Friday, February 17, 2017


Sgt. Phil Fish was rarely rattled by whatever situations were thrown his way.  He usually faced Life's roadblocks with aplomb and with a deadpan (and half-dead) delivery of self-deprecating observations.  About the only thing that could make him apoplectic were threats to his continued employment as a cop.  And those were coming more frequently as he was fast approaching the mandatory retirement age.

There was one time during the years in which Fish was seen by the audience of the Trueniverse in which he experienced a combination of his aplomb and his apoplexy, and it was all tied in to the first time he ever meet Detective Arthur Dietrich.

A look at Fish's home life results when he decides to go on restricted duty. Steve Landesberg steps in as Arthur Dietrich. (iMDb)

Florence Stanley played Bernice in six episodes of 'Barney Miller' and in 35 episodes of 'Fish', for a total of 41 episodes.  She could have done so for 42 - the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything - but she wasn't available for this one.  (She was probably tied down to filming the 'Joe And Sons' episode "Nick's Problem".)

Instead Doris Belack (memorial member of the TV Crossover Hall of Fame for her role as Judge Margaret Barry on 'Law & Order', 'Law & Order: SVU', and 'Undercover') played Bernice while Emily Levine was cast as their daughter Beverly Fish.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and Toobworld abhors a Recastaway.  They make extra work for this Handyman.  So it's time for a bit o' conjectural splainin!

Besides this new Bernice, the presence of Beverly in Fish's life causes problems as well.  She was never seen again on the show.  What happened to Beverly?  Moved away?  Death?  Fish mentioned Beverly a year later when Officer Frank Slater revealed that he had the hots for Bernice back before she ended up with Fish.  ("She's the mother of my daughter!" Fish protested.)  And that would mean they were talking about Bernice 2 and that would mean she had the last name of "Gruber" as mentioned by Slater.  

Here's what I'm thinking....

No, it's not a case of an alternate dimension, but something more... ordinary.

Fish was basically a bigamist.

Sure, I've come up with other theories for Recastaways in the past - plastic surgery, alien exchanges, android replicants, quantum leaps.  But I don't think any of those would work in this case.  

And it's not like I think 'Barney Miller' is a fully realistic series.  I know that thirty years ago or so cops were polled on what they thought was the most realistic police show ever broadcast and the winner was 'Barney Miller'.  Yet the show dealt with time travel, astral projection to other worlds, demonic possession.... And it amuses me to claim that all of those examples actually happened.

So why not something almost normal in comparison like bigamy?

At some point in the late 1940s, Phil Fish - already married to Bernice - met another woman who was also named Bernice, probably during an investigation.  And she looked remarkably like his wife at a younger age.   Surprisingly, his obvious interest in her was returned - to the point that she conceived a child, their daughter Beverly.

Fish loved her, but he also loved Bernice 1.  There was no way he was going to seek a divorce, but he wasn't going to abandon his love and their daughter.  Bernice 2 understood this.  Although she was upset that he wasn't going to marry her, at least she wanted to find a way to keep him in her life.

And so he set them up in another apartment, nowhere near where Bernice 1 might learn of their existence.  Fish and Bernice 2 also decided that Beverly should never learn the truth.  She was raised a Fish and went through Life believing that her parents were actually married.

Then came the day when Sgt. Arthur Dietrich surreptitiously followed him home during his lunch hour.

Fish had been angry because the closing of the 33rd Precinct and the transfer of Dietrich to the Ol' 1-2 was another sign to Fish that mandatory retirement was fast approaching.  And he needed to keep working so that he had enough money to support both of his Bernices.  He lashed out unfairly at Dietrich and then stormed out of the station, telling the others he was going home to have lunch.

And he did go home.  Only it was to the home that he shared with Bernice 2 and Beverly... not that Dietrich knew that.

During the whole time while Dietrich was visiting there, doing his impression of Gregory Peck, Fish played it cool, nonchalantly acting innocent about the situation.  He knew that Dietrich didn't know anything about him and he would make sure it stayed that way.  All the time he acted angrily towards Dietrich (while pitching day-old bread at the pigeons), he was plotting his game plan: to get Dietrich out of the apartment as quickly as possible without raising suspicion.  

Bernice 2 would have known that their secret was in danger of discovery, but she was acting cool because something else was occupying her mind: that her beloved daughter had been duped by a cheating boyfriend who was already married.  

I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on her when she had the chance to ruminate on it later.

Why would Bernice 2 have accepted such a demeaning position in Life as "the other woman"?  Especially when it was such a decrepit flatfoot like Phil Fish?  I can only assume it was because Fish was hung like Mr. Ed.

I've looked through the rest of the 'Barney Miller' episodes in which Florence Stanley returned as Bernice 1 and it wasn't until the end of Fish's time at the 12th Precinct when her path finally crossed with Dietrich.  But by that time, his one encounter with Bernice 2 was just a distant memory - if he remembered her at all.  (It has already been established that the detectives in the squad room dealt with so many people on the job that they just couldn't remember them all.*)

When Fish encountered an actual bigamist named Fred Clooney, who was about to be transported to Cleveland to face trial on that charge, everything he said could be interpreted as being spoken by a man with experience on the topic.  ("A man with two wives doesn't have an opinion.  He just nods.")  But as he wasn't married to Bernice 2 then he wasn't a bigamist by legal definition.  Only in his heart.

FISH:After I met Bernice, I didn't want anyone to know;
kept her a secret from anyone.

How long did you manage that?

Oh... until about three years ago....

But which Bernice?

There is one problem with this theory.  In the two-part episode "Contagion", Fish called Bernice to tell her that he was now quarantined at the precinct due to a possible outbreak of smallpox.  During that call, she reminded him that they had not spent a night apart in 44 years.  It would be tough to juggle two relationships - one a true marriage and the other more of a deep, loving bond in which a daughter resulted - without spending some nights with Bernice 2.  

Who knows?  Maybe he did pull it off.  Maybe Bernice 2 was willing to accept a relationship in which she only saw Fish during daylight hours.  Maybe all of those supposed doctor appointments were really an excuse to spend time with her and Beverly. Or maybe Fish would dope up Bernice 1 so that she slept through the night without ever realizing he was sneaking out to spend time with his other "wife".

Why not?  It's no less crazy a theory than saying that they were the same Bernice, but one day she was replaced by some quantum leaper from the Future.  

And I prefer it to just abandoning this pocket kingdom of fantasy of mine by just shrugging it off as a Recastaway.....


*  Otherwise, they would have remarked how much Dietrich looked like a former suspect who called himself "Father Paul".  (Theory of relateeveety: Father Paul was Paul Dietrich, Arthur's identical cousin.)

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