“Bobby’s Acting Career”
Bobby Wheeler is, with the exception of John, who still has had about seven lines in the whole show four episodes in, the weakest link of Taxi. Of all the various characters’ dreams for better lives outside of the garage, his – success as a working actor in New York City – is the grandest, and the most distant. The conflicts in his episodes – and early on, Taxi leaned heavily on single character-driven episodes, much more than I remember – are ones with impossibly high stakes for him, so it’s no surprise that the central conflict in “Bobby’s Acting Career” puts Bobby’s, uh, acting career on the guillotine.
He made a promise to himself when he moved to New York (“from the Bronx”) that he’d quit acting and get a real job after three years, and three years is up tonight. It’s almost painful to watch Jeff Conaway emote his way through the episode; he’s clearly uncomfortable, having lived through himself what the writers were mining for laughs on the show. He left the show after the third season due to drug abuse, but he also expressed dissatisfaction with playing the “blond bimbo” struggling actor. “In Taxi, I kept doing the same scene for three years,” he told the Toronto Star in 1989. “I was underused.” It’s not hard to see why he felt this way; Bobby often felt like a boring, one-note character.
Of course, Bobby doesn’t give up acting after no jobs come through by the end of the episode. Taxi wasn’t quite ready to let an emotional ending resonate, or felt that it had to balance bigger, serious moments (like when Bobby loses his shit at Alex for suggesting that he might not get a job before midnight) with sitcommy canned jokes (like when it turns out Bobby was just joking around about being mad at Alex. What’s the point of the joke then?). The b-plot of the episode focuses on a passenger Alex gets who starts beating his dog – Hamlet, because he’s a Great Dane, get it? – so Alex steals the dog. That concludes when a police officer (played by a black actor – the first person of color to have any lines, if I’m not mistaken) agrees to put the dog between Alex and its original owner and see which one it goes to. Hamlet picks the original owner, but only to bite him. (And yes, Bobby takes comfort in cuddling with Hamlet the dog after he learns he doesn’t get a part. Obviously.)
“Come As You Aren’t”
If Bobby Wheeler is the underwritten cipher that Jeff Conaway could never really make go anywhere, Elaine Nardo is the most fully realized and consistent warm and positive presence. Much of this is due to Marilu Henner’s considerable talents; like Conaway, she was part of the original Broadway cast of Grease, and originated the character of Marty as a student at the University of Chicago.
Like Bobby, though, Elaine has big dreams. She’s a receptionist at an art gallery, and yearns for more. She’s throwing a party that her gallery colleagues are attending, and asks that Alex attend, but not tell anyone that she’s a cab driver – or that he is. Alex is offended, just as he was unimpressed when she told him about her gallery job in the pilot. But he goes and helps her set up, and starts lying what he does for a living. (“I put out oil fires,” he says, before putting out a match someone just lit. “Oh, I’m sorry, just reflex.”). This is easily the funniest episode of the show so far; it’s where Taxi figures out it’s a sitcom.
The party goes well enough, until Elaine announces that she and Alex are cab drivers (it’s kind of a weird, long story involving the Gay Liberation Front) and ruins his chances at sex with a hot blond who was into his oil well firefighter story and he sits around moping, drinking canned champagne. He’s about to leave in a huff when she tells him that she considers him her best friend. There’s no telling how long in show-time passes between each episode, but they only met three episodes ago. And yet almost every episode of Taxi revolves around Alex, and how he is everyone’s best friend. He plays an integral role in every episode, no doubt due to Judd Hirsch’s star power, but also likely due to the fact that he’s an authoritative straight white man. (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) Having one character be central to every plotline on a show is much less of a thing now with ensembles, and with good reason: Alex can only be the “moral voice” of the show for so long before he gets irritating.
- A joke in which Elaine falsely claims rape, only to have the man respond that he’s a member of the Gay Liberation Force? Whew!
- Latka is really horny
- Also, Latka speaks English now!
- The best line of the episode comes from Alex, on lying: “I sort of like fudging.”