Seitz Asks: What’s your favorite Drug Interlude episode?
Seitz Answers: “Hash,” Barney Miller
The Mad Men episode “The Crash” was the latest in a subgenre of TV episodes that I call the Drug Interlude. The premise is simple: Take characters whose behaviors are well established, put them under the influence of a powerful substance, and watch suppressed parts of their personalities bubble to the surface, sparking hijinks, tearful confessions, declarations of once-secret infatuations, and so forth.
“The Crash” had most of the above, including a declaration of love (great fan service, that!); but as weird, surprising, and ultimately controversial as it was, it did not outdo my favorite Drug Interlude episode of all time, the Barney Miller episode with the hash brownies.
In case you’re one of those tragically deprived TV viewers who’s never seen an episode of Barney Miller, the ABC comedy from Danny Arnold and Theodor J. Flicker, allow me to summarize what made it so special: Almost nothing happened. Well, not literally “nothing.” There were stories and people talked to each other. But that was about it. The cops never drew their guns. Most of the time they didn’t even handle violent cases. A lot of their workday could be described as “community policing”: the roving diplomat/government ambassador/negotiator part of the cop’s job that you rarely see depicted on television. But you didn’t see much of that, either; you usually heard about it secondhand as the cops discussed their street experiences among themselves, or with the perps and witnesses that they had to question. The show rarely felt the need to open up what was, in its heart, a weekly stage play, set mostly on a single set, a Greenwich Village police station. And yet from Barney Miller’s almost-nothingness came humor and wisdom. I bet Taxi and Cheers learned a lot from it.
The brownie episode, titled “Hash,” aired December 30, 1976. It kicks off when Detective Stan 'Wojo' Wojciehowicz (Max Gail) brings in brownies baked by Gloria, a lady he’s been seeing. Several of the regulars consume the brownies, most without knowing what was in them, and their behavior takes a turn for the weird. Wojo reveals a clingy neediness that had only been hinted at before, and becomes a lot more “handsy” with co-workers. Fish (Abe Vigoda) becomes obsessed with a fellow cop that his wife dated back in the day. Detective Nick Yemana (Jack Soo) gets the giggles, bursts into song, and revels in the texture of the brownies. “See, you dunk them in the milk and they become nice and mushy,” he tells an actor he has to book after the guy had an altercation with a drama critic. “Nice word, ‘mushy.’ Moosh. Moosh. Moooshy.” Super-smooth Ron Harris acts like he’s unaffected, but when Captain Miller (Hal Linden) hands him a box of evidence to be analyzed, he grabs a piece and tries to eat it.
Best line? Yemana announcing, “Hey, what do you say we guys go down to the beach and shoot some clams?”
A tangential thought that you might or might not agree with — the “Shore Leave” installment of the original Star Trek series, in which the Enterprise crew visits an “amusement park” planet with echoes of Alice in Wonderland, might be the original Drug Interlude episode, even though no mind-altering substances are consumed.
What’s your favorite Drug Interlude episode?