Few television situational comedies have produced the stable of A-list stars that this one did. Every one of these cast members were relatively unknown at the time that Taxi was taking fares on our television sets each week. Not so today. The cast was so remarkable that it is here that I decided to spend much of my review. The episodes were often funny, even more often hilarious. But after all of these years, it is the characters that are most remembered by the fans. Yeah, we all have our favorite moments. Many of them in this release. And, I’ll get to those moments, but first:
Playing the hard-nosed and lecherous dispatcher for The Sunshine Cab Company was Danny DeVito. He spent most of his Taxi days sitting in a cage barking orders and insults with equal frequencies to the crew of drivers in the garage. Each of them had dreams beyond the yellow sedans, and Louie took great pleasure in watching them try and ultimately fail to achieve their dreams. Of course, DeVito went on to star in a boatload of feature films and never looked back.
One of DeVito’s pre-Taxi films was the Jack Nicholson vehicle One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He had a minor role as one of the zanies in the mental ward. With him in that Cuckoo’s Nest was another obscure face and name: Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd joined the cast of Taxi later in the show’s run, but when he arrived as the Reverend Jim Ignatowski, or Iggy as Louie called him, Jim was a burnt out remnant of the hippie days. Too many years on drugs had left his mind pretty much oatmeal. And no one made a bigger meal out of it than Louie. Jim was faithful to a fault and actually looked up to Louie as a kind of father figure. He was often the foil of the simplest scams because he was absolute in his trust for other people. Jim provided many laughs with his misinterpretations of what others were saying. At one point we learn he was a smart Ivy League college kid, until that first taste of pot. Lloyd also went on to star in a good number of successful films, including Back To The Future Trilogy, where he played a character not too far from Reverend Jim. Reverend Jim makes my top ten situation comedy characters of all time.
The leader of the cabbies was a meek divorced driver who was the only driver who did not have aspirations to be something else. Alex Rieger, played by Judd Hirsch, was the one everyone went to with their problems. He was considered fair and pretty smart. It was a job he did not want to have but suffered in silence, usually. Hirsch would also go on to star in several series and motion pictures including a terrific run as Jeff Goldblume’s father in Independence Day.
Tony Danza would end up as Mr. Television and one of the small screen’s biggest stars. Here he played a character very close to his own identity at the time. Tony Banta was a fighter who just couldn’t win a fight, but he never gave up. While Tony took the beatings, Louie cleaned up making bets … against Tony. They didn’t have ATM’s in those days, but Tony was the closest thing to a cash machine for Louie. He was naïve, and his smarts were long ago beaten out of his head. He probably looked up to Alex more than any of the others.
Andy Kaufman was a tragic figure, a quirky comedian who played the foreigner mechanic Latka. Latka spoke in a ridiculous but hilarious accent. At times he had an alter ego named Vic, who was Latka’s opposite. Vic was suave and every bit the ladies’ man. No question that Kaufman had quite a range. He would later become known for his stunts wrestling celebrities and acting to records on Saturday Night Live. He was often a troubled actor and died at a very young age from cancer.
Rounding out the cast were: Marilu Henner as Elaine Nardo. She was the only gal in the garage and often the target of Louie’s sexual harassment. She had visions of running an art gallery someday. Jeff Conaway was Bobby Wheeler, who most wanted to be an actor. It’s ironic that Conaway was perhaps the least talented actor in the cast.
In the 4th season there were some classic moments, not only for Taxi, but for all of television, and you can find them all right here. In Jim The Psychic, Jim predicts Alex will die. Everyone laughs it off, that is until each of the occurrences Jim predicted leading up to his death all start to come true. In Jim Joins The Network Jim is discovered to have talent for predicting ratings of shows. Will they trust their primetime schedule to Iggy?
In a show that was ahead of its time, Elaine charges Louie with sexual harassment when she discovers he’s been spying on her in the changing room. You’ll find that one in Louie Goes Too Far. I Wanna Be Around is the best the show ever produced. Louie is frightened of a pending nuclear war, so he builds a shelter. He has a carefully selected list of his fellow survivors, and Jim’s not one of them. During a test run Louie finds out that survival might not be all it’s cracked up to be, and Jim finds a way to infiltrate the shelter.
The series finale, The Road Not Taken is a 2 part goodbye where the gang thinks about their life changing decisions.
Each episode of Taxi is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. The master prints are obviously pretty worn here, and it shows. Again it appears that no attempt was made to clean these prints in any way. The colors are relatively stable, but look for a lot of specks and defects in all of the episodes.
This is your standard no frills Dolby Digital mono track. The dialogue is clear, and there are no major flaws in the dynamics of the sound. This track is pretty flat, but it delivers everything you need.
Who says you can’t get a cab in New York? Maybe they’re just not looking in the right places. Try Amazon or Best Buy and you’re sure to get the ride of your life with these cabbies. You better not wait too long. There’s only one season left, and Paramount has graciously fast tracked its release. You know what separates a classic like Taxi from the trendy innuendo-reliant comedies we get today? “Yeah, about 2 million years of evolution.”