Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Crime > Drama > Police > Urban > Barney Miller – The Complete Series (1975 – 1982/Sony/Shout! Factory DVD Box Set, incl. Fish – Season One)

Barney Miller – The Complete Series (1975 – 1982/Sony/Shout! Factory DVD Box Set, incl. Fish – Season One)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Episodes: A-



Barney Miller remains one of the greatest TV series ever madder about police work and police life, yet it is a comedy and especially after so many years of zombie-like police procedural series and the technifying of the genre, the show is more valuable and more obviously brilliant than ever before.  Now only after seeing the first three seasons issued on DVD, Sony and Shout Factory are releasing The Complete Series in a terrific 25 DVD box set.  If you are not familiar with the series, you can read more about it in our coverage of the following seasons:


Two (including Linda Lavin’s run as Detective Janice Wentworth)







Seeing the show again, the analog videotaping of it and the age of the time and its fashions, it is more than a time capsule but one of the most clever, successful TV comedies of all time.  Not just a sitcom, but an honest portrait of police life in a way no one had ever seen before.  Created by Danny Arnold (That Girl) and Theodore J. Flicker (The President’s Analyst), Hal Linden plays the head Captain of the 12th Precinct in New York City trying to solve and resolve every crime, situation, emergency and personal matter while holding the place together.  It also become one of the most ethnically diverse series ever made and remarkably remains so.


Abe Vigoda, Max Gail, Ron Glass and (until his death) Jack Woo were the regulars throughout the series, with Gregory Sierra there from the beginning until he left after Season Two.  Linda Lavin did not stay and moved on to the equally successful it series Alice, Steve Landesberg, James Gregory and Ron Carey soon were added as regular detectives, though Gregory left before the show wrapped.


Arnold wanted to end the show after the sixth season, but ABC had already renewed if for two more, both of which did well, ended the series after eight.  What I got out of reviewing all these seasons is how the show was deceptively simple and laid back, which helped it survive the weekly TV grind very well.  Everything was done thoughtfully and slowly, with great acting, smart dialogue, honest ideas and amusing situations that were like nothing TV had ever seen on law enforcement.  It was so smart, we were not even seeing these people or stories in feature films about police, which few have noted about the show, while it also continued the new breed of smart TV comedy we have not seen much since the mid-1980s.


You never knew what was going to happen on the show, but the station itself had a comfortable familiarity and density that made it very welcoming even as the actual building seemed to have problems every week that made you wonder if it would just slowly implode on its own or if the many problems they were having there would cause the place to collapse in some other way.  Few TV show ever achieved this unique sense of look and feel as this show did and that is another season it holds up decades later.


Even with some cast changes, the feel and chemistry stayed the course and until you see the shows in order, you cannot begin to see just how well it did this.  I liked all the actors very much and this is also a show that did not need a laugh track, though it is all over each episode and unlike the M*A*S*H DVD sets, you do not get the option of a soundtrack without the laughs which were obviously added later as only the first few episodes actually were taped before a live audience.  That likely added isolated resonance to the series that only helped it to be more effective still.


Yet this is also a comedy and in that, Barney Miller has comedy on several levels.  You get silly sitcom comedy, dumb comedy, ironic comedy, truly funny moments and deep, smart realistic comedy that all seem to co-exist seamlessly.  That gave the show depth and the actors do some of the best work of their careers here, playing brilliantly off of each other and making the show a great experience like the best TV ever made is supposed to.  I’m glad Sony and Shout! Factory skipped releasing separate fifth through eight season sets and just moved onto a Complete Series box.  It’s time for people to rediscover the show and catch onto why it is so great.  In the face of so many police shows soon, it turns out those many, many hits are still in the shadow of this classic.  Nice to have it back!



The 1.33 X 1 image is softer for the first three seasons, which literally just repeat the transfers and discs from the older Sony DVD sets, but the transfers improve on the newer seasons.  All were shot on professional NTSC video, though towards the end, you can see how the opening shot of New York City is down a few generations in color and detail in the last three seasons.  The original Life & Times Of Captain Barney Miller pilot was actually shot on 35mm film when Abby Dalton was his wife.  It looks good and as good as any show here, but this is a shot that works better on tape.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is better but still has recording flaws, distortion, compression and harmonic distortion varying throughout from show to show, but some shows could sound better, while others are as good as they are going to get.  For the record, there are three versions of the classic instrumental theme song.  The first season offers a cool jazz version that is quiet and laid back, while Seasons Two through Four offers the famous Funk variation ands the rest of the series breaks that up with an overplayed guitar.  I like the first two best.


Extras include an illustrated booklet with episode guide and Salute To Barney Miller essay by Howard Rosenberg, while the final DVD of the series has audio commentary on the three-part final episode Landmark with Writer/Producers Tony Sheenan, Jeff Stein & Frank Dungan, three making of featurettes (Inside The 12th Precinct, Salute To The Old One Two, Inside The Writers Room) that includes those men plus Linden, Gail, Steve Landesberg before his death and Vigoda, who narrates at times, the aforementioned original Life & Times Of Captain Barney Miller pilot, an extended version of Ramon, the final taped pilot that launched the show in a longer cut, excerpt from a fine documentary about the late, great Jack Soo called You Don’t Know Jack and two DVDs containing the entire Season One of the series’ spin-off Fish.


Beginning mid-season like its predecessor, Fish (1977) was a hoped-for big hit for ABC and they did promote it well, but it only lasted two seasons.  Vigoda was back as Fish and Florence Stanley was back as wife Denise, moving into a larger house to take care of five children from an orphanage as part of anew project in their lives she wants far more than he does.  The great Barry Gordon is a relative of Bernice helping out and the five children includes a very young, small Todd Bridges (later of Diff’rent Strokes, its lone survivor) who grows so dramatically that he is much taller than he began (compare to his opening credits footage), John Cassisi (Bugsy Malone), Denise Miller (Makin’ It, Archie Bunkers Place), Len Bari (as a sort of cross between Fonzie on Happy Days and Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter, which this show wanted to so capitalize on) and Sarah Natoli.  We get 13 half-hours of the show and you can see it had potential, but needed to grow.  I’m glad they included these here, though I want to see the final season to see more clearly where the show really went wrong and what still worked.


However, this box is dominated by Barney Miller which is rightly considered a classic and this Complete Series set is long overdue.  It is a must see, especially if you like comedies or police dramas.  It is also easily one of the best DVD sets of the year.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com