I may not be very far into Taxi, but it’s clear the show is fashioned as a dramedy, where tugging heartstrings is as much a priority as tickling funny bones. There are a lot of ways to balance comedy and drama within a story, though. One way is to have the overall situation be dramatic, but have little quips or other bits of comedy sprinkled throughout. Another is to alternate between two different storylines, one dramatic and one comedic. Then there’s the approach “Bobby’s Acting Career” takes, where it tells a straightforward dramatic story, only for a twist at the end to retroactively make it a comedy.
The premise is that Bobby, the cabbie who insists he’s only driving cabs until he can get his acting career off the ground, made a promise to himself: if he can’t get a paid acting job within three years, he’ll give up on acting and just focus on working a regular job. The episode begins when Bobby is one day away from those three years being up, and he’s frantic about the idea of having to give up his dream if he can’t get a job by midnight.
There’s a lot of comedic potential in the idea of Bobby desperately trying to find an acting job, any acting job, before the clock runs out, but Taxi doesn’t really go there. While there are a couple funny moments over the course of the story, it’s played almost entirely for drama, really getting the audience invested in Bobby’s emotional journey as he goes from nervous to despondent to determined. It’s genuinely affecting stuff . . . right up until the ending.
Many of the other taxi drivers have gathered at Bobby’s apartment to wait with him for the phone to ring with a job offer, which Bobby has become convinced must happen by midnight, because if it doesn’t he’ll have to give up acting, and he’s obviously too talented for the universe to let that happen. Alex (who I’m beginning to guess is meant to be the ensemble’s designated sensible one) tries to talk Bobby out of this foolish optimism, telling him that he might not get a phone call by midnight, and eventually goes so far as to say Bobby might not be as good an actor as he thinks he is.
Bobby is livid at these remarks, launching into a big, dramatic speech about how Alex has been like a father to him, and trying to crush his dreams like this is such a betrayal, he wants to kick Alex out of his apartment right now. It’s a powerful moment and is very well acted . . . but the person doing the acting is Bobby, who follows up that dramatic speech by laughing and saying he didn’t mean a word of it, he was just showing how good of an actor he was.
What was an effective dramatic moment becomes, in hindsight, just the buildup to a punchline. But that’s just a taste of what’s to come as, in the next scene, the clock strikes midnight and Bobby, waiting by the phone, sees that no one has called. For a moment he’s crestfallen, seeing that the three years he gave himself are up and he’ll have to give up acting. Then, almost instantly, all the sorrow vanishes from his face, he smiles, leans back relaxed, and says, “I’ll give myself another three years.” Cue peals of laughter from the studio audience.
For almost the entire episode, we’re told to accept that Bobby took his promise to make-it-or-break-it as an actor within three years seriously, that even if he were to decide to continue acting despite missing the deadline, the emotional impact on him would be profound. Instead, once the deadline’s past, he acts like it never mattered to him at all, dismisses the whole premise of the story up to this point with flippant ease. It’s a classic case of turning pathos into bathos, and I’m not sure how well it works for this story.
As a drama, “Bobby’s Acting Career” is very effective while you’re watching it. The writing and the acting make Bobby’s professional anxiety pack a lot of emotional weight. But, given how the episode ends, all this drama feels like a bit of a cheat, getting us emotionally invested in something that, it turns out, the central character was never all that emotionally invested in himself.
As a comedy, there is merit in the idea of building up something as serious and dramatic only to undercut it for the sake of a joke. But in the case of “Bobby’s Acting Career”, that’s really a long walk for a short drink of water. Both the moment when Bobby says he was only pretending to be mad at Alex and the moment when dismisses the importance of missing his deadline, they’re funny, but they’re not that funny. Not enough to justify going most of the episode with barely any jokes just to set them up.
For “Bobby’s Acting Career” to work, you have to appreciate it as a drama for most of its running time, then at the end switch to enjoying it as a comedy, and never go back and think about how poorly the two modes work together. If you know the punchline ending, the drama that makes up the bulk of the episode loses its weight. And if you’re not enjoying the drama, then the wait to get to the punchline must seem like it takes forever.
I enjoyed the episode while I was watching it, yeah, but I doubt I’ll ever want to watch it again.
- The B-plot of this episode involves the old “have two people call to a dog, whichever one it goes to is its real owner” bit. That got me wondering just how old that bit is, because this episode aired almost forty years ago, and even it felt the need to subvert the expected outcome: the dog goes back to the man who abused him . . . so it can take a big bite out of his butt and send him running away.
- While I said the episode had very few jokes in it, the part where Bobby invites everyone over to celebrate, but then repeatedly confuses them about what exactly they’re celebrating, that was pretty dang funny.
As I mentioned in my previous Taxi review, I have no intention of reviewing every episode of this series. I won’t even be watching every episode, since I’m watching it on Yahoo View, which only has about two-thirds of the series, with a lot of episodes missing seemingly at random. However, I’ve decided that, as I go through the series, I’ll post something about an episode if I feel like I have something to say. For this episode, I did. For Episodes Three and Five, not so much (Episode 2 is one of the ones Yahoo View doesn’t have).