Barney Miller: Horse Thief/Rain/Fish

Horse Thief

November 20, 1975

I suppose this took place several months in the future as this episode takes place during a particularly hectic bicentennial celebration. Chano receives a call about protesters…who want rooms at the hotel. When he goes to investigate he finds a case of assault on a man, Mr. Franklin, by a prostitute, but he’s in denial. Fish encounters the League of Frightened Voters are throwing tea off of Pier 10—how prescient! Harris makes twelve arrests and witnesses the mayor out of luck with a broke-down limo and no cab fare. Wojo fields two cases, one of an enthusiastic patriot who sells wares, and wears wares, all of which have the American flag on them. His other case is one in which a handsome cab driver, a Mr. Fuzzo, whose horse was stolen!

Barney informs Wojo that the Supreme Court has ruled flag-emblazoned clothing to be protected speech, but Wojo decides to check the flag salesman for priors. There’s even a flag on the rear of his jeans, so Wojo won’t let him sit down. Ironically this character is played by Bruce Solomon, who played Sergeant Dennis Foley on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. In that show, a parody of soap operas, he played a “sexy” cop that comes on to the title character, who herself was in an unfulfilling marriage. There’s a similarly self-satisfied performance here as he enjoys Wojo’s discomfort, even if it means he endures some physical discomfort. It turns out the salesman is also an ex-Marine, so Wojo lets him go as an embarrassment to the uniform.

Fuzzo’s horse stolen, he takes extreme measures to acquire a new one; he robs the NYPD’s mounted division, angering one of the mounted finest. Barney manages to put out that fire as he negotiates with Officer Shriker the loan of the horse to Fuzzo. A show that so often highlights issues for the one-two’s customers by getting inside their heads, it’s funny to see things through the point of view of another class of officer, in this case, another class of horse owner as well.

Mr. Franklin’s assaulter, Tracy Gifford, is “selling buttons for charity” for sixty dollars. The code for what she’s really selling is obvious to everyone except for Wojo. To be fair, he’s been busy all day, but it’s still amusing to see his childlike patriotism frustrated and disappointed when he asks to buy some.

At the end of a busy day, Barney and Fish have a quiet moment among two friends. Barney explains that Fish needn’t converse with him, but Fish tries anyway, suggesting that the weather predicts…

Rain

Airdate: November 27, 1975

Wojo looks outside like a kid stuck inside on a Saturday, lamenting all the ways he can’t play outside. Yemana suggests the weather might be under control of the Rockefellers, based on a tabloid article he’s read, and Chano is suffering on behalf of the worker from the water torture of rhythmic dripping. To offer some respite Mr. Beckman, the repairman comes in to provide a status report.

Fish and Harris came in from the rain, but Barney sends Harris and Chano out on a call from a Mr. Gardino, regarding a fight in his nightclub. It turns out a stand-up comic named Jackie Ace bombed so hard that a fight ensued. He’s got some truly awful jokes who mugs and strains to entertain the gang with impressions of long-dead historical figures. The only one he seems to impress is Beckman…and his agent, Arthur Bloom. As terrible as the jokes are, they’re rooted in historical literacy above the heads of Gardino’s, and the club audience’s. Ironically, in order to pay off the damages he’ll have to work at the club. This time he’s going to try material about an even earlier time period, the Renaissance.

Tension mounts, without the relief of comedy, as the building’s roof collects water, and the ceiling begins to show structural damage. The files are filled up with rain, and the building inspector says that the one-two is just “settling.” Chano spirals into an existential crisis, and even Barney slowly loses his cool, due to the bureaucratic quagmire of complacent denial. I just saw The China Syndrome (1979), and while the bureaucracy isn’t as malevolent as in that film, it’s easy to feel for the gang as they wonder how safe the building is.

Every possible solution only leads to more problems as the potential for destruction mounts. So Barney loses it and tells Nick to call downtown. Unfortunately the phone lines are out, so he starts “to put it into screams,” as Fish put it.

As the gang cleans up, Barney apologizes for his extremely rare fit of rage, and the rest put things in perspective for him and cheer him up.

Fish

Airdate: December 4, 1975

This episode could just as easily be called “Dietrich,” as this is the first episode to feature Detective Third Grade Arthur Dietrich. He’s played by Steve Landesberg, previously seen as Father Paul, of the “Church of the Street” in the season premiere. Dietrich has come over due to the consolidation of the three-three into other precincts, such as the one-two.

But this episode is called “Fish” because it’s about Fish being put on restricted duty. He sees it as an embarrassingly lamentable acknowledgement of his age and declining health. Barney suggests that Fish takes Dietrich under his wing. Fish suspects that this is just a way to train his own replacement, but Barney lets him know it’ll be an opportunity to have two great cops with Fish’s know-how.

Barney assigns the two to a case, but Fish is depressed, so he goes home for lunch. Dietrich chases him down to his apartment where the bulk of the episode takes place.

There are some strange ironies about the episode. Bernice is played, only this once, by Doris Belack, instead of Florence Stanley. She’s more youthful and has got a more soothing voice. As Doris Belack plays the part, she’s much more amused by Fish, self-aware, and more a mediating nurturer, at least what has been seen so far. With either actress the joke is that Fish has no idea how great he’s got it to have such a sweet wife. The role would get more development, and Florence Stanley would permanently return to the role for this series, as well as the eventual spinoff Fish.

On a more tragic note, it’s ironic is that Steve Landesberg died in 2010 to the age of 74, though some reports had his age as 65. Here he’s taken under the wing of the soon-to-retire Fish, but Abe Vigoda would still outlive him, well past the age of 90.

Dietrich comes by to “pay his way” and tries to get Fish to team up with him on the case and inadvertently lets slip that Fish has been awarded restricted duty, so Fish storms off, announcing that he’s quitting the police force. Bernice knows better than to believe that as she lets him blow off steam, throwing bread to the birds.

While they wait for Fish to come back Fish’s daughter Beverly has her own problems. She’s finished with her boyfriend Howard, who turned out to be married. So she requests that, if Howard rings the doorbell, Dietrich answer by saying “Go away! Beverly is busy!” in a masculine voice. The ever-compliant Dietrich gives it a practice run with a dead-on Gregory Peck. In fact he adds the line “We’ve made other plans…and they don’t include you!”

While he gets to try out his talent for voices, it turns out the person at the door is actually one of her sex education students from the high school class she’s teaching. The kid, Biff Waltoon, wants to quit because the class is too fascinating and distracting, though it’s clear Biff has a bit of a crush on her.

Biff asks Dietrich if he’s an actor what develops his character is more the telling of the story than the story itself. Dietrich has a constant look of obliviousness on his face, coupled with a deadpan delivery and esoteric, stream of consciousness line of thinking that is unlike anything else at the one-two.

Fish does of course return to the apartment and Dietrich reminds him how admirable his career really is. He lists Fish’s accomplishments with a genuine sense of awe that allows Fish both dignity and pride, as well as a reason to take restricted duty with some grace.

But being Fish, he can’t be too gracious. He returns to the squad room putting on his crabby façade, as much for the benefit of the squad room as for himself. This episode points toward the future of the show by signaling something that was always inevitable, the eventual departure of Fish, while presenting a new character that lets us know that things will be just as funny, even if they’ll have to be different.

It’s ironic that Harris is absent, because one of the stronger comedic pairings in seasons to come would be derived from the clashing intellectual personalities of showy Harris and oblivious Dietrich.

Just because Fish will eventually retire doesn’t mean that’s the last of the character. Fish would eventually have an eponymous spinoff. I’ll mention that show when the time comes.

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2 thoughts on “Barney Miller: Horse Thief/Rain/Fish

  1. That’s interesting, because in a later-season show where Fish came back after retirement to the 1-2 (I think it was to cross-promote his spinoff), he and Dietrich acted as if they’d never met before.

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