Dry as Dust--In a Good Way: The Comic Actors of Barney Miller

Often, a sitcom will have a straight man (or woman) who throws out dry quips in the face of the other characters' craziness. Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons comes to mind.

Barney Miller has an abundance of dryly witty characters. Too many dry characters, of course, can backfire. But considering good-as-gold Wojo, pushy Levitt, talkative and aggrieved Frank Luger plus the stunning number of nutcases who weave in and out of the second floor of the 12th Precinct, "dry" is the best coping tendency.

Many of the regular characters deliver dry witty lines. Barney is usually more composed, calm, and assertive than sarcastic. However, he often mutters soft lines of rebuke accompanied by raised brows. The "look" leads to confessions, often from his own men!

Fish is more grumpy old guy (and very, very good at it). But he has moments of dry reflection:
Fish: You won't believe this, but according to their records I'm deceased.
Barney: It's probably a mistake.
Fish: I wonder.
Driscoll: You know, you look exactly like Boris Karloff.
Fish: That's because we're both dead.
Ron Glass as Ron Harris is more endlessly amused than dry. He has an astonishing supply of insouciance, however. When the entire squad gets high(ish) on hash, he responds to Barney's request to get the hash-laden brownies examined by digging into the brownies, provoking Barney to snap, "Not that way!" He has the ability to stand back, hand in pocket, and ponder the weirdness of his fellow cops.

The award for "regular cast member who delivers dry lines" goes to Steve Landesberg as Arthur P. Dietrich. The character--as well as the actor--is so dry that he outwits the lie-detector test, much to Scanlon's chagrin. In fact, in the end, nobody in the precinct isn't entirely sure that Dietrich may not BE an alien (the lie he told during the test).

In the Season 3 episode "Moonlighting," Barney asks Dietrich what he would do if he died and found himself facing a theological reality for which he was not prepared.

Dietrich thinks, then says, "Whoops."

Landesberg has some competition for dry wit, often from regular guests. John Dullaghan is one of my favorites. Dullaghan plays a few suspects/criminals in the early seasons, settling into Ray Brewer, the recovered alcoholic in later ones. One of his funniest roles is as Harold in Season 4 "Copy Cat," especially when he informs his pontificating you-too-can-be-just-like-amazing-me AA sponsor, "You're borrring."

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