Tuesday, March 21, 2017

From the soul jazz precinct*

On sort of a whim, because I saw it at my branch, I took out the third season of Barney Miller from the library. This is still one of the all time greats. It took anxieties that were in the air about urban decline, energy, disaster preparedness et al and made it less overwhelming. I think this is one of the jobs of comedy.

During this season Phil Fish was being eased out to a short-lived spin-off and Steve Landesberg's Arthur Dietrich was still being phased in. It's interesting to note that Dietrich is a bit of a wet blanket in some of his earliest appearances. One of the first things they had written into his character was that he'd spent nine months in medical school. Therefore he spends a lot of time giving unsolicited medical advice. Over time Landesberg and the writers would find a more fruitful avenue for comedy and character development.

Much the same thing had happened before, with Wojo. In the first season he was mainly a dense, braying guy and borderline Polish stereotype. After that they played up his vulnerability more, which was a good choice and gave Max Gail more to do. It's interesting to see characters who could be and at times are kind of vague come to life.

*as heard here:


susan said...

I'd forgotten all about how good that show was. Whe Jer mentioned that Dietrich was like the Steven Wright of his time I remembered he was very dry:

Det. Sgt. Arthur Dietrich: Reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated.
Capt. Barney Miller: [Smiling in recognition] Mark Twain.
Det. Sgt. Arthur Dietrich: Yeah.
Det. Sgt. Arthur Dietrich: But it's in pubic domain now.

I happened to see that Ron Glass died not long ago. The last time we saw him was on the Firefly where he played a very mysterious preacher who may either just be hiding out or on some special and very secret military mission.

It was good hearing the Barney Miller theme song again. I may try to see if we can find a few episodes (I doubt our local library has them, thouh).

Ben said...

Dietrich does have that perfect deadpan the way Steven Wright did and still does. There's another hilarious scene when an arsonist has started a fire in the bathroom and the FD had to chop away the door. Fish, of course, still has to use the john, and Dietrich stops at the open doorway to chat with him. It's just Steve Landesberg talking to no one, but it's hilarious.

Speaking of Fish, it was sort of Landesberg's good fortune that Abe Vigoda decided to leave for a spinoff. And it was all his own decision. The producers didn't want to split up the band. The spinoff might have been doomed from the start. Once every few episodes, two of the troubled group home kids who'll also appear in it show up. There's a girl who's not really funny, and a boy who's brutally unfunny.

RIP Ron Glass. He did play an interesting character on Firefly. Sort of the ship's conscience, but you can tell he's no innocent. Glass will always be Harris to me, though.

One neat detail: In one episode I caught sight of the name "Velie" on the roster board. There must have been at least one Ellery Queen fan on the crew.