"Taxi," one of the best sitcoms of the past two decades, is driving into the Nick at Nite lineup this week.
The acclaimed series, which aired from 1978 to 1982 on ABC and from 1982 to 1983 on NBC, won 14 Emmy Awards, including three consecutive Emmys for best comedy series.
"Taxi" was a wonderful ensemble show, a la "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Several creative folks from "MTM" were involved in "Taxi," including James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis, Ed. Weinberger and Glen and Les Charles.
Set at the fictitious Sunshine Cab Company in New York, the series followed the lives of an odd assortment of cab drivers, their hotheaded boss and an immigrant mechanic. Judd Hirsch starred as Alex, the only full-time cabbie and the most rational one of the group. Marilu Henner was pretty Elaine Nardo, who also worked as an art gallery receptionist. Danny DeVito was the frenetic boss, Louie De Palma, who shouted his orders from behind his dispatcher's cage. Jeff Conaway was the handsome, struggling actor Bobby Wheeler. Tony Danza was Tony, a boxer who couldn't win a fight. The late Andy Kaufman played the mechanic Latka Gravas, who spoke in the most bizarre broken English. Then there was Christopher Lloyd's spaced-out hippie "Reverend Jim" Ignatowski. During the first season, Randall Carver was on hand as naive student John Burns.
Besides finding it a funny and well-acted series, Nick at Nite's wry spokesman, Dr. Will Miller, says "Taxi" is very sweet.
"This show, I think, was carrying on in the '80s a tradition that began with 'Mary Tyler Moore' " in the '70s, says Dr. Miller, who, besides appearing on Nick at Nite, is a therapist, an ordained Baptist minister, former stand-up comic and host of the new NBC daytime series "The Other Side."
"Here's a situation where people find their primary relationships at work versus being at home," he explains. "That's something very unique to American life in the past 20 years--where people's home lives have become more sparse because of mobility. They find their family, if you will, at work. Even though for comedy purposes (the "Taxi" characters) are drawn very broadly, nonetheless there's a real sweetness underlying their relationships with each other. I think that's why a lot of people were drawn to the show, because they relate to that."
When Dr. Miller analyzes a series, he also likes to give it a comedic, pop psychology spin. "'The energy in the show is Louie," he explains. "I think that's a powerful metaphor from a psychoanalytical point of view. The driving force in a human being is what Freud called the id--the raw, primal primary energy. And that's Louie. Louie is a little anger ball. He's the id man. I think it's fitting he's in a cage. Everyone around him is trying to manage Louie and each one has a different strategy. Alex is the most successful because he's the most rational. He can get the most out of Louie. All the other characters, I think, somehow reflect various struggles human beings have."
All the characters, he says, are filled with \o7 Angst \f7 except for Reverend Jim. "In many ways, the wonderful character on 'Seinfeld,' Kramer, is like a neo-Reverend Jim," Dr. Miller says. "He seems like he might even be psychotic, but yet he seems oddly connected at times. These characters are very much in the moment. With Jim, his life is the most disintegrated in some ways, but he's the most happy moment to moment because he lives moment to moment."
Dr. Miller seriously believes successful series such as "Taxi," "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Cheers" have remained popular because they are really about relationships.
"In our era, the past 15 years, friendships are the relationships people are most starving for," he says. "Not really the romantic relationships, but you and me as brother and sister; you and me in a family-like relationship where the sexual tension is gone, but yet we are very close. I think that's why these shows and new shows like 'Seinfeld,' are very much anchored in friendships: men with men, men with women in a brotherly sisterly kind of way."
\o7 "Taxi" airs weeknights at 10 and 10:30 p.m. on Nickelodeon.\f7