“Guess Who’s Coming for Brefnish”
To be honest, it feels a little funny (not ha-ha) when, in episodes like this one, the writers and producers of the show decide to treat a character — in this case, Latka — completely differently from how they usually do. Not even that the characters are featured as the lead of the episode (we’ve had great Latka episodes before), but write the episode in a way that almost feels as if we’re watching a different character on a different show. Case in point: In “Guess Who’s Coming for Brefnish,” Latka, who has really only ever been a punchline for the writers to rely on up until this point, is suddenly a fully fleshed-out character with emotions and layers. (None of this is Andy Kaufman’s fault — the show didn’t really know how to use him.) It’s not unwelcome, but it is strange.
“Brefnish” is fully welcome in another respect: It’s the introduction of Carol Kane’s Simka Dahblitz, a girl from Latka’s home country (we never do find out what that’s called) who speaks with the same warbling parody of a Central European accent Latka does. After Simka is turned down for a job at the garage as the owner’s secretary, she and Latka hit it off and almost immediately begin dating, but all the thoughts of home lead Latka to start making jokes about the mountain people, whom apparently everyone hates. Naturally, Simka is a mountain person, and hides it from him for weeks.
When she tells him, at the urging of Alex and Elaine at the local bar, Mario’s, he’s unable to look at her, and she leaves. Days go by, and with Latka miserable, Alex and Elaine again try to fix things by encouraging him to try to win her back, but when she shows at Mario’s, she has news: She’s now seeing a hot surgeon. Latka, even more miserable, sits at the bar after she leaves, moping to songs from Grease, which they saw on Broadway together (a tidbit from Hailing Taxi: the version of “Summer Nights” Latka mopes to was recorded for this episode by the two Grease Broadway alumni in the cast, Marilu Henner and Jeff Conaway). He tells the bartender one last mountain person joke: “How does a mountain girl make love? Like an angel.”
If all of this sounds very strange and extremely atonal, you’re right! Even with the decision to layer Latka a bit, he’s still simply a punchline to rely on. The presence of Carol Kane always helps things, but this is a far stranger, and worse episode than I remember it being.
“What Price Bobby?”
After Bobby picks up Nora, an apparently famous Broadway manager in his cab while cruising the Theater District, he all but forces her to come to the play he’s in. Apparently seeing something she liked, she calls him into her office the next day to bring him on as a client, which involves getting a haircut, getting a new wardrobe, taking her to bed…. Yes, it seems she has ulterior motives for Bobby, but that really shouldn’t matter to him, seeing as she landed him the part of Brick in a Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And for a real character analogous to Bobby, this wouldn’t have been an issue. But this is network TV, so Bobby feels “cheap.” He doesn’t use the word prostitute, but Elaine does.
It’s a little baffling, really — what’s wrong with this arrangement? Is anything truly immoral being done? Only if anyone was previously under the impression that the casting system on Broadway was incorruptible or truly merit-based. As it stands, a semi-talented, hot-for-the-’70s actor gets good roles while a successful, busy woman gets a hot-for-the-70s sex toy. Obviously, thought, that can’t stand on family-friendly TV, and Bobby is required to have an existential crisis in front of Nora that involves proudly saying he still has his shoes, handing them over at her request, and begging for them back.
The b-plot in this episode is even more threadbare — Alex is out of town skiing, and everyone feels some type of way about how much they rely on him. The episode ends as he promises to come back. The only thing I really took away from this episode is how entrenched and toxic American thinking about sex work is.