Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In anticipation of the premiere of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, we take a look at some our favorite television exes.
Taxi, “Zena’s Honeymoon” (season five, episode 11; originally aired 12/9/1982)
One of Taxi’s greatest selling points was the seeming irredeemability of Danny DeVito’s Louie DePalma. Abrasive, greedy, misogynistic, and unapologetic about every one of those traits, Louie was lord and master of the Sunshine Cab Company, an anti-Michael Scott who had no need to be loved or even liked by his employees. But as much fun as his mean streak could be, Taxi got even more mileage from occasionally stripping it away, revealing a human side that was capable of deep pain.
No one got to Louie’s human side better than Zena Sherman, played by DeVito’s real-life wife Rhea Perlman. Introduced in season two’s “Louie And The Nice Girl,” Zena seemed like the perfect woman to check Louie’s worst impulses, though subsequent episodes would see those impulses drive them further and further apart. In the character’s fifth and final appearance, “Zena’s Honeymoon,” she sought Louie out to share that her life had changed: She’d met a child psychologist and was getting married, and wanted him to come to the wedding. It’s an encapsulation of how Zena was really the perfect woman for Louie, that she could be strong and tough enough to never be his doormat yet kind enough to look out for his feelings.
Those feelings are hurt tremendously by this news, as Louie—outwardly cocky yet quietly grateful for this second chance—doesn’t take well to the truth. Louie’s heartbreak gives DeVito one of his best scenes ever as he rapidly pivots through varied reactions to the news. He’s condescendingly affectionate at the start, then numbly consumes a bottle of wine in under a minute, throws a Hail Mary pass (“Would you at least have the decency to go to bed with me one last time?”), threatens a fellow diner, and then sobs into said diner’s shirt. It’s a marvelous mania to witness, as Louie tries hard to retreat to his defense mechanisms against the one woman who was always able to slip past them.
That sense of loss is enough to push Louie to do the one thing he almost never does: Apologize, albeit in a very Louie fashion. Breaking into the honeymoon suite with champagne, he goes through a few false starts that include insulting and strangling the groom, before offering a line about happiness that Alex (Judd Hirsch) slipped him, and then realizing it feels like a hollow way to end things. The real-life affection between DeVito and Perlman—plus the fact that Perlman was five months pregnant with their first child while filming—fills the scene with tremendous pathos, as Louie finally gets the right, honest words out. At the end of a half-hour full of bravado and anger, he declares, “You were the best woman that I ever had… and I let you go.”
It’s a quietly devastating end to the episode and the relationship. While Taxi would provide Louie with a new love interest that season (and DeVito and Perlman are together in real life to this day) there’s a real sense of loss when Louie walks out the door. He speaks fondly of how the two enjoyed looking for repulsive things in the river together, and it’s impossible to shake the feeling he’s lost the one person who truly saw past the repulsive thing he could so often be.
Availability: “Zena’s Honeymoon” is available as part of the Taxi: The Final Season DVD set. The episode is currently streaming for Hulu subscribers.