The 70's created many classic comedy TV shows: All in the Family,
The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and M*A*S*H among others. One
other 70's show that was of the same caliber, but is often overlooked,
is Barney Miller.
Over its 7 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 show ahead of its time in a lot of
ways. For example, it had a racially diverse cast, yet didn't make
big deal about it. This was long before that was fashionable.
The show centers around the squad room and the detectives who make up
the12th Precinct in Greenwich Village, New York City. 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 and always grumpy, Stan Wojciehowicz (Maxwell Gail) the token
'dumb guy," Chano Amenguale (Gregory Sierra) a proud Puerto Rican, and
Nick Yemena (Jack Soo) as the stoic oriental. Rounding out the squad
are Ron Harris (Ron Glass) the vocal black Sergeant, and Captain
Barney Miller (Hal Linden) who heads this odd crew. The show is peppered
with the strange inhabitants and eccentric criminals of the Greenwich Village
This sounds like a typical sitcom, but it is not. What sets Barney
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. The writing 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 was some serious issues, like suicide, prostitution, and shootings,
but the creative team managed to tread a fine line. They show never
got preachy, but neither did it take these matters lightly.
The shows in this season, presented in the order they originally aired
Ramon: Barney's wife, Liz, has a bad feeling and doesn't want
him to go into work that day. He dismisses her concerns only to have
a gun pointed in his face as he walks into the precinct. A drug addict
who was arrested manages to get Fish's gun. Barney has to talk the
youth into putting the weapon down. It's easy to see that they were
trying things out in this episode. A good portion of it takes place
in Barney's apartment, one of the rare times that we see it. There
is also an appearance of Barney's son, David, who only is seen a few times
over the show's run. The show had more of a sitcom feel than other
episodes, especially the intro in Barney's apartment before the credits.
A good first effort that hints of things to come. C.
Experience: Fish thinks he's getting too old to be an officer
and asks Barney to approve his early retirement. Meanwhile, a serial
bomber has left an explosive device in the 12th precinct. This episode
marks the first appearance of Arnold Ripner, the ambulance chaseing lawyer
who will appear in various episodes throughout the series run, and Marty,
the flaming homosexual thief who also has a reoccurring role. The
cast was still getting the feeling for the characterless, and the writers
were still trying to get the feel for the show down on this one.
Snow Job: The heating system is out in the middle of winter, and
the 21st is freezing. A flasher is arrested, and attempts suicide
while in the bathroom. Wojo agrees to keep a department store's receipts
in the precinct safe until an armored truck can transport it. The
show started to hit it's stride with this episode. The flasher's
humorous laments of "I am filth! Everybody says so!" turn serious
when he tries to kill himself. Grade B+
Graft: An officer who was once stationed at the 12th is promoted
to Internal Affairs. He comes by to let Barney know that there are
crooked cops under his command, and that he is going to root them out.
Everyone becomes very paranoid. This show slips a little. They
include a scene at Barney's apartment, that really slows the pace of the
show. Grade: C+
The Courtesans: A group of prostitutes are arrested, and Wojo
tries to convince one of them to go straight. Barney's daughter makes
an appearance to ask if she can move into her own apartment. A good
episode, though the plot with Barney's daughter wasn't that interesting.
Stakeout: Barney, Fish and Wojo stack out a warehouse from a vacant
apartment across the street. A variety of strange neighbors traipse
through. This was the first episode of the series filmed, which is
ironic because it avoids the pitfalls the first two broadcast shows fell
into. Liz's role is limited to telephone calls, which is what
the role will eventually evolve into. A very funny show. Grade:
Bureaucrat: Wojo, being every vigilant, has the precinct's favorite
deli closed due to minor health code infractions, and an official from
Washington is arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. Chano investigates
an apartment that has been robbed, his own. Another good show.
Ms. Cop: Linda Lavin costars as Detective Janice Wentworth the
newest addition to the 12th. Barney is hesitant to let her out on
the streets, and when she finally gets her chance, she tackles her assignment
with gusto. Chano finally nabs an obscene phone caller. Lavin
did a great job, and her character would reappear in the second season.
Vigilante: Wojo arrests a cross-dresser, who not only drives a
truck for a living, but served in a tank during the war. A vigilante
is lose, attacking muggers, and Barney's superior, Inspector Frank Luger,
(James Gregory) makes his first appearance and tells Barney that the people
don't fear his squad enough. Grade: B+
The Guest: The 12th have to protect a nervous accountant who is
the witness in a case against the mob. Chano sets up a narcotics
buy, but uses his co-worker's own money. Grade: B+
Escape Artist: The "bird-man" comes to the 12th, a philosophical
escape artist is hosted, and Harris starts writing his book, that will
be an ongoing storyline for most of the series. This is one of my
favorite episodes. Everything seemed to work. Grade: A
Hair: A long haired undercover narco officer is transferred to
the 12th, and Bernice learns that Fish spent the afternoon investigating
a massage parlor. Grade: B
The Hero: Chano and Fish respond to a call about a bank robbery.
The two thieves have shot a guard and are holding hostages. Chano
sneaks in and kills both of the robbers, but is wracked by guilt afterwards.
Not one of the funniest episodes, but one of the best. Chano's guilt
over taking a life in the line of duty is something that just about all
police shows gloss over. A great show to end the season with.
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 loud places,
but not all. There isn't any hiss or crackles. An acceptable,
if not impressive sound track. There are no subtitles.
The video quality is not very good. As much as it pains me to
say this, it leaves a lot to be desired. This show was obviously
filmed on video tape originally, and it shows. The edges are blurry,
and the lines are not clear. There whole picture has a slightly unfocused
look. There is some ghosting, especially on the opening credits.
There are a lot of digital artifacts too, which seem to be more prevalent
on the first disc that has 9 episodes on it. There is aliasing throughout,
and details are lost when the camera moves, such as the pinstripes on Wojo's
shirt as he walks past the camera. The show is watchable, and it
does look better than a VHS recording, but not by a whole lot. It
is very unfortunate that Columbia-Tristar didn't do some restoration to
improve the picture quality on this release.
There are very few extras on this set. There is a "TV-ography,"
a list of the television shows that the main cast members have appeared
in, and a trailer for Anger Management. I really wish they
had included the pilot episode, that was aired on TV only once.
An excellent series, that had some growing pains at the beginning but
come through it marvelously. Those that missed Barney Miller
when it originally aired, or didn't manage to catch the edited versions
rerun on TV you now have the chance to see one of the really good series
from the 70's. It is unfortunate that the video quality is so poor,
or else I would have given this set a higher recommendation. Even
with the flaws this show is worth checking out. Recommended.