One of the few problems with writing about a show that aired [REDACTED] amount of years before you were born is that sometimes, nothing in an episode will make sense. I’m usually able to pick up most of the cultural references on Taxi, but a two-part series finale inspired by the show Fantasy Island, which aired from 1977-1983? I could hear it whistling over my head. (Editor’s note: this is what happens when I hire writers half my age. I am perpetually reminded of my decrepitude for remembering things like Fantasy Island from when they originally aired.)
After a little Googling — the show is about, uh, an island where people can go live out their fantasies (Aaron Spelling, the show’s creator, said in a 2011 interview that the idea was just an off-the-cuff joke he made to the head of ABC) — most of the things got cleared up, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing a couple jokes for every one I caught.
Not that the episode(s) are particularly high-concept; nothing happens in them. After Tony gives Herve Villechaize, who I have now learned was an actor on Fantasy Island, a ride in his cab, the gang sits around and thinks—doesn’t talk, thinks—about fantasies that they’d like to live out. (Only for whatever reason—almost certainly budgetary—the fantasies all happen to take place in Manhattan, the world’s only “Fantasy Borough.”)
The fantasies themselves are telling, and yet not. The first few are mostly harmless. In Tony’s, Eric Sevareid, an Important White Male Reporter, invites him to the “Gathering of Smart Guys” conference at NYU; Latka daydreams about switching roles with Louie, eventually sending him to the firing squad for a minor fuckup; Bobby, who chides Elaine for only seeing him as a vain actor, wants to be a pop star (his also involves humiliating Louie. As an aside, the awful song he sings is actually by Jeff Conaway.
Yikes. Oh, and Rev. Jim gets willingly abducted by aliens. So it goes.
The second part of the two-parter gets weird. The episode dedicates an interminable amount of time to Alex, who thrice tries to fantasize about being with a woman but gets it wrong every time (she’s married, he gets them into a car accident, she’s his niece). Louie’s is similarly gross and calls for Marilu Henner to allow Danny DeVito to stick his face in her chest, which gave me the willies a little bit. It also involves him being mean to Lassie, which I think crosses a comedy line but I understand if not everyone backs me up on that one.
Elaine’s fantasy is perhaps the most baffling. In between the fantasy clips, the gang is just shown sitting around the garage talking about the concept of fantasies and asking each other if they ever have them, but they never actually share what their fantasies are with each other. So when asked what her fantasy is, Elaine demurs, but says, “If I were to tell you my fantasy, it would knock you out.” Are you ready for what her fantasy is?
If nothing else, it gives us Jim’s shambling, stumbling dancing through a Broadway song, which is wonderful. And Marilu Henner gets to show off her real-life pre-Taxi Broadway singing and dancing chops. But really, what would it say about a person if a major fantasy they wanted to live out involved singing and dancing with all of their coworkers? ?