Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: We add TV to the mix, presenting a week of our favorite series finales in anticipation of Parks And Recreation’s final episodes. (Note: Plot details are revealed.)
The ABC cop sitcom Barney Miller closed out an eight-season run in May 1982, one month after WKRP In Cincinnati aired its final episode on CBS. In the fall, NBC would debut Cheers and Family Ties, and that would be that: The ’70s were over, and the ’80s had begun. The Barney Miller finale, “Landmark,” takes its time to mark the end of an era. In the first third of a three-part episode, the New York City department in charge of declaring historical landmarks determines that the crumbling building housing the NYPD’s 12th precinct is where Theodore Roosevelt once served as commissioner. Once the word gets out, a developer swoops in to buy the property and restore it, to take advantage of a tax credit being offered to builders who help clean up the city. The story weaves through the episode’s second part, and then in the third part, the squad packs up and gets their new assignments. Throughout, the 12th’s remaining detectives—Capt. Miller (Hal Linden), Det. Wojciehowicz (Max Gail), Sgt. Harris (Ron Glass), and Det. Dietrich (Steve Landesberg)—keep processing cases.
Some TV series finales concern themselves with what happens to the characters. “Landmark” is one of the few to focus on what happens to a place. The Barney Miller writers and creator Danny Arnold—who also directed parts two and three of “Landmark”—wait as long as possible before any big goodbye scenes, and even then the farewells are rushed and sloppy, as though the detectives were surprised themselves by how soon it would all be over. That’s entirely appropriate for Barney Miller, a comedy that liked its actors to mumble and pause.
What matters more is what this finale has to say about a New York in transition. The crooks and victims who come through the 12th in its last days are well-chosen: a former corporate boss who’s become an anti-capitalist revolutionary after being held hostage; a pair of impoverished old ladies who’ve been taught by a con artist how to kite checks and use fake credit cards; and a pharmaceutical scientist who steals his own research when he learns that his company isn’t really interested in saving lives. As Barney Miller shuts the door on a dim, dank old office for the last time, it also laments a world being rapidly transformed by short-sighted fat cats out for a quick buck. The funniest, most pointed joke in “Landmark” comes in part three, when the drug researcher walks up to Sgt. Harris with a rapidly thawing cooler in his arms, saying, “My culture is dying.” Harris snaps back, “Yeah, tell me about it.”
Availability: The complete run of Barney Miller is available on a Shout! Factory DVD box set.