“Alex Tastes Death and Finds a Nice Restaurant”
Beyond having the best/worst title of an episode this season, “Alex Tastes Death” is a strange bird. It’s another episode about a character leaving the show, but it’s also the first time the show really deals with the idea about New York City being a much more violent place during the 1970s and early 80s, without the criminal element being as bumbling as the sitcom characters are. That criminal element is represented here by a man who, in the process of trying to stick up Alex, nicks his ear with a bullet meant for his head, after Alex declines to hand over his night’s haul. Suddenly, the New York presented by Escape From New York and The Warriors is part of the text of the show, when it’s usually bubbling under the surface — no one here is under the impression that cab driving is a safe, secure profession, but characters aren’t being picked off daily, either.
Alex initially is determined to live his life as he wants to, but he’s scared to continue. He skips almost every potential fare (he quizzes the one fare he does pick up, a young priest, to name all of the twelve apostles; when the priest can only name eleven, Alex kicks him out), but drives around all night, eventually deciding to quit. He’s too scared, and understandably so! He leaves without much fanfare.
The gang, and the show, catches up with him after he’s already acclimated to his new job, waiting tables in a tux at a sitcom-fancy restaurant. (And by his own account, making double what he did driving.) But the show needs him to come back, and with time ticking down (almost audibly) in the episode, Alex makes an impromptu speech to his friends, who have come to visit him at the restaurant, about how much more he actually enjoyed being a cab driver, apparently forgetting about the fear so bad he kicked a priest out of his care for forgetting an apostle. It’s a strange, clunky episode, but we do see Judd Hirsch in a tux, so.
Is there a German term for when a piece of media tries so hard to wink at the audience about the constraints of the media but doesn’t really commit to it, so everything just kind of feels…off? This episode is so obvious just the description should tell you everything you might possibly need to know about it: a Hollywood director wants to make a movie about cab drivers, so he embeds in the garage with the cabbies for “authenticity.” A lot of recent shows, like Community and 30 Rock, have done a lot of interesting things with addressing the medium of television sitcoms, but Taxi feels like it’s not ready to test out those waters yet — even though the Hollywood director is played by Martin Mull, best known for genre-bending ’70s sitcoms Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and its spinoff Fernwood 2 Night, which were more than ready to test out those waters.
There’s ultimately little to this episode, which feels like a waste. The emotional crux hangs on whether Louie will get paid or not, and there’s a regular sitcom fakeout ending in which everything is reset again for next week. Honestly, not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things, but there’s only so much to say about the machinations that virtually all sitcoms use to stay in business for five or six or twenty-three years.