Judge P.S. Colbert thanks the detective squad of Manhattan's 12th precinct for nine cases of man-crush.
"Shootings, bombings…It's my busy season!"—Capt. Barney Miller(Hal Linden, Out to Sea)
Make that all seven and a half seasons; the entire duty roster of this long-running (168 episodes) detective dramedy, plus the first season of spin-off series, Fish, for good measure.
The who, where, when and what-have-you of this classic procedural sitcom have already been artfully explained by the honorable Judge Jim Thomas in previous reviews, so rather than embarrass myself by casting a pale shadow covering the same ground, I humbly advise that newcomers to this material hit the helpful links to those aforementioned pieces.
After all, who are we kidding? This sumptuously packaged set from the Shout! Factory (taking over from Sony, who half-heartedly released the first three seasons individually before pooping out a few years back) is not for beginners, but for the fully initiated, and boy, are they in for a treat!
Barney Miller: The Complete Series is presented in four large plastic cases that fit into a sturdy cardboard box emblazoned with the Manhattan 12th precinct's iconic squad room door.
The four cases each contain two seasons. The first case holds five single-sided discs, while the remaining cases house six (single-sided) discs apiece .
The final disc of Season Eight contains the four-episode arc which closes the series, (the last three of which have optional editorial commentary from writer/producers Tony Sheehan, Jeff Stein and Frank Dungan) and bonus features: three featurettes, The Life and Times of Barney Miller original pilot episode, and an "uncut" version of the first official series episode, "Ramon."
Neither episode is in particularly great shape visually, and should be regarded accordingly as important artifacts for historian/completist types. Both episodes tell basically the same story with different casts (Linden and Abe Vigoda being the only squad room holdovers), and the "uncut" version merely features approximately two minutes of footage (judiciously) trimmed for broadcast length .
Note: Despite the "mature" subject matter presented in most, if not all episodes, the language contained therein should not offend anyone acquainted with network TV standards of that relatively genteel mid 'seventies through early 'eighties period. The special commentary, however, (an otherwise very glib, informative and entertaining three-way conversation) does occasionally feature "rough" language that certainly would not fly on non-cable networks.
Writer/producers Dungan and Stein appear in each of the three entertaining, well-made featurettes, (which overlap slightly, but cover different aspects of the series' production) also featuring recent interviews of cast members Linden, Vigoda, Max Gail and the late Steve Landesberg.
There is also an appetite-whetting excerpt from You Don't Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story, an hour long biographical documentary of "the first Asian-American Hipster," by director Jeff Adachi, (The Slanted Screen) produced in 2009, which is not to be confused with "Jack Soo: A Retrospective," the loving (and unscripted) tribute to their fallen co-star that closed out Barney Miller's fifth season.
The inaugural season of Fish, makes its DVD debut here, with thirteen episodes split between two discs and a plastic case of its own.
While a testament to the utter irresistability of three time Emmy nominee Abe Vigoda, Fish scores only as a perfect one word argument against doing spin-offs altogether.
In this cynical attempt to siphon off and transplant audience interest, the seemingly ancient and eternally exhausted detective Phil reluctantly agrees to put off his long-dreamed-of retirement in order to play foster daddy to five ethnically-diverse, juvenile delinquent orphans, aided by his lovely, ever-smiling, ever-patient wife, Bernice (Florence Stanley, My Two Dads) and a naive, nebbishy social worker (Barry Gordon, Archie Bunker's Place).
The antithesis of its parent series, which championed intelligence, comedy that grew organically as a self-defense mechanism and strong ensemble work from its cast, Fish relies on cacophony, hyperactivity and wise-cracking one-upsmanship before a studio audience that sounds as if it's being tickle-tortured. Ugh!
To be fair, the episodes look and sound brand spanking new, though this makes them seem more offensive than less, somehow.
As for the Barney Miller episodes, I'm sorry to report that the blurring, ghosting, inconsistent skin tones and bleeding colors that marred Sony's single season releases of yore still remain. What can you do? These shows were originally shot on videotape, and the masters have doubtless been worn to a frazzle by the triad of time, the elements, and the frequent "running off" of copies for syndication packages since the final episode did its final fade on May 20, 1982.
Incidentally, this episode ("Landmark, Part 3") carries the most ominous "damage control" warning of all. Just prior to beginning, an ominous black screen gives way to an even more ominous message:
"The following episode was transferred from the only available full length cut. We apologize for any variation in video quality you may experience."
Though I normally tend to be a "glass HALF full" sort, I viewed this disclaimer as a bit of due diligence on the part of the Shout! Factory people; evidence that they did everything possible to ensure their audience the optimum presentation here, and truth be told, the visual disabilities are minor quibbles during moments of a relatively limited number of eps (most look just fine from start to finish) and the audio is extremely good all-around.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Shout! Factory might have gone just a little further by throwing in the remaining 18 episodes that made up Season 2 of Fish. There, the point has been made! Is everybody happy now?
Barney Miller: The Complete Series is a hefty treasure chest and, accordingly, comes at suggested retail price sure to make all but "job creators" think twice before investing. For the uninitiated or merely curious, I suggest baby steps (i.e. single season rentals), but for those who know the truly addictive joy of this seminal sitcom, I recommend a self-imposed austerity program (carpooling, skipping desserts, mowing a neighbor's lawn) to do the necessary penny-pinching.
For the whimsical? There are the old standbys: Lotto tickets and (carefully worded) letters to Santa.
Something that gives such pleasure should, by all rights, certainly be guilty of something…but miraculously, it's not!
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