Night Court appeared on the docket at NBC in 1984 and was to last 8 seasons. If you thought it looked and sounded a lot like Barney Miller, you won’t be surprised to learn that a number of key people, including creator Reinhold Weege, came from that classic cop comedy. Several key elements of Miller can be found in Night Court. The themes are almost identical, with both beginning with an easily identifiable bass run. The most important imported element from Miller was the constant parade of the kookiest and craziest criminals this side of the Cuckoo’s Nest. From a hick farmer played by then beginner Brent Spiner to hookers with hearts, Night Court relied heavily on the eccentric character to provide most of its laughs.
Harry Stone (Anderson) is a young hip judge who almost blunders into a judgeship of a Manhattan evening session courtroom. The role appears tailor-fit for Anderson’s style of humor. The character even retained Anderson’s flair for amateur magic. He was always trying to bring levity to even the most dire of circumstances. Joining him in his courtroom was prosecutor Dan Fielding, played by the extremely funny John Larroquette. He was a material man with an overactive lust for the ladies. He was self centered and always looking to gain from someone else’s misfortune. He would often find himself having to suck up to the young judge, who he found too footloose with the law. His groveling always brought the judge a perverse pleasure. The court was presided over by two bailiffs. Bull was played by Richard Moll. He was a mountain of a man with a bald head. While he might look and act like a monster who would eat little babies, he was in fact, a gentle and often childish character with an IQ lower than his shoe size. His partner and mentor was Selma, played by the raspy-voiced Selma Diamond. Selma was a no-nonsense, say what she wanted to, chain smoking authority in the courtroom. Unfortunately, Diamond passed away after the second season. Replacing the gruff character and actress was Florence Halop playing Florence Kleiner, but she would only last this season. Charles Robinson joined the cast in the second year as the court’s new clerk. He was likely the most “normal” member of the cast. Throughout its run there were a rather large number of actresses to play the public defender role in the series. Eventually that role went to Markie Post, who kept it for the longest time. In season two it was Billy Young playing a very awkward Ellen Foley. The character never clicks with any of the others, and she would also be gone at the season’s conclusion.
The cases and characters for season three can be downright hilarious: Not surprisingly, the season begins with the passing of the Selma character due to the death of the funny actress. Bull takes it the hardest and escapes into the bottle on the season premiere, Hello Goodbye. In The Hostage, Dan is held at gunpoint by a man claiming to be from Saturn. For Halloween the show has Harry falling in love with a self-proclaimed witch on Halloween Too. In Best Of Friends, Dan’s old buddy and college roommate Chip comes to visit him. Only Chip is now Charlene. In Walk Away Renee, Bull doesn’t know his new lady love is actually a hooker, and his friends are all to chicken to tell him. Harry’s idol Mel Torme shows in Leon, We Hardly Knew Ye up to cheer him up after little orphan Leon finally gets adopted and leaves Harry with an empty heart.
The full frame aspect ratio is, unfortunately, not a very good looking presentation. The picture is soft, and colors are pretty muted here. I guess they look as good as they did in their broadcast days.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track here is pretty much a utility effort. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it never really shines.
This is most definitely a transition year for the show. The loss of Selma Diamond was a significant one, and it struggled in this third season. I’d give you a bit more sentiment, “but when I get emotional, I get gas!”