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For the Birds: Top 5 Bird Episodes of Sitcoms
Birds are mostly responsible for why I haven’t written anything in a while. First, I found an abandoned baby robin caught in a storm in my backyard. I named him Francis and lovingly hand-fed him and took care of him for five days, until he flew up a tree and never came back.
This left me with a bird-shaped void in my life that I needed to fill. I turned my backyard into a bird sanctuary with deluxe bird feeders, a birdbath, a birdhouse, and cameras and binoculars so I could watch and catalog the birds like Stan in It, but it wasn’t enough.
So against my better judgement, I said fuck it and adopted a bird. His name is Dobie (like Gillis), and I love him more than life itself, but this tiny baby parrotlet is a huge pain in the ass. He demands a lot of attention, and he’s very clingy. Currently, I’m typing with one hand because he’s taking a nap on the other one. I’m getting pretty good at it.
So in honor of my bird era, grab yourself a nice piece of Bird Day cake and put a bird on it! Here are my top five favorite bird episodes of sitcoms.
#5 – Seinfeld: Little Jerry Seinfeld, the Fighting Rooster
Kramer, Jerry Seinfeld’s wacky neighbor on Seinfeld played by Michael Richards, is known for his crazy ideas, like getting rid of all his furniture and building “levels,” covering his entire apartment in wood, reversing his peephole, and hiring an intern to help him run “Kramerica Industries,” his enterprise that is “little more than a solitary man with a messy apartment which may or may not contain a chicken.” In season eight, episode 11, “The Little Jerry,” Kramer decides to finally get that chicken so he can have fresh eggs. Unfortunately, the “chicken” turns out to be a rooster.
Kramer being Kramer, he just goes with it. He names the rooster “Little Jerry Seinfeld” and treats him as a pet, even taking him for walks on a leash. On one of these walks, Little Jerry catches the eye of Marcelino (Miguel Sandoval), the owner of a local bodega, who has taped a check that Jerry bounced to his cash register as a warning to other deadbeats. Marcelino tells Kramer he’ll take down Jerry’s check if Kramer will let him enter Little Jerry in a cockfight. Kramer agrees, not really knowing what a cockfight is. Luckily, Little Jerry scares away the other rooster and doesn’t have to fight.
Marcelino then refuses to take down Jerry’s check unless Little Jerry loses his next fight. Jerry, incensed and unsure if he can even make a rooster “take a dive,” tells Marcelino, “Jerry Seinfeld—big or little—doesn't go down for anyone, anywhere at anytime!” This leads to a hilariously ridiculous scene where Jerry and Kramer train Little Jerry for the big fight. (He’s a “lean, mean, peckin’ machine!”)
At the cockfight, the gang realizes Marcelino flew in a “ringer” from Ecuador that “looks like a dog with a glove on his head.” Kramer dives into the ring to stop the fight and gets mauled by the giant rooster.
#4 – Just Shoot Me!: Dorna Luge’s Parakeet Party Favors
Season three, episode 11 of Just Shoot Me!, “Slow Donnie,” is one of the best episodes of the series. It guest stars David Cross (Mr. Show, Arrested Development) as Elliot’s (Enrico Colantoni) younger brother, Donnie, who has been pretending to be mentally challenged for 10 years so he doesn’t have to get a job. But I might talk about that storyline another time. Today is Bird Day (honk-honk).
The C story involves Nina (Wendie Malick) trying to impress someone named Dorna Luge, who’s known for throwing extravagant affairs on her yacht, during which there’s “more pairing off than on Noah’s Ark.” After one of Dorna’s parties, Nina comes into the office carrying a parakeet in a cage, explaining that Dorna gave them out as party favors. She invited Dorna to meet her for lunch, so she’s keeping the parakeet in her office to show Dorna how much she loves her “stupid party gift.”
Unfortunately, Dorna can’t make it to lunch, and to apologize, she sends over 100 more birds, which turns into 99 when one of them takes a sip of Nina’s “orange juice” and flies into a fan. The birds are piled up in cages in Nina’s office, much to her chagrin.
Later, Nina finds Finch (David Spade) in her office talking to the birds because he says they’re “depressed.” Nina, who’s fed up with the birds, tells him they’re too stupid to be depressed. She demonstrates this by opening one of the cage doors and pointing out that the bird won’t fly through it. Dennis tells her she’s “provoking the alpha male” (which is ridiculous because birds don’t have alpha males, but I digress...). Apparently he knows a lot about birds because he used to date an ornithologist until she dumped him because “all the other ornithologists made fun of her for going out with a guy named Finch.”
Ultimately, the birds get their revenge when they escape from their cages and attack Nina a la Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. There’s a shot of a cute little parakeet waddling across her desk to ominous music that always makes me giggle.
At the very end, David Spade’s voice explains that no birds were harmed in the making of the episode. Thanks, David!
#3 – Captain Nice: Sheldon, the Hero Parakeet
Captain Nice was a delightful short-lived sitcom that starred William Daniels (Knight Rider, Boy Meets World) as Carter Nash, a geeky scientist who discovers a chemical formula that turns him into a superhero. It was created by some of the same people who created Get Smart, and it shows. It’s basically Get Smart with a superhero instead of a spy.
Anyway, in episode three of the show’s only season, while Carter is stopping two thugs from robbing a jewelry store, his briefcase falls over, and some of his secret chemical formula spills onto a caterpillar, turning it into a massive, super-strong, man-eating MEGA-PILLAR. Unfortunately, I guess they didn’t have the budget to build a MEGA-PILLAR, so you only hear it, but I found this artist rendering on the internet:
As hilarious as that is, it gets even funnier. The caterpillar runs around destroying the city, and it’s so big and strong that no one can stop it, not even Captain Nice.
Carter decides that the only way to kill a giant caterpillar is with a giant bird, so he gives some of his formula to Sheldon, his mother’s parakeet who is constantly crowing, “I love you! I love you!” Sheldon suddenly dons a little Captain Nice costume and grows into a giant parakeet, bellowing “I love you! I love you!” in a deep, booming voice. There’s something about a parakeet in a little cape that cracks me up every time. Why does a bird need a cape? He has wings!
Anyway, Sheldon takes down the caterpillar, then flies away. Later, while Mrs. Nash (Alice Ghostly) is lamenting the loss of her beloved Sheldon, Carter reads in the newspaper that a local grainery was attacked by an unknown assailant, who made off with 500 pounds of birdseed, saying, “I love you! I love you!”
#2 – Frasier: Baby, the Skittish Cockatoo
In season four, episode 14 of Frasier, “To Kill a Talking Bird,” Niles (David Hyde Pierce), newly separated from his mysterious unseen wife, Maris, is trying to establish himself at an upscale apartment building. The building doesn’t allow dogs, so he gives up his startlingly Maris-esque greyhound and adopts a cockatoo named Baby. Baby is very skittish and tends to cling to Niles whenever she hears a loud noise, like the doorbell. Martin (John Mahoney) calls the bird “cute but stupid,” prompting Baby to repeat the phrase back to him.
Niles decides to throw a dinner party as a way to ingratiate himself with the other residents of the building. Frasier (Kesley Grammer) has his eye on one of Niles’s neighbors, Stephanie (Patricia Wettig), so he volunteers to help. He starts by lighting a fire in the fireplace, which startles Baby, prompting her to cling to the top of Niles’s head. No matter what they do, Niles and Frasier can’t pry the bird’s talons from Niles’s scalp. As the guests start arriving, Niles hides in the kitchen while Frasier entertains everyone in the living room.
Frasier keeps popping into the kitchen to urge Niles to come out despite having a bird on his head, but Niles refuses. He says that the building residents are very gossipy, and he’s already heard that “Peter’s a lech and Carol’s a lush.” Frasier says that Niles is ruining his chances with Stephanie, to which Niles replies, “You can't abandon me just because you're hoping she’s just as horny as you are!”
Finally, Frasier persuades Niles to come out of the kitchen and explain what happened. The guests are all very understanding and good-natured about the ordeal, and Niles manages to relax and even crack a few jokes. He offers some hors d’oeurves to Carol, and Baby suddenly says, “Carol’s a lush.” Niles tries to brush it off and asks everyone to “join Peter at the table.” Baby interjects, “Peter’s a lech.”
As the guests become angry and start storming out the door, Frasier asks Stephanie to stay, prompting Baby to say, “Stephanie’s horny.” Stephanie is appalled and asks Frasier, “Is that what you’ve been saying about me?” Frasier says that he only said she was “very cute,” and Baby chimes in with, “Cute but stupid.”
#1 – Car 54 Where Are You?: Bee-bee, the Mute Parrot
In season two, episode 10 of Car 54 Where Are You?, “I Hate Captain Block,” Captain Block (Paul Reed) desperately wants his pet parrot, Bee-bee, to talk, but despite his best efforts, the bird refuses to say a word. When he goes on vacation, he wants to leave Bee-bee with a “real chatterbox” to encourage him to talk. Naturally, he chooses Toody (Joe E. Ross).
Toody is determined to teach Bee-bee to talk and impress Captain Block. He buys a record that repeats, “Bye-bye, Mommy. Bye-bye, Daddy,” on a loop, and plays it for Bee-bee one night while he and his wife are hosting a bridge game. Unknowingly, the bridge players start working “bye-bye,” “Mommy,” and “Daddy” into their conversation, saying things like, “three bye-bye clubs,” “three mommy spades,” “four mommy daddy diamonds,” “I bye-bye mommy pass,” “I’ll double mommy daddy bye-bye,” and “I’ll re-mommy double daddy.” Eventually, they all get fed up and leave.
When Toody discovers that his guests are gone, he becomes frustrated with Bee-bee and cries out, “I hate Captain Block!” Of course, Bee-bee chooses this moment to finally talk, and begins incessantly repeating, “I hate Captain Block!”
Horrified, Toody calls Muldoon (Fred Gwynne), and the two of them scramble to find a way to get Bee-bee to stop talking. They try to swap him with another bird, but Bee-bee teaches the other bird to say, “I hate Captain Block.” They take him back to the pet store to ask for help, and before they know it, every bird in the store is saying, “I hate Captain Block.” It’s funny as hell hearing parrots, parakeets, cockatoos, love birds, and myna birds all shouting, “I hate Captain Block!” in a variety of different bird voices.
Toody then tries to hypnotize Bee-bee to forget Captain Block, but of course, he accidentally hypnotizes himself instead. When the captain calls to check on his bird, he’s alarmed that Toody doesn’t seem to know who he is, and he rushes home early.
Fortunately, instead of shouting, “I hate Captain Block,” Bee-bee greets the captain with, “Bye-bye, Mommy. Bye-bye, Daddy.” Instead of being happy that Bee-bee has finally learned to talk, Captain Block is pissed that it was Toody who taught him, so in a fit of rage, he yells, “I hate Gunther Toody!” Of course, Bee-bee starts repeating, “I hate Gunther Toody!”
In the final scene, Captain Block is in the pet store with Bee-bee, and the exasperated store owner begs him to leave as all the other birds start shouting, “I hate Gunther Toody!”