Judge Chris Claro is looking for a cab. Preferably one driven by Marilu Henner.
Our reviews of Taxi: The Complete First Season (published November 17th, 2004), Taxi: The Complete Second Season (published March 23rd, 2005), and Taxi: The Complete Third Season (published February 8th, 2006) are also available.
Goodnight, Mr. Walters.
As any seasoned sitcom viewer knows, the fourth season of a series can usually be considered its tipping point. The freshness of the conceit wanes and ploys like pregnancies, marriages, and gimmick episodes step in to fill where true inspiration once lay. Few shows suffered from fourth-season falloff more severely than Taxi.
Possessing the ability and self-awareness to walk away at the top of one's game, particularly in show business, is a rare and admirable feat. The epitome of bowing out gracefully will always be Johnny Carson, who, when he said he was walking away, truly meant it. Aside from a couple of specter-like cameos on David Letterman's show, Carson used his retirement from The Tonight Show to effectively vanish from view. In doing so, he preserved and even enhanced both his mystique and his legacy.
But the stakes of American series television are so high—with syndication, international sales, and DVD revenue worth billions for producers of a long-running series—that folding up one's tent in the name of quality is anathema to TV producers who spend their lives chasing the gold ring of one hundred episodes. So it's hard to hold it against the producers of a series such as Taxi for wanting to cash in—to the extent that, when ABC canceled the series after its fourth season, they brought it across the street to NBC, where the series limped its way through an even more lackluster and bizarre fifth season.
Facts of the Case
The quintessential workplace comedy, Taxi premiered in 1978 and was hailed as the second coming of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. From the fertile minds of MTM graduates James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Spanglish) and David Davis (The Bob Newhart Show) Taxi was a well-cast, poignant, and above all, funny series about cabbies who aspired to be anything but.
For viewers who once had an affinity for a series such as Taxi, it's truly depressing to watch the once-great series gasp its way to the century mark. Face it: when two of a season's first four episodes focus on a secondary character's heretofore unrevealed ability to predict the future, the idea well is pumping dust, as it seems to be in Taxi: The Fourth Season. The season premiere of the former Emmy-winning series is a zany and unfunny episode centering on the idea that the clueless and burnt-out Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is a seer, plagued by visions of Alex's (Judd Hirsch, Independence Day) death. Just three episodes later, Jim's second sight skills are featured once again as he is enlisted to save the job of a network executive, played by a young Martin Short (Father of the Bride). Nestled among those misfires is yet another desperate conceit which reinforces the producers' grasping at straws to keep Taxi moving: episode three, in which Andy Kaufman's Latka begins to adopt the personality, voice, and mannerisms of Alex. Watching a series that once found comedy and poignancy in life's few triumphs and many disappointments depend on stories that would have been too hokey for Bewitched is heartbreaking.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Still, for fans there are reminders in Taxi: The Fourth Season of how funny the series once was. In "Louie's Fling" Danny Devito (The War of the Roses) shines as the cretinous, yet lovable dispatcher who goes too far trying to comfort a jilted woman. And the episode titled "Fledgling" is a touching look at the efforts of Elaine (Marilu Henner, Evening Shade) to cure an agoraphobic artist (Paul Sand, Chuck and Buck).
It's also nice to be reminded of that old relic, the opening credit sequence. Though Taxi's is simply a loop of film showing an old Checker crossing New York's Queensboro Bridge, those relatively leisurely seventy seconds—seconds worth hundreds of millions of advertising dollars on contemporary prime time—set the tone for the entire series, underscored by Bob James's heavy-on-electric keyboard theme.
Visually, Taxi: The Fourth Season is surprisingly crispy. Paramount has done a yeoman's job of maintaining the show's muted tones. The audio is also excellent, with a clean balance between audience and actors. The major disappointment is the lack of any extras at all, save some uninteresting episodic promos done for the syndication of the series.
For completionists, Taxi: The Fourth Season is one to add to the shelf. It offers a case study of the flail of creators pursuing a buck at the price of quality. For casual fans of Taxi, though, the season is a disappointment.
Gulity by reason of cupidity.
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