“The Reluctant Fighter”
“Tony and Brian”
I’ve written a lot in these recaps about sitcom structure, and the necessity for shows to try new things and then immediately get rid of them to reset the hierarchy of the show for the next episode. These two episodes, which exist in some strange, accidental series together, break that. And it’s all thanks to Tony Danza’s son.
In “The Reluctant Fighter,” Tony’s enlisted to be the young, dumb piece of meat who’s thrown up against Benny Foster, a retired boxer who wants to get back in the ring, played by IRL boxer Armando Muñiz. For the pre-fight press conference (wasn’t aware this was a thing!), Foster brings out Brian Sims, the blondest, most adorably Aryan child ever confined to a wheelchair. Foster is Brian’s hero, you see, and comes to the hospital to see his operations through and all that — he can’t lose.
Tony, who is essentially little more than a big dumb palooka, to use the word of Frank Lovece and Jules Franco’s Hailing Taxi, so he’s crushed. How can he beat up a little kid’s hero? And yet the decision is not really up to him, as Foster apparently should have never attempted a comeback, and seemingly knocks himself out. (The boxing scene in this episode dates the show far more than any hair or clothing — it was apparently really hard to fake a good fight in the late ’70s on network television.) Tony is crushed further. When the referee tried to hold up his hand after he wins the fight, Tony fights him to bring it back down. “They know who did it,” he mumbles.
After the fight, Alex coaxes him into having a chat with Brian, who wheels over to hear Tony’s apology. Danza is better in this scene than potentially anything else in the show so far, and by the end of it, convinces Brian to make him his new hero — to follow him around like he did Benny Foster. (Brian agrees to this only until Tony loses a fight, to which Tony says, “That could be weeks!”)
“The Reluctant Fighter” was meant to air October 9th, after “Nardo Loses Her Marbles,” but according to a note on Wikipedia, it was preempted for coverage of “US-Iran tensions,” and aired on Christmas Day, 1979. No matter — the producers had another Brian episode to pair it with.
In “Tony and Brian,” a wheelchair-free Brian (it’s never explained exactly what his ailment was, so…) pops up at the garage with Tony, showing off his dimples and proclaiming that anyone who wants to adopt him has to be rich. (Another thing — he’s in foster care, something else that is never really explained.) Tony harbors a secret desire to adopt Brian himself, and the gang convinces him to ask Brian about it.
But when Brian shows, he says that he found a rich family to adopt him; it’s settled. Tony hides his hurt from Brian, but goes with Alex to the rich family’s home to convince Brian otherwise, unsuccessfully (“I have to think about my future, Tony.”)
When it turns out the rich family is not actually looking to adopt Brian, he makes his way back to Tony’s Brooklyn apartment. Tony, who is really as much of a child as Brian is, reacts poorly to being someone’s second-choice parent — but when Brian turns to go after losing a card draw that decided whether he stays or goes, Tony grabs him in a big hug; since Tony won, Brian stays as his adopted son.
Obviously, the show cannot change to give Tony a son; it is still a sitcom. But the episode ends on the above image. As far as we know, Brian remains Tony’s adopted son, and is simply never discussed in the show ever again. Ken Estin, a Taxi producer who wrote the script, told Lovece and Franco, “We kind of dropped the adoption thing. We liked Brian…but we decided it wasn’t good for Tony to be a father.”
Funny he should mention that. Brian is played by Tony Danza’s son, Marc Anthony Danza, who appeared in little else after this. Tony Danza, who had Marc with his then-wife at 19 while attending the University of Dubuque on a wrestling scholarship, has incredible chemistry with his son; Tony and Marc Danza’s scenes are some of the best-acted on the show for its whole run. (Father and son later wrote an Italian cookbook together, and retain similar chemistry.)
But what happens to Brian? Estin told Lovece and Franco, “Brian went to a good family and grew up very healthy and in a good environment, and Tony went to see him regularly. Either that, or he died.” And that quote may be the most Taxi thing about these episodes.