Typically, the write-ups and testimonials comprising the bulk of a DVD’s artwork constitute nothing less than extreme hyperbole, often bordering on total falsehoods. So when a DVD claims to feature “the best movie adaptation of a video game so far” (an arbitrary distinction given DOA: Dead or Alive by an all-caps testimonial emblazoned across the DVD’s cover), we have learned to take such claims with a grain of salt. “Best film of the year,” you say? I’ll be the judge of that. So it’s an “instant classic”? I don’t think that’s how classics work. But in my experience with Car 54, Where Are You?, when the DVD write-up asserts that the series “stands today as one of the greatest achievements in television comedy,” they ain’t kidding!
Once you’ve watched a handful of episodes, and it honestly doesn’t take many, you’ll realize that Car 54 isn’t the stuff of average, formulaic sitcoms. Indeed, you never know what series creator Nat Hiken and the writing staff have in store for you when the band strikes up that catchy theme song. Although ostensibly a series about policemen, specifically patrolmen Toody and Muldoon of New York’s 53rd Precinct, there’s no guarantee that any given episode will even have anything to do whatsoever with the criminal activity, the police, or even Toody and Muldoon. Often (and I mean too often for me to list episodes here), the series will wander away from its central characters to follow supporting cast members or brand-new characters who appear in no subsequent episodes. As such, I always found the prospect of starting up a new episode exciting.
Such a formula wouldn’t work at all, of course, if the series weren’t graced with an incredible cast, particular where the leads are concerned. Car 54 most certainly has that, boasting a terrific cast of character actors headed up by Joe E. Ross, who plays Officer Toody, and the extraordinarily talented Fred Gwynne (who would go on to star in The Munsters) as Muldoon. The pair provides a much-needed foundation for this brilliantly anarchic series so that, even if an episode dovetails into a star-is-born scenario centered on one of their co-workers’ wives, it never feels unwarranted, what with two incomparable screw-ups like Toody and Muldoon at the center of it all.
This set, now available from Shanachie Entertainment on DVD, includes all 30 episodes of the series’ second season, which aired from 1962-63, mastered from the original 35mm source material. Tragically, the series’ second season was to be its last, but fortunately this television masterpiece has been preserved on DVD by Shanachie. By way of special features, the Second Season set includes a Joe E. Ross stand-up routine filmed shortly after the series’ conclusion. Here, the announcer curiously introduces Ross as “Officer Joe E. Ross Toody,” as though “Joe E. Ross” were his character name or a nickname, which just goes to show how iconic his character had become in the series’ tragically short run.