Paramount // 1981 // 491 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // February 8th, 2006
"I wonder about things; like, if they call an orange an 'orange,' why don't they call an apple a 'red,' or a banana a 'yellow.' Now 'blueberries' I can understand, but somebody explain 'gooseberries' to me."
Arrested Development is an outstanding show, but it shares some similarities with Taxi. Both were critically appreciated, and both experienced problems holding an audience, as ABC cancelled Taxi after the fourth season of the show, before NBC picked it up. So was the third season the reason why ABC decided to push forward with their numbskull decision?
Reviewing some of the creative forces behind Taxi, they're a veritable who's-who of situation comedy. And even when some could consider Season Three to be an off-year, the show was still nominated for nine Emmy Awards, winning them for categories like Best Actor Judd Hirsch (Independence Day), Supporting Actor Danny DeVito (Batman Returns), Best Comedy Series, and separate awards in writing and directing.
Hirsch as moral center (and full-time cabbie) Alex Rieger is the rock of the show, and DeVito provides many of the laughs and a distasteful façade to outsiders as dispatcher Louie DePalma. As Elaine Nardo, Elaine Henner (Chasers) is the glamour of the show, while Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway, Jawbreaker) is the beefcake. Tony Banta (Tony Danza, Angels in the Outfield) is the dimwitted semi-pro fighter, and Reverend Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future) is the burnt-out, drugged up former hippie who lives a unique existence. These are the people who comprise Sunshine Cab Company in early '80s New York City, and I haven't even mentioned Latka Gravas, portrayed by the outstanding comic Andy Kaufman. Latka was the name of the "Foreign Man" character that Kaufman had been doing in clubs for years, before finally receiving a proper vehicle for his talents.
Season Three's 20-episode run is spread over four discs, with five episodes each. The third season is comprised of:
* "Louie's Rival"
Louie is somewhat despondent when he finds out his girlfriend Zena (real-life wife Rhea Perlman from Cheers) is dating a bartender at the bar where the cabbies hang out. While any episode with Louie or Jim usually provides for great laughs, any episode where Alex is trying to help Louie with the ways of the world is a little bit weak.
* "Tony's Sister and Jim"
Well, it's pretty self-explanatory, where Tony's sister (played by Julie Kavner, The Tracy Ullman Show) comes in from Spokane and, to her brother's objections, takes a liking more to the spaced out Jim than to Tony's choice, the more sensible Alex. This episode won an Emmy for the writing, and while it's a pretty good episode, others in the season are a little better.
* "Fathers of the Bride"
As much as I like Judd Hirsch's work in the show, anything that focused on his back story was simply not too appealing to me. And when he decides to crash the wedding of his estranged daughter and confront his ex-wife (Louise Lasser, Bananas), things get a little eventful.
* "Elaine's Strange Triangle"
Elaine is in a slump relationship wise. So when the drivers fix her up with a man that they think is a winner, Tony is shocked to find out her new beau's secret. This episode won Emmys for direction and editing, and is one that hits on all cylinders, with the entire cast getting a couple scenes where they hit it out of the park.
* "Going Home"
In an attempt to dig into Jim Ignatowski's back story (he was a Harvard student who stood to potentially inherit millions), he went to Boston with Alex, where he reunites with his father and family. While there are other episodes focusing on Jim's life that are funnier (a subsequent episode with Jim in college featured a post-Bosom Buddies Tom Hanks), this one isn't too bad.
* "The Ten-Percent Solution"
Not being too familiar with television growing up, I think the reason why Jeff Conaway usually had a shirt unbuttoned to his navel and hair longer than Tony Danza's was that the network heads wanted to cultivate another John Travolta, coming after Welcome Back Kotter. Unfortunately, Conaway wasn't nearly as talented. So when this episode focuses on Bobby's struggles finding an acting job before switching to managing Tony's acting career, naturally I was less than enthused.
* "The Call of the Mild"
Bobby decides to convince Alex, Tony, Jim, and Latka to spend a week in the woods away from the city. But it completely backfires and becomes a struggle for survival. Episodes like this don't have a long shelf life, and this is no exception.
* "Latka's Cookies"
Latka's grandmother dies, and leaves him the recipe for her renowned cookies. But once Jim finds out what the secret ingredient is Latka is left disappointed. For a 13 year old, seeing a drug-joke on network TV was unexpected and hilarious, and a cameo by cookie mogul Famous Amos seemed to be the right thing to bring closure to this episode, which may be one of the better ones in the show's run.
* "Thy Boss's Wife"
When Louie's boss and his wife have an argument, he's pleased, knowing that the wife will go and sleep with one of the drivers to spite her husband and ruin the driver's life. When the tables are turned and it's Louie who is the object of her affections, things get interesting. Eileen Brennan (Private Benjamin) won an Emmy for her performance as the wife.
* "The Costume Party"
Bobby finds a briefcase that leads them to get dreams of crashing a star-filled costume party. The story in and of itself is weak, but the execution of it is very good, one of the endearing traits of the show.
* "Elaine's Old Friend"
Elaine sees a long lost friend from school, and is disappointed to admit she's a cab driver. So she decides to have Alex play the role of a "boyfriend." While it's a nice attempt, it just didn't appear to be believable.
* "Out of Commission"
Tony's boxing license is revoked after yet another loss, and he decides to impersonate another fighter in order to keep fighting. It's a funny look at the sport, and the sad thing is that it wouldn't be surprising if it still goes on today.
* "Zen and the Art of Cab Driving"
A couple of passengers in Jim's cab talk about "dynamic perfectionism," and Jim feels very strongly about it. He works harder than ever before to achieve his goal, and when the gang finally finds out what it is, they're repulsed at first, but are drawn to it. I'll save what the goal is, but it's a revealing look at life, even 25 years after the fact.
* "Louie's Mother"
Louie finally sends his mother (played by DeVito's mother Julia) to a nursing home and celebrates by throwing a party. Alex finds out that the party is a little sad, and he finds out the reason why she left, so he convinces Louie to make amends with his mother. Considering the real-life relationship between mother and son, combined with both of them being fairly short, the episodes where they appeared were all cute and touching.
* "Bobby's Roommate"
Elaine has to move in with Bobby through a stroke of comedic liberty. But when Elaine's then-boyfriend breaks up with her, Alex warns Bobby to be aware of any romantic notions she might have. The story is bland, but Hirsch's supporting role is funny.
* "Louie Bumps Into an Old Lady"
Louie hits an old woman while driving a cab. He finds out from Alex that she's quite the con woman and he has his doubts, even when he is sued for a million dollars (remember kids, in 1981, that was still a bunch of money). Things lead to a hilarious courtroom scene.
* "Bobby and the Critic"
This episode is actually pretty good, and it features Conaway! Bobby writes an open letter to a theater critic who savaged one of his acting friends. He throws the letter away, fearing career repercussions, but Louie salvages and mails it. And when Bobby finds out the same critic appears at a play he's starring in, he experiences depression and panic.
* "On the Job (1)"
Louie announces that the cab company is bankrupt and the drivers are shocked. When they meet at the bar a month later, they all share what jobs they've been doing since then. It's the first of a two-parter because they don't cover all of them in one shot.
* "On the Job (2)"
The drivers resume discussing what they've been doing since the lull while the cab company has been bankrupt, but they find out at the end that the cab company has reopened, and they go back to those jobs, because they value the friendships they've made there.
* "Latka the Playboy"
Kaufman is given a chance to take the reins, and takes on another persona for the public to enjoy, that of Vic Ferrari. A man who bases his clothing, style and wardrobe on what he reads in Playboy and the garage doesn't enjoy this new identity at all.
In reviewing the crew on the show, they comprise some of the more memorable names of situation comedy in the last quarter century. Among the familiar names are director James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment), who helped to kick off a little show called The Simpsons, with the help of Richard Sakai and Sam Simon. Writing brothers Glen and Les Charles helped create a show about a bar called Cheers. Director James Burrows has played a part in Friends and Will and Grace. Then-writer David Lloyd went on to produce Frasier. Fellow writer Barry Kemp helped create Newhart. And before the show, Stan Daniels was a writer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show along with Ed. Weinberger. When it comes to pedigree, few shows appear to match it. Even when it wasn't in peak form (as I believe Season Three is), its B game was superior to everyone else's A game. There are some moments of poignancy, others of sadness, and others of absolute hilarity. It's not the best season of the show, but it's still pretty close.
Three seasons, 12 or so discs of fun and goodness, and not one retrospective documentary? Conaway's adventures on his brief time in Celebrity Fit Club aside, getting all of the surviving cast aside for three to five minutes to answer questions on ANY of these seasons would be cool to see. I can stop Conaway from mowing my yard for a second to do it, so we've got him, somebody get the rest of the cast on the phone.
If you want to see how ensemble comedy was working when you were growing up and since WKRP in Cincinnati isn't coming to video anytime soon, this is the show to watch. You've got hilarity and emotion in a good mix by some of the best people that orchestrate it.
The show and its creators are found guilty for falling in a trap of being ahead of their time. ABC is found guilty for letting this show go in the first place for whatever reason in that era.
Review content copyright © 2006 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 491 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Season One Review
* Season Two Review