Part of what made the original Night Court so wonderful was the absurdity of the series seemed to be believable during the 1980s Manhattan era. New York City in general had become known by 1984 as a cesspool of crime and strange characters, it was a stereotype of rude and vulgar people. Most images and footage of NYC were rundown dilapidated buildings with trash and filth lining the sides of the street.
So, in the city that never sleeps, that also means that court needs to have an extra session as the balliffs would announce “Manhattan criminal court part two is now in session.” So, there often were a lot of interesting colorful characters appearing on the show. Most notable was Bob Wheeler (Brent Spiner) who claimed to be a slow-witted country bumpkin but was actually from Yugoslavia. John Astin appeared first as a hypochondriac while Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) was in the hospital. He would go on to appear as Harry’s father, Buddy, who met his mother when they were both patients in a mental hospital. Then, in later seasons, Don Cheadle had a role in one episode.
According to show creator Reinhold Weege, the original premise was based on a true story that happened in Los Angeles where the mayor had been defeated in the election. So as a final kiss-off, the mayor appointed people who some would think were unqualified. Harry was appointed because he was contacted on a Sunday but he was at the bottom of a list of candidates. By his own words, Harry became a judge because he was home. It’s not revealed why Harry’s daughter, Abby (Melissa Rauch), is taking over for her father’s courtroom and even stepping into the old chambers with the same dark green imitation leather couch along with Clarence, the stuffed armadillo.
But I’m sure that will be revealed in future episodes. We might also know when Harry had a daughter. The original show ended in 1992 and Harry was considering on staying on the bench or taking a teaching job. Rausch, who appeared on The Big Bang Theory, is 42 but looks younger. But even if Harry had a relationship with a woman during the summer of 1992, Abby wouldn’t have been born until 1993 and then could’ve advanced through high school and college. But she still would’ve had to spend three years in law school. Then, she would have to spend several years in private practice or working for a prosecutor. Abby says she was a judge in upstate New York but still she’d have to be in her 20s.
So, maybe Harry, who was 34 when he was appointed to the bench, may have had a previous relationship with a woman and didn’t know he had a daughter. Regardless, Abby seems to have some of Harry’s easygoing friendly demeanor but still knows the law and how to read the witnesses. I’ve read that Abby’s mother, Gina, will be played by Faith Ford, so I’m sure they’ll be a back story as well as how Abby is engaged but her fiance hasn’t been able to move to NYC yet.
On her first night on the bench, the public defender quits on the first case. Abby tracks down Dan Fielding (John Larroquette), who used to be the prosecutor and friend of Harry’s, and tries to get him to return to court. We see Dan know with a scraggly beard working as a process server. In the MeToo era, Dan has probably calmed his ways and there’s an indication he was in a relationship or possible marriage with a woman.
Hesitant at first, Dan decides to return to help Abby as a favor to his friendship with Harry until they can find a suitable lawyer from legal aid. It’s a nice twist seeing Dan having to work for his clients rather than work “for the people.” Part of the reason Larroquette won consecutive Emmys in the role was that Dan was the epitome of 1980s culture. He had a greedy conservative demeanor about him that just evoked the Reagan era more than Alex P. Keating did on Family Ties. He was also notorious for his sexual libido viewing every woman he came across as a sexual conquest. Part of the joys of the original series was watching him fail time and time again at getting women in the bed or missing out on some deal.
Also in the courtroom is Olivia (India de Beaufort), who seems to share Dan’s disdain for the sleazy characters who come before the bench, including a furry charged with public urination. Neil (Kapil Talwalkar) is the court clerk who doesn’t have any joy in his job and rearranges the letter in the directory to mess with the balliff Donna “Gurgs” Gurganos (Lacretta). These three characters don’t seem as fleshed out as much as Dan or Abby but it’s only two episodes.
Even though the original ran for nine seasons, it had several changes to the cast even after the first episode were Gail Strickland was replaced by Paula Kelly as the public defender and then there was Selma Diamond’s death after the second season and then Florence Halop’s death after the third. However, it’s still too early to see if Night Court might last as long.
The first episode is similar to the first episode of the original. It has some charm but the second episode is where the show picks up and has some of the similar craziness as Dan becomes freaked out when a client hisses like a lizard. And there’s a courtroom incident that reminds me of some of the zaniness of the first one which included the bench collapsing due to a prank and several women all going into labor at once.
So, if you’re a fan of the original or new coming to it, give the series a chance to plead its case. You might rule in favor of becoming a regular viewer.
What do you think? Please comment.