Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Short Take: The Avengers, Season 4, Episode 4: "Death at Bargain Prices"

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The fourth season of The Avengers TV series saw Diana Rigg's Emma Peel take over the leading lady role from Honor Blackman's Cathy Gale. The series then entered the period it's most famous for. As compelling as Blackman was, she lacked Rigg's talent for wry humor. The flirtatious back-and-forth between Rigg's Peel and John Steed (Patrick Macnee), the series hero, was far wittier, and the lighter tone it brought to the series quickly spread to the stories. Tongue-in-cheek humor became as much a mainstay of the adventure plots as the suspense. "Death at Bargain Prices," Rigg's fourth episode, is a terrific example of how quickly the show was transformed by her arrival. Producer Brian Clemens' teleplay has a standard pulp adventure plot: the heroes must stop a madman scheming to destroy London with a hidden bomb. What makes the episode fun is the department-store setting. Peel goes undercover as a salesgirl to investigate, and her stationing in the lingerie department allows for some hilariously saucy banter with Steed. The setting also provides fresh opportunities for the action. The toy, food, camping, sporting goods, and home appliances departments all have their roles to play before the madman's plot is foiled. My favorite bit is when Steed escapes the villain's henchmen with a toy gun that fires ping-pong balls. Clemens, director Charles Crichton, and the stars all recognize that adventure stories can offer more than just action and suspense--they're at their best when they provide wit, charm, and a sense of fun as well. It's a terrific hour of series TV. The episode first aired in England on October 23, 1965.

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