In 1976 a New York media group conducted a survey of the NYPD detectives. The question was: “Of all the TV cop shows, which most accurately portrays life as a detective?” The overwhelming response was the comedy Barney Miller. Seems real cops related to the daily grind and weekly wackos of Barney Miller. Let’s not put aside that this was also one of the most consistently funny shows on television. I remember it took me a while to accept Abe Vigoda in such a light role as Fish. My first exposure to Vigoda was the ruthless mobster in The Godfather. Barney Miller always managed to be funny while still telling a good short story. The characters were always wonderful.
Captain Barney Miller (Linden) was in charge of the detective squad at New York’s 12th Precinct. Among his detectives were a colorful group of odd individuals. Detective Ron Harris (Glass) was writing a book that detailed his life as a New York detective. It was called Blood On The Badge and was far more fiction than fact. He prided himself on his stylish clothes and culture. Arthur Dietrich (Landesberg) was a know-it-all. He had an almost encyclopedic base knowledge on everything and anything. He would bore his colleagues with his endless drone of facts. Stan “Wojo” Wojciehowics (Gail) was the typical New Yorker everyman. He might not have been the brightest tool in the box, but he more than made up for it in heart. At times his desire to show initiative would end up getting the squad in trouble. Fish (Vigoda) was past his prime and spent more time in the men’s room than actually fighting crime. He was always suffering from one old age ailment after another. His bulky frame made him look intimidating, however. Nick Yamana (Soo) was a lovable Japanese guy who wasn’t always the first to understand. He had a literal way of interpreting speech which led to some very classic misinterpretations. He was also a gambling junkie, often on the phone with his bookie. From time to time the squad would be visited by the clueless Inspector Luger (Gregory). He often reminisced about his glory days and often expressed regret that he didn’t go down in a blaze of glory like his old friends had. He was usually intruding upon the squad’s time with long pointless stories. Finally, patrolman Levitt (Carey) was an ambitious uniformed officer who wanted to be a part of the squad, which he eventually did.
If ever you were looking for a season to check out this classic comedy, this was the best of the 7 year run. Almost every episode turned out to be vintage Miller. Starting with the two part episode Quarantine, the guys bring in a prisoner who collapses and sends an epidemic scare through the squad. They won’t be allowed to go home. That means bunking together in the squad room. In Werewolf, wonderful character actor Kenneth Tigar stars as a man who believes he’s going to turn into a werewolf. What’s worse is that Wojo starts thinking that it just might be true. In Christmas Story, Fish has something to prove, so he sets out on a vendetta to bring in a guy who is mugging Santas. One of the show’s best episodes ever has to be Hash. Wojo unwittingly brings in some brownies that are laced with hash. Everybody has a couple, and the squad loosens up a bit. Wojo’s sensibilities get him in trouble again when he grants a Russian asylum in Asylum. The season ends with the squad on Strike, leaving Miller and Luger to hold down the squad alone.
Obviously we’re talking full frame format here. I must say that I have collected quite a few 70’s sitcoms on DVD by now, and Barney Miller has the best transfer to date. Most 70’s video has severe color run problems. I’m not sure if time or the original production is to blame. Barney Miller appears more solid in all aspects. Look for a relatively steady picture in each episode.
This was mid-1970’s TV, so don’t expect too much here. The audio does its job. Dialog is really all there is to this show, and it is carried clearly throughout. The famous bass solo intro sounds as good as it ever did on those mono sets of the 1970’s.
There are no features, but I wish I could give negative numbers here. Sony has brought out the worst packaging I’ve seen to date on a 3 disc set. All three discs are on a central spindle. They rest on one another. You must remove 2 discs to watch the third. I implore the powers that be at Sony to abandon this reckless package design now. We’ll pay the extra 3 cents to have slim cases.
These were the days when watching Barney didn’t involve a purple dinosaur.
I really liked this show. This is one of those treasure chest gems that I look forward to on DVD release schedules. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (when you run out of episodes), and you’ll be waiting for the next season to come with great anticipation. Unfortunately, Sony is only doling these sets out one every couple of years. They tease you with some terrific episodes and then let you wait a couple more years. Who can blame you for rushing the store the minute these come out? So, we have to knock a few people over along the way. You’ll never get convicted. “You know it’s entrapment.”