Is anything funny about going to jail or prison? Must be, because there have been plenty of funny scenes in TV history that take place behind bars. I wouldn’t recommend going out to commit a crime to get there, however.
On “Barney Miller” there is a small cage-like jail cell at the back of the detectives’ room in the 12th precinct. That tiny little cell saw more prison comedy than all the most prison comedy films ever made put together. That jail cell was home to everybody from a guy convinced he was turning into a werewolf to the home of a Mr. Wizard-type TV show host. Hands-down the funniest jail comedy ever put on TV even though you don’t normally think of “Barney Miller” as a jail comedy.
On the Rocks
“On the Rocks” was a prison comedy. Well, it was set in a prison and attempts were made to make it funny. Consider the prison in “On the Rocks” to be a correctional institution containing roughly the same amount of hardcore cons as the jail cell in “Barney Miller.” One must suppose that prison may be funny, but not prison populated by murderers, rapists and the like. The Alamesa Minimum Security Prison contained the same kind of cross-section of ethnic types found in most World War II flicks: the guy who you could depend on to do whatever needed doing, the optimistic Charley Roseglasses who eventually gets on your nerves, the old guy with no teeth and, well, you get it. Airing immediately after “Barney Miller” probably did this prison comedy no favors.
The Andy Griffith Show
You may also not immediately think of Mayberry when you think of jail comedies. But just like “Barney Miller” this was a show that featured a number of comedic scenes dependent upon the inhabitants of the inmates inside those two cells inside Sheriff Taylor’s office. Of course, there was Otis, the fat drunk who rolled in after a bender on regular occasions. But then there was also the Gentleman Crook, the sexy siren who seduced both Barney and Andy, assorted moonshiners and a surprisingly robust number of bank robbers. The jail comedy of “The Andy Griffith Show” also extended to Barney Fife’s delusion that he was the warden of the Rock.
Women in Prison
The same network that brought you men in prison under the title “On the Rocks” this time around brough you women in prison under a title that spared no room for ambiguity. “Women in Prison” had the good fortune of featuring the brilliant Wendy Jo Sperber and the occasionally amazing C.C.H. Pounder, but it seemed to want to be less a comedy about prison life than a comedy about the comedy of a prison life. Except that it failed miserably as a postmodern sitcom. If you have a taste for the weird, you should check “Women in Prison” out some time.
Not a prison comedy, but one episode produces a heck of a lot of laughs that takes place in jail. The crime at hand is trafficking in stolen goods. Kip has gone off on a ski weekend with Sonny, Sonny, Sonny, Sonny leaving Henry temporarily holding the bag when he accidentally purchases a stolen VCR. He winds up in jail with a terrifyingly tall and bald black man and a smaller but almost as terrifying white guy. This episode of “Bosom Buddies” was much funnier when it first aired because the conflict between hardened cons and the two guys who daily dress up as women reaches its climax in a celebration of brotherhood in the form of singing and dancing to Doo-Wop.