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NIGHT COURT
Season One

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Harry Anderson, Karen Austin, John Larroquette, Paula Kelly, Richard Moll, Selma Diamond
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Color Full Frame, Close-Captioned
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  Two discs, 313 minutes, thirteen episodes
Release date:   February 8, 2005

"Is it just me, or has Dan been different lately?"

"No, Dan's always been different."


"It's only a concert, judge!"

"Liz, Woodstock was only a concert.  This is Mel Torme!"

Shows ***

In the 1980's a new phenomenon at NBC took television by storm: "Must-See TV."   The best prime-time lineup since the 1970's enabled NBC to rule Thursday night for many years:  Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, and Hill Street Blues.  Not until Friends bowed out did other networks have any realistic hope of a takeover.  While Night Court may have been the last comedy of the evening, and not the juggernaut of immortal comedies that MASH, All in the Family or Friends became, its eight-year run of single camera old-fashioned laughs is just as funny now as then.  The myriad characters parading through this merciful and swift courtroom put a human face on people in trouble:  there were no murderers, rapists, or truly vile people here, mostly just those who lost their way somehow.  

Every sit-com has to have at least one breakout talent, and clearly John Larroquette's portrayal of Dan Fielding, the lecherous, materialistic, creepy and always witty prosecutor made him a star.   His sardonic wit and arrogance seemed to be a combination of Major Winchester, Alex Keaton, and Hugh Hefner.  It is a shame that he has not found another outlet worthy of his talent.  His physicality and perfect deadpan timing contrasted well with Harry Anderson's lovably merciful and humane portrayal of Judge Stone.

Interestingly, Harry Anderson had little actual acting experience and no thespian training, but his years of work as a magician prepared him well to take control of a room, which an actual judge has to do frequently.   The whole original premise of a young and experienced judge did not seem unwise as we seem him enthusiastically work to improve people's lives with youthful vigor instead of just regurgitating case law.  Judges are not supposed to actually care too much about the defendants, but in a reflection of the atmosphere of the 1980's, audiences loved Judge Stone's attempts to break through the paper curtain between justice and humanity.  Future seasons saw casting changes which in my opinion improved the show and helped it keep an off-balance zany freshness that we rarely see anymore in television.

I have always thought it a shame that the attractive Karen Austin did not stay for the entire series run, her girl-next-door looks and entirely convincing portrayal of an overprotective secretary added greatly to the show's appeal.  Richard Moll's portrayal of Bull the lovable bailiff evolved considerably from an aloof Conan subhuman type to a lovable and deceptively smart friend to all, which is appropriate since Moll is quite brilliant in real life.  Selma Diamond is also lovable as the indifferent and sarcastic office mom.  Diamond was a very successful comedy writer before this show, and her role as a bailiff was specifically written for her-another stroke of comedy genius from Reinhold Weege. 

Video ***

The episodes themselves look remarkably good.  The only signs of graininess were in the show's actual cast introductions, this part is in terrible shape, presumably from the tape being played so many times for every episode. 

Audio ***

Only mono, but entirely serviceable, no hiss or other artifacts. 

Features **1/2

Included are a retrospective called Night Court: Comedy's Swing Shift which talks about first season challenges and casting decisions. The pilot episode also has an excellent commentary with Creator/Executive Producer Reinhold Weege.

Summary:

Hopefully we will see more DVD releases of this perennially underrated show.  Will Dan grow a heart?  Will Judge Harry become jaded in his years on the bench?  Will Bull take over the world?  When will Season Two come out?  Stay tuned!

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