Barney Miller: Hot Dogs/Protection/Happy New Year

Hot Dogs

Airdate: December 11, 1975

One of the ways to deepen Wentworth as a character is one in which she’s not even there.  She first appeared in an episode about female cops; she was introduced as an issue as opposed to a character.  But in the appearances since, she’s grown into a more three-dimensional character with relationships and opinions on the other characters.

So here we get the opportunity to see two other young and enthusiastic young female cops, officers Turner and Carney.  In their enthusiasm they overstepped their jurisdiction in bagging an alleged drug dealer, David Gordon, played by David L. Lander, better known as Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley.  In a way it’s an opportunity to contrast Wentworth with possible alternate versions of the character.  I have a feeling she’d be too smart to pull something like that, certainly at this point in the series.

Barney has to clean up the mess, both downtown and with the two hot dogging officers temporarily in his charge.  Chano bursts in mad at them because they spoiled the case he was working on.  He meant to get bigger game in that territory, so he was playing for the long haul.  So he makes due with David Gordon hoping he’ll turn informant and squeal on the real dealers.  Chano lucks out on busting a whole bunch of dealers.

Luger comes in to the defense of Turner and Carney, more because he believes in the supremacy of the police department than whether or not they’re women.  He tries to cheer them up, but tries to arrange a transfer to “the other side of Staten Island.  Nobody’ll be able to find you.”  They start to cry, comically confusing Luger.  Barney prods Luger to comfort them, no matter how much worse he’ll inevitably make it.  He retracts his transfer order, unknowingly manipulated by the cunning of the female cops.

Meanwhile, Mr. Victor, a man who has reported his wife and kids missing is another character in denial.  He’s assigned to Wojo who thinks he recognizes the picture Mr. Victor has provided him.  The pictures turn out to be Jean Harlow, Mickey Rooney, and Freddie Bartholomew, film stars quite familiar to folks like Luger and Fish, and of course fans of Warner Brothers gangster pictures and MGM musicals.  Luger wants to put Victor “in a bag and dump him at Bellevue.”  Barney concurs with the destination, but of course has a more tactful touch.

Protection

Airdate: December 18, 1975

Immediately following Yemana’s phone call of complaint regarding the radiator and extreme cold in the office, tensions run high in the neighborhood as rumors persist about the closure and demolition of the ol’ one-two.  A robber bursts into the precinct to make a confession that he held up Cotterman’s Liquor Store.  This naturally piques Barney’s interest so he and the gang press this David Salas on why he’s confessed.  It turns out he’s more afraid of the hired protection Mr. Cotterman, and the other area store owners, have hired.

This episode takes place a week after “Fish,” as Harris mentions the closure of the thirty third precinct.  But it also must take place on October 29, 1975 for reasons I’ll get into in a bit.

Mr. Cotterman gets called in to explain, but denies even being robbed.  But before he leaves he does concede wistfully that he speaks for the entire neighborhood when he says that the precinct, and the squad, will be missed.

Since Cotterman denied being robbed, they release Salas, but they hit the streets for two reasons: tail Salas to see if the “protection” does something to him, and to survey the neighborhood to see how bad the protection racket might be.  Chano and Harris go out on that assignment while Wojo storms off ready to turn a vigilante Scarlet Pimpernel if laid off.

Chano and Harris confirm the rumors as Luger comes in to offer condolences in his typically terrible and ineffective attempt to hide the worst of it.  Wojo desperately pursues a dusty lead from the syndicate piles, bringing in an elderly and senile Anthony Barelli, an ex-extorter from 1942!  Mr. Barelli does provide some names, but one of them includes Don Corleone.

But before they come back, and practically alone, Yemana offers Fish some of his notorious coffee while Fish is in a funk over the speech President Ford is due to make about his decision whether or not to bail out New York.  While the show regularly cites topical issues, it’s rare for the show to tackle such a specific news story.

The part of the speech relevant to the survival of the one-two was included in the episode in a radio broadcast as follows: “I can tell you and tell you now that I am prepared to veto any bill that has as its purpose a federal bailout of New York City to prevent a default…In the event of default, the federal government will work with the court to assure that police and fire and other essential services for the protection of life and property in New York are maintained…”

This was the notorious “Ford to City: Drop Dead” speech.  That was how the New York Daily News categorized the speech, but it was an exaggeration.  Despite the general tenor of the speech the cops of the squad are reasonably satisfied as it appears their precinct is saved.  But Barney wants more specific and local confirmation before breathing a sigh of relief.

That confirmation comes in the form of Mr. Cotterman reporting in that his store was in fact robbed.  With newfound confidence Yemana calls to request a repair person for the radiator, Barney has Salas taken into custody, and asks him to follow up on one of Barelli’s leads.

Happy New Year

Airdate: January 8, 1976

Yemana is tired of the grief he gets over his coffee, so he makes a resolution to stop making the coffee after midnight on December 31, 1975.  Harris objects to the loss of the tradition until he actually sips his cup.  Chano and Fish bring in a pick pocket proud of his slim fingers and drunken victim in the construction business.  Cheerful Wojo with his New Year’s noisemaker goes off to Chrysler Drug Store to investigate a drug store robbery.  Fish is back out the door to talk down a jumper who wants peace in the Middle East.  Liz makes a visit on the way to a party with Bernice to greet the boys with gifts, and Barney with some affection.

Through all these myriad plots a theme shines through in a particularly poignant episode about the cosmic, even karmic, twist of fate in the universe.  Wojo brings in the shoplifter, Mrs. Rodrigues, but she only speaks Spanish.  Chano is able to determine that she’s about to give birth, so Liz and Barney, parents of two, try to help while Chano translates.

Fish’s jumper is specifically worried about the situation involving the Golan Heights.  So Fish tries to get Henry Kissinger on the phone, to no avail.  The State Department suggested to him that someone from the Israeli Consulate might have some insight into the situation.  No one is available, so Fish has no choice but to try lying.

Jackson the pickpocket, and his drunken victim, Michael D. Crowley, converse over the form outlining the charges.  Since the victim is in no condition to understand the legal mumbo jumbo, or even understand the seriousness of the crime, he drops the charges.

A Dr. Zimmerman talks Barney through the labor as best as he can, but it’s no use.  So a nervous Wojo volunteers to deliver the baby.  It turns out that he has experience doing this in an emergency situation as a Marine in Vietnam.  It’s an interesting revelation, and I’m not sure what it says about Wojo’s views on gender and sexual politics.

Sadly Fish doesn’t have the same amount of luck as the newborn baby.  When he enters, Barney notices his expression amidst the joy of birth and leaves the celebratory cheers to ask how the negotiation went.  Fish simply laments “You win one, you lose one.”

We rarely see these characters fail, but when we do it’s a powerful breach of the trust the audience has that the squad at the one-two is hyper competent.  It’s painful to see a character, which we don’t even see, die without even allowing us the insight as to what his real problems were.  It’s an earned pain given the fact that the plot is largely played for laughs.  Fish provides his brief lament because he’s far more experienced than Chano.

With Chano an entire episode was used to probe into the death his failure meant.  Fish has seen a lot more, so while the jumper’s death is tragic, it’s something to which he’s slightly desensitized.

And that’s effectively conveyed by diffusing the sadness when Mrs. Rodrigues eager to name her new child after Wojo.  When she finds out how his name is spelled and pronounced, so Wojo suggests she use his first name “Stan.”

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