Season 2, Episode 3: “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey”
Original airdate: Sept. 25, 1979
Summary: The cabbies meet Reverend Jim at a restaurant and get him a job as a cab driver. Jim then spreads his special brand of reality around the garage.
Muskan: Remember last week when I mentioned that it seemed like Taxi was moving towards a broader style of comedy in its second season? Well, “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” didn’t do much to change my mind about this theory.
The return of Christopher Lloyd’s drug-addled ex-minister, Reverend Jim Ignatowski, who’s often described as “the living embodiment of the Sixties,” didn’t dissuade me.
When he coincidentally walks into Mario’s one night, the other cab drivers take sympathy for his aimless life and decide to find him a job as a cab driver.
They all unanimously believe it’s the perfect job for someone with no prior experience or marketable skills.
I believe this episode is the funniest among the ones we’ve watched so far and definitely one of my favorites. However, it’s also an episode that appears to lack some of the emotional depth we’ve encountered in previous weeks.
Until now, most of Taxi has had a distinct undercurrent of melancholy, portraying these characters as individuals with their own struggles, trying to make the best of their situations.
But in this case, Jim doesn’t seem particularly concerned about his circumstances, and the other cabbies don’t seem as dedicated or emotionally invested in his challenges as they have been in the past.
Tony, in particular, openly expresses skepticism about Jim’s chances of passing the test.
Additionally, as always, there’s a moment when Louie steals the spotlight and transforms the garage into his personal stage.
Meanwhile, even though the humor isn’t as dark, it’s arguably the most finely crafted writing the show has offered so far.
The writers could have opted for a broader, Cheech and Chong-style slapstick drug humor, but instead, they channeled Jim’s lack of comprehension into wordplay.
This approach resembles a cross-talk style that I would liken more to the comedic styles of Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, or the classic era of vaudeville.
Latka: You marry me!
Jim: Believe me, it would never work out.
Bobby: My friends and I wondered if you wanted to join us.
Jim: What did you decide?
Bobby: (reading the driving test) Mental illness or narcotic addiction?
Jim: That’s a tough choice.
The highlight of this episode, in my opinion, is when Jim finally begins the actual test and struggles with the very first question, prompting him to seek assistance from the other cabbies to understand what a yellow light signifies.
When they explain it to him, he misinterprets it and asks the same question again.
It’s a classic comedic trope, the endless repetition of a joke, where the humor lies in the realization that they’ll not only repeat it but also do it again and then once more with added enthusiasm.
In this case, this humorous sequence is repeated four times, striking the delicate balance of being funny without overstaying its welcome, which is quite a challenging feat to accomplish.
However, he manages to pass the test and enters the garage. His first action, though, is to drive the car straight through the garage door, and then he casually asks for his 90 cents.
Jim doesn’t subvert expectations in the same manner as some of the other characters we’ve seen, but his distinct personality and Christopher Lloyd’s exceptional portrayal of the character make it abundantly clear why the Charles brothers felt he should become a permanent part of the show’s universe.
As a side note to our continuing discussion about Latka’s character development, I find myself enjoying the character more when he demonstrates a growing command of the English language and when his exaggerated sideburns become less prominent.
In this particular episode, he picks up some jive talk after spending time in Harlem, and he evolves from being a mere joke into a character whose cultural misunderstandings lead to comedic moments.
Judging by his rendition of “Sex Machine,” I would gladly spend money on an album titled Latka Graves Sings Funk Hits of the 70s.
Nirajan: “Vaudeville” is precisely the word I had in my notes as well, Muskan, right alongside those three jokes.
Honestly, it was a real challenge for me not to jot down every third line. This episode ranks among my all-time sitcom favorites, and the “What does a yellow light mean?” gag is undeniably one of my all-time favorite sitcom moments.
Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Conaway fully commit to the comedic routine.
Their mutual frustration with each other escalates rapidly, with Lloyd playing it more subtly while Conaway goes for increasingly exaggerated gestures and expressions.
Christopher Lloyd, who earned two Supporting Actor Emmys for his portrayal of Rev. Jim, delivers an outstanding performance. He manages to elevate the material in the most delightful manner.
Lines that may appear clichéd on paper are transformed into comedic gems when filtered through his laid-back and genuinely innocent demeanor.
It’s true that he doesn’t quite align with the prevailing undercurrent of melancholy that runs through much of the rest of the show, but such a potent comedic talent is forgivable for this minor deviation.
Kriti: If the internet had been around in 1979, television critics would probably have opened their reviews of this episode with something like, “I wish this review could simply be a compilation of all the hilarious lines from this episode.”
“Space Odyssey,” as you guys mentioned, is indeed a tremendously funny installment of comedic television.
Sometimes, it’s fantastic for a show or an episode to delve into themes or long-term plotlines, but at other times, as is the case with this episode, it’s equally fantastic for a show or episode to excel at what it does fundamentally best.
Taxi, at its core, is an exceptionally funny show, and this particular episode showcases the show at its comedic peak.
Allow me to join the chorus of praise for Christopher Lloyd, a performer I’ve been a big fan of since I first watched Back to the Future in the early 1990s*.
Introducing new regular characters into a show can be a challenging endeavor, and transforming random one-time guest stars into regulars is even more challenging.
However, in this case, Lloyd’s portrayal of Reverend Jim seamlessly integrates into the main cast, arguably even better than he did back in “Paper Marriage.”
It’s evident that James L. Brooks and the Charles Brothers recognized the special chemistry and potential they had with Lloyd and the character of Jim.
*It’s crazy to think that Lloyd filmed BTTF just five years after this episode. I know Robert Zemeckis and company aged him up for the role of Doc Brown, but Wowza.
It’s rather amusing to contemplate the trade-off that occurred between seasons one and two, where the show “lost” John and gained Jim.
The contrast between these two characters is striking. John was a character who blended into the background, contributing next to nothing to the unfolding events. He was one of the more unremarkable characters I can recall, quite bland in comparison.
In contrast, Jim is a dynamic, quirky, and even somewhat risqué character, and, most importantly, he brings humor to the forefront.
While the first season episodes we watched were undoubtedly excellent, with Reverend Jim now playing a more prominent role, Taxi has become even better and somehow feels truer to itself—despite my not having seen anything beyond the two episodes we discussed today.
Nonetheless, I am genuinely curious to see how Jim’s increased presence will influence the show as it progresses.
As both Muskan and Nirajan pointed out, the broader humor is undeniably making its presence felt once more, and Jim undeniably introduces a different dynamic to the show.
While I can’t envision that the heart and depth we’ve appreciated thus far will vanish entirely, it’s certainly worthwhile—and I’m sure we will—to keep an eye on what does or doesn’t shift with Jim’s greater involvement.
Astha: I have some mixed feelings about this episode. The first act seems to stretch endlessly, and it feels like the episode struggles to find its footing until the superbly executed “On Moonlight Bay” scene.
From that point onward, it feels like the episode is operating at its peak performance until the climax when I couldn’t help but groan at the forced nature of the car backing into the garage when it should have gone forward.
Similar to Kriti, I’m intrigued by how Jim fits into the overall dynamic of the cast. While I’ve criticized Latka for not quite blending into the series, I feel even more strongly about this regarding Jim.
It’s not that Christopher Lloyd’s performance is lacking (far from it; it’s actually perfectly executed), but it does give the impression that he’s part of a different show.
It’s one thing for a character to be spacey, but it’s another for that character to come across as potentially disruptive to the series. This might be a contributing factor to why I found the first act to drag on.
However, as they start assisting Jim, he begins to feel more welcomed and integrated, and the episode gains a better sense of cohesion.
Season 2, Episode 4: “Nardo Loses Her Marbles”
Original airdate: Oct. 2, 1979
Summary: Elaine has a chance to move up at the art gallery, so she burns the candle at both ends and begins to show signs of stress.
Muskan: Following Christopher Lloyd’s comedic performance in the previous episode, we return to the slightly darker humor that I’ve come to associate with Taxi.
This time, the spotlight is on Elaine as she grapples with the challenges of being a single mother while juggling her roles as a cab driver and gallery manager.
Predictably, there are numerous parallels in this episode to the first one centered around Elaine, “Come As You Aren’t.” Once again, it explores the contrast between Elaine’s professional ambitions and the practicalities of making ends meet.
There’s even another reference to the champagne she provides for the party, although this time, it’s flat instead of being in cans, reflecting the show’s expanded comedic range.
I believe it’s a far more compelling character-driven episode for Elaine compared to “Come As You Aren’t,” and overall, it’s a superior episode.
This improvement can be attributed to a full season, which has allowed the writers to tailor the script more effectively to the individual strengths of the actors.
Elaine still dances around the fact that her friends are cab drivers, describing them as “important buyers,” although this time, they are more accepting of this fabrication and are eager to enjoy the benefits of free meals and flirting with artists.
There’s a better balance struck in portraying Elaine’s desperation to make everything work simultaneously, while Bobby and Tony adopt a much more nonchalant attitude toward their career aspirations.
(“What time is it? That means I have to be ready in less than five hours!” “If this were tomorrow, I’d have to be at the gym in 15 minutes.”)
Most of the credit unquestionably goes to Marilu Henner, who demonstrates a broader range as an actress in this episode than in the earlier ones.
Previously, Elaine has been portrayed as the voice of reason within the garage, so it’s intriguing to witness her caught off guard to such an extent.
This occurs initially when it appears that the gallery opening is unraveling at every turn, then during a vulnerable moment in the cab with Alex, and finally when she gets the opportunity to speak with a psychiatrist, portrayed by the respected actor Tom Ewell.
Her therapy session is another scene where Taxi takes its time, allowing the events to unfold naturally and leading seamlessly to her eventual emotional breakdown. (And yes, I have to give her credit for wearing a white fedora to her therapy session.)
Marilu Henner’s enhanced acting range becomes most apparent in the evolving relationship between Alex and Elaine.
In my previous review of “Come As You Aren’t,” I expressed relief that the show wasn’t attempting to force romantic tension between its apparent male and female leads.
However, in this episode, they approach that territory more directly, with Elaine essentially suggesting they act upon the random thoughts they’ve both had in the past.
This development caught me off guard, especially since the only member of the garage to show any feelings for Elaine is Louie, albeit in his usual lecherous manner.
It’s evident that nothing actually transpires between Alex and Elaine, as Alex is too principled to take advantage of a woman in her vulnerable state. Yet, there are multiple ways to interpret the expression on Alex’s face in the final moments.
Is it confusion over potential feelings? Frustration at missing an opportunity to share a memorable experience?
While Taxi doesn’t seem like the kind of show to delve into a serious romance, if this were to appear on a contemporary sitcom, it would certainly raise some shipper red flags.
In all honesty, everything I’ve mentioned up to this point is somewhat irrelevant because we’re all undoubtedly giving this episode an A simply because Andy Kaufman pulled a kitten out of his pocket.
Nirajan: The contrast with “Come As You Aren’t” becomes immediately evident, both in terms of Elaine’s demeanor and the overall quality of the episode.
Now, she embraces the moral support of her fellow cabbies right in her place of business, where they’re arguably even more out of their element than they were at her apartment.
She embodies the confident and ambitious Elaine we’ve grown accustomed to, infusing her interactions with others with more energy, all while gradually revealing the inner strain and doubt she’s grappling with, which makes it all the more impactful.
Marilu Henner delivers a truly fantastic performance in the therapist scene. It’s a gradual buildup to a sincere moment, tinged with a bit of tense humor, and the show doesn’t overdo it.
As we saw in “Louie and the Nice Girl,” they don’t let the weighty moment linger too long either. It’s followed by a well-timed joke that breaks the discomfort, yet the humor complements the seriousness of the moment rather than undermining it.
The contrast with “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” is equally striking. Elaine’s struggles and her believably complex relationship with Alex couldn’t be more different from Jim’s scatterbrained antics and Louie’s drugged-out musical performance.
Nevertheless, both storylines succeed in delivering comedy and character depth. It’s this kind of versatility that solidifies Taxi’s status as a hall of fame program.
Kriti: I can’t help but wonder if the sudden introduction of romantic undertones arose from the producers’ frustration with the network or perhaps even the audience’s expectations.
The fact that we’ve commented on the show’s restraint in dealing with the Elaine-Alex pairing suggests that we might have had certain expectations regarding how their relationship could develop.
Certainly, the CBS executives and viewers were aware of these typical storytelling patterns, and maybe there was some external pressure at play.
This is purely speculation, but that aspect of the episode felt like a response or perhaps a resigned acknowledgment that they had to explore that angle, even if only briefly.
However, “Nardo Loses Her Marbles” wisely avoids dwelling on the tired will-they-or-won’t-they cliche.
Alex behaves in the manner any mature, rational, and considerate individual would in that situation: he briefly contemplates it and ultimately does what’s right for his clearly troubled friend.
A lesser show might have turned their little bet or agreement with the therapist into a convoluted attempt to force them closer together, but Taxi takes a more sensible and refreshing approach.
Everything you both mentioned is absolutely on point. This episode works so effectively because we’ve had the opportunity to spend quality time with these characters.
We can genuinely empathize with Elaine’s challenges, particularly the way she supports and listens to the rest of the group. Marilu Henner’s performance is truly outstanding.
One final, unrelated note that applies to both episodes: I appreciate how candid this show is about its characters drinking, using drugs, or simply making poor decisions.
It’s not as if nobody on contemporary television smokes pot, takes pills, or indulges in alcohol, and it’s unrealistic to assume that everyone was living in a Leave It to Beaver world in 1979.
Nevertheless, Taxi doesn’t shy away from the fact that these characters are adults working in low-end jobs, just trying to find an affordable way to entertain themselves or find some solace.
This might not have a profound impact on a weekly basis, but it adds a nice layer of realism and texture to the show.
Astha: As expected, I found this episode more appealing overall than “Reverend Jim.” I tend to lean towards character-driven drama and comedy.
While the driving exam segment was enjoyable, I personally derived more satisfaction from witnessing Elaine and Alex in his cab, trying to work through their issues, acknowledging their potential attraction (that dress was quite the statement), and, most importantly, behaving like the mature adults they are.
It’s their willingness to confront these matters that I respect and find engaging.
Moreover, the episode continues to build on this, particularly in the therapist’s office scene, which essentially plays out like a compact one-act play. I’m all in for that.
A part of me does wish that we had arrived at this episode by gradually watching everything that came before it.
I feel like we’re getting a condensed version of these characters’ lives, and while there’s some genuine emotion in these scenes, I can’t help but wonder if there would be even more depth had I experienced the episodes leading up to this one.
Additionally, I can’t believe none of you mentioned Robert Picardo in one of his early TV roles as the artist who wants to remove his work from the gallery. Shame on all of you.