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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Barney Miller: The First Season (1974)

"Drinking should be done in the privacy of one's home. Where it's necessary."
- Fish (Abe Vigoda)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: January 29, 2004

Stars: Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, Abe Vigoda, Max Gail, Ron Glass, Jack Soo, Gregory Sierra
Director: Noam Pitlik, Bill Davis, Danny Arnold, Richard Kinon, John Rich, Bob Finkel, Allen Baron

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 05h:20m:10s
Release Date: January 20, 2004
UPC: 043396016132
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The 1975 television season would debut a number of favorite comedy series, including Welcome Back, Kotter, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Fawlty Towers, and one of the most popular and critically acclaimed police comedies ever, Barney Miller. This double-disc set contains all thirteen first season episodes, which garnered nominations for six Emmys, and took a Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical TV series. Barney Miller would run eight seasons and 170 episodes in total.

The show centers around the comings and goings of New York's 12th Precinct, a rundown, disorganized department where the officers deal with the gamut of crimes and personalities running afoul of the law, with hilarious results. One of the first shows to feature a racially diverse cast, the squad room features a collection of principle characters that are easily Barney Miller's greatest strength. The first season showcases all but a few of the enduring roles: the precinct's senior member, the ever cynical Detective Phil Fish (Abe Vigoda, who would later get his own spinoff series), suffers the effects of his age and his marriage to wife Bernice (Florence Stanley) with a dead pan personality; Gregory Sierra plays the animated Puerto Rican detective, Sergeant Chano Amenguale, who frequently launches into his native language when flustered; Max Gail is the gung-ho but somewhat dimwitted Detective Stan 'Wojo' Wojciehowicz; Ron Glass is the flamboyant African-American, Detective Ron Harris, who will begin writing his novel; and my personal favorite, Jack Soo, as Detective Nick Yemana, the quiet Asian who shares the one-liners with Vigoda. Trying his best to hold the department together is Hal Linden's Barney Miller, who juggles the department politics, caring for his prisoners, and managing his staff amid the ever-present chaos. Most character-driven series require some time to gel, and Barney Miller is no exception, but to a lesser degree than others. While this eclectic combination could form the cast of any TV series, Miller's writers flesh out these characters throughout the series, making them seem more human and dimensional than most shows ever achieve.

The humor often plays on the multi-ethnic nature of the cast, with plenty of stereotyping, but at the same time, the writing evidences a mutual respect and cooperation between the team members, and shows a sensitivity for the issues of the day. While a little unsure of its direction in this inaugural season, the show manages to effectively shift between comedy, drama, and character study. Later seasons would down play Miller's home life, but here we have his wife, Elizabeth (Barbara Barrie), and the only appearances by his son and daughter. These scenes feel a little out of place, but do serve to build Miller's personality, as he has to balance his duties as a cop with the family issues that invariably crop up. The season opener, Ramon, focuses intently on the captain, who is called upon to deal with an armed prisoner threatening to shoot anyone standing in his way of escape. Likewise, the closing episode, Hero,—which would earn its writers an Emmy nomination—delves into the Amenguale's psychology as he has to deal with the aftermath of an unavoidable job situation. These dramatic elements are where Barney Miller excels in being more than a series of one-liners and bizarre prisoners.

This season also introduces a number of recurring characters, including Inspector Frank Luger, lamenting the good old days when crooks were treated like crooks; the ambulance chasing attorney, Arnold Ripner; and Marty (Jack Deleon), the precinct's stereotypical gay guest. Linda Lavin appears as the show's only female cop, but her part would be written out in the following season as she left for her own starring vehicle, Alice, whose Vic Tayback (Mel) also makes a guest appearance in the episode Stakeout. Other guest stars include Nancy Dussault (Good Morning America) as an agitated hooker, David Wayne (Ellery Queen) as a drunken bureaucrat, Roscoe Lee Browne (Falcon Crest) as a veteran prison escapee, Michael Lembeck (One Day at a Time) as the precinct's unwilling new transferee, and a very young Todd Bridges (Different Strokes) as a "stick up" man.

Extremely funny, but dealing with many serious issues as well, Barney Miller remains one of the gems of situation comedy, and an added bonus of having these episodes available in a collection like this is that it allows a better appreciation of the many running jokes that could otherwise be missed.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The first season of Barney Miller was vidoetaped before a studio audience, and therein lies the biggest problem for this release, the deterioration of the source tapes in the intervening years. Although it looks like there was some work done to punch up the color, the overall appearance is a bit disappointing. While some episodes fare better than others, almost all are subject to color banding especially in the fleshtones, where static yellow stripes are present on people's faces and hands, and these creep into background elements as well. There is an overall softness, and many scenes look downright blurry. On my Toshiba, there are numerous glitches in the video as well, almost all being jump-like cuts. This all sounds a lot worse than it looks, but I do wish more care had been taken in preserving the elements.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The show's two-channel mono audio is fairly well preserved, the only issue being a bit of distortion in places, presumably originating in the source. This isn't the most present sounding track, but dialogue is clear for the most part. The signature opening theme comes across well except in the extreme highs. Not a showcase, but serves the show just fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
0 Other Trailer(s)Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: All of the bonus features are contained on the first disc. TV-ographies for the main cast are included along with a trailer for Anger Management and combined promos for Columbia's other TV product, split into classic TV (including All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Married With Children, The Jeffersons, The Larry Sanders Show, Mad About You) and contemporary TV (including Married With Children, Designing Women, The King of Queens, The Best of The Steve Harvey Show, Dawson's Creek).

The most obvious missing extra is the show's pilot, The Life and Times of Barney Miller, which apparently only aired once.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

While it was never at the top of the ratings during its initial run on TV, Barney Miller has aged well with its own brand of humor and a terrific ensemble cast. Despite a less than stellar video presentation, this set will be a welcome addition to anyone who appreciates fine television situation comedy. Recommended.


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