I was excited to find the late 70’s – early 80s sitcom Taxi on Hulu. I was too young to be interested in it when it was on the air, but I eventually watched much of the series in reruns. Created by James Brooks, it is the story of the Sunshine Cab Company and the denizens within: Alex Reiger is our everyman, the only one there who’s a cab driver; Bobby Wheeler, struggling actor; Tony Banta, struggling boxer, Elaine Nardo, struggling art gallery owner, with mechanic Latka Gravas and dispatcher Louie DePalma. In the first season, there was also John Burns, a student, and the cast was eventually rounded out with Rev. Jim Ignatowski.
These roles were portrayed by some of the best actors around. Judd Hirsch has had a long career in movies, theater and TV, and he was the solid foundation around which the show was built. At the time, Jeff Conaway was a hot commodity, coming off of a successful Broadway run in the show Grease as well as playing the second male lead in the tremendously successful movie Grease. Tony Danza played Tony Banta, dim but sweet, his future success in anchoring a TV cast yet to come. Marilu Henner was Elaine Nardo, with her warmth and energy and sexiness all shining through. Louie DePalma was played by the continually brilliant Danny DeVito, currently living shamelessly and hilariously on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Latka Gravas was played/inhabited by? who knows/ by Andy Kaufmann, and Rev. Jim was the fantastic Christopher Lloyd. John Burns was not really a necessary character, so I think writing Randall Carver off was the right choice for the show.
Louie’s initial entrance may be my favorite entrance ever made by a character. We hear him first, in the dispatcher’s cage, but when he opens the door and comes down those steps – the audience laughter is raucous and genuine. When I was younger, I HATED Louie, but as an adult, I really appreciate DeVito’s performance – he does make Louie somewhat lovable.
I’m on season 1, and some of the things I’ve noticed that I didn’t before: gay jokes where gays are not the butt of the jokes; there are a lot of scenes where I was distracted by Marilu Henner’s nipples because she often did not have a bra on, which may have been more common in the late 70s than it is today; Tony Danza was kind of a natural to acting, even though he was in fact a boxer; Jeff Conaway had a gorgeous head of hair but he was such an overactor. I always wonder what it was like to work with Andy Kaufman – I’m looking forward to the addition of Simka.
This series is dated, for sure, but it’s worth watching.