Like most of you, I imagine, I’ve suffered the repeated indignity of re-experiencing beloved artifacts from my childhood as an adult, only to discover, to my horror and abject shame, that the stuff I thought was cool as a lad of the ’80s was actually quite lame. Getting to relive these time-capsule moments in a professional capacity and deliver a richly deserved critical beating in return for my pain helps soothe the sting a little, but still — that doesn’t really do enough to make up for the fact that I willingly watched first-run episodes of, say, ALF.
Anyway, I’ve learned the hard way to temper my expectations for DVD reissues of ’80s sitcoms; they tend to run the gamut from “hey, that was actually better than I thought it would be” (Family Ties) to “hey, I’m writing this review anonymously so nobody knows I watched this shit, even for money” (Full Goddamn House). And I say all this as a way of leading up to (we writer types call it “foreshadowing”) the fact that I didn’t think watching the second season of Night Court was going to be much more than a perhaps occasionally mildly entertaining diversion — and that I was very pleasantly surprised. Matter of fact, I think I laughed out loud at least once during each of these 22 episodes. And okay, maybe I was under the influence a little, but who are you to judge me? You don’t think your dad had a few Buds under his belt by the time Night Court came on Thursday night?
Anyway, if you’ve never seen it, the show was one of those wonderfully old-school sitcoms that took place mostly in a single room — and even better, it employed a lovably dingy aesthetic similar to classic shows like Taxi and Barney Miller. The rooms are small and the walls are dirty — much as you might expect an actual Manhattan night court would look, which is part of why Night Court was praised for its relative realism, at least early in its nine-season run, before Starfleet members and Wile E. Coyote started appearing before the bench. But I digress. Apart from the fact that it lacks some of the familiar faces you might remember from later seasons — most notably Markie Post, who didn’t start her long, career-defining run as defense attorney Christine Sullivan until the show’s third year — these episodes are most likely every bit as funny as you remember.
The laughs come despite the characters’ heavily archetypical origins — you’ve got the wacky-but-idealistic judge, Harry T. Stone (Harry Anderson); the lecherous district attorney, Dan Fielding (John Larroquette); the freakishly huge bailiff with the heart of a scruffy lil’ puppy, Bull Shannon (Richard Moll); his crusty but lovable female counterpart, Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond); and the wise court clerk, Mac Robinson (Charles Robinson). Given that much of the sitcom humor of the ’80s was at least as broad as a barn door and often smelled strongly of ham, this setup had a lot of terrible potential, but the writers were very good at bringing out the characters’ subtler shadings — and, most importantly, writing funny lines for the excellent cast to knock out of the park.
They all get their chances, too, thanks to a remarkably democratic collection of storylines; over the course of the second season, everyone gets their time to shine — and even during episodes when they aren’t in the lead, the supporting players always manage to grab a few great gags, particularly Diamond, whose death after the season’s end deprived fans from more of her flawless timing and wonderfully acerbic delivery. (One subplot involves Selma reporting to work under the influence of anaesthesia and passing out by falling face-first into Bull’s enormous mitt; his urgent admonishment of “don’t lick” is followed by Selma collapsing onto the floor and telling her co-workers, “be as rough as you want with me.”)
The one drawback to the set is the complete lack of extras — no commentary tracks, no deleted scenes, no promo bumpers, no nothin’. All you get is 22 episodes of classic Must See TV — but for $20, I think that can be forgiven.