I should preface this by saying that I’m not familiar with Taxi. It’s possible I caught an episode or two on Nick at Nite back in the day (though I can’t be sure), but mostly my knowledge of it is just what I could glean from the movie Man on the Moon. So when I watched the first episode of Taxi the other day, I had virtually no preconceptions going in beyond “1970’s sitcom about taxi drivers”.
From this neophyte perspective, what struck me about “Like Father, Like Daughter” is how it’s a quite good episode of television, while also an incredibly odd choice for a series premiere.
For much of its running time, it does hit the familiar beats you’d expect from the first episode of a new sitcom. We’re introduced to the taxi garage that I have to assume will be the primary set of the series. We get to see some of the main characters making idle small talk that gives us a sense of their dynamic, while also dropping important info about what their lives are like outside the garage. In case that’s not sufficient, a couple characters who are new to the setting are brought in, so things can be explained to them, and thus to the audience. The broad strokes of everyone’s personalities and roles within the show are established. And we’re given a low stakes plot (the cab drivers discover a pay phone that gives them back their money after each call, prompting a rush to make every long-distance call they ever wished they could make) that gives each character a chance to showcase their personality and get a few laughs.
Where things take a turn is when cabbie Alex Reiger says that if he were to use the free long-distance, it would be to call his daughter, who he hasn’t seen in fifteen years. When he makes the call, he can’t get ahold of her, but is told by her mother that she’ll briefly be in a Miami airport on her way to Portugal. Suddenly, Alex and some of the other cabbies are “borrowing” one of the company’s cabs to drive non-stop from New York to Miami so Alex can see his daughter.
This is just such an odd choice for a first episode to make. First episodes are generally about establishing the characters in their normal circumstances, only having some major event happen if it’s necessary to set up what those normal circumstances will be. But about two-thirds of the way through its runtime, “Like Father, Like Daughter” gets tired of normal, abandons its taxi garage setting, and sends its characters halfway across the country so Alex can have a reunion with his estranged daughter. Nothing related to taxi driving even figures into the plot, except for explaining where guys presumably too poor to afford one got access to a car.
It results in a good story, sure. Alex meeting his daughter is alternately sweet and funny, and very down-to-earth, and definitely tells you a lot about his character. But unless Alex’s daughter becomes a regular character (like I said, I know next to nothing about Taxi, but the way this episode ended makes that seem doubtful) it doesn’t seem like a good way of telling audiences what to expect from the show each week. This father/daughter reunion plot seems more like something you’d do midway through your first season, after the characters and the premise have been firmly established and you’re looking for a way to broaden the scope of the show. Leading with it right off the bat . . . speaking as a newcomer to Taxi, I have little idea what sort of plot the next episode I watch might have.
And you know what? Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. This series premiere was odd, but I can’t say it didn’t leave me intrigued.
- I was aware that Danny DeVito was in this show, playing a particularly nasty character (even by DeVito standards). Apparently 1970’s audiences weren’t so aware of who Danny DeVito was, though, because after spending most of the episode verbally berating the cabbies from an elevated booth, the moment when he steps out to really lay down the law, only to reveal how much shorter he is then the cab drivers he’s bossing around, the studio audience went nuts.
- I like the touch that most of the characters are only cab drivers part time (if “part time” can include 60 hour work weeks) while trying to make their career of choice work, whether it be actor, beautician, prize fighter, etc. It lets the show have characters involved in many different fields and walks of life, opening up lots of story possibilities, while still keeping the workplace setting as a common thread.
- Even if I didn’t know this show was made in the 70’s and set in New York City, I would have been able to tell in no time. I’ve never been to New York, and wasn’t even born until the mid-80’s, but if movies and television are an accurate guide, everything about this show screams 1970’s New York.
Writing this review was a spontaneous thing for me. I plan to continue watching Taxi, and I may write about it in the future, but I have no plans to try reviewing every episode one after the other. If anyone on this site is a Taxi fan and wants start reviewing it themselves, you will not be stepping on my toes one little bit.