[July 24, 2022] It was with great interest that drove me to watch an old television sitcom from my past, Barney Miller (1975 to 1982), set in a New York City Police Department police station. My wife, Nancy, is always looking for something to watch. One day she said, “Hey, you got to see this show.” I remembered watching it years ago before I was married.
It takes a lot of horsepower and fortitude to keep a television show going for more than one season. The success of Barney Miller is the chemistry between actors, good writing, believable but zany plots, and plenty of humor that made the show enjoyable to watch. If you grew up in New York City, there are plenty of references only New Yorkers can understand.
The show takes place almost entirely in the confines of the detective’s squad room and Captain Barney Miller’s adjoining office (to make it easier to film before a live audience). As part of the scene, the crew is part of the NYPD fictional 12th Precinct located on the west side of Lower Manhattan in NYC. Classic comedy. Classic New York City.
What made the show stand out, and this is my wife’s opinion as well, was the “strong characters” employed. Hal Linden as Captain Miller, the sensible, poised precinct captain who remains calm and deals with the quirks of his staff with a sense of humor. As detective “Wojo” Wojciehowicz, Max Gail is the naïve, gung-ho, Catholic Polish-American who gradually transforms from macho Marine to humanitarian. Ron Glass, as the only black detective Ron Harris, ambitious, intelligent, with a taste for the finer things in life, is preoccupied with being a writer. Abe Vigoda, as the older Sergeant Philip Fish, crotchety, near retirement, suffering from some physical ailment. Gregory Sierra, as Sergeant “Chano” Amenguale, the Puerto Rican who is emotionally attached to his job and regularly reverts to manic Spanish when things go awry. And although there are many others, Jack Soo stands out as Sergeant Nick Yemana, a Japanese American who is a wisecracking, dry-witted, gambling, erratic drinker who makes terrible coffee.
The plot regularly revolves around the detectives bringing several complainants or suspects into the squad room. Usually, there are two or three subplots in a given episode. Bad coffee, dysfunctional bathroom, malfunctioning air conditioning, absent senior headquarters, and a host of typical people coming into the squad room and the detectives solving their problems.
If you are interested in a throwback television show, this one is for you. I highly recommend it. It matters not whether you grew up in New York City; you will laugh and smile. It’s worth watching each short episode.
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