Paramount // 1979 // 576 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 23rd, 2005
[during a written driving test]
"Reverend Jim" Ignatowski: Pssssttt...what does the yellow light mean?
Bobby Wheeler: "Slow down."
"Reverend Jim" Ignatowski: What...does...the...yellow...light...mean?
Bobby Wheeler: "Slow down"!
"Reverend Jim" Ignatowski: Whaaaat...dooooeeees...theeeee...yeeeel-looowwww...liiiiight...meeeeaaan?
Taxi ran for five years, and had one of the best (arguably the best) ensemble casts ever assembled for a sitcom. The show sprang from the creators of Cheers with the help of The Simpsons guru James L. Brooks. This second set of the show is filled with a lot of firsts. It introduces Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) as cast regular Reverend James Ignatowski; Carol Kane (Scrooged) appears as Latka's love interest Simka; and Rhea Perlman (Cheers) enters the scene as Zena Sherman (Louie's way-too-nice girlfriend). So how does Paramount treat this second look at Taxi?
Taxi was a show about lovable losers driving cabs in New York for the fictional Sunshine Cab Company. All of them had bigger dreams, but were stuck in a rut driving around in circles on balding tires in the Big Apple. Very little happened outside the garage on the show, and it boasted a large cast with seven leads. It varied little from season to season, although some tweaks and cast changes would occur from time to time. This season's biggest change was bringing in Reverend Jim as a regular (he had been a one-off side character in the first season). At that time, concentrating on blue-collar types was revolutionary. It was a stark contrast to the upper middle class characters that then seemed to dominate prime time programming.
Taxi -- The Complete Second Season finds the show in one of its strongest stages. It had survived its first year, leaving the makers of the show comfortable enough to explore more issues and expand the cast. There are twenty-four episodes presented here, and I would be hard pressed to offer up one that I thought was mediocre or bad. Some of the many highlights include:
* "Louie and the Nice Girl"
Louie (Danny DeVito, Batman Returns) meets Zena Sherman (Perlman), and finds out he just can't handle love with someone who actually likes him and treats him well.
* "Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey"
Elaine (Marilu Henner, Cannonball Run II) and Bobby (Jeff Conaway, Grease) want to get Reverend Jim hired at the Sunshine Cab Company, but he's got to pass his driving test first.
* "The Great Race"
Louie challenges the cabbies to a contest. With hundreds of dollars and a date with Elaine at stake, Alex (Judd Hirsch, Ordinary People) has to compete against a cheating Louie in a car race.
* "Guess Who's Coming for Brenfish?"
Latka's (Andy Kaufman, Saturday Night Live) love life takes off when he meets a girl from his own country, Simka Dahblitz(Carol Kane). Problem is she's a mountain person, and Latka is from the valley. Can they overcome their country's tradition of separation?
* "The Reluctant Fighter"
Tony (Tony Danza, Who's the Boss?) feels guilty when fights a boxer who is fighting for a wheelchair-bound boy. Danza's real-life son appears as the youngster.
* "Fantasy Borough Parts 1 & 2"
When Tony meets Hervé Villechaize (Fantasy Island), all the cabbies elaborate on their own fantasies in this, the season finale.
Taxi took home three Emmys for this season of shows: Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Editing, and Outstanding Directing. Danny DeVito took home a Golden Globe that same year for Best Supporting Actor, with the show itself winning the Outstanding Comedy Golden Globe. Clearly it was a critical success, and the show had the ratings to prove it was popular with audiences as well. Taxi was a quiet, jazzy show that went for big yuks and guffaws, but was still sprinkled with poignant moments of real character development. It set the tone for a lot of what was to come in television with its workplace setting and friends-helping-each-other-out formula. It's a shining example of how good a sitcom can be.
The ensemble is what makes the show work. They played off each other very well, even though it was reportedly a set plagued with problems (particularly the antics of Andy Kaufman, who often refused to come out of character). Some of them came from a movie background; the rest mainly from stage careers. It was an interesting mix of styles and skills that was exploited in unique ways. The show could turn on a dime, making you laugh and then making you cry in a matter of moments. Shows always seemed to center on one character, with the result that you get to know every one of them well enough to think of them all as friends by the end of the season.
This second season includes twenty-four episodes, and they all stand alone, much like any situation comedy. Taxi was created by some immensely talented people who would go on to produce Cheers (which premiered before Taxi had run its course). In some ways Taxi was revolutionary in the way it created a rich tapestry of working class stiffs who actually cared for each other. Taxi -- The Complete Second Season is a great collection that certainly deserves a lot of love.
Paramount gives us nothing but the shows again. No extras at all, and not even great transfers to brag about. I dread seeing their name on a series, because invariably it means it's going to look a lot like TV and not remotely like DVD. Taxi -- The Complete Second Season is presented in a scratchy, grainy, full-frame image, with distorted mono audio to boot. Not only that, but there are forced previews on the first disc (of other shows like Happy Days) that you have to muddle through before you get to a proper menu. The images look like syndicated airings; with no extras, I might as well be watching television. Paramount apparently doesn't understand how to exploit the medium to make television on TV attractive to collectors and fans. Also, there are no chapter stops at all. It's a one-shot kind of affair with nothing to dress it up.
Taxi and its second season are great. Having these shows on DVD is definitely long overdue. The price is fine, and watching them without commercials is a real bonus. So why does Paramount refuse to provide any context for the show via extra features? The cast was assembled several times for prime-time TV specials, and they also reunited to film a sequence for Man on the Moon (the biopic about Kaufman). They obviously still like each other, and commentaries would likely be a gas with any of them participating. We've already seen James Brooks pop up on Simpsons commentaries, and the other creators could also provide some insight. It's frustrating when DVD producers seem to settle for a "just the shows" concept -- and this isn't the first time Paramount has done it.
Great show, bad DVD. What can you do but sigh and play the melancholy theme song while you dream of a cast commentary? Paramount is sentenced to being dropped off in a rough borough with no cab fare.
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 576 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Jump the Shark -- Taxi
* Jim's Mario's -- The Unofficial Home of Taxi
* Review of Season One