When I think of rainy days, and the melancholy effect they can have on us, I think of an episode of the classic TV sitcom, Barney Miller, a wry, understated comedy series that ran from 1975-82. The episode was called simply, “Rain,” and you can watch it at that link.
For the uninitiated, who missed one of the era’s best comedy series as well as the most ethnically and racially diverse, Barney Miller is set in New York City’s 12th Precinct police station on East 6th Street in Greenwich Village. Each episode takes place almost entirely within the tight confines of the detectives’ squad room and Capt. Miller’s adjoining office, which subs as a patient treatment room. And the patients are Miller’s detectives.
Miller the multitasker
Miller is not only the police captain, but also the camp counselor and psychologist for his laid-back crew of detectives. It’s as if all the lovable misfits of the NYPD have been assigned to this 12th Precinct and Miller’s care. And that’s great news for the viewers of this show.
A typical episode features the detectives of the 12th bringing in several zany complainants and/or suspects to the squad room. Usually, there are two or three separate subplots in a given episode, with different officers dealing with different crimes.
Under a leaky roof
In the “Rain” episode, the action around the squad room is particularly slow, apparently because the crooks on the street are staying home out of the rain.
Barney and his dim light bulb Detective Wojciehowicz (mercifully nicknamed “Wojo”) are leaning on their respective windowsills as they stare blandly at the raindrops splashing against the windows.
They begin contemplating the meaning of life, wondering if this is all there is to it, and wondering when it will stop raining.
The Rockefeller Effect
Meanwhile Sgt. Nick Yemana, the designated coffee maker, has opened his window to catch some rainwater to make the day’s brew. The idea is it may produce something more ingestible than his normally questionable java.
“Some guy claims that the rain is controlled by the Rockefeller family,” he says, reading from the newspaper. “To bring about a one-world government. Ever seen Rocky with an umbrella? He don’t need one. It don’t rain on him.”
Meanwhile, Sgt. Amenguale is slowly going nuts at his desk, which is filled with tin pans catching raindrops leaking through the old, cracked ceiling above him. The rain is not only dampening his desk, but also his spirits.
Lamenting the unrelenting crime in the city, he tells Barney, “It seems like no matter how hard we work, everything stays the same as it was.”
“That’s called progress,” Miller replies.
The only thing approaching a crime of the day occurs when a nightclub comedian starts insulting an unresponsive audience, causing a brawl. Amenguale is sent out to arrest him. Miller tells his Detective Harris to go with him, but the would-be novelist who considers police work only his day job, balks at going back out in the rain before relenting.
Catch and release
The two bring the club comedian to the station, only to have the suspect’s lawyer threaten Miller with a lawsuit because of the inhumane, wet conditions in the room’s holding cell.
Later, the owner of the night club drops the charges, electing to keep the comic on until he can pay for the damages he caused to the club.
“Great,” Miller responds. “The only catch of the day, and we have to throw him back.”
The downpour and outburst
Finally, a piece of the ceiling caves in, causing Miller to explode and call the police commissioner’s office to complain about the deplorable working conditions for his men. But he can’t get through because the rain has washed out the phone lines.
The episode closes with the normally calm Miller apologizing to his men for his angry outburst.
“That’s okay,” Detective Fish responds. “We all get depressed. You were just the first one to put it into scream.”
To which Amenguale adds, “Yes, depression is like a bad cold. One guy gets it, and it just starts spreading around.”
Yeah, rainy days can be like that. But if you have to have one, it’s great to have a funny show like Barney Miller to watch.
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."