'Barney Miller' – Life Off the Streets
The complete run of the greatest cop sitcom ever made
"Barney Miller: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory) collects all eight seasons of the iconic seventies sitcom. Set entirely in the precinct house, it's still considered the most realistic portrayal of cops on television by real-life law officers. "A cop show for the ages," wrote LAPD Detective Sergeant turned bestselling author Joseph Wambaugh. "The always human characters in that squad room reflect the attitudes and opinions recognizable by anyone who ever carried a badge and used humor as a powerful defensive weapon."
Precinct Police Captain Hal Linden plays straight man to his eccentric detective squad room in the great 1970s sitcom: Fish (Abe Vigoda), the glum, sad faced cynic with a sardonic comment for every occasion, Wojo (Max Gail), the gullible gung-ho Pole, Amanguale (Gregory Sierra), the Puerto Rican jokester, the impeccably dressed Harris (Ron Glass), always outspoken, and sleepy eyed Yemena (Jack Soo), whose dry delivery is unmatched in TV sitcoms. The roll call changed over the seasons -- Linda Lavin was the sole woman in the bullpen on and off during the first two seasons, Sierra left after the second season, Vigoda retired at the beginning of season four and Soo unexpectedly passed away after five seasons. And the talented Barbara Barrie, who played Barney's wife in the first season (where the show briefly included scenes in the Miller apartment), was phased out to focus exclusively on the workplace environment. That the upshot was giving Barney a divorce only solidified the case for the show: it may be a comedy, but that doesn't mean these guys don't face the same stresses of their cop drama brethren. It was simply part of the background.
Stepping in were Steve Landesberg as low-key intellectual Arthur Dietrich, whose unruffled delivery and penchant for tossing trivia into conversations adds a whole new flavor to the chemistry, plus regular visits to the detective room by Officer Levitt (Ron Carey) and Inspector James Gregory's lonely, garrulous Inspector Luger, a veteran who apparently didn't actually have any cases of his own to work. He just liked to be one of the guys.
"Barney Miller" was a sitcom, of course, not a procedural, and they rarely dealt anyone really dangerous. Pickpockets, petty thieves and prostitutes were the class of suspect they ended up with, usually with a smart remark or an entertaining line of b******t. Which these guys were more than able to lob back with style. Yet they were decent men doing an unglamorous job and with Barney as their boss and the voice of reason. In the very first episode he talks his way through a hostage situation when a teenage addict holds the squad at bay in episode and holds things together for the next eight seasons. The complete collection includes the tribute to Jack Soo that ran in place of the final episode of Season Five.
168 episodes altogether -- plus complete, short-lived spin-off "Fish" with Abe Vigoda and Florence Stanley, promoted from her recurring role on the original series -- in a hefty 25-disc box set of four standard cases with hinged trays (and one thinpak for "Fish"). The shows, taken from original videotape masters, are not restored and show the limitations of the shot-on-video format and the age of the master tapes, but they look just fine, a little soft and colors dulled but complete, undamaged and clean.
The set is also packed with supplements: commentary tracks, the original pilot, which was called "The Life and Times of Barney Miller" and featured different cast, and the featurettes "Inside the 12the Precinct" (featuring interviews with Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda and Max Gail) and "Inside the Writer's Room." (See a clip from the interviews below.) The 40-page booklet features a fine essay by TV critic and historian Howard Rosenberg and an episode guide.