57. "Hash," Barney Miller (1976)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here and an introduction to the project is here.
"Hash" is a silly, broadly acted episode of a typically low-key, semi-serious sitcom, and that contrast may explain why it's one of the best-remembered episodes of the 1970s. Another reason may be that it first aired on a December 30, back when network shows didn't take the holiday season off, and lots of families watched it in a festive mood.
For a Barney Miller episode, "Hash" is pretty straightforward. Wojo brings in brownies made by his girlfriend; everyone except Barney eats them with increasing ravenousness; they start acting strangely; and we find out the desserts were laced with hashish. Meanwhile, an actor and theater critic are arrested for attacking each other with swords, and Fish gets annoyed with a fellow cop (the guest sleaze of the week) who seems to have designs on his wife.
The fun part is, of course, seeing the disinhibiting effects of the brownies on almost all the regular characters. Broken-down Fish becomes a superhero, leaping from one rooftop to another during a chase, and the normally fastidious Harris gets sloppily mellow ("What's happening, baby?") But viewers especially remember the taciturn Yemana, who rarely gets the spotlight on Barney Miller, delighting in how the brownies get "mooshy" in coffee and suddenly belting out "Almost Like Being in Love."
Barney: Harris, take these and get them analyzed, fast. (Harris starts to eat another brownie.) NOT THAT WAY!
It must be a treat for both writers and actors to do these intoxicating episodes. All in the Family did it with "Archie in the Cellar" and "Two's a Crowd" (both times trapping Archie somewhere where he has to drink to stay warm), and The Bob Newhart Show did it with the Thanksgiving episode "Over the River and Through the Woods." Dramas do it too, from Mad Men to the "Aftershock" episode of Law & Order in which several characters get drunk after witnessing an execution. Star Trek: The Next Generation was so eager to show its characters without inhibitions that it happened in the third episode of the series, infecting the crew with a personality-altering virus before the characters had beome familiar to viewers.
Though Barney Miller could take on characteristics of a drama (see "The Librarian"), this episode thankfully avoids any "very special" sermonizing about drugs. It's just about one unusual day at the station house, and there's a cute "let's pretend this didn't happen" tag at the end. Ironically, this episode may be one most responsible for the show's long-term success: Barney Miller rose to the Nielsen Top 20 at about this time and stayed there for three years.
Fish: First time in years I felt this good and it has to be illegal!
• TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz writes about "Hash" as his favorite "Drug Interlude" episode of a TV series.
• The YouTube videos below are complete but slightly out of sync.