Retro T.V. Reviews: Barney Miller (1975) (Part 3 - Review)
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
First. we looked at the background of the series. Next we looked at the actors of this iconic show. Now it is time for our review of Barney Miller.
Like any popular sitcom or show from the past, all of them have something in common. In most cases the theme is always something that sticks with you, even years later. Barney Miller is no different.
Barney Miller Theme (Full Version)
The theme was composed by Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson. The amazing base line was played by Chuck Berghofer. There have been sources out there that say that this base line was improvised. Essentially, Chuck was asked to play something that would fit a police vibe and he came out with that. Talk about lightening in a bottle.
The theme itself have been in lists for best TV themes of all times. This includes such publications as Complex and Paste.
I personally love this theme. It starts with that epic bass line and bluesy feel. I believe the term of the style is Instrumental Jazz Fusion. You may not remember anything else about the theme, but that base line still resonates today. It is a more blues type theme but then it transitions to a more traditional 70's 80's style theme with jazz. So the last half of it, I am not as much of a fan. However as a whole this is a strong theme.
The version above is the full version of the theme. The actual theme was about only a minute long. The opening visuals did change during the years but the theme song remained which I think it is a good move.
So the age old question, did this show age well? I can honestly say that as far as sitcoms go, yes it did. I know that I am reviewing a cop show in the midst of the protests against police brutality in the real world. However, even with that said, this show has still aged very well.
The first thing that I would like to address are the actors on the show. Most of the actors on the show came from a real acting backgrounds. They were not stand ups or comedians in movies. Most of them started on stage. I think that added an element that other sitcoms, especially today do not have. Even with cast changes through the years, they seemed to always be a family. This was apparent on the show and a lot of them that have not passed away are still friends to this day.
As the show progressed, I appreciated Max Gail's character Wojo, more and more. This was a character that grew through the seasons. He had misconceptions about the world. He was clearly not comfortable with gays. He also had his idea of what is right and wrong. Captain Miller with his experience would always guide him to make the right decision. You actually see a change from the first season to the 8th. I have to admit, character development in a TV sitcom does not always happen. I think with Wojo it was the clearest example but others on the show grew as well.
The writing was surprisingly strong throughout its run. Yes, this was a sitcom and it came with its share of laughs. However, the underlying message was always real and are still issues today. An example of this, is from the show, The Harris Incident. In this episode, Harris is shot on duty but a white cop who thought he was a criminal because he was black. Does that ring any bells anyone? It really did affect Det. Harris and the team around him. The way they addressed it was real and Ron Glass was appreciated of that fact.
Another episode or series of episodes that stood out for me was the fact that Fish played by Abe Vigoda always struggled with retirement or the idea of retirnement. Police work is all that he knew and not having a place to go everyday was not easy. People still deal with those anxieties today. I think wrestlers, athletes and even today's cops still go through this when they retire. That moment of uncertainty still exists. I know some people that worked with my dad and a few months after retirement they passed away. I think part of the reason was not knowing what to do when not having to go to work everyday.
Another aspect that I appreciate about the show is that they addressed homosexuality. There was a recurring character Marty Morrison (played by Jack Deleon) that was openly gay. He would make an appearance about once a year throughout its run. He even had a significant other in the show. Keep in mind that this show started in 1975 when all this was very taboo. The show seemed to embrace diversity. Which is actually very nice to see.
I have read some articles where people critique that gays were badly portrayed in the show and how they were treated is not right and it is an insult to the LBGQ community. I have a different view point. As I mentioned above homosexuality in TV at that time was almost unheard of. Having watched this over 40 years later, I can see how far we have come. It is a snapshot in time. I will admit there are things that are cringe worthy in some these episodes. Yeah a few times, I told my wife, well we would never see that on TV nowadays. But that is fine, although society is not perfect, we have come a long way and I commend the show for actually adding it as part of their show.
The show did have its tear jerker moments. The are are a few episodes that standout to me. The first one is when Fish officially retires. The first 2 episodes (Goodbye Mr. Fish (Part 1 & 2) of Season 4 dealt with Fish leaving the show. The second part is what got to me. Normally you see Fish who does not let much phase him, but here you see that he is heartbroken leaving a job that he has had for a very long time. Now I understand why people always remember Fish, even years after the show was off the air. He was a lovable character and he made us laugh. Technically it would not be his last episode. He would make a few returning cameos in later seasons.
The second episode that really got the water works going was the show dedicated to the departed Jack Soo. In this episode, the cast who were out of character honoured one of the funnier guys on the show. He was more low key but I always Like Jack Soo as Nick Yemana. This was touching and it was a great tribute show. They highlighted some of his best moments, including his famous bad coffee. In fact, it was said that one of the last things that he said to the cast before he died was the following (Source: Wikipedia)
His last known words were when he was being wheeled into an operating room and he joked to Hal Linden, referring to his cancer - 'it must have been the coffee'.
The last show that got me misty eyed is the last episode. I guess this was to be expected. The premise for the last 3 episode I think was a little weak. However, recurring characters passed by to give their farewell to the detectives and cops at the 12th Precinct. I did not think that the show would have affected me as much as the story for the last 3 episodes was kind of cookie cutter. However, for some reason it was like we were saying goodbye to our friends. The only disappointment that I had is that Fish was not technically on the set for the last show. He appears along with Jack Soo as a flashback moment. Since he did comeback a few times, I am sure they could have gotten him to make an appearance.
There were rumours at one point that the gang would get together for a movie to see where they were after the show ent off the air. However, that never materialized. This is especially true now that most of the cast have passed away or are quite old. The baby of the show (Max Gail), is in his 70's.
All that to say, there were episodes that were quite touching. However, in between that, this show was very funny. The jokes about Nick's bad coffee or his inability to file properly. The fact that. Harris wanted to become this famous writer. Fish's constant complaining about his ailments and having to use the bathroom. The point is, each character felt unique and real and I think that is why the show was so popular for so long.
In the end, it is still a show that has passed the test of time. Watching it today can still be as enjoyable as it was back then. The characters still resonate. The theme song is still epic and the stories are still relevant. I think that if you have a chance it is worth your time t watch some episode and get sucked in like I did.