Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Classic TV: Taxi (1978)

It had been a year since The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended, and while Moore struggled with not one, but two new series in the same season, writer-producers James L. Brooks & David Davis, finding inspiration in a magazine article, came up with their next big hit.

Taxi, set in New York, lasted 4 seasons on ABC, then gained a new life when NBC picked up the show for a 5th and final season in 1982. The essential formula was, for all intents & purposes, the same as Mary Tyler Moore, except you would substitute NYC for Minneapolis, and a taxi company for a television station. The show was built around an ensemble, not one specific star, although Judd Hirsch did get top billing.

In truth, Taxi was a vehicle for avant-garde comedian Andy Kaufman, who was cast as mechanic Latka Gravas, modeled after the "Foreign Man" character from Kaufman's stage act. Danny DeVito's sarcastic dispatcher, Louie DePalma, was this show's answer to Lou Grant (Ed Asner), but devoid of a moral compass. Elaine (Marilu Henner) was a divorcee. Alex (Hirsch) was also divorced, and gave up custody of his only child due to a lack of ambition. Tony (Tony Danza) was a failing boxer (Danza's former profession before turning to acting), and was just short of being punch drunk. Bobby (Jeff Conaway, "Grease") wanted to be an actor.

After the first season, Randall Carver (John) was let go, largely because his character was, in the eyes of producers, too similar to Tony. By the middle of season 2, recovering drug addict "Reverend" Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd) was hired on, filling the void created by Carver's departure.

Following is a 1st season episode, "Like Father, Like Daughter", in which Alex tries to reconnect with his daughter.

Tony Danza would return a couple of years later with Who's The Boss?. Danny DeVito found fame in movies (i.e. "Twins", "Batman Returns", "Throw Momma From The Train") before returning to television (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Hirsch would resurface first with Dear John, then landed a hit movie role of his own in "Independence Day". Lloyd, of course, found fame in movies with the "Back to the Future" and "Addams Family" series, among others.

Rating: A-.

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