Barney Miller: Abduction/Sex Surrogate/Moonlighting


Airdate: February 3, 1977

Harris is finally a published short story writer. He wanted to tell a simple love story “John and Mary Ann.” But the trouble with writing, at just about any level, is the editorial process. It’s one thing for there to be a peer conferencing dialogue; it’s quite another for one’s work to be edited with little regard for the original author. But those are the breaks for a professional, especially if that story appears in Sir Gent, a magazine that touts “entertainment for the sophisticated male.” Editorial license has given John and Mary Ann company: Harry and Frank, big acrobats.

Harris’ other job has company of its own. Joseph and Lois Wheaton storm in from Providence to the one-two worried about their daughter, Barbara Lynn, who works at The Light of the East Temple and Herbarium, a health food restaurant, possibly run by a cult. Since she’s an adult woman of twenty two, who actually seems at peace, it’s out of the purview of the police and Barney advises the parents that it’s out of their purview as well.

Another adult woman, Bernice Fish, comes in all dressed up, ready for a job interview. Phil Fish forbids her from taking a job. Bernice would like to take one, both as a second wave feminist, and to help support the two of them in the wake of Fish’s impending retirement. For the first time, we get a ballpark figure for when Fish will retire: within months.

His attitude is certainly a reminder of the time, as well as his generation. He considers the very idea that he won’t be able to afford to support the two of them financially “dirty linen.” In the twenty first century we’re at a point where it’s extremely hard for a family, or even a couple, to survive on one income.

But when she returns from the employment agency, they tell her she’s got no skills or experience. The mid-twentieth century was an even harder time for women to get work. While they filled in the gaps during World War II, when the soldiers returned they were expected to return to their roles as mothers and wives. It represented a regression from the relative progress of the twenties and forties. Employers could use the fear that a prospective employee could become pregnant as justification for denying a candidate. So it’s no wonder that even many motivated female candidates would become long-term unemployed, or underemployed in jobs for which they were overqualified. To his credit, Fish has some understanding of the situation and cheers Bernice up with encouragement and hope. He even lets her read Harris’ story. Like most people, he’s conservative in one area, liberal in another.

Nick could have used Fish’s encouragement. He comes in ecstatic that he made a killing at the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and a hockey game. But his bookie Sidney never counted on many of clients making the same bets. So he turns himself in, figuring jail is safer than the wrath of gamblers, including Nick. Of course he only one $116. I’m far less worried for him, now that I know he’s playing for peanuts.

When the owner of The Light of the East Temple, Bodhisattva, walks in, looking like Jesus, Sidney opportunistically suggests to Fish “I’ll give you seventy-five to one, it ain’t!” Bodhisattva is there because Barbara Lynn was abducted by her parents. Now the matter is in the purview of the one-two.

At first Bodhisattva speaks in curious metaphor, but when he talks with Barbara Lynn, sorry, Praknamurti, he seems much more a pragmatic restaurateur, kindly requesting she cover the register when she’s done meditating. The murkiness of the religious organization is a result of that seeming contradiction, so it’s genuinely hard to tell what the effect, positive or negative, is on Barbara Lynn. But, as if to cheer up her parents, he tells them that the turnover is higher than at McDonald’s.

Another sign she might be okay actually comes from Wojo. While he’s the one who used the word “cult” to describe the employees, he’s got a bit of a crush on her. When taking her statement, she’s in awe of his name “Wojchiehowicz,” thinking it too might be a newly adopted name.

She doesn’t press charges against her parents for kidnapping her, but she does say goodbye to them, for what she fears might be the last time. But throughout, the kindly Lois Wheaton has been more open and suggests to her husband that they go have lunch at The Light of the East Temple.

Sex Surrogate

Airdate: February 10, 1977

Perhaps before the movie The Sessions (2012), sexual surrogacy was still quite unknown. It might even be hard to qualify it as a pernicious controversy due to its relative obscurity. But it is something was of dubious legality until 2003, when it became legal throughout the United States, provided the therapy is under the supervision of a licensed therapist.

Though sometimes the problem is a change in lifestyle due to an accident or paralysis, the goals of a sex surrogate are usually to treat the anxiety and fear of inadequacy of the patient. So it makes thematic sense that anxiety over one’s own anxiety pervades the episode.

Harris cites Dickens when there are reports of a child thief. Though Barney doesn’t feel the need to prove he gets it, he does say that book was the one with Fagin and the Artful Dodger, “one of his earlier novels.” The more insecure Harris admits he didn’t know.

Levitt is ready to quit, for not making the height requirements for detective, certainly not the first time he’s felt bad for himself in this regard.

Fish gets a call from Bernice and hangs up on her to rush out on a call, of a wife shooting her husband. He immediately regrets the inadequate communication.

The wife, Louise Kaufman, played by the legendary Doris Roberts, shot her husband outside the New York Institute of Sexual Dysfunction. His goal was innocent enough, to spice up their marriage, but again, the legality is a question that requires Barney and Wojo’s investigation. Her reaction is as big and bold as her shooting would suggest. It’s exactly what Doris Roberts excels at.

Wojo brings in Dr. Lorraine Dooley and his and Barney’s skepticism turns into a bit of a feedback loop of vague inquiry, and even more vague explanation. It seems almost like padding, but it’s believable that the newness of the concept could contribute to an awkwardly discordant conversation. Of course it would appear that Dr. Dooley is not at all in the mood to be bothered.

When Wojo interviews the doctor, it’s not surprising to find him judgmental of the practice. Wojo’s excited by the possibility they could be on the verge of setting a precedent by unearthing this case. But she does manage to root out his feelings of inadequacy when she accidentally calls him “Sergeant.” Though he does attempt to save face he can’t hide the fact that his mind becomes more open to the concept of sexual surrogacy. Even the Kaufmans bond over their experience.

Harris returns with his collar, Mr. Resnick, played by another legend, Billy Barty, little person actor whose career spanned everything from silent Mickey Rooney shorts and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) to UHF (1989) and Frasier. Harris repeatedly and insensitively calls him a midget, though Barney, of course has more tact. Resnick can’t manage to get hired because employers stereotype him as only being fit for a circus. To him, Levitt is a tall man at 5’6”. Sometimes, when we feel inadequate, that perspective is all we need.


Airdate: February 17, 1977

Just a couple of episodes ago Harris had a very brief second source of income when he published a short story to Sir Gent the magazine that provides “entertainment for the sophisticated male.” It was supposed to be a source of pride that would afford him the opportunity to live up to the luxurious lifestyle he tries to exude. Since it didn’t turn out so well, he turned to another job that might fulfill both goals, captain of the security force at the Hinman Arms. Aside from tardiness, and drowsiness, the scheduling conflicts don’t bode well for the longevity of this attempt at disposable income.

Dietrich brings in Sylvester Marion White, accused of stealing merchandise that was on a hot sheet for a recently reported theft. He claims that he bought it legitimately and produced a hand-written receipt. It’s not satisfactory so he’s booked. Dietrich explains the natural distrust by cops of the perps they bring in, citing the odds of innocence and the cynicism of experience, ending his speech with his usual twist.

Wojo fields a report of someone holding up traffic, so he comes back with a Tom Fields who was on Third Avenue picking up betting slips in the middle of the street. While booking Tom, Wojo slowly realizes something’s wrong with the kid and tells Barney, who realizes that Tom is “retarded.” Of course at the time, the word was not meant as an insult, but as a diagnosis. Similarly speaking, Jan Stuart Schwartz plays Tom in a way that would probably have been considered sympathetic at the time, but would now be considered condescending and overly simplistic.

Tom Fields was working for a bookie named Del Mitchell, played by Cal Gibson, who previously played Richard aka “Mayflower” the pimp who schooled Todd Bridge’s character Truman Jackson, in not holding people up, way back in “The Hero.” There is no positive side of the character to show this time around, as Tom Fields innocently tries to return his dollar, having failed the task for which he was hired. Del Mitchell refuses the money, as acknowledging Tom would be tantamount to incriminating oneself. After a stern warning from Harris, Del leaves.

Dietrich tracks down the source of the hot merchandise and brings in “a good collar,” Reverend Albert Carrey. I wonder how much the handling of this story owes to its period as well. Barney tells Dietrich that he hopes that Dietrich has a strong case against the reverend. While it’s appreciated that Barney would look out for the rights of the accused, it’s pretty clear the main reason Barney is concerned with this particular collar is his collar.

This is often how the show has handled religion in the past, that somehow a person in that position of power is afforded more consideration than an everyday cheat like Del Mitchell. The uncomfortable relationship between power and privilege reminds me of the episode of Malcolm in the Middle, “Traffic Ticket,” where Lois refuses preferential treatment to cops and suffers the consequences.

Interestingly enough, the reverend feels the same way. He doesn’t want special treatment, and he confesses to his crime, citing his desperation to fund his church, hoping his church could be as lavish as the fancy ones downtown—maybe he’d get along with Harris. Barney makes Dietrich take the handcuffs off of Reverend Carrey, against Carrey’s wishes; if he were a lawyer, he’d also be leading his witness by suggesting the merchandise was donated. But Carrey doesn’t want to be patronized.

The episode reveals the religious skepticism of two characters throughout this, first Sylvester White claims to be an atheist, and secondly Dietrich expresses his doubt. This is an important and consistent part of his character. Though he’ll slightly waver between atheism and agnosticism, he manages not to compromise himself or disrespect religious leaders.


One thought on “Barney Miller: Abduction/Sex Surrogate/Moonlighting

  1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman had a good sex surrogate storyline too, although the point there wasn’t so much about legality as it was about Tom and Mary’s conflicting views on sex. Here’s a link:

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