Rated: Not Rated
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Languages: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English (closed captioned)
A few of the most successful television sitcoms of the ‘70s began as mid-season replacements. All in the Family and Sanford and Son had their debuts in January and went on to run for many years. Another sitcom which began as a mid-season replacement, Barney Miller, first aired on ABC on January 23, 1975. A pilot called “The Life and Times of Barney Miller” appeared on ABC in the summer of 1974, but major revisions in the cast and premise were made before the series went into production. The first season consisted of thirteen episodes. Barney Miller: The Complete Second Season includes the twenty-two episodes which aired between September, 1975 and March, 1976.
Barney Miller (Hal Linden) is a police captain in New York City’s 12th Precinct. The plainclothes detectives who work for him include Fish (Abe Vigoda), Wojo (Max Gail), Harris (Ron Glass), Yemana (Jack Soo) and Chano (Gregory Sierra). Also making occasional appearances are Inspector Luger (James Gregory) and Barney’s wife, Liz (Barbara Barrie). Much of the humor involves the wacky prisoners who end up in custody – a phony priest, a forger who can make a perfect copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a thief who lives in the sewers. One of the highlights of the show is Abe Vigoda’s character, Sergeant Fish, whose deadpan humor led to a spin-off series, Fish, which ran for two seasons.
Some of the humor is a bit dated. Jokes about the quality of New York City’s water do not resonate so well nowadays, given that New York’s drinking water is generally quite good. In one episode Wojo owns an autographed baseball from the 1936 World Series which includes the signatures of Lou Gehrig and Carl Hubbell, and Inspector Luger offers to buy it for the princely sum of $30 – his final offer! However, most of the laughs come from the interesting, well-developed characters as they try to cope with the foibles of their prisoners and their own everyday problems. In one scene, Fish is about to use the bathroom when he hears that Harris and Wojo have gone into the sewer in pursuit of a thief known as “The Mole.” Fish then decides that he can wait, announcing that he does not want to be guilty of “obstructing justice.”
One interesting aspect of Season Two is that two actors who appear as guest stars went on to become regular members of the cast in Season Three. Steve Landesberg, who would later take on the role of Dietrich, plays a con man who calls himself “Father Paul” in the season’s first episode, “Doomsday.” Landesberg then makes a guest appearance as Dietrich in a Season Two episode entitled “Fish,” but he did not join the cast as a regular until the following season. Ron Carey, who went on to play Officer Levitt for five seasons, appears as “The Mole” in Season Two’s final episode.
Barney Miller became a big hit in Season Three, when it cracked Nielsen’s Top 25 for the first time and remained there for three more seasons. It began to lose its audience in the 1980-1981 season when CBS aired Magnum, P.I. in the same time slot.
The series won three Emmy Awards and was nominated for many more. Hal Linden, Steve Landesberg, Abe Vigoda, Ron Glass and Max Gail all received Emmy nominations for their work on the series. The show may strike viewers as being overly stagy, but ultimately its appeal depends upon how much you enjoy the actors and the characters they play.
Barney Miller: The Complete Second Season includes the following episodes:
You Dirty Rat
Fish (Steve Landesberg’s first appearance as Dietrich)
Happy New Year
Fear of Flying
The video quality is disappointing. The box says that the show was remastered in High Definition, but that only makes one wonder about how badly the source material must look. The picture sometimes drifts out of focus and ghosting is evident in some scenes. The colors are a bit washed out (the photos on the box and slipcases look much sharper and more colorful than the images in the programs). We have noticed similar problems with other television shows from the ‘70s (such as All in the Family) which were recorded on videotape.
The opening credits begin with a shot of the New York City skyline (including the World Trade Center) and I am assuming that the shot was filmed, because it looks very good. However, the picture deteriorates when it goes to the videotape.
The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is okay. The dialogue is clear and always intelligible and there is no distortion. There are no subtitles but the program is closed captioned.
The only supplements are two highly-condensed, five minute “minisodes” of episodes from Charlie’s Angels and The Facts of Life.
The menu allows the choice of playing all episodes or selecting individual episodes.
The 22 episodes are spread out over three discs, which come in two slimcases. The slimcases in turn come inside a cardboard slipcase. Lists of the episodes with a brief synopsis of each appear on the backs of the slimcases.
The Final Analysis
The desirability of this set depends upon whether your fondness for Barney Miller outweighs the shortcomings of the video. I am seeing street prices in the area of $20 for the set.
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba HD-XA2 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: January 22, 2008
[PG]Barney Miller: The Complete Second Season DVD[/PG]