"Car 54, Where Are You? The Complete First Season" – Patrolling with Toody and Muldoon
Plus a clip from the legendary sitcom
"Car 54, Where Are You? The Complete First Season" (Shanachie Entertainment)
There's a small but loyal chorus of fans who proclaim "Car 54, Where Are You?" one of the funniest sitcoms of all time. You can count Leonard Maltin and Robert Klein among them and I can see their point, even if I don't share their point of view.
Created and mostly written by Nat Hiken (whose "The Phil Silvers Show," aka "You'll Never Get Rich," was a huge and influential hit) and set around a pair of beat cops in a fictional New York precinct, it follows the successful formula of little events snowballing out of control with lunatic momentum and mad logic. Joe E. Ross is the grinning, goofball buffoon Gunther Toody ("Oooo!... Oooo!") and Fred Gwynne his stand-up partner Francis Muldoon, loyal to a fault as he tries to save Toody from his well-meaning impulses with equally flawed plans.
This is vintage sitcom material in the "I Love Lucy" and "Phil Silvers Show" mode, with big, broad performances, emphatic writing and energetic ensemble work. Ross works his material with a maniacal grin and a body straining against his unfocused impulses while lanky Gwynne is all relaxed patience with a crooked grin, until desperation kicks in. Al Lewis (who reunited with Gwynne on "The Munsters" as Grandpa to Gwynne's Herman) joined the regular cast a few episodes in as the usually exasperated Leo Schnauser, fellow cop and the married man to the bachelor cop Muldoon, Charlotte Rae joined later in a recurring role as Leo's long-suffering wife and Nipsy Russell has a recurring part as Officer Dave Anderson. And Russell aside, this Big Apple squad of Keystone Kops was surely the first integrated police squad on TV, even if the other African American officer does little more than chorus duty with the rest of the crowd.
Shanachie is a veteran company that specializes in CDs and music DVDs, with a smattering of movies and other offerings in their catalogue. "Car 54, Where Are You? The Complete First Season" is their first attempt at a comprehensive TV release and while the quality of the prints is just fine, they completely fumble the presentation by running the episodes of what is a historic series as a random jumble, completely out of order. It doesn't take much effort to order the episodes and let the viewers see the development of the show and the characters, and let's face it, the folks who buy these sets tend to be fans. Sure, there is no narrative arc, but the audience for this set would rather see the first appearance of Al Lewis (in a guest role as a crooked garage proprietor) on the first disc, not the fourth, after already seeing him as Schnauser in a couple of dozen episodes.
30 episodes on four discs in a two-tray digipak with overlapping clasps instead of spindle holders. It's not my favorite design—awkward, unintuitive, with discs tucked under plastic lips and held in by clasps that you have to pry them out from—but it gets easier to use with practice. The set also includes a half-hour round table conversation with co-stars Charlotte Rae and Hank Garrett conducted by Robert Klein.
Here's a clip from episode 13 spotlighting the byplay of Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne.