There are few sitcoms in the annals of American television that only ran for two entire seasons but, in turn, become icons of comedy for decades to come. As a matter of fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of one other than the topic at hand: a series that is quite possibly the quintessential cop comedy of all time, Nat Hiken’s immortal classic, Car 54, Where Are You?, which was originally aired on NBC from 1961 to 1963. Set in the The Bronx, the series brought us the hilarious misadventures of two hapless officers of the 53rd Precinct, Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne), whose patrol vehicle is — yup, you guessed it — Car 54.
In 2011, Shanachie Entertainment released the first season of this wonderful Emmy Award-winning series. Now, a full year later, they have brought us the concluding thirty-episodes of the second and final season in a four-disc set that presents the newly remastered episodes complete with their original sponsor plugs (voiced by Mr. Gwynne himself). Car 54, Where Are You?: The Complete Second Season is a genuine hoot, sporting some of the best comedy writing of the time — in some cases, of all-time. Witness the truly hilarious “Toody Undercover,” wherein the slobby and rotund Joe E. Ross (who was an even bigger slob in real life) winds up becoming a criminal mastermind while working surreptitiously with some mobsters.
Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t any other episodes of note in this set. There are. Plenty of ’em, in fact! Nat Hiken’s writing is second to none during this season, and some off-screen warring between the comical genius and star Ross at this particular point in history afforded Hiken to devote more time to the show’s supporting characters, such as Toody’s wife, Lucille (Beatrice Pons); Officer Leo Schnauser (Al Lewis) and his annoying spouse, Sylvia (Charlotte Rae); Paul Reed as the long-suffering Captain Block; and the usual assortment of 53rd Precinct policemen (Ossie Davis, Hank Garrett, Nipsey Russell, Frederick O’Neal, et al). The always-delightful Larry Storch once again appears in several episodes as the memorable drunkard, Charlie.
Shanachie Entertainment’s welcomed closing hoorah for this legendary show — which is labeled as the 50th Anniversary — is a fine one indeed, sporting presentations that have been remastered from original 35mm materials. The transfers are quite spectacular when you consider both their age and the fact that their sources weren’t overly immaculate to begin with. In terms of special features, Car 54, Where Are You?: The Complete Second Season contains a rarity from the vaults of forgotten comedy — a “Come Back Audition Film” with Joe E. Ross, wherein the comedian (who was notoriously known as being one of the crudest comics on the burlesque circuit, playing some of the worst gigs imaginable) goes for broke with a family-friendly routine that was filmed in front of a somewhat-live audience. The reverse side of box art sports two of the many caricatures the great Drew Friedman is so well-known for — an expectedly comical uniting of the Schnausers.