The fourth season of “Taxi” marked the turning point in the series because it was the last one that aired on ABC before making the switch to NBC. The fact ABC pulled the plug on the series after this season is a bit confusing, because some of the funniest episodes were produced for the 1981-1982 season. Each actor was given a chance to shine in special episodes devoted to their characters, and two actors (Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd) were so great that they shined in every single episode.
Ensemble acting is a major reason why some sitcoms work and others don’t, and when each actor takes their specific role, no matter how small, in each episode and makes it work, we’re allowed to see just how talented some actors are. DeVito’s slimy Louie De Palma is one of the greatest characters in television history, because he knew how to utilize each episode and story arc to the best of his talents.
No matter what the episode is about, the sight of the pint-sized slimeball automatically induces laughter. The other actor with this talent is Lloyd, who manages to make the burnt-out Reverend Jim Ignatowski an hysterical treat to watch. Nothing beats watching his addictive behavior meet a “Pac-Man” arcade game as he inserts an entire week’s paycheck of quarters into the system.
This season also marked the departure of Jeff Conaway as Bobby Wheeler, which goes unnoticed with an ensemble cast this great. It is similar to when you lose a Facebook friend that you never talked with: You know something is missing, but you’re not sure what it is. His contribution to the series was solid, and he did have some of the best early moments in the series, but his contribution was not as important as the others. He appears in a few episodes before his sendoff in “Bobby Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”
With a season that is 24 episodes long with only one bad entry ( “The Wedding of Latka and Simka”) it is a decent deal for anyone interested in great television. All of the actors gets equal amounts of episodes devoted to enhancing the development of their characters. The star, Judd Hirsch, who plays Alex Reiger, is often the group leader that dispenses advice, but in season four it seems he’s the one who needs advice, and that is highlighted in several episodes. “Take My Ex-Wife, Please” concerns Reiger’s problem when his needy ex-wife decides to date De Palma.
DeVito’s talents are noticeable in “Louie’s Fling,” where he cheats on his girlfriend and decides to play the victim card. In “Louie Goes Too Far,” he loses his job for peeping on Elaine Nardo while she is in the bathroom, but nothing beats the episode where De Palma builds a bomb shelter in the garage and spends the “weekend” in their with Tony Banta, Jeff and, accidentally, Ignatowski.
The beautiful red-haired Marilu Henner (Nardo) gets a bad haircut from a young Ted Danson in “The Unkindest Cut,” and travels to Europe with Reiger in “Vienna Waits.”
Tony Danza’s Banta gets his career in boxing kick started again, gets a boost from NFL superstar Bubba Smith (“Police Academy”) and manages a pre-“Ghostbusters” Ernie Hudson. But romance is in the air when Banta moonlights as a limosine driver in “Tony’s Lady.” Danza managed to create an instantly likable and slightly dim-witted New York character that captured the hearts of audiences.
Andy Kaufman’s comedy is slightly based on the mood of the audience and tends to miss the mark in a few episodes, making it more annoying than funny. In this season, he develops multiple-personality disorder, which is hysterical (even though it shouldn’t be), and in “Mr. Personalities” he becomes Reiger in one of his other selves. The problem is that Kaufman was not a team player, and shows up mostly on episodes that involve him, unlike previous seasons where he was always visible in the garage. (It is also known that Kaufman didn’t enjoy doing this series, even though it was the best part of his short career).
Lloyd’s character of Ignatowski goes through the most this season, including having his condemned building demolished with a wrecking ball while he eats cereal, forcing him to move in with De Palma. He is believed to be a psychic, helps a runaway child and in “Jim Joins the Network” helps a down-and-out executive (Martin Short) program a major television network. Then, in “Elegant Iggy,” he is mistaken for Nardo’s date and brought to an upper-class party, with some surprising results.
The season is wrapped up with a two-part finale entitled “The Road Not Taken,” in which we learn the origin stories of some of our favorite characters. Most shocking is maybe the fact that Iggy wasn’t always a burnout, but rather a genius at a prestigious college that just happened to try some special brownies. (Look for Tom Hanks in this episode.)
Of note, a similar idea was used in “The Simpsons,” because Barney (the drunk) was actually a genius before discovering alcohol.
The fifth and final season of “Taxi” will be released by Paramount on Dec. 22, and will show us the one and only year it did on NBC.
“Taxi” was an audience and critic favorite for the five years it spent on television, but never quite garnered the respect from the network it deserved. The show never got the sendoff it deserved, but each episode was so wonderful that it has still left a lasting impression, over 20 years later.