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Back to the 70’s with Barney Miller

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 10:13 AM

Every day when I get home from work, tired and battle-weary from the tensions of the day, when I turn to television as a sedative to get my mind off my troubles, there’s one show on in the late afternoon that can elicit a chuckle out of me and make me smile. That TV show is Barney Miller which is on the Déjà View channel from 4:00-5:00.

It’s been at least 30 years since I watched this series so it’s brand new to me and I’m falling back in love with it. For those of you who weren’t around in the 70’s when this show was a hit series, the action almost always takes place in the squad room of the 12th precinct located in lower Manhattan. Barney Miller (Hal Linden) is the captain of the precinct and his detectives are an eccentric group. Miller puts up with them with a long-suffering patience and humour and is the show’s straight man. Detective Fish (Abe Vigoda) is nearing retirement, has a daily war with his digestive system and his deadpan reaction to criminals and colleagues is hilarious. Max Gail plays Wojo, a young detective who is insecure and sometimes seems to have more brawn than brains. Detective Harris sports an Afro, is always neatly groomed, is writing a novel and is perpetually on the lookout for a better apartment. Yemana (Jack Soo) constantly has his nose in a racing form. The inimitable Steve Landesburg (who unfortunately passed away last month) also has a killer deadpan delivery as Detective Dietrich who is the squad trivia know-it-all.

In each episode, the detectives deal with mostly small-time crooks or people in conflict with one another and try to solve problems while working out of an ancient cockroach infested building while being perpetually underfunded for the police work that they are trying to do. As people who have to put up with each other day-in and day-out, their relationships with one another and with their spouses makes for some very funny situations. In addition, when you watch the show, there are many faces that you will recognize from other TV shows and many well-known character actors. Trying to remember who they are and what they’ve been in is part of the fun.

The series had an eight year run and while the dialogue and characters are a bit stiff in the first year, the writers and actors seemed to warm up to the characters that they were portraying to the point that when you watch the show, it seems very much as if you are watching a comic play, particularly because the show is shot in video rather than film. Over the years, the show increasingly added dramatic elements as well as comedy. For example, toward the end of the series, Miller has marital difficulties as his wife has increasing difficulties dealing with her husband’s job.

Some people may find the show somewhat politically incorrect as it was filmed about the same time as All in the Family. For instance, Barney Miller’s treatment of female cops and female victims may make you wince now and again. Otherwise, it’s a very funny show with superb character actors and great scripts.


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