Barney Miller: Copy Cat/Blizzard/Chase

Copy Cat

Airdate: October 27, 1977

Barney Miller has always been a show that proudly and consciously serves as a counterpoint to all the other cop shows that glamorize violence and action. So when a coffee shop owner, Mr. Boston, complains of a robbery where the criminal threatened to blow the place up with the dynamite in his pants he cites the television shows that must have inspired the madman. Yemana says he can’t enjoy those shows because they don’t accurately reflect the lives of real cops. Of course, the second episode of the series pitted a mad bomber against Fish, but the point is taken.

Meanwhile, Harris continues to look for an apartment and even goes out during his shift in pursuit of a lead. It’s a nice place on First Avenue and 28th Street, with a river view. You can check it out online, to see for yourself. He almost gets it too, but is rejected for being a cop, and therefore a rent risk.

And Wojo takes the sergeant’s exam once again. This test has been taken many times before, so it’s refreshing to see him not only pass, but pass before the closing credits. That way the show can deal with the ramifications of passing the test instead of spending yet another half hour on the episode itself.

Wojo kind of expects things to change once he got his promotion, but he still has paperwork to do. He slacks off on the paperwork to the annoyance of Barney, and balks at having to take a drunk to the bathroom, blowing up at Harris because he has to babysit Harris’ collar. In the day-to-day operations at the precinct, everyone works as a team, so rank is fairly downplayed in the squad room. The benefits are far more subtle than Wojo realized.

It’s the paperwork and drudgery that’s a part of the job this show highlights in a way that contrasts it with other shows. And to understand that contrast, Yemana flips through the TV Guide to see if he can get into the mind of the copycat criminal. Dietrich had the same idea.

But about that drunk, Dietrich and Harris bring in Harold Durrell, a member of AA that was caught holding up Conroy’s Liquor. He was so drunk he held the store up with his bare finger. Eventually his sponsor, Roy Jenkins, talks to him in the cage to try to help him out. Though Jenkins has a successful life, Durrell finds Jenkins’ life incredibly boring.

This criminal’s story matches particularly well with the copycat criminal, Angelo Dodi. Dietrich and Yemana finally catch Dodi in a subway tunnel with some teargas. He was trying to make a robbery while attached to the roof of the subway with suction cups. He saw the stunt on a TV movie and just wanted the adventure and excitement that they have on TV. But he didn’t understand the consequences. Both Durrell and Dodi are hopelessly caught up in the romance of their respective addictions.

Even Wojo has a bit of that in him. Barney is there to bring Wojo back to reality, and give Harris a pep talk regarding his apartment situation, while Barney Miller is there to bring everyone else to reality. This time Dietrich helps out, by telling Dodi just how regular cops can be, but not before citing Baretta’s catchphrase “That’s the name of that tune!”

Blizzard

Airdate: November 3, 1977

Barney is pretty affable and easygoing, so when Dietrich and Yemana try to “help” during a blizzard, both just make things worse. Dietrich describes the existential symbolism of winter, while Yemana gives and unprepared Barney something which must have seemed fairly esoteric, even in New York City, in the late 1970s: ginseng tea. That tea becomes a running gag substitute for the usual coffee jokes.

Harris has decided to incorporate himself to see if he can take advantage the tax sheltering opportunities related to his myriad manuscripts and screenplays. So of course it becomes something of a pretentious affectation in his hands. Harris wants Barney as vice president, but Dietrich warns him about the potential legal responsibilities tied to such an agreement, so he refuses, triggering a near-silent treatment in Harris.

There are more serious problems when Wojo chases a Leo Lujak fifteen blocks after Lujak attempted to rob a panhandler. Unfortunately Lujak died while Wojo was in the process of booking him.

This causes three problems. The first is that the body can’t be transported out of the precinct building in this weather, and another is that parasitic lawyer Arnold Ripner is trying to make some money off of the unfortunate circumstances.

The third is that Wojo is feeling guilty, as usual, because he feels he’s too big and intimidating. Things are made worse when Dietrich and Wojo bring in Eugene LaSalle who was trying to take advantage of a snowbound city as an opportunity to break into an apartment. Wojo is first harassed by Ripner, then accidentally intimidates LaSalle with his size and angry guilt. Sometimes he doesn’t know his own strength.

The blizzard has also brought out a uniquely 1970s type, Jerome Grodin, someone trying to warn everyone of the coming ice age. Though records had shown a period of cooling since the 1940s, climate science of the time couldn’t contextualize it properly. Therefore while most scientists either remained neutral or suggested a warming trend, there were others that suggested the cooling was indicative of a global cooling.

As with current global warming predictions, the cause cited was the interference of human industry. So even if those that predicted an ice age were wrong, they still had a good solution at the ready, with serious reductions in humankind’s environmental impact. There hasn’t been a winter with average or below average temperatures since Barney Miller off the air. Now, with the effects of climate change, and the cause directly tied to humans, being virtually irrefutable and present tense, we can only work harder to reduce our impact while we lament the deaf ears of the past to the spirit of those warnings. As usual, Dietrich is not only open, but knowledgeable about the latest science. Given the science of the time, he correctly states that an ice age was one possibility.

And science redeems Wojo. When the coroner’s report comes back, it turns out Lujak should have been dead years ago, given his poor health. Ripner gives up on the pursuit against Wojo because the squad tells him that Lujak died completely alone; Ripner has no client to pay him. But he did give Harris some advice against incorporating, prompting a reconciliation with Barney and the request of a tax consultancy fee for Ripner.

Chase

Airdate: November 17, 1977

Yemana’s taking a scheduled inventory of the squad room, while Wojo is out on a lunch run and Dietrich and Harris bring in James Glynn, a heroine pusher claiming ignorance, “I thought it was protein powder!” Of course, if that’s what he thought, he wouldn’t have tossed it in the toilet for Dietrich to fish out.

Just a couple of episodes ago the show rebutted the likes of Baretta and The Streets of San Francisco and this one begins with a car chase. But it’s a very Barney Miller style car chase, experienced only through the testimonies of those affected, safely inside the squad room of the one-two.

Sheila Rosen and an Antonio Mione enter. She’s missing her packages and he’s missing his cab. Apparently Wojo is chasing a guy that stuck up a liquor store up Eighth Avenue at 80 miles an hour, with some blue-and-white squad cars in hot pursuit.

In a movie like Speed (1994), a cop will just commandeer someone’s car, the owner will scream in fear, the doors will get knocked off and the hero gets onto the bus, never again thinking about that poor car owner. Here Barney Miller gets another chance to rebut the tropes of pop culture’s treatment of police work by showing us the consequences of such a commandeering.

In another sweet romance this show sometimes likes to do, the mousy fare attempts to break the ice with the cabbie by asking his birthday. When she hears that it’s January 24th, she cites the positive traits associated with Aquariuses and tells him she’s a Virgo, clearly a double-entendre regarding her sexual experience. He quips “That’s a shame” as he slowly breaks down his façade of frustration. She explains the different expectations each gender meets and wishes she’d lived more, but he says he respects her. He’s excited by her purity.

Glynn attempts to make things easier on himself by talking to Barney in his office, and offering him a bribe. It turns out he did the same with Dietrich and Harris earlier. None of the three would bite, and they throw him in the cage for the insult. He reveals that he’s working undercover for Internal Affairs, Sergeant Michael P. Hunt. So Scanlon comes in to retrieve him. Like Ripner, Scanlon is a parasite, whose only interest is increasing his numbers. They’re both also extreme cynics who can’t see good in anyone, just the opposite of Barney.

After seventeen miles, Wojo finally comes back with his collar, Louis Bando. Another consequence of the car chase is that Wojo will need to fill out twelve copies of the report for all the parked cars that were damaged. Sheila Rosen and Antonio Mione effectively stand in for the other innocent victims.

Since Mione is an independent cabbie, he’s effectively out of business until Rosen offers her car. A nice and realistic touch is that this is merely the beginning of a beautiful friendship, not an epic romance for the ages. We’re not going to follow them, but the show allows them more character development than most other cop shows and movies.

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