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 frequency 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: 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 fifth and final 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’s Inheritance, Jim gets a boatload of cash when his father dies. His siblings sue to have Jim declared incompetent, which is exactly what will happen if Jim can’t prove himself. In Alex Goes Off The Wagon, Louie talks Alex into turning his hot streak of luck into a gambling binge, only to find out that Alex is a compulsive gambler, and now Louie’s afraid he’s created a monster. Takes a lot to scare Louie, but Alex sure does it here. In Crime And Punishment, Louie convinces Jeff to take the rap for his own embezzlement. Louie’s convinced he can make it right, until Louie and the situation spins out of control. Now Alex has the power to pay back Louie for all of his cruelty, but will he? Penny Marshall stars as herself in the classic episode Louie Moves Uptown. Louie wants to get into an exclusive co-op, so he pretends to be something he’s not, and enlists Alex to help pull off the charade. In Jim’s Mario’s, we follow the Jim inheritance story line. Jim must prove he can make a wise investment, like buying Mario’s.
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 dialog 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.
The show changed networks from ABC to NBC, which outbid HBO for the series. HBO was planning on entering the cable series market with Taxi. Who knows what the show might have been like there. Unfortunately, the series never did thrive at NBC and eventually ended up going from one of the top ten shows of the year down to rock bottom, finally settling at slot 53. Fortunately, the series gained new life in syndication. Gathered here are those final episodes of the classic series. Taxi will live on now in this complete DVD collection for decades to come. It will be remembered for its amazing cast and solid writing. I even hear that there’s talk of a reunion project. So, if you’re having some post holiday blues, nothing picks you up better than a few episodes of Taxi. “I read about it in a Harvard medical journal….Or was it on a box of Cocoa Puffs?”