Weekend Viewing: "Barney Miller"

Not all drug-related episodes are very special episodes (like Jessie getting hooked on speed). On Barney Miller, showrunner Danny Arnold and writer Tom Reeder came up with perhaps the show’s most famous episode, about the cops eating hash brownies. This version appears to be from syndication, and therefore incomplete, but it’s the best we get until somebody releases the third season on DVD.

It’s still amazing how low-key the humour was on Barney Miller, even in a fairly broad episode like this one; no multi-camera show has ever had so many subtle jokes (which partly explains why they eventually stopped using a live audience; they weren’t doing a whole lot of jokes that would play in front of an audience).

And the show is also a reminder of how sitcoms and dramas have sort of switched places since the ’70s. In this era, dramas had tightly self-contained episodes, characters who never changed (at least not permanently) and focused primarily on one or two star characters. Barney Miller, a comedy, was the only cop show of its era to have a big ensemble, multiple plots within an episode, characters who changed over the course of the series, even ongoing storylines (like Harris’s authorship of his novel “Blood on the Badge”). Because that was stuff you would get on comedies, but never on dramas.

Part 1:


Part 2:


Part 3:


Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.