Night Court:S1-3 (3pk/GFST)
Various (Actor, Director) Rated: NR Format: DVD
Format: Multiple Formats, Full Screen, NTSC
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 3
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: February 23, 2010
Run Time: 819 minutes
Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
The Last Great American Sitcom.
By jude pepper on January 3, 2012
i’m not sure what i find more irksome: hearing a masterpiece (The Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees) blindly dismissed as a turkey, or a turkey (I Love Lucy, The Simpsons, Married With Children) unduly hailed a masterpiece.
the all-time example occurred in the ’80s, who’s best sitcom was somehow officially listed as…Cheers. (honestly, has whoever’s responsible even SEEN Cheers? i’ve taken math tests with more entertainment value! i’ve seen more likeable characters in documentaries about Nazi Germany!) and just to rub salt in the wound, the true finest sitcom of the decade,
Night Court, is frequently glossed over and often seems all but forgotten now.
well, i’m here to set The Record straight once and for all: Night Court is not simply the greatest sitcom but the very best series of any sort from the ’80s. whereas Cheers is a monumental turd fit to be screened only in federal prisons…and even there only as a last resort. ev’rybody got that? good. now then…
it admittedly took a bit for it to fall into place, but the appeal of Night Court has always lain in the tightrope it walks between the semi-fantasy sitcom of the ’60s and the “socially relevant” approach that had become so prominent in the ’70s. this is a series where characters are likely to be wrongfully fired as they are to encounter The Angel Of Death. problematic love interests here can be anything from a porn star to (literally) a witch. the series thrives on that fine line in a way that would sadly fall by the wayside.
our fearless leader here is Judge Harold T. Stone (Harry Anderson), who’s passion for whimsy is his weapon against that most ruthless of all villains, Cold Hard Reality. presiding over a Manhattan arraignment court, he sees humanity at it’s most downtrodden and unlucky on a daily (nightly?) basis. his maverick knack for practical jokes marks him as a textbook nonconformist, and his looking about 20 years old doesn’t do much for his image either. but he never shirks his duty when put to the test. he’s the kind of careful, thoughtful mediator the United Nations could use.
it’s probably only fair to mention that Anderson is pretty much playing himself. he’s not really an “actor” in the Charlton Heston/Al Pacino sense as much as in the William Shatner/John Wayne mold. but hey, sometime that works out. according to the pilot episode commentary, series creator Reinhold Weege had never even heard of Anderson upon developing the series, and he just happened to fit the mold when he came along. (well, as Mark Twain said, “of course truth is stranger than fiction. it’s not required to make any sense.”)
what’s more, Anderson wrote some of the best episodes. he didn’t very often, contributing maybe one script a year from season 5 or so on, but they’re always treats when they come along.
i don’t quite remember who (some writer or producer), but i once heard someone say in an interview that the best sitcom characters are always nasty bastards. i don’t know if i’d go that far, since there’s certainly as much room in the formula for the likes of Herman Munster and “The Fonz.” but still, it is a fruitful angle that has benefited many a fine actor. (my favorite is probably Chris Barrie as Arnold Rimmer on Red Dwarf.) indeed it’s one of the great perversities of Nature: traits we would find obnoxious if not reprehensible in a flesh-&-blood acquaintance we somehow tolerate, sometimes even relish, through the filter of storytelling.
in case you missed it, this is my buildup to district attorney Dan Fielding (John Larroquette). he may not seem so edgy in a world that’s since seen House, but there was a time when Fielding seemed to be the very pinnacle of lack of scruples over the airwaves. but of course, however “cool” the bad-boy thing might be, it’s too narrow to be the sole driving force for very long. it could be argued that Dan is the character who had the most development over the course of the series. he never quite shed his monetary greed and/or carnal lust and/or ruthless career aspirations, but along the way there was more than one glimpse of a heart, some ethics, even a touch vulnerability under that sleazy exterior.
probably the best actor herein, Larroquette earned all four the Emmys he garnered in the role. television hadn’t seen such a graceful hybrid of the two sensibilities since Jackie Gleason played volatile but loveable “everyman” Ralph Kramden. (it could be simple coincidence that Gleason is Larroquette’s idol, but then again, maybe not.)
and then there’s the bailiff Bull Shannon (Richard Moll), television’s most poignant “gentle giant” since Herman Munster. the outsider (and/or “weirdo”), Bull’s crises are the most potentially tragic. whether an object of ridicule (or worse) for his naivety or fear through someone’s preconceived notions, Bull is the courtroom denizen we’re most likely to empathize with. Harry is the brain of the series, Dan is the id, and Bull is the heart.
these are only the most obvious of the delightful characters who join us along this odyssey. Markie Post as passionate if goody-two-shoes public defender Christine Sullivan. Charles Robinson, who’s court clerk Mac serves as resident “everyman.” (once he’s introduced that is.) John Astin as Buddy Ryan, a mental patient friend of Harry’s late mother who turns out to be his father. Bull’s fellow bailiffs, who go from spunky old ladies (Selma Diamond, Florence Halop) to no-nonsense Roz (Marsha Warfield). Eugene Roche as Christine’s well-meaning goofball of father, Jack. of course, quite a few of these characters don’t arrive until somewhere around the fourth season, so just thin of them as something to look forward to.
i’ve always loved sitcoms, but they never seemed to be sitcoms of the moment. my sitcoms of choice are the ones from the ’60s, the ones on which just about anything could happen. for my lifetime, though, sitcoms seem to of shunned that fantasy element in favor of a ho-hum day-to-day life in the Real World rut. while Night Court lasted, there was a glimmer of hope that the sensibilities didn’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive, that the whimsy of old and the new realism just might be able to work together. but alas, it’s the one and only opportunity they’ve ever had to do so.
it was our own last triumph of art for art’s sake in sitcom form. in England, the ’90s would see sitcom mastery from both extremes with the conventional As Time Goes By and the innovative Red Dwarf. then, in the ’00s, Canada would come out of left field with a quirky little gem called Corner Gas. but sadly, the American sitcom hasn’t even tried to aspire to that standard since Night Court.