“Wherefore Art Thou, Bobby?”
There’s a sort of jolt of catharsis you feel (or, at least I feel) when you see a show recognize mistakes it’s made in the past and work to fix them — the show growing up and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Previous Bobby episodes largely only served to highlight how much of a weaker link he is than the other characters; when you really look at Bobby, there’s not a whole lot there, something Jeff Conaway knew. This episode is a fairly successful attempt at fleshing him out a bit more, or at least adding a level of self-awareness.
The episode centers around a fare that Tony brings to the garage, who mentions he’s new to New York and has just moved there to be an actor — almost echoing John’s introduction to the show in the pilot — so Tony brings him to meet Bobby. Bobby’s just booked a commercial, but he’s in his feelings about doing that kind of work. But he takes the new guy, Steve, in under his wing. Steve, naturally, books the lead in an Off-Broadway revival of Romeo & Juliet.
Bobby’s reaction to Steve booking the gig is to announce he’s quitting acting at the garage the next day — after briefly strangling Steve — which tickles Louie to no end. Bobby is already the most annoying character on the show by a long shot (like shut the fuck up about your acting career for two seconds, man), so Louie’s taunting of him — which eventually pushes him to get back into acting so he can shove Louie’s words back down his throat — works well for the episode in two ways: getting Bobby back into acting, which the show needs to do to restart the formula for the next episode, but also provide catharsis to viewers who’ve suffered through enough thin, empty Bobby episodes.
Jeff Conaway never made any secret, at least after he left the show, that he loathed Bobby. He told the AP in 1985 that the character made him “depressed.” In a 1989 Toronto Star interview he said, “In Taxi, I kept doing the same scene for three years. I was underused. It’s natural when there are seven people involved in a half-hour show.” The nothingness of Bobby’s character almost works better for him in this episode, though. The knowledge that the character struck Conaway in such a way lends a certain kind of morbid gravitas to the whole endeavor; you know that, at a certain level, this isn’t just the character of Bobby, but Conaway, too.
- The best line of the episode comes from Elaine, trying to play down how big a deal Steve’s gig is: “Well, if you like revivals.”
“The Lighter Side Of Angela Matusa”
Remember everything I said about the show figuring itself out at the top of this? Throw all of that out. I wrote in the first line of my recap of the last Angela Matusa episode that they show rips into its guest characters, but I’m rethinking that now; maybe it’s just people, women especially, who fall outside conventional standards of beauty. The writers show tremendous warmth and heart to all sorts in Taxi, but for some reason, feel the need to lash out at overweight people.
To review: the first Angela Matusa episode — the third episode of the whole show — was really a way for the writers to give Judd Hirsch something patriarchal to do as the strong white male lead of the cast. He essentially takes pity on Angela, whom he thought was funny and charming on the phone but not so much in person, and the show both congratulates him and he congratulates himself for being such a Good Guy when he commits to being friends with Angela, something which she desperately needs. She doesn’t appear in any other episodes, but Alex says that they stayed friends for a while (good for you, Good Guy) and then drifted apart.
But she calls and gives Alex a message out of the blue that she’s going to come visit him at the garage, prompting several minutes of genuinely horrifying fat jokes, mostly from Louie, but the rest of the characters as well (excluding Alex, but he doesn’t try his hardest to stop them, not by a long shot). The amount of fat jokes, and the glee with which DeVito and the rest of the actors partake in telling them, verges on disturbing. These episodes were supposed to be the show being “progressive” — the first one won the fucking Humanitas Prize, which Barbara Walters called the equivalent of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for television — and viewed in 2016, they are revolting. If I watched either of them in a vacuum, without prior knowledge of Taxi, I would think this was a cruel and inhumane show.
But when Angela shows up, it’s revealed that she lost weight. Everyone responds…inappropriately? I don’t know what the appropriate response but open shock and awe isn’t it. Angela and Alex go out to dinner — she orders skinless chicken and plain broccoli, he orders veal and linguine — and she eventually confesses that she lost the weight to be attractive to him. He reacts…unfavorably, essentially, and rejects her almost kindly. The scene ends on a horrid, sour note from the writers; Alex leaves, and Angela begins eating his high-calorie dinner, breaking the diet she’s stayed on for months for him. The show never establishes, either, what Alex objected to at this point. If the obstacle is, as it was in the last episode, her lack of conventional beauty, that is really no longer an issue; the actor, Suzanne Kent, looks wonderful (as if it fucking matters!).
Even worse? How the show came about. “We heard that the actress had lost weight. We wrote specifically to that fact,” Jim Brooks, the show’s co-creator (and a co-creator of The Simpsons, and the director of Broadcast News…) told Frank Lovece and Jules Franco for their Hailing Taxi. I’m curious to know how Kent felt about the role. To my eyes, the show was nothing but hurtful to her.