“Louie and the Nice Girl”
Taxi entered its second season high off of an upset win over All in the Family for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy (as well as Ruth Gordon’s Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series award for her guest spot due to weird Emmy rules), and having shed its weakest character in the last episode, set about building its character base. First introduced, in this excellent season opener, was a girlfriend for Louie, played by Danny DeVito’s then and future partner, Rhea Perlman. (Of the casting, he told Frank Lovece and Jules Franco in their Hailing Taxi, “There was no giving anybody any roles. She auditioned along with other people. I’d like to think her getting it had something to do with the fact I liked her and everybody else in the cast liked her.”) Perlman’s Zena, the garage’s candy machine refill person (sitcom jobs…) inexplicably has an attraction to Louie, despite being normal and right in the head and everything, a joke the show leans a little heavily on.
OK, so Louie has a girlfriend. How would Louie DePalma react to having a girlfriend? By acting out and playing up how much sex he’s having with her. It’s such a natural thing for his character to do, so in line with everything we know about him, that the catch — that a month in, he and Zena have barely so much as touched — almost genuinely gets you. The reason that Louie gives throughout the episode is that she’s “too good” for him; she’s a “nice girl,” one of the only two kinds of girls to Louie — the other being “the kind you have fun with.” Mixing the two brings up some weird default Catholic reaction in Louie; he’ll break up with Zena before touching a “nice girl.”
Zena is really the only female character aside from Elaine who we’ve seen Louie interact with — and Elaine’s reactions are, understandably, almost uniformly disgusted. There’s his mother, too, whom it’s clear he loves, but his relationship with her seems to be abusive at best, going both ways. It’s not too hard to analyze what it could mean that the only female character who Louie interacts nicely with is one that he’s not a direct superior to, but that’s about as far as the show takes any introspection.
- This episode won Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series and Oustanding Achievement in Film Editing at the 1980 Emmys, and was nominated for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, and deserves all of that
“Honor Thy Father”
Not available for streaming; there are some pretty good deals on used DVD copies of the second season on Amazon.
“Honor Thy Father” is one of those Taxi episodes that wants to be both broad sitcom and depressing morality play; most of the time, you can’t have it both ways. The a-plot revolves around Alex’s sister, Charlotte (Joan Hackett), coming to tell him that their father is in the hospital after a heart attack. The b-plot revolves around Latka and a Puerto Rican mechanic fighting over tools without speaking any English.
The first part of the episode is, obviously, the part that works. Taxi knows how to ramp up the sentimentality when needed, and Alex and Charlotte’s interactions about their father should be at least a little familiar to any adult siblings. Alex had a strained relationship with his often-unavailable father, which mirrored co-creator James Brooks’ life. “I always had a couple shows about my dad in every series I did. In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, he was Ted Baxter’s father. My dad was away a lot,” he told Lovece and Franco. He told Interview, “[Abandonment] is a big issue with me. The word itself sends little shivers over me.”
With the poignancy of that, it’s a little unclear why Brooks would have the second part of this episode be broad jokes about “foreigners.” The episode opens with Louie castigating Latka for being a “lazy, good-for-nothing, gold-brickin’ foreigner.” (Latka attempts to make a complaint with the union, but finds out that the shift supervisor he would report to is…Louie.) When the Puerto Rican mechanic and Latka begin fighting, Louie breaks it up by saying, “You’re like brothers. You’re both from countries you have to get shots for.” Hell, when Charlotte comes to the garage and speaks to Latka in his language (she’s “multi-lingual”), she notes that his grammar is bad and that she thinks “he’s from the lower classes.”
After Alex makes an impassioned speech to a man who is not his father (the whole scene is worth watching just for how good an actor Judd Hirsch is, and how much the show clearly relied on that), the episode ends on yet another emotionally inappropriate note: the Puerto Rican mechanic and Latka are at it again, so Jeff, Louie’s assistant, says it’s time to go home. Both accept that immediately and leave — it reads like the show saying that “foreigners” are too lazy to fight on their own personal time.