Life Rolls On
April 11, 2014 7:22 AM   Subscribe

"Pssssttt! What does the yellow light mean?"
"Slow down."
"What... does... the... yellow... light... mean?"
"Slow down!"
"Whaaaaaat... dooooeeees... theeeee... yeeeelllllllllllooowwww... liiiiight... meeeeeeaaaaan?"
"Slow down!!!"

"Against a black screen, a wistful pipe plays a gentle little tune, a theme that speaks of personal dreams not yet fulfilled. The screen fades in to a moving view of New York City from the Brooklyn Bridge and pans across as the flute repeats its theme, revealing a checker cab that is crossing the bridge. Christ, how did I wind up here? Driving a stinking cab in this dirty town. What happened? Ah. The cab continues across the bridge as an electric piano kicks in, reminding us that we are, after all, moving—trucking, even. As the piano and flute are joined by a small fusion band, we are reminded by a list of names that even if the job is lousy, we've got friends there, and they're pretty good, and even if they're a pain in the ass at least life can be interesting for having them. Heh, remember that one time when Louie got behind the couch at Jeff's party when Latka was getting his papers renewed and…good times, good times. Coming up on the end of the bridge now. Hey, maybe driving this cab ain't so bad—it's nothing but an endless series of small victories, right? And there's that piccolo again, but this time it seems to be reminding us that we haven't lost our dreams yet. Yeah, things are all right, y'know? I get by. And willya look at that town!

In fifty seconds you know all you really need to know about Taxi."
The Sunshine Cab Company was open for 5 Seasons and 112 Episodes (plus a couple of clip shows). During its run, Taxi scored 22 Emmy Nominations and 18 Wins, including 3 consecutive Best Comedy Series wins. It also launched the careers of cast members Tony Danza, Andy Kaufman, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd. The sitcom (workcom) followed a group of New York City cabbies and the nasty dispatcher (DeVito) who tried to rule them.

The Setting and Characters
AV Club:
"...Taxi [was] a show about frustrated dreams and missed opportunities. A makeshift family of finely drawn characters came together in that dingy New York garage, the overwhelming bleakness of their situation cut with cartoonish surrealism and dogged optimism.

Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch) was the father figure in the garage, the one who’d (mostly) made peace with the fact he was a Sunshine lifer. He expressed that sentiment perfectly in the pilot: “Me, I’m a cab driver. I’m the only cab driver in this place.” Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner) was the single mother holding down two jobs to support her family. Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway) was a struggling actor looking for his big break. Tony Banta (Tony Danza) was a boxer determined to make it big despite a record that encouraged everyone to bet against him. By casting working actors rather than big stars, the Taxi producers conveyed the notion that their characters knew what it was like to look for a break. It was a feeling that allowed all four characters to become remarkably realized as the show went on.

As a counterbalance to this daily-grind realism, Taxi introduced colorful characters who became sitcom icons. Danny DeVito’s Louie De Palma was the unquestioned lord and master of the Sunshine Cab Company, a man feared and loathed by everyone who worked there. Thanks to a personality that eclipsed his short stature, Louie commanded attention from his dispatcher cage. Comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufman—a favorite of the producers — adapted his Foreign Man persona into good-natured mechanic Latka Gravas. Trapped behind a heavy language barrier, Latka became a sort of mascot to the rest of the garage. Introduced in the first-season episode “Paper Marriage,” Christopher Lloyd’s Reverend Jim joined the main ensemble in season two. “The living embodiment of the ’60s,” Jim was a man who’d fried every synapse in his brain—but he was capable of insight at the most unexpected times."

Night Shifting for the Hip Fleet and The Word from Belmore
The show was inspired by two non-fiction articles that appeared in New York Magazine in September, 1975: Night-Shifting for the Hip Fleet and The Word from Belmore, both by author, writer and journalist Marc Jacobson. In 2004, Jacobson checked in with local cabdrivers to see how things had changed for them after 30 years. (Previously on MeFi)

The Episodes
All but four episodes can be watched on YouTube. Within the next few months, the show will also be available to Hulu Plus customers. All are listed in the order they aired.

There is a full playlist for all available episodes, and playlists to seasons 1-3 are linked below, but none of them are in order.

Season One (1978-1979)
For its rookie season, Taxi took home three Emmy awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Film Editing for a Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy (to Ruth Gordon for the episode "Sugar Mama"

1. Like Father, Like Daughter (Check out: This Was Television's Roundtable Review.)
2. One-Punch Banta (Guest star: Welterweight Boxing Champion Carlos Palomino. Tony Danza's character dreamed of being a professional fighter. In real life, Danza was a boxer before becoming a Taxi cast member. Look for: Palomino accidentally hits Danza in the face with a real left hook. You can see Palomino pull his hand towards his mouth in horror for a moment before getting back into character and turning around to exit.)
3. Blind Date (This episode was nominated for an Emmy. The "blind date" actress would return again in the second season episode "The Lighter Side of Angela Matusa")
4. Bobby's Acting Career
5. Come As You Aren't
6. The Great Line
7. High School Reunion (Guest Star: "Blade Runner" actress Joanna Cassidy as Beverly)
8. Paper Marriage (This episode won an Emmy award for Outstanding Film Editing. First appearance by Christopher Lloyd, who would become a regular in season two. Lloyd and DeVito had previously appeared together in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as Taber and Martini, respectively.)
9. Money Troubles
10. Men Are Such Beasts
11. Memories Of Cab 804 - Part 1
12. Memories Of Cab 804 - Part 2 (Guest stars: Mandy Patinkin, Tom Selleck)
13. A Full House For Christmas
14. Sugar Mama (Guest star Ruth Gordon won an Emmy for her work in this episode.)
15. Friends
16. Louie Sees The Light
17. Elaine And The Lame Duck (Guest star: Jeffrey Tambor)
18. Bobby's Big Break (A good, but spoiler-filled scene from this episode between DeVito and Hirsch can be seen here. Guest star: Michelle Conaway (Jeff Conaway's sister.))
19. Mama Gravas
20. Alex Tastes Death And Finds A Nice Restaurant
21. Hollywood Calling (Guest star: Martin Mull)
22. Substitute Father

Season Two (1979-1980)
Taxi took home three Emmys for it's second season: Outstanding Comedy Series (second consecutive win,) Outstanding Film Editing, and Outstanding Directing. Danny DeVito took home a Golden Globe that same year for Best Supporting Actor, with the show itself winning the Outstanding Comedy Golden Globe.

23. Louie And The Nice Girl (Episode won Emmys for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Film Editing, Guest star: Rhea Perlman. DeVito and Perlman met during the filming of this episode. They would marry in 1982.)
24. Honor Thy Father (Episode received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing)
25. Reverend Jim a Space Odyssey (Source of the quote at the top of this post (Time Index 21:00). Christopher Lloyd takes a driving test to become a cab driver. Look for: Lloyd and Jeff Conaway were told to repeat the "What does a yellow light mean?" joke until the audience stopped laughing. Marilu Henner and Tony Danza can also be seen laughing out of character.)
26. Nardo Loses Her Marbles (Guest stars: Mary Woronov, Robert Picardo (he shows up at time index 9:45)
27. Wherefore Art Thou, Bobby?
28. The Lighter Side Of Angela Matusa (Sequel episode to 1x03, "Blind Date")
29. A Woman Between Friends
30. The Great Race
31. The Apartment (Guest star: Dick Butkus)
32. Alex's Romance
33. Latka's Revolting
34. Elaine's Secret Admirer
35. Louie Meets The Folks (Guest star: Rhea Perlman)
36. Jim Gets A Pet (Of the equine variety)
37. The Reluctant Fighter (Guest star: Marc Anthony Danza (Tony Danza's son))
38. Tony And Brian (Guest star: Marc Anthony Danza (Tony Danza's son))
39. Guess Who's Coming For Brefnish (Guest star: Carol Kane, who won an Emmy for her work in this episode)
40. What Price Bobby?
41. Shut It Down - Part 1
42. Shut It Down - Part 2
43. Alex Jumps Out Of An Airplane
44. Art Work
45. Fantasy Borough - Part 1 (Guest stars: Herve Villechaize and Eric Sevareid as themselves)
46. Fantasy Borough - Part 2 (Guest stars: Lassie, Priscilla Barnes. Barnes would go on to play Terri on Three's Company the following year. Look for: a neat Broadway musical production number as part of Elaine's fantasy.)

Season Three (1980-1981)
Emmy Awards: Best Comedy Series (third consecutive win). Judd Hirsch won best actor and Danny DeVito won best supporting actor for the third season, while James Burrows picked up a directing Emmy for "Elaine's Strange Triangle" and Christopher Lloyd picked up a statue for Outstanding Writing for "Tony's Sister and Jim."

47. Louie's Rival (Guest star: Rhea Perlman. Look for: the scene where Louie makes a sandwich in Zena's apartment.)
48. Tony's Sister And Jim (This episode received an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing)
49. Fathers Of The Bride
50. Elaine's Strange Triangle (This episode received an Emmy award for Best Directing, an Emmy award for Outstanding Film Editing, and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing.)
51. Going Home (This episode received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing)
52. The Ten Percent Solution
53. The Call Of The Mild
54. Latka's Cookies (Guest star: Wally "Famous" Amos (as himself))
55. Thy Boss's Wife (Guest star: Eileen Brennan. She received an Emmy nomination.)
56. The Costume Party
57. Elaine's Old Friend
58. Out Of Commission (Alex: "It's ok. I'm not really a cab driver. I'm just waiting for something better to come along. Like death.")
59. Zen And The Art Of Cab Driving
60. Louie's Mother (Guest star: Julia DeVito (Danny DeVito's real mother, playing Louie's mother))
61. Bobby's Roommate
62. Louie Bumps Into An Old Lady
63. Bobby And The Critic
64. On The Job - Part 1
65. On The Job - Part 2 (Guest star: Al Lewis)
66. Latka The Playboy (Guest star: George Wendt, The show incorporates an Andy Kaufman alter-ego character from his stand-up act: smooth-talking lounge lizard Vic Ferrari, transforming the mild-mannered mechanic into an obnoxious lothario. The AV Club called it " of the most jarring moves a sitcom has ever made.")

After the third season, director James Burrows and writers Glen Charles and Les Charles quit the series to create Cheers.

Season Four (1981-1982)
Three Emmy wins, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (to Carol Kane for the episodes "Simka Returns" and "The Wedding of Latka and Simka", Outstanding Supporting Actor for Christopher Lloyd and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series to Ken Estin for "Elegant Iggy.")

67. Jim The Psychic (This episode received an Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Directing.)
68. Vienna Waits
69. Mr. Personalities
70. Jim Joins The Network (Guest star: Martin Short)
71. Louie's Fling (Guest star: Rhea Perlman. Note: A different ending for this episode was originally filmed, but it was rewritten and re-shot a couple of weeks later after the producers realized how appalled the audience was by Louie's behavior.)
72. Like Father, Like Son
73. Louie's Mom Remarries (Guest star: Julia DeVito (Danny DeVito's mother))
74. Fledgling
75. Of Mice And Tony (Guest star: Ernie Hudson)
76. Louie Goes Too Far Louie gets caught spying on Elaine in the ladies' room. Elaine gets Louie fired. This episode contains a Louie monologue which marks a turning point for his character.)
77. I Wanna Be Around
78. Bobby Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Final appearance of Jeff Conaway. Glen and Les Charles' last episode in the series -- they would go on to create Cheers)
79. Nina Loves Alex
80. Tony's Lady (Guest star: Rebecca Holden, who would go on to play April Curtis on "Knight Rider" the following year.)
81. Simka Returns (Guest star: Carol Kane, who received an Emmy award for her work in this episode)
82. Jim And The Kid
83. Take My Ex-Wife, Please (Guest star: Louise Lasser)
84. The Unkindest Cut (Guest star: Ted Danson)
85. Tony's Comeback (Guest star: Bubba Smith. Look for producers Ed Weinberger and James L. Brooks in the crowd scenes.)
86. Elegant Iggy (Episode received an Emmy award for outstanding writing.)
87. The Wedding Of Latka And Simka (Guest stars: Vincent Sciavelli and Carol Kane (in her last appearance before becoming a regular cast member)
88. Cooking For Two
89. The Road Not Taken - Part 1 Not online
90. The Road Not Taken - Part 2 Not online

After four seasons, ABC canceled Taxi in 1982.

Danny DeVito then appeared on NBC's Saturday Night Live. In his monologue, DeVito mentioned that the cast had filmed their final show without knowing it was their last, robbing them of the opportunity to take a final bow. He brought his castmates on stage so they could do so. Later in the show, a bit showed a disgruntled DeVito blowing up the ABC building.

Afterwards, NBC picked up the show for a fifth season. They promoted it with ads of the cast saying, "Same time, better station." (Here are two other NBC promos from their 1982 season which include Taxi.)

Season 5 (1982-1983)
Three more Emmy wins for this season: Outstanding Lead Actor for Judd Hirsch, Outstanding Supporting Actor to Christopher Lloyd and Outstanding Supporting Actress to Carol Kane)

91. Love Un-American Style / The Shloogel Show (Guest stars: Marcia Wallace (as herself) and Wallace Shawn)
92. Jim's Inheritance (Parts 1 and 2)
93. Alex Goes Off The Wagon
94. Scenskees From A Marriage - Part 1 (Guest stars: Allyce Beasley and Vincent Schiavelli)
95. Scenskees From A Marriage - Part 2
96. Crime And Punishment
97. Alex The Gofer
98. Louie's Revenge (Guest star: Andrea Marcovicci. Sequel to the fourth season episode Louie's Fling)
99. Travels With My Dad (Guest star: Donnelly Rhodes)
100. Elaine And The Monk (Directed by Danny DeVito)
101. Zena's Honeymoon (Guest stars: Rhea Perlman and Peter Jurasik, Directed by one of the shows' producers, Richard Sakai, who would go on to produce 435 episodes of "The Simpsons" beginning in 1989)
102. Get Me Through The Holidays
103. Louie Moves Uptown
104. Alex's Old Buddy
105. Sugar Ray Nardo
106. A Taxi Celebration (Clip show hosted by Danny DeVito - Not online)
107. Alex Gets Burned By An Old Flame
108. Louie And The Blind Girl
109. Arnie Meets The Kids (Guest stars: Wallace Shawn)
110. Tony's Baby
111. Jim's Mario's
112. A Grand Gesture (Guest stars: Scatman Crothers, Vincent Schiavelli)
113. Simka's Monthlies (Final Episode to Air)

114: A Taxi Celebration (A clip show finale. Includes highlights from some of the most popular episodes: "Like Father, Like Daughter", "Paper Marriage", "Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey", "Blind Date", "Elaine's Strange Triangle", "Memories of Cab 804", "Louie and the Nice Girl", "Elegant Iggy", "Jim the Psychic", Fantasy Borough" and "Sceneskees From a Marriage".) Not online

Cancelled… Again!
After the season, NBC cancelled the show. Judd Hirsch would go on to win a Best Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy that same year. In his acceptance speech he blasted NBC executive Grant Tinker (who had (ironically) saved the show from cancellation the previous year.) Afterwards, perhaps realizing that he had very publicly shot himself in the foot, Hirsch took out a full page ad in "a Hollywood trade paper" which read only, "....but what I wanted to say was thank you."

Back in 2012, This Was Television did a series of roundtable reviews of specific episodes.
* Like Father, Like Daughter
* “One-Punch Banta” and “Bobby’s Acting Career”
* “Come As You Aren’t” and “High School Reunion”
* “Paper Marriage” and “Louie and the Nice Girl”
* “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” and “Nardo Loses Her Marbles”
* Take My Ex-Wife Please” and “The Wedding of Latka and Simka”
* “The Road Not Taken” (Parts 1 and 2)
* Wikipedia and TV Tropes
* Danny DeVito on getting cast as Louie, playing Louie, the cage and working with Andy Kaufman,
* Tony Danza on how he got the role, and Andy Kaufman
* James Burrows on Andy Kaufman and working on the show.
* Judd Hirsch on Andy Kaufman
* Glenn and Les Charles on the writers of Taxi
* Blooper Reel
* Another Blooper

Andy Kaufman
Kaufman apparently had difficulty getting along with his cast mates on the set and since his death some of them have spoken publicly about him, including Judd Hirsch and Tony Danza. In that last link, Danza speaks about the incident where Kaufman's alter-ego Tony Clifton was physically removed from the set by Paramount's security guards. Also see: Don Steinmetz' wonderful Oral History of Andy Kaufman.

Here we are at the comments section, sir. That'll be 90¢. Have a nice day.
Good Night Mr. Walters!
posted by zarq (56 comments total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
The episodes chosen by the AV Club:
* Memories Of Cab 804, Parts 1 and 2
* Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey
* The Great Race
* Out Of Commission
* Latka The Playboy
* Louie Goes Too Far
* Elegant Iggy
* Scenskees From A Marriage, Parts 1 and 2
* A Grand Gesture
posted by zarq at 7:22 AM on April 11, 2014 [17 favorites]

What a great show. And what a great post. And Alex's adventure in the gay bar is one of the funniest scenes in TV history.
posted by jonmc at 7:24 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

jonmc: "And Alex's adventure in the gay bar..."

Elaine's Strange Triangle!
posted by zarq at 7:27 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you ever feel like hearing the whole theme song (and you should, unless you hate feeling lost and nostalgic) peep it here. Only welcome back Kotter has a more mournful premise/theme.

Just the first notes of this jam bring me back to sophomore year in college, staying up all night smoking & watching reruns of Taxi on Nick At Nite and wishing Judd Hirsh was my father.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:32 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's the AV Club chosen episodes link, properly included in the post but the link in your comment goes back to this thread. Also, that link lists “High School Reunion” (season one, episode seven) as the first picked episode.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:34 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I love you for making this post. We've been working our way through Cheers (I was only six months old when it started) and I was wondering what to go on to next. Taxi sometimes appeared on Paramount Comedy here, but only Season 1 seems to be available in the UK. I like stuff set in 70s/80s New York, which is the kind of New York I'd really like to visit, and I worry I'd be disappointed if I saw the 2014 version.

I've only seen Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People, I can't quite imagine him as a comic actor.
posted by mippy at 7:36 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

filthy light thief: "properly included in the post but the link in your comment goes back to this thread. "

Crap! Sorry, folks. And thank you, flt.

So many links, I think my brain is now mush.
posted by zarq at 7:37 AM on April 11, 2014

Cable? Pfft. Netflix? Nuh-uh. Apple TV? Fugedaboudit. Zarq TV? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT.

Zarq TV: I'm Zarqin' it!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:40 AM on April 11, 2014 [12 favorites]

Judd Hirsch is my mother's cousin. My mom was very close to his mother, Sally, who was an exceptionally sweet woman. Judd often seems to be playing his own father when he performs who was a gruff man with a wild sense if humor, but shows often turn to Judd's ability to produce an avuncular affection, a genuine kindness and concern. Taxi did this most of all, and I think Judd is channeling his mother there. She visited us when I was a boy, and we visited her, and I remember feeling that she was a very nice aunt to have.

I was watching Taxi the other night. Of course, I have met Judd and always known him to be a part of the family, but my brothers are now the same age he was then. For the first time, I was struck by the family resemblance. He didn't look like a second cousin. He looked like my brothers. He's from the side of my family tree named Kitzis, and I have always seen the Sparber side, my father's side, in my brothers. But now they look like Kitzises to me, which was a surpsing experience to have when watching an old sitcom.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2014 [18 favorites]

Look, I know she wasn't the star. But really, only two mentions of Marilu Henner in the whole post? Really?
posted by maryr at 7:47 AM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

My father regularly references the "what does a yellow light mean" line as the most perfectly constructed tv joke. I've seen that scene so many times, and thought about it so many more, but I still find it utterly hilarious.
posted by elmer benson at 8:01 AM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

maryr: " Really?"

I didn't find much unique content with her in it and what I came up with wouldn't have particularly improved the post, in my opinion. The only video interviews I found of her online regarding Taxi are here and here. Most of the rest of the video interviews online seem to cover her eidetic memory and I didn't bother watching those. Not relevant to the post.

In the print interviews I've come across, her comments about the show are either light and superficial or she isn't asked about it at all. This interview with Roger Ebert from 1980, is a good example.

However, she was included in the Oral History of Andy Kaufman link.

If you find others, please feel free to add them to the comments. I'd love to read or watch them.
posted by zarq at 8:12 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Actually I just found a radio interview she did with TV Time Machine that looks promising. Haven't listened to yet, though.
posted by zarq at 8:18 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I watched this during its original run, and I was obsessed; I was convinced that being a cab driver was going to be the perfect day job while I was going to be trying to make it as an actor here in New York. ...that was before I moved here and realized that driving in manhattan freaks me right the fuck out.

But then after a couple years of being a stage manager, it remembered there was a late episode where Alex gets an unexpected chance to be a stage manager himself. He's excited and stage-struck at first - offering ideas on the production to the director - but is rebuffed in his offers for much of the show, and the last scene sees Louie coming to the theater to talk sense into him and he's on the verge of giving up and going back to the garage. But then the director comes looking for him, saying they're watching one scene they've been having trouble with, can he watch with them? They wanna hear what he has to say too. Alex says sure, he just needs to show Louie out - and takes his leave, saying, "excuse me, Louie, the director needs to see what I think of scene 3" or whatever. And the look on his face is that of someone who, after a long time of thinking he wasn't going to have a passion in life, has realized it isn't too late after all.

I like to think Alex stayed with stage managing; it suits him, and would be a great late joy for him even if he never was able to give up being a cabbie. Also, it means that the total arc of the show means that someone pretty much finally won.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:20 AM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

The screen fades in to a moving view of New York City from the Brooklyn Bridge

That's the Queensboro Bridge!
posted by neroli at 8:39 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am so proud to say that not only did I recognize the FPP quote instantly, but I also felt lots of warm fuzzies reading it. I LOVED Taxi. As a teen, my parents and I would watch it and they would laugh hysterically.

I almost feel like I don't even need to read this post, since I know every episode like the back of my hand. Nah, this is still a great post.

Love the theme song, "Angela's Theme," a reference to the Angela in episodes 3 and 28.

Love, love, love those classic NYC cabs. Wasn't there a move to bring them back to the city?
posted by Melismata at 8:43 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

neroli: " That's the Queensboro Bridge!"

*head desk*

Yep! Yes, it is. Doh!
posted by zarq at 8:44 AM on April 11, 2014

I can't quite imagine him as a comic actor.

All you need to imagine him as a comic actor is the scene in #58 mentioned above: "It's ok. I'm not really a cab driver. I'm just waiting for something better to come along. Like death."
posted by Melismata at 8:54 AM on April 11, 2014

This was my favorite show in 6th grade! Thanks zarq!
posted by brujita at 9:05 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember a comedian in the 80s commenting on the cognitive dissonance of Reverend Jim playing the Klingon commander in Star Trek III. "Kirk, you don't want to give me the Genesis device ... okey doke!"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:10 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember a comedian in the 80s commenting on the cognitive dissonance of Reverend Jim playing the Klingon commander in Star Trek III. "Kirk, you don't want to give me the Genesis device ... okey doke!"

Kevin Pollack's Star Trek V: In Search of Cash. (There may be better links of it out there)
posted by Melismata at 9:12 AM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

As I understand it, one of the best things about having children is introducing them to the things that you love, respect and admire. Much ink has been spilled over the relationships between fathers and sons and how we communicate only through sports, or hunting or the like. My relationship with my father has been complicated longer than it's been simple, but we've always been able to sit down and watch Taxi together. Like elmer benson, above, we can quote "What does a yellow light mean" back and forth at each other, winding up in stitches.

Bits and pieces of Reverend Jim wind up in any number of successors: the physical comedy of Cosmo Kramer, the world-beating ace that Barney Gumble was before he drank. He bleeds into the real world as well. There was an episode where Jim goes back to his family, from whom he has been estranged for a long time. In particular, his father, who disapproved of Jim's tuning in, turning on and dropping out, had recently died. Jim discovers that, among other things, his father left a trunk, which supposedly contains what the father truly thought of the son. Jim opens the trunk and there's a tape recorder inside. Watching that episode, we brace for a cruel tirade about Jim's wasted life, or maybe just an hour of sighing, ruminations on what might have been. Cautiously, Jim hits play. We hear the opening chords of Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life".

My father, a son of divorce, whose own father died when Dad was 12, always makes a point of telling me that's his favorite episode of Taxi.
posted by aureliobuendia at 9:13 AM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

(Derail: Kevin Pollack is William Shatner's favorite imitator of himself, supposedly.)
posted by Melismata at 9:14 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I, um, had a thing for Simka Gravas. I have no idea what that means. I don't think I even want to know what that means, but this seems like the place to mention it.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:20 AM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

I became a bike messenger in large part because of wanting to work in a place like "Taxi". Lemme tell you, real bike messenger companies are EXACTLY like the fictional Sunshine Cab Company, except, perhaps impossibly, even more so.
posted by SPUTNIK at 9:31 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Jim discovers that, among other things, his father left a trunk, which supposedly contains what the father truly thought of the son. Jim opens the trunk and there's a tape recorder inside. Watching that episode, we brace for a cruel tirade about Jim's wasted life, or maybe just an hour of sighing, ruminations on what might have been. Cautiously, Jim hits play. We hear the opening chords of Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life".

And what's brilliant about Taxi is that in the midst of all this seriousness, there's some amazing humor in there as well. Jim pulls out his father's suit, and it's comically huge. He puts the suit on a chair, and the chair tips back by itself. He finds his diploma. "I didn't know dad kept my graduation diploma. I didn't know I graduated." Few shows can balance drama and humor the way Taxi can.
posted by Melismata at 9:37 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Melismata: "He puts the suit on a chair, and the chair tips back by itself."

Somewhere online, possibly in IMDb's trivia section, it says that the tipping of the chair was unexpected and Christopher Lloyd's reaction in that scene was real and not scripted. I believe that was unconfirmed so I didn't mention it in the post
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think I have ever seen a full episode of this show--thank you for reminding me to remedy this.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:29 AM on April 11, 2014

I remember being a kid and my brother pointed out to me that the opening sequence isn't one long drive across the bridge, but the same short shot shown over and over again, cutting back every time one of the names appears.

I was about ten years old, and it was one of those moments when I realized TV could play tricks on people.

I loved that show. Even then, and again as a teenager when I watched it every day in reruns, I loved every episode.

I still use the line "in the third grade there was a girl who used to eat paste" any time someone wants me to tell them a useless fact or secret.
posted by bondcliff at 10:29 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch) was the father figure in the garage, the one who’d (mostly) made peace with the fact he was a Sunshine lifer. He expressed that sentiment perfectly in the pilot: “Me, I’m a cab driver. I’m the only cab driver in this place.”

I remember one episode where Louie De Palma said, "The only who ever got out of here is James Caan... But he'll be back!"
posted by jonp72 at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2014

There are three Taxi moments that have stated with me forever. The first two were mentioned - the Yellow Light moment is simply one of the funniest things I've ever seen and the Sunshine of my Life sequence can still get me choked up.

Latka needs a styptic pencil for some reason and Jim reaches behind his ear and says something like "use mine." Alex assumes Jim is confused and says something like "not a pencil, a styptic pencil." Alex then realizes it is a styptic pencil.

Alex: Jim, why do you carry a styptic pencil behind your ear?

Jim: In light of what just happened, the question is: why don't you?

I was twelve or thirteen and had no idea what a styptic pencil was but I may not have ever laughed as hard in my life as I laughed at that exchange. It's not the joke that does it - is Jim's pride coupled with Alex's perfect reaction to the punchline. In fact, the success of Jim as a character is rooted as much in everyone else's reactions to him add in Lloyd's remarkable performance.

Oh! A fourth moment! Elaine takes Jim to a swanky party to watch famous pianist, who cancels and Jim offers to take his place. From the moment he offers to the end of the episode so many great things happen.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:58 AM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Joey Michaels: "The first two were mentioned - the Yellow Light moment is simply one of the funniest things I've ever seen"

The moment that ALWAYS gets me is when says starts to really stretch out the word "Yellow." He has to pause "Yellllllllllllllllllll-" halfway through and use his finger to remember his place and figure out what the rest of the word is... "...lllllllllllllowwwwwwww." Twice.

Tears of laughter.

There's also a line shortly before then where he's filling out the license application and reads "Eyes" and Marilu Henner says, "No, don't put 'two.'" :D
posted by zarq at 11:26 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Taxi, along with Hill Street Blues and Mash was my companion during the darkest period in my life, back in 1997 when university wasn't working out and I had no idea what to do with myself so I stayed in my room in the student flat where you had to share the toilet and bathroom with the whole floor, watching television. That was when there was still a dedicated golden oldies tv station in the Netherlands and they'd started up doing repeats of these three shows, so I'd be waiting for those to come on and that was the best thing that would happen to me all day.

And then after a couple of months I managed to snap out of it, found a job, dropped out and never looked back.

Taxi was just brilliantly funny and comforting at the same time, just old enough to be old fashioned but not corny.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:47 AM on April 11, 2014

Oh! What was the episode where they all chip in and try to buy a painting on auction as an investment? They end up getting outbid in the auction- which is at Elaine's gallery - and are in the main showroom after sort of commiserating and are about to leave when one of them says hang on...the rest of this stuff is for sale, lemme get my share of the money back and see if I wanna buy something just for myself. And the others all think yeah, that's a good idea, and start browsing for their own selves.

The last scene is back at the garage where they're all showing Elaine what they got - Jim has this surrealist thing, Alex has a small bust he just sort of digs, Tony went with something pop-art - and last is Louie, who's gotten this gloriously tacky half naked odalisque and looks very pleased.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on April 11, 2014

Empress: s02e22: Art Work
posted by zarq at 12:21 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite Taxi quote ever is from Louis in Going Home (season 3 episode 5, at about the 6:40 mark): "Ignatowski's got a father?? There goes my spore theory."

I first watched "Back To The Future" specifically because Christopher Lloyd was in it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:06 PM on April 11, 2014

Songs that sample the Taxi theme:

Bizzy Bone - Sit Back Relax (my favorite)

Souls of Mischief - Cab Fare

Tweet - Taxi

Captail STEEZ - Cab Fare
posted by mediocre at 1:23 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, my bookstore is kinda like Taxi, lotsa aspiring artists or whatever, resigned old codgers, and more than a few Rev. Jims.
posted by jonmc at 1:35 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Taxi was the first show that me and my mom really connected watching when I was a kid. Being a little one, I was more amused by Latka and wife than anything else. It wasn't until I grew up and started watching Taxi on Nick At Nite that I started getting all the other layers of humor and pathos on the show. Watching it these days, it's amazing how just FILTHY the show was relative to modern television. It was just a genuinely dinghy show full of incredibly average looking people. Mary Lou Henner was supposed to be the great beauty of the show, and Jeff Conaway was supposed to be a prettyboy, but everyone else was just human in a way you don't get that on television anymore.
posted by mediocre at 1:47 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Isn't every non-Wall-Street institution in NYC kinda like the Sunshine Cab Co. in Taxi, jonmc? or should I call you Reverend jonmc?
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:38 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this post. My only contact with Taxi was watching it in reruns in the afternoon when I was probably 9 or 10 years old but I was old enough to get the broad strokes of the characters and the situations and I remember enjoying it. I never knew about the Cheers connection, but it makes sense in retrospect. Both shows have (mostly) everyday people as their main characters and make them into something special.

All that said,

DeVito and Perlman met during the filming of this episode. They would marry in 1982

The wiki pages for both Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman say they met in 1971. Them meeting on the set is a story that would be great if it was true, but sadly appears not to be.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:54 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Perfect post for a Friday night in. Thanks, zarq.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:23 PM on April 11, 2014

From the link above : Don Steinmetz' wonderful Oral History of Andy Kaufman.
Bob Zmuda: We had to adapt the Gatsby bit for Saturday Night Live, because it didn’t have an out. The way we did it, Andy goes into character with a British accent and starts reading Gatsby: "In my younger and more formative years…" And he's reading for a minute and the audience starts making noise. And he slams the book shut and starts scolding them. He starts again from the beginning. There's this record player next to him, and he says, all right, I'm going to ask you all, who wants the music record, and who wants the book. They all want the record. He says "fine, but first the book." He keeps torturing them. Finally, he says all right, we'll put the record on. He puts the record on and starts doing a little beat thing, like there’s going to be a rhythm that's going to start. And then you hear the record is of the British guy reading "In my younger and more formative years…"

Considering we're living in a Golden Age of Television it sure does seem as though we've lost something. Courage perhaps?
posted by fullerine at 6:45 PM on April 11, 2014

Heh. I just tried to explain the "What does a yellow light mean" bit to my wife, who didn't watch Taxi as a kid. She said it was probably funnier on the show, and was right.

My other favorite bit was when Latka brought in some coca-laced cookies (Ah-the '80's!) and Jim sniffed one and identified the specific breed, growing conditions, season, etc. of the coca leaves ("Southern Peru, '74, before the rains...")
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:53 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Zarq, I am in awe of this post. Just thank you so much. I cannot adequately express my thanks for this.
posted by umberto at 10:17 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

So as far as I know the series has never aired on Australian TV, certainly not between 1970 and 1990-ish, the period when I have some authority as spending too much time growing up. Although with the multi-digital channels around now it seems we are owed a screening. Thanks for putting this together, it helps to contextualise the Andy Kaufman posts that seem to crop up pretty regularly.
Cue smoke or Mezentian or Jimbob to tell me it was on Ten at 4am on Thursdays!
posted by bystander at 6:43 AM on April 12, 2014

I can't tell you how much I look forward to these posts from zarq. When I saw this, I squeed with joy, and explained to my husband that zarq had done it again. These posts are worth every bit of my productivity that they sap.
posted by blurker at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2014

Coupla things:

- You must call me, in front of at least 5 witnesses, "Stallion"

- I know a drug that does that, but it has an unfortunate side effect
What's that, Jim?
It wears off.

- This is my brother, Bobjim.

- Latka deciding not to speak and showing Tony the drawing of a donkey's ass.

- Do you know how a mountain woman makes love?

- (Devito singing "feelings" at the juke)

I haven't seen any of these in at least 20 years so please forgive inaccuracies.

Finally, there's a jam jazz ensemble out there somewhere called Drop Trio (I have no idea if they are still active) who have a piece on one of their albums called "the Allen Smithee show" which I always found very reminiscent of the bittersweet Taxi theme.

Oh, right, here.

(when is Zarq gonna take on M*A*S*H?)
posted by hearthpig at 1:17 PM on April 12, 2014

It's a testament to Christopher Lloyds abilities to create memorable characters that just as people said they could not picture him as anybody but Rev. Jim when Back To The Future came out people now say they can't see him as anybody but Doc Brown. Or "that guy in that fake hoverboard video" for those damn teenagers with their music.
posted by mediocre at 3:07 PM on April 12, 2014

To piggyback on the "coupla things" - I swear I saw an episode where Alex is trying to cheer up a bunch of other drivers by suggesting they all sing something, and they pick "New York New York"; except they don't know all the words, so they end up singing,

"Start spreading the news, I'm leavin' today,
I na-na, na-na....something, something, New Yooooork...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2014

Holy crap, what a heavy show. Brilliant.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:33 PM on April 12, 2014

So we're watching them in sequence. I think we're on 1x06. For a comedy series, holy cow, what a lot of drama. A lot of serious subjects.

Such fine acting. Way better than I'm used to seeing in a sitcom. More like smsll theatre. And the writing is brilliant. What a great production!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with everybody above, this is great television: fine acting, a script for adults that manages to be funny without being a series of gags and occasionally poignant without being sappy, and overall just huge talent on display.

I'm stuck home with a weird sort of low-level flu thing, and I've been burning through season one all weekend. Then I caught some Big Bang Theory on TV, and the contrast was really grating - I'm sorry if it makes me sound old, but they just don't make them like this any more.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:29 AM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Parents laughing the hardest:

"You'd be better off with the hundred."
posted by Melismata at 6:17 PM on April 13, 2014

I'm so glad people are enjoying this post! :) Yay!

hearthpig: " (when is Zarq gonna take on M*A*S*H?)"

I have something of a related-to-M*A*S*H post in progress that I'm hoping to complete at some point. Covering both "After M*A*S*H" and the failed "W*A*L*T*E*R" pilot, in case anyone's curious. Both shows are on YouTube.

I originally thought it would be cool to create a post that noted what happened to people after M*A*S*H ended. Both those who left (specifically Larry "Frank Burns" Linville, McLean "Henry Blake" Stevenson, Gary "Radar O'Reilly" Burghoff, Timothy "Spearchucker Jones" Brown and Wayne "Trapper John" Rogers) as well as the other cast members. But it's way too much info to put into a coherent mefi post. Even my initial research looked like a total mess. And it felt better suited to a personal blog than MeFi. Paring the original concept down to those two shows makes it manageable. It helps that they didn't last long!

The original M*A*S*H show clocks in at 256 episodes, (assuming it's online -- I haven't checked) so putting a post together about it by itself would be a major undertaking. Am up for it, but it would take a while!
posted by zarq at 8:31 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Jeffery Tambour has apparently always been balding. The Rodney Dangerfield-esque humour is awful. Interesting to compare against the earlier episode with the "fat woman"… which IIRC won a statue of some sort.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:31 PM on April 26, 2014

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