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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"NIGHT COURT" The Complete Second Season -- DVD review by porfle

For some reason, some of the television shows that I had absolutely no interest in seeing during their original weekly run turn out to be pretty entertaining when I can sit down and watch them one after another, without commercials. This holds true for NIGHT COURT, whose three-disc second-season collection is a fun time-waster that goes down like a bag of peanuts.

Harry Anderson stars as Judge Harry T. Stone, the wackiest darn judge you ever saw, by cracky. He's constantly cracking bad jokes, doing magic tricks, and generally letting his inner child run free. But he's also a wise, caring person with a big heart (awwwww) who tries to help the poor souls that end up before his bench. "Informal" is hardly the word to describe the circus atmosphere in Harry's Manhattan courtroom as the nights drag on and the kookier denizens of the naked city get dragged in, including, of course, a good number of improbably-good-looking hookers.

The supporting cast is way better than most of the material. Richard Moll plays the tall, scary-looking bailiff Bull, who could pass for a Universal monster but is really just a big, nerdy kid at heart. The diminutive Selma Diamond is world-weary, chain-smoking bailiff Selma, who gets the lion's share of deadpan one-liners and manages to make some of them funny. Charles Robinson plays happy-go-lucky court clerk Mac, and Ellen Foley, best known as Meat Loaf's duet partner on "Paradise By The Dashboard Light", is very likable as spunky public defender Billie Young. Everyone will have their own favorite, of course, but for me the show's standout is John Larroquette as the vain, self-centered, would-be womanizer Dan Fielding, the assistant D.A. Larroquette is hilarious in the role and his timing and delivery liven up some of the most groan-worthy gags and contrived situations.

Speaking of which, this show is often a veritable hailstorm of bad jokes that fly so fast and furious at the viewer that some of them can't help but connect. Every once in a while there's even a genuine belly-laugh. Most of the time, though, the show is carried by its appealing cast, who are simply a lot of fun to hang out with. The show is at its worst when it flirts with sentiment (badly), or tries to get too cute with its storylines (such as the time Harry and Billie are tied up together in her apartment by a bumbling burglar). It's at its best when simple plotlines are established as jumping off points for a barrage of wisecracking vaudeville patter, burlesque situations, and nonstop set-up/punchline dialogue.

Another fun aspect of the show is its parade of guest stars. Venerable actors John McIntyre and Jeanette Nolan are a hoot as Dan Fielding's backwoods parents who show up unannounced bearing head cheese. John Astin is his usual wonderful self as Harry's hypochondriac hospital roommate. A young Pamela Segall, the voice of Bobby Hill on "King of the Hill", does a surprisingly convincing job as a girl pretending to be a boy. A pre-Kramer (and pre-"WTF?") Michael Richards shows up as a nut who thinks he's invisible.

Other notable guests include James Cromwell, Lou Ferrigno, Eugene Roche, Elisha Cook, Jr., Gordon Jump, Leonard Stone, Hal Smith, Jack Riley, Oliver Clark, Miriam Flynn, Alan Oppenheimer, and my favorite, the great Terry Kiser (WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S) as Al Craven, a slimy tabloid reporter sneaking around the courthouse digging for stories. GREASE alumni Dinah Manoff and Michael Tucci are reunited in one episode. In another, future cast regular Markie Post makes her first appearance as public defender Christine Sullivan, who will later take over for Ellen Foley.

The DVD set contains 22 episodes on three discs in a keepcase with a slipcover. It's full-screen, of course, and it looks and sounds just like it did when I wasn't watching it during its original network run. Alas, no extras.

NIGHT COURT has that cheesy look of a mid-80s live-audience sitcom shot on videotape, and is often executed with less finesse than a throwaway sketch on "The Muppet Show." But there's something about it that's simply enjoyable on a very basic level, and I had fun breezing my way through this collection. (Get ready--here comes my clever closing remark.) Verdict: funny as charged.

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