‘Barney Miller’ in a Box

Amid the hundreds of police shows on TV over the years, “Barney Miller” stood out for having the perfect mix of humor and seriousness.

Considered a comedy – it was a half hour and had a laugh track  — the run from 1975-82 worked chiefly because of its well drawn characters, solidly acted.

Beloved in memory, its entire run is being released today on “Barney Miller; The Complete Series” on Shout! Factory. The 25-DVD box has all 168 episodes from its eight year run along with the requisite commentary and updates from key producers and stars (Hal Linden is still a smooth guy).

The real bonus, though, is the addition of the 13-episode, single season of the Abe Vigoda spin-off “Fish,” never before on DVD. It’s the kind of failure to revel in (and made Vigoda a kind of cult figure – not to mention indie band name).

There’s no doubt that “Barney Miller” was a guy’s club – there was scarcely a woman in the cast. And it almost always was set in the dingy office of the 12th Precinct, a refreshing change from the slick and unconvincing cop shops presented on TV these days.

There was a camaraderie among the squad, which scarcely changed over the eight year run and featured such indelible characters as Wojo (Max Gail), Yemana (Jack Soo), Harris (Ron Glass0 and Dietrich (Steve Landesberg). Put any of those characters in a show now and they’d stick out as stereotypes. In “Barney Miller,” though, they all had the feel of originals.

The jokes sometimes failed, and the patter sometimes fell into the the usual rhythms of three-camera sitcoms.  But then you’d be surprised by all the contemporary issues raised by the show in a very distinct period of New York history, the World Trade Center towers gleaming in the opening and unemployment, hijacking and crime all around.

“Barney Miller” never pretended to be what it wasn’t; it didn’t run big sweeps stunts or even make a big fuss for its turn-off-the-lights finale – one caused not by low ratings but by the desire of its makers to end it while it was still good. If “Barney Miller” found a way to a large audience’s heart, it’s likely the hefty box set will find a favored spot on the shelf as well.

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