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Barney Miller : Top 10 Episodes


Most of the time, Sitcoms that are considered to be among the best are aired in reruns on a continuous basis. Shows such as “I Love Lucy”, “MASH”, and “Seinfeld” have and will continue generate new devotees, mainly because those who were not around to see them when they originally aired can discover them like they are new. But some shows that are considered to be classics are not given this afterlife and therefore may have more difficulty standing the test of time. One such show is “Barney Miller”. For those who aren’t aware of this sitcom, “Barney Miller” originally aired on ABC from 1975 to 1982. The show centered around detectives who worked in New York City’s 12th Precinct. The characters included Barney ( captain and father figure to the other detectives), Fish (old, wise, cranky, and nearing retirement), Wojo ( starts out kind of clueless, but learns a lot as the show progresses), Harris ( has both a sharp wit and a sharp wardrobe), Yemana ( wise, of few words, and loves horse racing), Dietrich( arrogant at times, yet always tries to give helpful advise), Chano(very forthright with his emotions), Levitt (a uniformed officer, who is always kissing up to the detectives) and Luger(the police inspector, who can often be unintentionally politically incorrect ). Of course, other character appeared on “Barney Miller on a recurring basis, but the above mentioned were the most important. Even though “Barney Miller was part of the schedule on TV Land from 2000 to 2003, it has not been given nearly enough of it’s due in syndication. Also, at the present time (March,2008) only the first two season have been released to DVD with no plans in the immediate future for more to be released. That in and of it’s self, is a crime.
There are 168 episodes of “Barney Miller”, most of which are very good. However, the list is narrowed down to a mere 10 episodes(listed in no particular order). As with any “best of” list, some readers will agree with either some of the selections, all of the selections, or none of the selections. Let the debating being!

1.Werewolf (From Season 3: Original Air Date -10/28/76) A full moon is responsible for an even more chaotic night than usual at the 12th Precinct. One of the funniest moments in “Barney Miller” history occurs in this episode. A man who was taken into custody thinks that he is a werewolf. Throughout the episode, he begs to be released from the temporary holding cell so that he will not hurt any of the detectives. When midnight is about to approach there is much insanity as the “wolf man” screams to be let out. Jack Soo (Yemana) has one of his funniest moments on “Barney Miller” at this point in the episode because he is screaming for Barney to get back into the squad room before the “wolf man” losses it any more. Unfortunately, Jack Soo’s death in 1979 left a void on “Barney Miller” that was never filled. But viewers are incredibly fortunate that they had the chance to watch his wonderful performance on the show. Hopefully, more seasons of “Barney Miller” will be released on DVD so that Jack Soo’s Yemana will live on for many years to come.

2. The Harris Incident (From Season 5: Original Air Date – 11/30/78) Being that “Barney Miller” is a show about police officers in New York City, it is no surprise that some of the plots of the episodes deal with topics that are of social relevance and at times controversial. When “Barney Miller” debuted on television in 1975, “All in the Family” had all ready been shocking audiences and reinventing the sitcom format for 4 years. The main plot in the The Harris Incident revolves around stereotypical attitudes that people have about race and how those attitudes can result in fatal or near fatal actions. While he is on his way to work, Harris, who is African American, is shot at by two uniformed police officers. The reason that the uniformed police office give for shooting at Harris is that they were called to scene of the arrest and they assume that it is Harris who is the criminal instead of the white man that he is trying to apprehend. Harris is a plain clothes detective who wears expensive clothing and the uniformed officers jump to the conclusion that he is the offender. Obviously, this attitude is born out of prejudice and stereotypical attitude and Harris is rightfully outraged. However, once the uniformed office file a report of the incident they are allowed to go back on duty as if nothing happened. This injustice angers Harris, but he is a professional and will not let it stand in the way of him doing his job. He doesn’t agree with how the incident was handled, but he also knows that similar and much worse injustices have been inflicted upon people just because of their race. In the long run, by going on with his work and his life, he is making a difference for future generations.

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3. Hash (From Season 3: Original Air date – 12/30/76) Hash is a “Barney Miller” fan favorite. Wojo’s new girlfriend of the week (he has many throughout the run of the show) gives him brownies that he does not know are laced with Hashish. Not every body eats them, but the ones who do get very high. The irony is obvious because police officers are getting unintentionally while on duty. It makes for a great episode, which includes Jack Soo singing and other members of the 12 precinct acting in ways that they would not normally act.

4. Fish (From Season 2: Original Air date – 12/4/75) Perhaps the most beloved and well known character to come out of “Barney Miller” was Detective Phil Fish (portrayed by actor Abe Vigoda). Vigoda was only a regular cast member on “Barney Miller” for the first 3 seasons. In February of 1977, Vigoda’s character was spun-off into his very own sitcom simply titled “Fish”. For the last few episodes in the third season of “Barney Miller”, Vigoda played fish on both show at the same time. Even though this episode originally aired over a full year before the first episode of “Fish” aired, it was clearly setting up Vigoda’s departure from “Barney Miller”. In the episode Fish is told that he is being placed on restricted duty, due to his age and his nearing retirement. This upsets Fish especially when he meets Detective Arthur Dietrich who has been transfered from a police precinct that closed. Fish sees Dietrich as being there to take his place, which in a way he eventually will. Fish goes to his home to sulk, which is the first time that the audience sees Fish’s home. Even though Fish’s wife Bernice had been in episodes of “Barney Miller” prior to this episode and would continue to make appearances until Fish’s final appearance, in this one episode she is played by a different actress. Another character who appears in this episode is Fish’s adult daughter Beverly, who is a school teacher. It was sad to Fish leave “Barney Miller”. But as his “replacement” Dietrich displays in this episode (which is his first appearance on the show) that he is a perfect fit. Rather than simply bringing on a new character that is a Fish clone, Dietrich couldn’t be more different from Fish.

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5. Quarantine: Parts I and II (From Season 3 : Original Air-dates – 9/23/76 & 9/30/76) After apprehending a suspect who is possibly infected with smallpox, the 12th precinct is placed under quarantine for an overnight. This means that the detectives, the uniformed officers, and others who have been apprehended during this time period are forced to spend the night at the at the station house. This is definitely one of the best two part episodes in “Barney Miller” history. Different and dynamic personalities are forced to live within extremely close quarters and they do not have any choice in the matter. One of the highlights of these episodes is the fact that one of those was apprehended and therefore forced to spend the night is a recurring character named Marty, who is played by actor Jack DeLeon. Marty is arrested on a number of occasions by the men of the 12th precinct throughout the shows run. Marty also happens to be gay,which it should be noted for those who aren’t familiar with “Barney Miller” has nothing to with his numerous arrests. He is a small time thief and con artist who is always arrested for legitimate reasons. Most of the detectives like Marty in spite of frequent arrests. One exception to that rule is Wojo. Wojo is not hateful towards Marty because he is gay, he just feels uncomfortable with it. In Quarantine , due to spending time in such close quarters, Wojo comes to accept both Marty and his partner, who is also forced into staying at the 12th precinct. This is but one example of how Wojo changes for the better during the run of “Barney Miller”. It’s not that his personality changes, he just becomes more open-minded about life in general.

6. Paternity (From Season 8: Original Air-date – 10/29/81) Wojo is named as the father in a paternity suit. Soon after though, Wojo finds out that he couldn’t possibly be the father of the child because he is sterile. He greatly disappointed by this news. He always assumed that he would be able to have children of his own somewhere down the line. Of course though, just because he is sterile, it doesn’t mean that he can’t have children. Barney helps Wojo come to that realization by explaining that many other people have dealt with the same issue and have found alternatives to achieving their desires to have kids. Barney mentions adoption as a possibility. Wojo will obviously need some time to adjust. At times this may be challenging, but he will do his best.

7. Riot (From Season 7: Original Air-date – 4/30/81) A group of Hasidic Jews decides that the 12th Precinct does not do enough to insure the safety of their community. This leads to an angry rally outside of the station house. Luger’s attempt to get the crowd to disperse is not well received and the rally quickly becomes violent. The group make their way into the station house and causes massive property damage. Obviously, the irony of this situation is by causing this disturbance at the police station, the Hasidic Jews are preventing the police from going out and protecting those in need. By acting in a violent and destructive manner, they are contributing to police’s inability to effectively answer calls. While many may believe that violent acts can be a justifiable solution, more often than not they have unnecessarily damaging results.

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8. Guns (Season 6: Original Air-date – 1/31/80) Luger is temporarily demoted from his position as inspector and is assigned to work as a detective in the 12th Precinct. This causes much aggravation among the twelfths regulars, who have daily arguments over who’s turn it is to be on duty with Luger. For Wojo, this aggravation soon becomes concern for Luger’s well being. While the two are out answering a call, Wojo sees Luger put himself unnecessarily in a potentially fatal situation. At first, Luger tries to brush this off jokingly. Later on though, he admits to Barney that he is afraid to die in way that is prolonged and demeaning. He would prefer to die in the line of duty, doing the job that he has devoted basically his entire life to during the past 40 years. Being afraid of dying in an undignified and extended manner is something that most of us do not want. Luger’s feelings may seem drastic at first, but in reality they are very relatable even to those who are not police officers.

9. Identity (From Season 5 – Original Air-date – 3/1/79) Harris and Dietrich are kind of like “Barney Miller’s” version of “The Odd Couple” (with Harris being Felix and Dietrich being Oscar). Harris’ portrayer Ron Glass also played Felix in “The New Odd Couple”, which began only a few months after “Barney Miller” ended. In Identity, Dietrich saves Harris’ life while the two men are on responding to a call. This makes Harris feel that he is indebted to Dietrich in a way that he will never be able to possibly repay him. Dietrich does manage to convince Harris that he is not owed anything nor does he expect anything. He was simply doing his job.

10.TheHero (From Season 1 – Original Air-date – 5/1/75) For the first two season of “Barney Miller”, actor Gregory Sierra played Det. Sgt. Chano Amenguale. Sierra is probably better known for his recurring role as Julio Fuentes on “Sanford and Son”. It is unfortunate that Sierra was not part of the “Barney Miller” cast for a longer period of time. Without a doubt, the standout Chano episode of “Barney Miller” is The Hero. Chano shoots and kills two armed robbers. This causes him a great amount of guilt because even though the men were armed and dangerous, they were still human beings. Barney allows Chano to leave work early in order for him to collect his thoughts and feelings. Later on, Barney visits Chano at his apartment to help him through this ordeal. While Barney understands and sympathizes with what Chano is going through, he also knows that it is part of being a police officer. Chano killed the two men not because he wanted to, but because he had to do it. Though it is a heavy cross to bare, Chano must and does eventually find a way reconcile himself with his actions.