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Ghost Canyon

'Taxi: The Complete Fourth Season'
(Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Andy Kaufman, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, et al / 3-Disc DVD / NR / 2009 / CBS - Paramount)

Overview: This sitcom followed the life of a group of cabbies in New York. The group, employees of the Sunshine Cab Company, was made up a motley crew including Bobby (Jeff Conaway), a frustrated actor, Tony (Tony Danza), a struggling boxer, Louie (Danny DeVito), the tyranical dispatcher, and Reverend Jim (Christopher Lloyd), a spacey ex-hippie. The classic ensemble sitcom was hailed by critics and audiences alike after premiering on ABC Sept. 12, 1978. It's a vehicle with heart, as well as humor, and won three straight Emmys as Outstanding Comedy Series.

DVD Verdict: OK, no matter what anybody tells you, Season 4 isn't a total loss. There are many wonderful episodes and famous Taxi moments to be found and fans of the series won't be disappointed by what they see. Christopher Lloyd, charged with the job of making the Reverend Jim character a viable replacement for Latka's oddness, really comes into his own and Devito in particular manages to chew up the scenery in his own unique way. But there is something that, well, just doesn't seem quite right as you watch this season.

Most TV shows reach a point where things seem to go adrift and quality slips. It's common enough that it has its own show business term; "Jumping the Shark." The name comes from the Happy Days episode where Fonzie jumps over a shark tank. It served as the best example of what happens when the creators of a show simply run out of good ideas. In Season 4 of Taxi, the show jumps the shark. As I said, that sort of thing happens all the time. What's unusual here is that the blame largely falls on the shoulders of one person.

Andy Kaufman was a brilliant comic and a wonderful talent. He found humor in unique places and his fall from fame is well-chronicled. His unchecked ego badly impacted the quality of a fine tv show known not just for its humor, but also for its unflinching willingness to examine the sensitive issues of the day. Season 4 is no exception in this area as, among other things, we see Hirsch's Alex character explore interracial dating.

As you watch this season of Taxi you will have to work around and tolerate the often bizarre manifestations of Andy Kaufman's alternate personalities. He will either dominate the proceedings in most episodes, or be completely absent because he didn't show and the writers had to work around his tantrums.

I can tell you that both the story lines and the talent of the remainder of the cast make the effort well worth it. It's a true shame because had Kaufman been a bit more patient and handled things with more grace, this show could easily have remained successful for another 5 seasons instead of sputtering to a finish a year later. [BB] This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.