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Night Court - The Complete Second Season
Night Court, the NBC tent-pole comedy that ran from 1984 to 1992, holds up surprisingly well, proving it deserves its lofty status and long run. Quick witted, expertly paced and often quite silly, the show features an unconventional Judge, Harry Stone (played by magician/ comedian Harry Anderson) presiding over a late-shift criminal courtroom in New York. Wacky court cases sometimes propel plotlines, with various dramas and shenanigans involving the ensemble cast filling in the rest.
That cast is one of the show's many strengths. Anderson became less of a focus as John Larroquette's character Dan Fielding gained popularity, while towering Bailiff Bull Shannon (Richard Moll) drew both complexity and catch phrases from his somewhat cartoonish role. Much shifting around occurs up through season three, however, finding some new and some soon-to-be-gone faces in season two: Raspy voiced bailiff Selma appears, (actress Selma Diamond passed away after season two) court clerk Mac (Charles Robinson) takes over from Lana, Billie Young (Ellen Foley) is third up to bat as public defender, making it through the entire season before being replaced by Christine Sullivan. With the exception being a missing Markie Post, the season two cast is exceptional - though Foley is no slouch as Billie Young - she pushes a bit too far past the barriers of broad comedy, never quite finding the middle ground the other actors enjoy - but overall the cast clicks perfectly, ensuring a high ratio of laughs.
Show creator Reinhold Weege did time on iconic '70s NY-cops sit-com Barney Miller, and it shows. From the bass-heavy theme song to the NY kooky criminals vibe, Night Court is a worthy and familiar feeling successor to the earlier sit-com classic, making you feel, when watching, like you're at home with a good friend. Episodes in season two range from terribly serious to completely off the wall. For instance, Judge Stone winds up being investigated as being unfit to judge. Among the charges is consorting with a prostitute - but it turns out he was just comforting her after her street-walking 'sister' was murdered - it's probably the first and last time a dead hooker was used as a plot point in a sit-com. However, the very same episode highlights one of Night Court's best attributes; awesome character actors in guest roles. In this case Ray Walston portrays the judge sent to decide Stone's fate. Walston's 'barely there' senility provides masterful laughs and impeccable timing. Sometimes things get a little corny, a trend that was to take a firmer hold later in the series, as in the episode where Bull decides to become a professional wrestler, or when a gypsy places a truly effective curse on the court. Yet even Bull's wrestling misadventures sport a surprisingly funny cameo from Lou Ferrigno.
As different crooks and other unfortunates constantly appear before Judge Stone, opportunities for guest turns come multiple times per episode. Many will stand out only as being talented TV bit-part vets, though among notables are also John Astin as a loony hypochondriac and Michael Richards as a man who believes he's invisible. Thus, each episode feels filled with little surprises - but of course the best surprises come either from super-dry wit, (Selma and Fielding primarily) vaudevillian silliness (projected through Stone's overeager dorkiness) or completely unexplained lunacy (Like Fielding's mysterious hobo assistant).
My In-Laws cite Night Court as having helped them through rough times in the '80s, and while I've been struggling through various difficulties lately, knowing I have numerous laughs waiting for me in Judge Stone's court has been tremendously helpful. Night Court season two offers up a dictionary-definition sit-com in near perfect form. Jokes are potent, characters are broad, but relatable, and (aside from some women's fashions) it hardly seems dated at all. It's episodic TV on DVD that will withstand multiple viewings, and earns a spot on TV comedy fan's shelves.
Episodes in season two are as follows:
Christine and Mac (a.k.a. Daddy for the Defense)
Billie and the Cat
Pick a Number
The Computer Kid
Bull Gets a Kid
Harry on Trial
Harry and the Madam
Inside Harry Stone
Take My Wife, Please
The Birthday Visitor
Nuts About Harry
An Old Flame
Mac and Quon Le: Together Again
World War III
Walk, Don't Wheel
All episodes come in their original 1.33:1 fullscreen ratio, preserving their original broadcast look. On the whole the show looks just fine, with a decent transfer that accurately represents its humble television origins. The image isn't particularly sharp, and colors are subdued, but in general, this presentation looks as good as when the episodes were originally broadcast - if not better considering the fancy TVs we're watching on these days.
English 2.0 Dolby digital stereo is part of the standard package, and it sounds fine for a half-hour sit-com from 25 years ago. It's not spectacular, but the theme song is punchy and all dialog is clear as a bell. Of course the theme song loop that plays while you're looking at menu screens sounds tinny and horrible, but that's my only complaint.
Sadly, this is a bare-bones release. English For The Hearing Impaired and French Subtitles are the only inclusions that could even remotely be considered extras.
Night Court season two represents the show in about the best form of its lengthy run. There's no Markie Post yet, (except for a guest spot in the second episode) but even with that small exception, the cast is spot on with their portrayals of these innocent goofs. (Sure, there's avarice and rampant sexual innuendo, but even these things never seem mean-spirited.) Clever writing, dry wit, expert timing and just the right amount of pure silliness marks Night Court as one of those sit-coms that deserves classic status, and season two really shows why. On the negative side, this is a bare-bones release, and one wonders if anything better will come along a few years down the line. But, at about 25 dollars, you can consider Night Court: The Complete Second Season Recommended.