A private eye shows up at the garage looking for Jim, bearing a letter from his estranged father inviting him home to Boston. It’s pretty hard to imagine Jim Ignatowski with parents, for some reason (“There goes my spore theory,” says Louie) — almost as hard as it is to believe that Jim is from…Boston? But no matter — the real treat of the scene is learning that the family name is not Ignatowski, but Caldwell:
Elaine: Jim, you changed your name to Ignatowski?Jim: Well, it was the ‘60s, and everyone was changing their names to stuff like Sunshine and Free and Moon Unit.Alex: Jim, why Ignatowski?Jim: Say it backwards.Bobby: Ick-swo-tangyJim: Uh-oh, that’s not even close to Starchild, is it?
Alex joins him on his trip to Boston, where it’s revealed that Jim comes from a long line of sitcom clichés. His father and brother are overweight, which the show (via Jim) comments on nearly constantly, and his sister is defined solely by hitting on Alex. It’s little wonder Jim dropped out of Harvard after spending his second semester turning in term papers written in finger paint. But the show manages to move beyond tropes that apparently hadn’t become tired yet, and there is a genuine, gooey emotional core to the episode.
Jim’s father, played by Victor Buono, who was the same age as Christopher Lloyd, is convinced Jim has only come home to get some of his money (he’s one of those extreme upper-crust Boston types who insists his guests dress up to eat dinner at home), which is obviously not true — it seems impossible for Jim to be able to keep the concept of currency in his head long enough to want a lot of it. He returned home to see his family, who he has been calling on the phone every month just to hear them say, “For the last time, who is this?” (He had the wrong number.)
Jim’s father makes Jim an offer: stay in Boston and get a normal life back and go to school, which Jim obviously walks away from. Christopher Lloyd is characteristically great in this episode, with Frank Lovece and Jules Franco noting in their Hailing Taxi that it was based partially on his own experience rejecting society to be a burnt-out actor. At the end, Jim and his father scream how nice it was to see each other from across the house. It’s bittersweet.
“The Ten Percent Solution”
One thing that old sitcoms, especially Taxi, were never able to really figure out is subplots. For the past 30 or so years, it’s been customary to have sitcom episodes follow multiple plotlines throughout the episode, usually converging at the end. In Taxi, it’s either one plot throughout the whole show or two completely segmented plotlines that have nothing to do with each other and thematically don’t even necessarily pair. To wit: The title of the episode refers to the cut that Bobby receives of Tony’s work as an actor for managing him, as Tony decides to get into acting after hearing he has the “right look” and enlists Bobby, who announced for the millionth time that he’s quitting. The parts of the episode that don’t deal directly with that involve Louie and Jeff battling a giant cockroach.
Why pair those two things? Is Tony like the cockroach? Or maybe the concept of acting is, as Louie is too distracted by the roach to make fun of Bobby and Tony as much as he usually does when acting is discussed. There is plenty to mock here; after Tony gets a part because he has the “right look,” Bobby, the standard-bearer for ethical theatre practices (he practically administers himself the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath in the third act) has a meltdown in the audition room. Later, when he learns the director fired Tony for, uh, being a bad actor, he’s ecstatic. Tony is now an inspiration for all working actors because some people in power believe that actors should be good at acting, or something.
Tony Danza had to clarify to Hailing Taxi that he didn’t feel mocked by the episode: “The only time he felt that was when we would do boxing shows.”
Meanwhile, the episode ends with Louie trying to reel in the roach with some burger meat on the end of a fishing pole. Maybe the subplots do converge thematically after all.