The Great Line
What does a show do with a character that’s too boring to describe? John Burns, the character that begins in the pilot as a mild-mannered, wide-eyed idiot who ends up at the garage after giving Alex too big a bill is no less mild-mannered, wide-eyed, or idiotic six episodes in. It’s no fault of actor Randall Carver, who can’t be thrilled that this is the role he is most remembered for – it’s difficult enough to remember that the character is there while he’s onscreen. For John’s big introductory episode – we’ve already had Alex’s, Tony’s, Bobby’s, Elaine’s, and a side character named Angela’s – the writers of Taxi evidently determined that he needed a Big Crazy Sitcom Story, but also that he wasn’t a strong enough character to sustain the episode as needed.
So this is an episode in which a regular character elopes with a girl he met at a bar – using a pickup line co-authored by Bobby and Tony – but the dramatic tension is all tied up in reacting to what a stupid thing John did, as opposed to seeing John do it. Carver is a capable actor, but even he isn’t able to do much here. He told Marley Brant in her Happier Days: Paramount Television’s Classic Sitcoms 1974-1984,
[The writers] were always trying what to do with this guy… There were so many characters. Most of us were on the stage at the same time… and seemed [like] everybody was kind of vying for their moment in the sun. A couple of times Tony Danza and I changed lines at the director’s or producers’ requests… They’d do retooling and restructuring, and while it was not always pleasant at times, you can sort of see from this distance that everything worked out for the best.
The episode is a nice subversion of the regular sitcom pickup artist setup. Bobby and Tony co-author a pickup line for John when he sees a girl at the bar (the line is, “Let’s cut the preliminaries. Wanna get married?”), but John is too mild-mannered and wide-eyed to deliver it with the creepiness that Bobby does – and it turns out they do get married, so, that’s kinda sweet, I guess. They stay married, too. Who knows.
There’s a bunch of weird miscellanea in this episode, too; detritus from various storyline ideas hemmed in by network television. There’s the not-quite-b-plot involving a guy in the local bar who can drink a glass of beer really fast; there’s the extended conversation between John, Bobby, and Louie about “getting fresh” with the passengers. Louie says that he would pull to the side of the road and ask, “Do you want to come back to my place for drinks and sex?” By his count, it worked one of out of 2,312 times. Was this funny in 1978? I guess it really had to have been, huh. Weird.
- The best line, from Elaine: “They say life after divorce is empty, yet here I am watching a chug-a-lug contest.”
- There’s a weird back-and-forth at the bar when John sees the girl he asks to marry him. He points at a table with three women sitting at it. “It’s that girl.” Elaine asks, “Which one?” He snorts, “You don’t have to ask, do ya?” “No, I guess not,” she says. “The blonde?” “No.” “The one in the white blouse?” “No.” “The other one?” “See, you picked her out!” From the perspective from their table, “the other one” is kind of dull-looking, and certainly the least well-dressed of the three. Is the show commenting on how boring they made John by having him be super attracted to the least interesting-looking woman in the bar?
- No Latka
High School Reunion
It’s difficult for me to reconcile the main view of Danny DeVito that I have – Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – with the realities of a MTM Productions 1970s morality play sitcom. To me, Louie De Palma is simply what Frank Reynolds was like in the 1970s and ’80s. So when the show humanizes him, it rings false for me. Frank Reynolds is a garbage person, and It’s Always Sunny does an incredible job of never once looking back to qualify any of the terrible, terrible people on that show.
But this is Taxi, and everything about Danny DeVito up there is really just in my head. Will Miller, a therapist who was also the spokesman for Nick at Nite for a while (?) told the Los Angeles Times,
The energy in the show is Louie. I think that’s a powerful metaphor from a psychoanalytical point of view. The driving force in a human being is what Freud called the id–the raw, primal primary energy. And that’s Louie. Louie is a little anger ball. He’s the id man. I think it’s fitting he’s in a cage.
Louie’s energy in “High School Reunion” is diminished, so the show’s is. As you might guess, the episode revolves around Louie’s twentieth high school reunion, and he’s in the dumps because he doesn’t look all that great and he’s still just a cab dispatcher. So, in a fun, weird version of a classic sitcom trope, Bobby goes in Louie’s place, complete with jet-black hair and a vocal affect that lands closer to Vincent D’Onofrio in Men in Black than Louie. He tells Louie that he might as well take this and do well, since he can’t get any acting jobs.
And, of course, he does do well. And, of course, Louie goes to the reunion, unwisely, and sees him do well, and then destroys the reunions and ruins the night for all the assholes who bullied him in high school, so he gets to succeed too. But it’s OK. It’s a nice, pleasant change on Taxi, to see two characters succeed on their own terms.