold their own in a fight, but usually didn't need any men to help them out (while Bosley provided valuable support, he often didn't take part in the actual action).
- Actor Allusion: John Bosley's name is a reference to the fact that his actor David Doyle was often mistaken for actor Tom Bosley.
- Angels Pose: The Trope Namer. The Angels' action scenes were choreographed for this.
- A-Team Firing: Occasionally invoked. A variant - where people are shot, but rarely fatally - is also invoked frequently during the show's run (which in some respects may actually be closer to Truth in Television), which make the occasions where the trope is averted (often, surprisingly, by Kelly, the angel with the highest single body count) stand out.
- Attempted Rape: In the early episode "Night of the Strangler", Sabrina comes surprisingly close to being "defiled" (as she calls it) until Kelly arrives and berates the guy for doing it. This is followed by some cringeworthy (by 2010's standards) joking around by Sabrina in which she states she might have let him go through with it if he was Robert Redford!
- Bare Your Midriff: Virtually every regular cast member except Bosley got to do this at least once.
- Beach Episode: "The Mexican Connection", "Angels in Paradise", "Angels of The Deep", "Hula Angels", "Island Angels" and "Waikiki Angels"
- Berserk Button: The normally calm and docile Bosley completely loses it when he witnesses Kelly being shot in the head in the final episode of the series.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead:
- This was what they originally intended; however, Jaclyn Smith was able to change their minds during her audition. They finally got there when Tanya Roberts joined in the last season.
- The season 1 episode "Night of the Strangler" has Smith playing a dual role; the second character is a redhead, so the producers still got what they wanted, sort of.
- Brainwashed and Crazy:
- On the first season episode "The Seance", Kelly is hypnotized into believing that Jill is her childhood nemesis and tries to kill her.
- This happens to Julie in a late fifth season episode "Attack Angels" where she becomes stuck under the trance of a hypnotist who specializes in using brainwashed young women as killers.
- Chippendales Dancers: "Toni's Boys"
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: In the pilot movie, Bosley has a superior named Woodville (played by David Ogden Stiers, who would wind up at the 4077th MASH a year later). The character was eliminated without explanation when the series proper began.
- After Sabrina leaves the Angels sometime before season 4, her name is occasionally tossed around in "Love Boat Angels". After this, she's never brought up again.
- Tiffany quickly becomes this after her departure back to Boston. She's quickly replaced with reformed petty criminal Julie, and is practically forgotten by the remaining Angels.
- Circus Episode: In "Circus of Terror", a circus owned and operated by an old fashioned thinking gypsy, has been plagued by some unexplained accidents. His son turns to Charlie for help and so the girls go undercover, Kris working for the knife thrower, Kelly as a stunt motorcycle rider, and Sabrina working for a mime.
- Cousin Oliver: The viewing public treated Shelley Hack and her Tiffany Welles character this way when she came in to replace Kate Jackson's Sabrina.
- An episode of the original series had the girls going on a Caribbean cruise and encountering the cast of The Love Boat. (Both shows were produced by Aaron Spelling.)
- Dan Tanna, the hero of the Spelling detective series Vega$, appears in an episode set in Vegas.
- The cast of Charlie's Angels also appeared in a cameo on another Spelling-produced show, The San Pedro Beach Bums.
- Dirty Harriet: Many of the Angel's assignments involved going undercover as exotic dancers, masseuses, or even call girls.
- Eagle-Eye Detection: All the Angels possess this ability to a degree, but in the early episode "Lady Killer," Sabrina is able to instantly realize that a bed has been hooked up to electrocute a man just by glancing at it, warning the guy in time.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- Early episodes featured a running gag in which Charlie would continually be shown in provocative circumstances with various women (usually accompanied by a Getting Crap Past the Radar quip or two). Soon, it was decided that Charlie too closely resembled Hugh Hefner and this aspect was downplayed considerably.
- The pilot episode saw the Angels - and Bosley - taking their orders from a Jim Phelps-like character named Woodville. He was dropped without explanation and Bosley became the boss (or, rather, the liaison to the boss).
- In a carry over from the pilot, Bosley is depicted as being continually trying to ingratiate himself with Charlie and taking an "aw, shucks!" attitude whenever Charlie would deign to throw a compliment this way. This running gag faded as Series 1 progressed. Although still depicted as the occasional bumbler, Bosley would demonstrate himself to be a capable "male Angel" on more than one occasion.
- The first season featured the famous "Angel Chime" throughout the season, appearing in random places, such as when one of the angels enters the scene. This was later cut back and used only for the commercial stingers.
- Eating the Eye Candy:
- In the "Toni's Boys" episode Kris watches male Angel Bob Sorenson take his shirt off and then watches a male stripper rehearse.
- It goes without saying that it's a rare episode indeed where a male character is not seen oogling one or more of the angels.
- Fanservice: One of the selling points of the series. By modern standards it is fairly mild, though.
- The Angels often wore reveling clothes or swimsuits, and they were famous for never wearing bras in a period where this was still uncommon on TV.
- Many scenes were set in places where there were many beautiful and scantily-dressed women around, such as at a swimming pool or a beauty contest.
- Fashion Model: Sometimes they go undercover as models.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Although the cast of angels has changed drastically, the replacement characters still fit their respective temperaments for the most part despite their personality differences. Sabrina/Tiffany/Julie are choleric, Jill/Kris are sanguine, Kelly is melancholic, and Bosley is just about as phlegmatic as they come.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- Charlie himself sets a high bar in the first regular episode by working not one but two plain-as-day references to erections (while getting a massage from a sexy woman, yet!) into his initial mission briefing to the angels.
- Although much of the alleged explicitness of "Angels in Chains" comes downs to people's memories cheating, there are still a few racy moments (not to mention a blatantly lesbian prison guard) that might have been challenging to get on US network TV in the 1980s, never mind 1976.
- The fourth season episode "Caged Angel" featured Kris going undercover to investigate a series of jewelry thefts. In the episode, she is taunted and bullied throughout by a heavy set female prisoner named Big Aggie who is all but hinted at being a lesbian.
- Girls Behind Bars: "Angels in Chains" and "Caged Angel". "Angels in Chains" also featured Chained Heat, with the three angels chained together while trying to escape from the prison warden.
- Grilling the Newbie: New girl Tiffany is grilled by Kelly & Kris when they learn that she's actually met Charlie.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Many, many episodes have "Angels" in the title.
- Is Nothing Sacred?; The episode "Night of the Strangler"Jill Munroe: Do you know when Trigger died, they stuffed him! [laughs] Is nothing sacred anymore?
- Jiggle Show: The original and canonical example. Women running without bras tend to jiggle, and the show made a point of playing this for Fanservice (though not as much as you might think — fans have selective memories).
- Knife-Throwing Act: "Circus of Terror" (with footage from this recycled for Cheryl Ladd's part of the opening credits thereafter).
- Lingerie Scene:
- Although the Angels didn't wear lingerie under their clothes, they sometimes went undercover as underwear models, which resulted in many scenes with them wearing only lingerie.
- There are quite a few scenes with the Angels in rather skimpy nightgowns or pajamas. In the pilot movie, Kelly is, somewhat unusually, actually shown sleeping (or, at least, pretending to sleep) in the sleepwear.
- Mood Whiplash:
- In "Angel Baby," Kris shoots a bad guy and there is an unexpected These Hands Have Killed moment afterwards. Unfortunately the writers or producers got cold feet about this because in the very next scene this dramatic moment is undermined when Charlie states that the guy Kris shot will recover.
- "Angels on Vacation" plays out like a standard "city girls meet country bumpkins" storyline, rather lighthearted, until two men attempt to kill the Angels. In the ensuing gunbattle, Kelly shoots the two men to death (unlike Kris, she displays no remorse suggesting It Gets Easier is in play) and the episode takes a sharp turn from there.
- "To Kill an Angel" followed a string of typically light-hearted episodes with a dead serious episode about Kelly being accidentally shot by an autistic boy and the subsequent search for the kid. Sabrina breaks down in anger, Jill avoids making any jokes whatsoever, and pretty much the only time anyone cracks a smile is when the bad guy gets caught (granted, in a somewhat silly manner) at the end. Sometimes cited as an episode to show people who think "Angels in Chains" is all the show is about.
- Multiple Demographic Appeal: Depending on who you ask, the show was either a landmark step forward for feminism by showing smart, tough women defying the traditional roles of wife/secretary/housekeeper, or a slightly sexist Jiggle Show which consisted solely of hot women running around in bathing suits. They're kinda both right. (Even Farrah Fawcett once said that when the show reached #3 in the ratings, she thought it was because of their acting ability. When it reached #1, she admitted it was probably because they didn't wear bras.)
- Neck Snap: in the 1970s the "grab the head and twist" type of neck-breaking was rarely shown on network TV. But a murder victim gets "the twist" by a bad guy at the start of "Angels on Wheels", though the editing downplays it as much as possible.
- Novelization: The pilot film was adapted as a novel.
- Obfuscating Disability: The villain in "Angels in Springtime" pretends to be confined to a wheelchair; getting up to run away when she is exposed at the end of the episode.
- Personal Arcade: The episode "Homes, $weet, Homes" had a pinball machine in the house of a wealthy real estate agent.
- Phony Psychic: In the first-season episode "The Seance" the Angels encounter one of these. The psychic's assistant not only fakes spirit activity during the seances, but hypnotizes their clients into revealing personal information (which is used in the seances) and into giving him valuable jewelry - which is then reported stolen since the victim doesn't remember doing this. After hypnotizing Kelly and finding out that she's an undercover detective, he makes her believe Jill is her childhood nemesis and that she should kill Jill.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: "Toni's Boys," featuring three hunky guys working for a female mastermind (Barbara Stanwyck, no less) - who, unlike Charlie, actually shows up on screen.
- Pretty in Mink: A few episodes involve the angels modeling furs.
- Put on a Bus: Happened numerous times on the original show.
- Jill Munroe leaves at the end of season 1 to pursue a career in auto racing. She would return for several guest appearances in later seasons, however.
- Sabrina Duncan leaves to get married after the third season.
- Tiffany Welles leaves after the fourth season, said to have returned home to Boston.
- Real Fake Wedding: The Angels did this in a Con the Conman scenario. The conman was targeting a mousy, shy woman. The Angels convinced him he could fleece her with a fake marriage. They had Bosley pretend to be the minister so the conman could get the "real" one out of the way. The real minister performed the ceremony and the Angels already knew something the conman didn't. The bride's father was a noted underworld figure who would ensure his new son in-law made his daughter happy.
- Shirtless Scene: "Angels On Wheels", "Lady Killer", "Love Boat Angels", "Toni's Boys" and "Mr Galaxy".
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: All the "replacement" Angels on the original show, but Kris Munroe (Jill's kid sister) in particular (at least at first, but Kris soon developed her own unique personality).
- Surfer Dude: Kris Munroe is a skilled surfer and she's seen surfing in "Angels in Paradise" and "Angel Hunt".
- Sweater Girl: Kris.
- The Voice: Charlie makes a point of never showing himself in person to the Angels, though his motivation for this is never explained (it all makes very little sense in-universe). The audience, though, tends to get to see him in a short scene in many episodes, but even then his face is never shown. He appears in the series finale as one of the doctors tending to save Kelly's life, although he is wearing a surgical mask, and then only Bosley and Kelly see him.
- ''Tis Only a Bullet in the Brain: Happens to Kelly twice...and she survives both times.
- Unique Pilot Title Sequence: The TV movie that served as a pilot has a different opening, as well as different bumpers showing the three Angels standing side by side. The closing credits also end with a still photo of the Angels (the same one used at the top of this article) as they say "Call us if you need us."
- Vapor Wear: The Angels' trademark. Averted by Sabrina, who not only tended to wear less Stripperific clothing than her colleagues, but actually even wore a bra sometimes.
The revived series provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Some reviewers wondered if this might not lead to a major plot hole. In the original series, where Bosley was older and out of shape, it made sense for him to stay at headquarters and let the Angels to the work, but when the new series made Bosley young, buff, and handsome, it would look odd. Eventually averted as Bosley did do a lot of work in the field this time around. (As it happens, this was a misplaced trope as the original Bosley was often in the field and even shot a few bad guys to save the Angels.)
- The Alcatraz: The prison in "Angels in Chains". Oddly for this trope, the Angels don't actually manage to escape and are instead caught during their escape attempt.
- Bilingual Dialogue: In "Angels in Chains" when Bosley in disguise talks in English to a Cuban National Revolutionary Police Force (Policía Nacional Revolucionaria) officer, who replied to the former in Spanish.
- Classy Cat-Burglar: Abby. Not anymore when she was caught by police.
- Cold Sniper: The Chechen guerrilla turned terrorist when he tried to assassinate the Russian First Lady.
- Dirty Cop:
- The reason why Kate was off the force.
- Same happened to some Cuban Ministry of Interior officers. It wasn't the case however when the Angels found out about it.
- External Combustion: How this happened to Gloria when her sedan was destroyed in a car bomb.
- Framing the Guilty Party: How the Angels did about with the Cuban mission when they were accused of having cocaine by having planted evidence.
- Laxative Prank: In the pilot, Abby does it to a pair of Rich Bitches.
- My Greatest Second Chance: How most of the Angels (and Bosley) work for Charlie.
- Mythology Gag:
- The Townsend Agency's signage notes that it was founded in 1976.
- Same thing with the safe deposit box as it had the same numbers too.
- Shout-Out: In the episode "Angel with a Broken Wing", the Angels mention Call of Duty after they find a disassembled sniper rifle.
- Why We Can't Have Nice Things: In "Bon Voyage, Angels", the Angels meet with Scott Foster. They all "like him", until Bosley tells them that he's engaged.