Barney Miller: The Guest/Escape Artist/Hair

The Guest

Airdate: March 27, 1975

Whenever anybody visits the one-two they’re sort of a guest, even if they’re a collar.  If someone like Marty makes a visit for shoplifting Barney extends him his due courtesy and respect like Marty was a school chum one brings home every once in a while for dinner uninvited.  “Alright, pull up a chair,” he might say as he turns a page in the newspaper while the lasagna casserole heats in the oven.  My point is the title sounds almost redundant here.

But the guest in question is a mob informant, Alan Schuster, paranoid that he’ll be offed on the way to the courthouse, and hopefully to a lenient sentence for himself.  This paranoia is played for laughs, lulling the viewer into a false sense of security as Wojo, a growing boy, wolfs down his sandwich from Grossman’s.  He ordered sandwiches for the gang, but to placate Schuster’s paranoia, Barney has an officer pick up the sandwiches.  Thus far the main uniformed officer we’ve seen has usually been Kogan, but a different uniform shows up.  Once Kogan does show up with the sandwiches Barney bolts into action ordering Harris to bring Wojo to the hospital and has Fish take the sandwich to the lab.

Meanwhile Liz comes by to discuss taxes, but Barney is more interested in frustrated self-pity for his amateur’s mistake.  Perhaps he’s right, but there are a couple of examples of him turning a bad situation to his advantage here.  For one, to get the heat off of Schuster, he has Harris leak a rumor that Schuster was successfully poisoned.

His other example has to due with Marty.  The show’s recurring shoplifter has been booked for stealing expensive luggage.  This time, it’s Harris filling out the paperwork, which is a good pairing.  Where Wojo would make ignorant jokes at Marty’s expense, the ever stylish Harris chats with Marty on his choice of stolen luggage.

Marty’s motive was that he’s getting married to a Gertrude Sax, someone older than his mother.  In the bargain he’s gold-digging and getting a beard at once.  So he asks Barney for leniency.  In exchange, Barney asks that Marty keep Schuster off of his troubles.  In the process Marty develops a crush on Schuster.

Throughout is a runner where Chano wants to collect front money from his reluctant colleagues, it is tax season after all, so he can make a drug bust on a dealer pushing drugs to kids in his neighborhood.  Ever the Big Brother (as in mentor, not Orwellian villain), he doesn’t want Narcotics to handle it.  His enthusiasm blinded him to another guest, the FBI.

Escape Artist

Airdate: April 10, 1975

This is a show that will continue to indulge the romantic, the idealistic, the artistic, in short, those with a unique point of view.  Here we have three escape artists: Harris, who wants to write a police novel about the Naked City, Charles Evan Jeffers the most literal of the escape artists who has accumulated longer and longer sentences from escaping prison after a car theft in his youth, and Roland Gusik, an engineer who longs to fly with wings built for his own arms.

Each is paired with a relative skeptic or realist: Harris draws ire from Chano for stealing credit for his actions in the context of the novel, Jeffers explains his motives to Barney, who admires him but tries to convince him to give up the life, and Wojo condescends to Gusik for being a cuckoo bird.

Jeffers charms the whole squad with his tales, his philosophizing, his dry humor, and his serenity.  This is of course due to the performance by Roscoe Lee Browne, well known for his voice and dignity, which makes him the perfect muse for the literary, to the point of pretension, Harris.  Jeffers doesn’t have the heart to tell Harris that one of his pieces of philosophy has been cribbed from Thomas Henry Huxley, the man who coined the term “agnosticism,” although Jeffers misattributes it to Huxley’s grandson Aldous.  But then to quote Jeffers, “Nobody’s perfect.”  And to quote Huxley, “Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.”

He tells Barney that, though his initial sentence was one to five years, he found his impatience overruled his realistic acceptance of his sentence.  He could only resign himself to the impossibility of escape if escape were actually impossible.  The more he escaped the less he could accept his imprisonment.  Prison grew unbearable as it grew more and more unnecessary.

While one might hope that Wojo would learn empathy for Gusik, he does instead get some gentle ribbing from Fish when Wojo is content to declare something funny.  “Then how about a little smile,” says Fish, with a grin.  Of course Jeffers has his tranquil smile on at all times, as when Fish cites the commonality between Jeffers’ time done in prison, and Fish’s done at home with Bernice.

But aside from the repeated plea for a smile, and Harris’ novel, this episode establishes another catchphrase from Wojo whenever someone misspells “Wojciehowicz”, “It’s spelled like it sounds!”  There’s a reason I’ve been too lazy to spell it until now!

What will become of the three romantics in this episode?  Well these reviews are designed to be fresh from spoilers and I think saying what happens with the novel will cross that line, but I can say that the episode hints at the futures of the other two men.  Jeffers is transported back to prison, but not Attica.  He’s going to a cell that’s been touted as escape proof.  Jeffers fears that may be an irresistible challenge.  Meanwhile Barney scolds Wojo not to withhold Gusik’s wings, “We’re here to enforce the law, not shatter a man’s visions.”  Given that irresistible challenge, Gusik finally jumps and achieves his dream of flight and a soft landing.  May we all be so lucky?

A side note: if you haven’t seen it yet, check out The Naked City (1948).  It’s a legendary crime film that serves as a template for Dragnet, and the inspiration for a TV series of its own “Naked City” (1958-1959).


Airdate: April 17, 1975

I recommend other media in these reviews a lot.  Just in the previous review I mention The Naked City (1948).  But so far nowhere has there been a movie reference as overt in this series as in this episode.  This isn’t a show like “Get Smart” that does parodies of other shows like “I, Spy” or “Mission: Impossible.”  That said, this show can mine other films and templates to provide commentary on New York policing in the 1970s.

Here, a new cop has transferred from Narcotics to the 12th precinct.  His name is Paul Gardino, and his look has been patterned after Frank Serpico, the real-life cop responsible for exposing widespread corruption in the NYPD.  Al Pacino played him in a critically acclaimed film called Serpico (1973), and David Birney played him in the 1976-1977 TV series.

Beyond exposing corruption on the part of the NYPD, these other cops objected to his appearance as a plainclothes cop.  He decided it would be more effective to infiltrate the seedy corners of the inner city if he dressed and acted like the people who actually lived there.

The surface details of the 1970s subculture are a theme of this episode.  Chano busts a young pothead and Harris busts a drunk named Lyman Cooper.  The pothead is a bit of a mellow stereotype, and Lyman, the drunk, asks if the kid knows what he could catch using that stuff.  Answering his own question, Lyman exclaims “Communism!”

And the surface appearances of the subculture are the focus of this episode.  Scraggily bearded, Gardino dresses in a rumpled army jacket and cap with patches one might find at a record store, so for the first time, everyone at the precinct is pushed to the limits of their respective comfort levels.  Even Barney orders Gardino to go home, shave, and come back in a shirt and tie.

When he does come back he looks like a teenager.  For Gardino his appearance of choice was not so much for undercover work, but it was to be taken seriously.  He felt he couldn’t expose his youth in such dangerous situations.  He appeared to be proven correct when he took a bullet for Chano, but he reveals in the hospital that he only took the bullet because he turned and ran.  For him his appearance was the feather that allowed him to flap his elephant wings and fly.

Meanwhile Fish failed his shooting range qualification exams so he decides to make “an appointment” for lunch.  Worried, Liz and Bernice visit the one-two to see if Fish has come back, and to see about going on a double-date for lunch with Fish and Barney.  When Fish does come back he says he had a massage.  When Bernice asks with nervous jealousy if it was at the YMCA, Fish tells her it was at “The Garden of Eden.”  Not helping, Wojo chuckles “We busted that joint three times already!”  After a brief chat in Barney’s office Fish and Bernice settle things.

Gardino is not content to settle with the one-two and transfers to Narcotics after his hospital stays allows for four days growth on his beard, making him the second transfer this season to leave at the end of the episode.


3 thoughts on “Barney Miller: The Guest/Escape Artist/Hair

  1. ericcheung, I don’t remember the first season as well as the later ones, but I remember Roscoe Lee Brown’s elegantly hepcat escape artist, who just seemed so cool and in control.

    • The first season was thirteen episodes, so there are fewer episodes to remember. But check out the other reviews and I’ll probably write up my thoughts on the first season next week, along with a lengthier analysis of the season finale, a great Chano showcase “The Hero.”

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