One of the great ensembles in television history, Taxi is worth watching for Bob James' brilliant theme song alone. Obviously, there are far more reasons to tune in beyond smooth jazz. The James L. Brooks creation, which you might be surprised to learn was cancelled twice, proved to be the launching pad for several comedy careers.
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Today, due to his death, subsequent mythologizing, and that R.E.M. song, perhaps no actor is more identified with the show than Andy Kaufman.
The pioneering comic, who could only loosely be called a stand-up, blurred the line between performance and reality. The series effectively absorbed one of his characters, Foreign Man, to turn into taxi mechanic Latka. No fan of sitcoms, Kaufman agreed to appear in only 14 episodes per season. In hindsight, his character is the most one-dimensional of the Taxi cast, but there is a sweetness behind the silliness, which might be Kaufman's enduring trait. For modern Kaufman fans perhaps unfamiliar with Taxi — or for anyone who loved the show — here are six classic Latka episodes. Look out for them on the schedule and set reminders.
Latka mistakenly signs a lease for a $3,000-per-month penthouse after his apartment is demolished. "It's okay, I have money in savings," he says. "Three thousand dollars.) Everyone intends to take full advantage of the swank pad — and to help Latka pay the rent. (For another month? It's never said.) A blonde Dick Butkus shows up to the party.
Latka's Revolting"Latka's Revolting"
Here we learn the most about Latka's unnamed homeland, as the country erupts in civil war. The whole gang throws a going away party for Latka, who is dressed in full uniform. The biggest laugh comes when Latka expects Elaine (Marilu Henner) to ask him, "Tonight, I will give you my body, to use as you will." Also of note: We see a map of Latka's country, of sorts. Finally, after seeing the battle plans, Latka backs out, telling his fellow countrymen, "I'm going home to watch The Tonight Show."
"Fantasy Borough: Part 2"
Kaufman broke his 14 episode pact just once, appearing in this second half of a two parter, the season finale. In one of the more surreal endings to a sitcom, the cast breaks out into a lavish Broadway production as part of Elaine's fantasy. Dressed in top hats and tails, the cast sings and dances through "Lullaby of Broadway," and Kaufman wanders the stage holding sparklers. It would be his fifteenth appearance that season.
Grandma Latka passes away and Latka inherits her famous cookie recipe. The secret ingredient? Cocaine. Kaufman and DeVito have a fantastic scene, as they argue over whether Latka is fired or quitting. A little reverse psychology wins.
Fantasy Borough: Part 2
"Latka the Playboy"
If Taxi has a greatest hits, this episode surely earns a spot. To keep Kaufman engaged with the series, the creators gave his character multiple personality disorder, allowing the actor to stretch out and show off some other characters. Here, the meek and naive Latka abruptly transforms into Vic Ferrari, a brash Lothario. "I'm into Italian cars, Technics stereos, Australian films and beautiful ladies," Vic proclaims, hitting on a woman in a bar. Speaking of bars, George Wendt guest stars. Kaufman's most famous alter ego, Tony Clifton, was due to appear in the episode "A Full House for Christmas," but during rehearsals, "Clifton" was too uncooperative and removed by security.
"Scenskees from a Marriage"
Eventually, Taxi would double down on the silly voices and cast the incomparable Carol Kane as Simka, Latka's wife. Kane gathered two Emmys for her role, and no episode was greater than this two-parter. Latka sleeps with another woman, and Simka believes the only way to balance the matter is her sleeping with another man. She sets her eyes on Alex (Judd Hirsch).