Barney Miller: Graft/The Courtesans/Stakeout

Graft

Airdate: February 13, 1975

The squad room at the one-two is pretty diverse, but it’s not just the surface differences that make it diverse.  Chano proudly smiles at his own bemused observations, Fish resignedly laments every ache and pain, both physical and emotional with an exhaustion that he knows is somehow charming, Yemana likes a game, whether he’s betting on horses or watching ants slide, Wojo is a young officer with an unsubtle and goofy snort who wants to make sergeant, and Barney is the wise straight man who plays mentor and mediator to all.

But surface details are all that Inspector Kelly knows about as he strolls in busting everyone’s chops like a jovial Archie Bunker.  He used to be part of the squad room before the series began, but he obviously never fit in.  Everyone there guesses he’s working in narcotics, but he tells them he’s there from Internal Affairs.  He’s there to peek below the surface to see if there is a dark side full of kickbacks.  Barney assumes it’s a gesture to win points at his new division, which seems pretty astute, considering Kelly didn’t get along in his old job.

Still, Barney worries as he vents to Liz back at home.  I should note that this show is still finding its legs so it occasionally visits another set, like the Millers’ home, where Barney is very responsible with his guns.  The show would eventually reside comfortably at the precinct, but for now there are some episodes that leave those confines.  As with NewsRadio, this show will tend to span one day per episode in the future, but a visit home is a useful bridge between more than one shift in this particular case.  It also allows Barney some vulnerability that he normally hides so that he may preside over the cases of the day.

Another wise move was to avoid having any real criminals; this is the first episode without a life-and-death plot.  There’s an investigation of obscene phone calls conducted by Chano, but that’s about it.  This way, the focus can remain on the lives of these cops bristling under the pressure of Kelly’s snooping.  It turns them paranoid and leads to an airing of dirty laundry, but only to each other.  The offenses are clearly minor, these are not the cops Serpico wants to nail for corruption, but their confessions betray an intimacy and trust that I suspect Kelly yearned for when he was in the squad room.

The Courtesans

Airdate: February 20, 1975

To this point Wojo has been a bit of a naïve, slightly insensitive, goofball, teasing “Old Fish” when he could.  If the customers at the one-two have had anyone whose admonitions they had to reckon with, it has been Chano.  In the pilot he was disappointed in a fellow Puerto Rican for turning to a life of crime.  Here too, the prostitutes of the pilot are paired with their racial matches and Chano sighs with regret at the choices his assignment has made.

The prostitutes here are mostly used as a device to explore everyone’s feelings on sex; this episode does not address the dangers of prostitution the way Leaving Las Vegas might.  The mother of one of the prostitutes, Linda Fuller, comes in and laments to Mrs. Miller that she never exposed her daughter to sex of any kind and warned her not to give her body away, while Mrs. Miller suggests that it’s impossible to ignore a child’s natural curiosity—and that Linda Fuller must have learned not to give her body away at all.

But, Wojo has the hardest time with it.  I started this review talking about Wojo because it’s his most important episode yet.  He has a chip on his shoulder about that whole world and is aggressive towards the women, especially Linda Fuller, the person he has to book.  She tries to teach him with humor not to judge her for her life, but that only makes him angrier, so Barney warns him that his job is to be a police officer, not to be judge, jury, and executioner.

As usual, he demonstrates this by example.  Liz comes to visit Barney with their daughter because they’ve been apartment hunting.  Rachel’s seventeen and wants to move out for a bit of freedom.  The Millers are liberal enough to set her free, but that doesn’t mean they have to feel entirely comfortable with it.

When Wojo says that any lady that has sex for money isn’t a lady, Mrs. Miller says she’s there to pick up a check.  But Wojo doesn’t listen to either Miller and instead stalks Fuller at the strip club she uses as a base for prostitution.  This gets her fired there and she comes back to the station furious with him.  Barney calls him out for exposing himself to a potential harassment lawsuit.  Wojo then asks what he would do if he found out Liz’s sexual history was extensive before they met.  Barney explains that he can’t tell Wojo how those kinds of decisions.

I want to refer you to Martin Scorcese’s debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door because it’s instructive of the situation Wojo’s going through here.  In that film Harvey Keitel has a hard time dealing with his girlfriend’s rape.  He has what’s called a Madonna-whore complex, which amounts to a double-standard.  He considers the rape premarital sex with another, and therefore inappropriate for a potential wife.  In his mind it’s okay for him to be relatively promiscuous, but if a woman does it, she’s a whore.  I don’t think Wojo would hold as extreme a position, but this is a shade of that.  He does after all, ask Barney for an advance so he can “pay” for a date with Linda.

A minor subplot has Harris and Yemana investigating a porno film.  In the capper Harris dictates a review that attempts the notoriety of an Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, or Vincent Canby, but Yemana mistook his pretension for a telephone conversation and simply wrote that the film was filthy.  As with Wojo’s storyline, this small moment is important for what it will reveal later on in the series.

Stakeout

Airdate: February 27, 1975

Now this is a very brisk fun one!  And I, writing this review on a cold November morning, can empathize with viewers who saw this one for the first time in the cold of February.

In the heat of a summer without air conditioning, Barney, an one-shot older cop, and Fish plan a stakeout to bust some drug hustlers, while Liz coordinates the retiling of Barney’s apartment and Fish nurses of his own health problems and blurts out that he wants a divorce from his wife, Bernice.  There is some lip service paid to the absence of Wilson, who apparently still exists, but that’s the team.  Wojo bursts in with some martial arts moves touting the arts as an important part of modern law enforcement (I’ve taken some tae kwon do and it looks like Wojo didn’t even go to class, like he just put on the uniform.  His moves are comically terrible).  Like a loyal puppy he wants in on the stakeout and zealously arms them to the teeth.  So after some whimpering and begging Barney lets him on board.

What follows is another rare venture outside the precinct.  The gang faces a volley of wacky neighbors, reminding us that the wacky neighbors we usually see are petty criminals.  Even though Chano is absent from this episode it’s worth mentioning that this show is very often bilingual.  Chano usually throws in some Spanish, and here a neighbor discovers Wojo’s Polish, and chats with him in Polish.  A young woman in negligee comes on to Fish and a Mr. Tannenbaum offers the cops mountains of food and an alarm system.

Since Fish doesn’t want to go home he sleeps in a couple of folding chairs and wrecks his back.  One of the cars they suspect of drug smuggling turns out to be Fish’s.

The woman we meet is very sweet and every possible disagreement is minor in her eyes.  She loves Fish deeply and couldn’t bear the thought of life without him.  In demonstrating that he doesn’t much deserve her, the show kind of rebuts jokes of the “Take my wife, please!” variety.  They of course reconcile because, even at this early stage, Bernice is an essential part of the show.

But the stakes are high at the stakeout as the real car shows up.  The gang has to plow through the gauntlet of an admiring public to charge across the street into action.

Having saved the day, Barney can finally shower before going home to a retiled apartment.  He is however, interrupted by Tannenbaum’s alarm and bolts out of there in one of the funniest episode cappers of the year.

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