Tuesday, December 9, 2014

From commie to Randian and back in under four minute

Nat Hiken was a writers' writer. William Faulkner, who disliked television as a rule and who did not own a set, was a fan of Car 54 and would regularly go over to a neighbor's house to catch the show. Ken Levine called him the "greatest sitcom writer of his era." Larry David lists Bilko as a primary source for Seinfeld.

The Seinfeld connection is easy to spot. Hiken was perhaps the all-time master of the unexpected-consequence plot, where a small and seemingly harmless event would spiral into a series of bigger and bigger complications. An attempt to get a citation or help a couple avoid their weekly fight would spiral out of control, often upending the precinct, the police department or the entire city.

"Toody & Muldoon Meet the Russians" is not good introduction to the series. Rather than building up, the Russian characters pretty much start at eleven and much of the political satire has age poorly (One, Two, Three is one of my least favorite Billy Wilder films for similar reasons). It is, however, an interesting time capsule of JFK's America. Check out the specific business strategies the commissar proposes before spotting his KGB tail.

p.s. It doesn't come up in this clip but both Bilko and Car 54 were notable at the time for their integrated casts featuring African-Americans as as professionals and co-workers.

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