One of the best shows from the 70's, and one that is often
overlooked, is Barney Miller. A
great cop show that was hilariously funny
without ever making fun of crime or its effects, Sony only released the
three seasons to DVD before stopping. Now,
thanks to Shout! Factory fans of this great comedy can pick up the
series in an attractive case that looks like the famous squad room door
includes some great extras for a very reasonable price.
Over its 8 year run, Barney
Miller won a Directors Guild of America Award, three Emmys and was
nominated for 29 more, and won two Golden Globes. Though
it garnered critical acclaim, it was
never at the top of the ratings, which is unfortunate because it was a
ahead of its time in a lot of ways: It
had a racially diverse cast, yet didn't make big deal about it, and it
first prime-time show to have an ongoing story arc about a gay
The show centers on the squad room and the detectives who
make up the12th Precinct in Greenwich
Village, New York
City. It's a diverse and colorful group,
but still feels very grounded in reality.
There is Sergeant Phil Fish (played by Abe Vigoda.
I always wondered if the name of his
character comes from his role in The
Godfather) who is close to retirement, has many health problems and
grumpy. Stan 'Wojo" Wojciehowicz
(Maxwell Gail) is a younger officer who is trusting to a fault and
not the brains of the squad room, but he makes up for that with his
enthusiasm. He's also the character who
goes through the
most changes over the course of the show.
Chano Amenguale (Gregory Sierra, his character leaves after
the second season) is a proud Puerto Rican, and Nick Yemena (Jack Soo)
stoic oriental who can never seem to make a good pot of coffee. One of my favorite characters is Ron Harris
(Ron Glass who would later appear in fan-favorite Firefly)
a smart black Sergeant who lives beyond his means, has a
bit of a chip on his shoulder, and dresses very nicely.
He's also writing a book about his life on
the force, Blood on the Badge. Leading
the all is Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden) an everyman who strives
to do his
job to the best of his ability while having to deal with a mountain of
paperwork, a very tight budget, and poor facilities.
The show is peppered with the strange
inhabitants and eccentric criminals of the Greenwich
As the series progresses the cast enlarges a bit. Detective
Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg)
joins the squad in season three after making some appearances in season
two. He's not only an intellectual, but
a know-it-all, and a constant thorn in Harris' side.
Deputy Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory) makes
appearances throughout the show's run.
He's Barney's superior, who is prone to ramble and never really
to what Barney is saying. His
appearances usually spell trouble for Capt. Miller.
This sounds like a typical sitcom, but it is not. What
Miller apart from other comedies is that the characters are not two
dimensional stereotypes. Over the course
of the show they are all fleshed out real people. Wojo
was honestly lonely and looking for that
special someone, Harris is an intellectual and needs to show everyone
he is, and Yemena gambles too much at times.
They're just like the people you work with, they just happen to
The writing on the show is excellent too. Though
filled with witty dialog, and unusual
characters, the show managed to stay grounded in reality.
It was down to earth. Along with
the humor there were some serious
issues, like suicide, being a homosexual police officer, and just how a
feels after a justified shooting, just to name a few.
The creative team managed to tread a fine
line. They show never got preachy, but
neither did it take these matters lightly.
The show had a unique style.
It felt more like a play than a sitcom.
With only a few notable exceptions the entire series took place
set that consisted of the squad room, the adjoining cell, and Barney's
office. Characters came and went, but
when a store was being robbed and two detectives ran out, viewers had
along with everyone else in the squad room for someone to call in and
happened. The stories almost always took
place over the course of a single work day too.
It was a great way to tell stories.
The show, first and foremost, is a comedy and it's
hilarious. Every show is filled with great lines. Just
to give you a taste, here are some of my
In one episode a suspect is brought in with the contents of
him home laboratory, one item of which he claims is a powerful weapon. Everyone ignores him until Dietrich walks in
and asks "Where'd you get the atomic bomb?"
Best deadpan reply goes to Harris who walks by while Nick is
explaining to Barney how Fish captured a suspect:
Nick: You should have
seen him catch him! He leaped in the air
like... like... what do you call that thing in Africa
that leaps in the air?"
Harris: A slave.
Barney: You mean a
And then there is Stan Spelling his last name: "W-o-j-c-i-e-h-o-w-i-c-z.
Just like it's
Of course I couldn't finish this review without relating my
favorite moment in the series. A gun
collector has had his entire collection stolen and writes out a very
of what was taken. Barney comments at
how many guns he had and the man states that they were all registered. Just as the theft victim was leaving Harris
answers the phone and yells "Hey Barney... there's some idiot trying to
bank with a bazooka." All heads turn to
the collector who sheepishly admits "that might
be mine." Of course Capt. Miller then
sits him down to make a list of all of the unregistered illegal weapons
One warning... the show does start a bit unevenly. During
the first season the team were still
working out just what the show was and how they were going to tell the
that they did. In the first episode for
example, the narrative changes to Barney's home, something that only
once again a few episodes later. Some of
the shows in the first season didn't work very well, but by the time
the half way point the show was firing on all cylinders, as it would
rest of its run.
Here's one of the really cool things about this set:
all 168-episodes of Barney Miller, the
13-episodes of the first season of Fish, and a 38 page
booklet fit into a
nice package that takes up less than three inches of shelf space! We're talking 25-discs here.
That's pretty impressive. What's
more is that the discs are contained
in 6-disc single-width keepcases. There
are four of these, two-seasons per case, and an extra two-disc case for
Fish season one. That
means that unlike series sets that have
the DVDs in scratch-prone pockets, these discs won't be scratched when
taking them out of their holders.
This show has a 2 channel mono audio track. The
sound isn't great, there are a few
defects, but it probably sounds just like it did when it originally
aired. There is some distortion in a few
places, but not all. There isn't any
hiss or crackles. An acceptable, if not
impressive sound track. There are no
The video quality is pretty good overall. These
shows haven't been restored, and they
were originally recorded on tape back in the 1970's so don't expect
rival Lost or anything. The
image is on the soft side, the colors are
a bit muted, and the blacks aren't as inky as they could be. On the plus side the level of detail and
are fine. The picture is easy on the
eyes for the most part and will please fans of the show.
There are a few extras included with this set, but it's
definitely a case of quality over quantity.
There's some great stuff here.
First off is Inside the 12th
Precinct a half hour featurette that looks over the eight seasons
show. It prominently features interviews
with Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda and Max Gail along with others involved with the show. Filled with behind-the-scenes stories as well
as the genesis of the show, it's a great companion to the series.
Next up is a real treat for fans of the show: The
Life and Times of Barney Miller, the original pilot for the program
was shown on TV only once. It's quite
different from what eventually ended up running for eight years. The pilot has a mostly different cast and
spends more time at Barney's home rather than focusing on the station. Salute
to the Old One Two is another great 25 minute bonus that looks
scenes. They focus on the set for the 12th
Precinct but just use that as a jumping off point to talk about some of
show's important moments, including the first season episode that was
"X" rating by the studio and dropped by four affiliates.
Frank Dungan and Jeff Stein talk about their time writing
for the show in Inside the Writers' Room.
Though it's shorter than the other
featurettes, running about 15 minutes, it's very entertaining and fun. They also include an alternate version of the
very first episode, Ramon. This
edit is basically the original pilot,
preformed with the new cast. It's
interesting to compare the two versions.
The final video extra is an eight minute excerpt from You Don't
Jack, a documentary about Jack Soo.
This great set of bonuses is wrapped up by commentary tracks
to the final three-part story, Landmark with writer/producers Tony
Jeff Stein, and Frank Dungan.
But wait, there's more.
As if that wasn't enough, Shout Factory has included the first
the spin off show Fish staring Abe
Vigoda. In this show the detective and
his wife decide to leave their New
York City apartment and buy a rundown house. There they are foster parents to five
delinquent children. Fish
was a mid-season replacement and
it's pretty impressive that Abe Vigoda was able to appear in both shows
rest of Barney Miller's third season
and the beginning of the fourth. As for
the show itself, Fish had a bit more
of a sitcom feel to it, and while it was never as clever as Barney
Miller, it did have its moments
and is a welcome addition to this set.
Barney Miller is an
excellent series. It is one of the best
from the 70's and that's saying something.
Those that missed the show when it originally aired or didn't
catch in on reruns on TV will now have the chance to see one of the
series from TV's past. Shout! Factory
has done an amazing job with this package.
They really went above and beyond the call of duty by including
first season of Fish as a bonus. It's
very reasonably priced too. At this
writing, the weekend before it's
released, the collection is less than $100 shipped from Amazon. For a total of nine seasons of TV? That's a deal. Even
if you have the earlier Sony releases of
seasons 1-3, it's worth the money to get this complete series. There's a lot of great comedy in that
box. DVDTalk Collector's