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A note about last week’s entry: I neglected to mention an interesting behind-the-camera detail about the episode. The role of Nick, Louie’s younger brother, was originally meant for Tony Clifton, a boorish nightclub act alter ego of Andy Kaufman’s. When Kaufman signed onto the show, one of his conditions was that Clifton guest star at least once. Clifton caused so much chaos on set that he was fired and quickly replaced by Richard Foronjy, who later became briefly known for the Show About Cop Sexism In Portland, Under Suspicion. Here’s how Danny DeVito described Clifton’s behavior in an interview with the Archive of American Television:

He shows up two hours after we’re supposed to start, and he’s got a hooker on each arm. He smells like…all his clothes, everything, is bathed in this sweet perfume.… The next day he comes in, very late. He’s got the hookers with him. And the hookers are carrying packages, little presents for everybody. We all had these little toys that made noise he had given us because he was so thrilled to be working with such professional people. Ed [Weinberger, co-creator of the show] was gonna fire him. He pissed off Judd so much that Judd was gonna kill him.

“Sugar Mama”

Not available for streaming; there are some pretty good deals on used DVD copies of the first season on Amazon.

Anyway. “Sugar Mama” is one of my favorites of the whole run of Taxi, and I’ve never been able to really figure out why. On the surface, it’s obvious — it guest stars the wonderful Ruth Gordon, or Maude, of Harold and — but revisiting this episode, and trying to analyze how I feel about it, I come up somewhat empty.

Gordon plays Dee Wilcox, a wealthy widow who takes a shine to Alex and starts requesting his company (as a driver) every night. She is, if not Maude, tangential to Maude. A cousin, maybe. On their first drive together, she asks Alex to take her to Shea Stadium, LaGuardia Airport, and then Woolworth’s — in the middle of the night. Like Maude, she has a firm grasp on the realities of the world, and of money, and of old age, and consciously blocks them out.

The true crux of this episode, which comes bubbling up finally at the last scene, when Alex confronts Dee over the amount of money she’s spending on him. (By that point, it’s gone beyond nightly drives and into cashmere sport jackets and reupholstered cabs.) When he asks that they remove the element of money from their relationship, she balks. Money is the only thing she brings to the table in the relationship; it’s also how she maintains control. But by the end, he wins; they agree to meet for lunches that he’ll pay for. (Unfortunately, Dee never actually shows up in the show again.)

What is the takeaway from that? People can overcome disagreements? Money is a negative force in our lives? It’s such an odd, packed-in note that leaves me questioning what I see in the episode. Am I just distracted by good casting of a guest star? Or am I, as usual, overthinking an episode of a sitcom? (My positive feelings towards the episode could also stem from a brief exchange between John and the rest of the cabbies, in which John claims he’s still stoned from a contact high after picking up “rock and roll musicians.” John is a lot more fun stoned.)

“Friends”

Not available for streaming; there are some pretty good deals on used DVD copies of the first season on Amazon.

Appropriately enough, “Friends” is a Taxi episode that skews much closer towards traditional sitcom tropes than usual. The central story revolves around Tony asking Bobby — tangential, irresponsible — to watch over his fish while he’s out of town. (I love when sitcom characters have silly personal traits. Why does Tony have fish? They’re a “symbol” to him, keeping his boxing career alive.)

Bobby promptly kills the fish, then tries to replace them, which doesn’t work, obviously. The slightness of the episode is worth it for Tony Danza’s face after learning about his fish.

Bobby and Tony have it out over Bobby’s selfishness, but the ground feels trodden; it’s a sitcom episode, and they’re going to be friends all over again next week no matter what. The episode doesn’t care, and why should you?

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