Barney Miller: Kidnapping/The Search


Airdate: September 14, 1978

There have been two-part episodes before on Barney Miller, but this is the first time there has been an unbroken hour-long episode. It’s a format that will be revisited later in the season, but here it’s quite effective at pacing out the story. It’s as if the story dictated the pace, and not the other way around.

It begins, leisurely enough, with Dietrich and Harris playing backgammon for money on a particularly slow morning. When Barney reminds them that their shift has begun, Dietrich cleverly manipulates Harris through reverse psychology into a move to hasten the end of the game and win.

Now that the shift has begun, Wojo brings in a prostitute, Marsha Dixon and Little Rock businessman, Robert Joseph Wilmore, Fred Sadoff, who previously played Dr. Esterhazy in “The Psychiatrist,” on probable cause of solicitation, setting up a story we’ve seen many times before. But Marsha claims to be new to the neighborhood and offers up the sunniest disposition of any prostitute to enter the one-two, taking everything as a compliment, and freely distributing similar sentiments, much to Wojo’s chagrin.

Wilmore on the other hand is self-conscious about his Southern background, touting Little Rock’s booming manufacturing and industry. When booked, he tells Dietrich his first and middle name, to which Dietrich replies “Bobby Joe.” Later, Wilmore has been released with a court appearance ticket. On his way, out, he attempts to hint to Dixon where and when he’ll be.

And much more urgently, Mr. Siegel, of the neighborhood’s Siegel’s Department Store has been kidnapped. So often on the show, the store has been the scene of petty crimes, and often the plaintiff in cases brought up against the customers at the station.

But this is the biggest incident we’ve ever seen involving the store. Forty uniforms have been sent over, knocking on doors in the neighborhood. An unhelpful twenty-eight year old FBI agent is involved, Mr. Siegel’s adult children, Lorraine and Andrew Siegel, have arrived to assist, and Yemana has brought in a witness, an arthritic chauffer Eddie Blake, played by Ralph Manza, who previously played Leon Roth in “Community Relations” and Anthony Barelli in “Protection.”

To make matters worse, Luger drops by and starts telling stories within earshot of the children about kidnappings in years past, like the Lindbergh baby, and incidents where the kidnapped victims were returned in shoe boxes and mason jars.

The ransom request has been made. In addition to money, the kidnappers have a political agenda. The Manhattan Liberation Force has committed this act so that the store could give away all its merchandise instead of continuing the ways of capitalist oppression. When Barney requests that Nick search the files for The Manhattan Liberation Force, or other similar groups, Nick replies “Don’t you think it’d be easier to just find the guy?”

Now that everyone’s here, it’s time to let the characters wait the situation out. Andrew Siegel and Marsha Dixon appear to have hit it off; since he works in Women’s Wear, he noticed her outfit is actually quite nice; she’s not dressed in an overtly sexual manner, except that the top few buttons are undone. Though he can’t do anything but advise unless a state line has been crossed, the FBI agent, Philip Martin, he also attempts to flirt with Marsha. All this annoys Wojo who thinks Marsha shouldn’t be having so much fun, having been arrested.

Lorraine Siegel is making a statement to Harris. Beyond the business at hand, she suggests he go into modeling. She’s also the one less willing to yield to the kidnappers demands. The business is what’s gotten her much more visibly upset than her brother, though he’s worried about their dad. Even when Barney wants the store closed down, she’s trying to figure out a way to pay the employees.

Disc jockey “Wild” Bill has played the tape of the kidnappers’ demands, causing a riot at the store, so Kogen has been called to offer backup. Harris and Yemana bring in one more person, Phillip Glansman, played by Stephan Gierasch, who previously played a few personalities of one particular collar back in “Power Failure.” He is a self-described white middle-class man trying to get what’s his, and pushing a little old woman down in the process.

It appears that there are at least voices for the lower, middle, and upper classes in this episode, none of whom appear to come off well at all. In fact, the kidnappers have seen the riot on television and have become disillusioned. They’ve changed their demands to a simple ransom of $200,000, which Lorraine balks at paying, considering there’s no guarantee they’ll keep up their end of the bargain, and that it’s a ridiculous business methodology. But Andrew decides to pay.

The demands require that the money runner jog in the park in nothing but jogging shorts with the briefcase. So, Wojo volunteers, as jogging is part of his daily workout.

Though Wojo returns safe and sound, there’s no sign of Mr. Siegel for some time. Marsha Dixon’s been bailed out, Levitt delivers the message from her pimp, but she wants to stick around and finish this movie. This is kind of where the pacing I mentioned comes into play. This is long past when she’d normally have left in any other episode. So, those in the squad room wait for Mr. Siegel, hoping for the best.

Mr. Siegel finally returns, played by “special guest star” Harold J. Stone. As with most everyone else involved, he doesn’t exactly come off well either. He’s disgusted at the ransom, ticking off his traits suggesting he’s only worth $50,000! He marvels at the “regular convention” of people, recognizing everyone, including Marsha, implying he was a customer. Perhaps Marsha’s not as new to the neighborhood as she’s let on.

With loose ends tied up, people start to leave. The G-Man suggests the squad would be useful to the FBI. Dietrich says he couldn’t work for J. Edgar Hoover, implying that he somehow knows he’s still alive. Lorraine offers Harris a $25 an hour fee for modeling. Andrew says goodbye to Marsha, attracting the ire of his dad.

Marsha requests her phone call so that she can call a cab. Wojo makes a wise remark, but feels bad, so he offers to call one for her. While on the phone he calls a cab, but changes his mind. He intends to drive her home himself. The audience is very quick on the uptake here.

I mentioned there’s at least another hour-long episode this season. If the actress who played Marsha, Barrie Youngfellow, was available, it could well have been a sequel to this episode. You’ll see what I mean when I get there.

The Search

Airdate: September 21, 1978

Since Barney Miller has never found a female cast member it could hang onto very long, we’ve been subject to the relatively cheap humor of the male cops in drag for mugging detail. Though Wilson had to do it back in season one, the other black cop, Harris, hasn’t. There’s a racial subtext to this kind of humor, which was why Kenan Thompson decided to stop doing such characters on Saturday Night Live, forcing the usually white-washed sitcom to cast its first black female cast member since the hilarious Maya Rudolph, as well as hiring a black female writer.

But the real reason Harris hasn’t had to do so until now is that Harris would have to shave his trademark moustache. For the usually vain character, this is quite the struggle. I was kind of hoping Barney’s insistence that Harris shave his moustache would mean that Barney would go on mugging detail as well, or at least shave his moustache in solidarity. Harris certainly tries to manipulate Barney into doing so by calling the facial hair a meaningless masculine affectation. The conclusion to this plot was satisfying nevertheless.

Harris begins the episode upset that the alterations for his dress have delayed the completion of the garment, but when we see him at the end of the episode, it’s quite apparent that the wait was worth it. The men of the one-two are stunned at how good Harris looks as a woman in his 1920s-inspired dress and hat. In fact, Dietrich asks Harris if he’s seen the film “Laura” (1944), an Otto Preminger film noir about a cop investigating the murder of the title character, and becomes obsessed with the woman he can’t have. The one-two punch of the joke is first that the film is analogous to his own feelings, but when Harris says “So?” Dietrich asks if Harris would like to go see it, as it’s playing down the street!

On a more serious note, the two cases this week also sort of deal with the same themes as the premise of the Preminger film suggest, in that they’re both attempts to recapture the past.

One involves a Milton Holly, aka Mr. Science, a local television host, played by Arny Freeman, who previously played Victor Newell in “The Kid” and Mr. Rosten in “Power Failure” and “Goodbye Mr. Fish: Part I.” This beloved host has become disenchanted with the kids today, recalling Mr. Gabriel from season four’s “The Tunnel,” in that he also attempted an extreme and violent solution to the bratty kids he wanted to teach. He also happened to be a favorite of Wojo’s…in the five years before Wojo joined the Marines.

Even more serious than that, Teresa Schnable storms into the one-two with a missing person’s case. She believes her dad’s been gone for twenty eight years! She’s actually an orphan who’s found this man, a Franklin Claymore, played by Bruce Kirby, who previously played Lieutenant Rossmore in “Eviction: Part II” and would later play Frank Rossman in the sixth season. When you fit a name, I guess you fit a name!

Since it’s not a police matter, she leaves frustrated. Usually, in such a circumstance, given the fairly rigid setting and premise of the show, it becomes a police matter. That’s not a criticism. If you have a problem that needs solving, it’s hard to do better than the crew of the one-two. She confronts the man she believes is her dad at the Continental Spa, where he works, and Wojo and Yemana bring her in. As it’s a men’s spa, she had to sneak around to the locker room, when kicked out of every other room.

Claymore is furious and thinks she’s nuts, so he requests a restraining order. When Wojo takes Claymore’s statement, Teresa seems to know him better than he knows himself.

The year in which he could have conceived her, he was sick a the VA hospital in Akron, OH. If it were any other year, he might not be so sure, as he was quite promiscuous in the years on either side of 1950. He does recognize a waitress, Sally’s, features in Teresa, thinking it could have been any one of a dozen regulars. But he’s been charmed by Teresa’s desire for a family, and asks her to send him Father’s Day cards “for laughs.” She doesn’t want any charity, but she does accept an offer like that. It’s another friendly match made at the ol’ one-two.


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