A week or so ago I was having drinks with a friend of mine who works for Late Night with Seth Meyers. In passing, I asked who was on the show that week and he mentioned John Larroquette and made a joke about maybe he’ll finally explain his character from the Carl Reiner directed, John Candy vehicle, Summer Rental. (No one actually cares but me, but his character, a man named Don Moore, is set up as a guy who will for sure be having an affair with John Candy’s wife. But then nothing happens. He’s just some guy. Obviously, his arc was cut out of this movie and I find it fascinating.) But then my friend said back, “He’s on to talk about Night Court.” And then I did that thing where you say the words “ha ha” out loud, in a slow, drawn-out way, to display sarcasm. But then he said, “No, really, there’s a new Night Court.”
After Googling this because I still didn’t believe him, it turns out this is true. There is a new Night Court. And I had to immediate reactions at the exact same time. Neither reaction on their own was unique, but combined together they created a feeling I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. One of the reactions was: Who on earth is asking for a new Night Court? Do people under, say, 35, even remember Night Court? It’s a show that, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t have much of a footprint in 2023 like say even a Cheers or Frasier still have. And when this has been done before, like Will & Grace and The Conners, both those shows still feel like they are in the zeitgeist. But who was asking for Night Court?
The other, simultaneous reaction was: Oh yeah, well of course I’m going to watch Night Court. (I came close to even asking NBC for screeners, but I didn’t want to be committed to writing about Night Court. Yeah of course I was going to watch Night Court, but I certainly am not going to write about Night Court. Anyway, here we are.)
As anyone who was a kid in the 1980s, I watched my fair share of Night Court. It was part of the powerhouse NBC Thursday night lineup that featured four actual “must see” shows that started in 1984: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court. (In 1983, NBC Thursday led off with the Nell Carter vehicle Gimme a Break, which became famous for launching Matthew Lawrence’s career. What would become the Night Court spot was a never-ending rotation of failed sitcoms. The acclaimed, but barely watched Dabney Coleman led Buffalo Bill and a show starring Jim Carrey called The Duck Factory were both in that spot the year before.
Night Court starred Harry Anderson (who had been on Cheers as a recurring character, a con man named Harry the Hat, who I loved as a character and wrote about) as a young, oddball judge named Harry Stone who loved Mel Torme and magic tricks. The show made John Larroquette a star, earning him four Emmy awards. As the sarcastic and crude womanizer Dan Fielding, Larroquette won so many Emmy awards in a row he finally took his name out of consideration. (Woody Harrelson would win the first year Larroquette didn’t participate.) Night Court would go on to be a ratings behemoth, at least until NBC figured out it could use Thursday as a lunching pad for new shows and siphon off established hits like Family Ties and Night Court to other nights. In 1988 Night Court moved to Wednesdays and still did okay, but it wasn’t on “the night” anymore. The Judd Hirsch comedy Dear John would take its place on Thursdays.
Night Court would wrap up in 1992. In the finale, Judge Harry Stone got a couple of enticing offers to leave his bench, but decided to stay. Public defender Christine Sullivan (Markie Post) is elected to congress. Larroquette’s Dan Fielding leaves his job as assistant D.A. to pursue a relationship with Christine. And bailiff Bull Shannon (Richard Moll) is literally abducted by aliens.
I can’t remember the last time I watched network television that wasn’t for sports or an awards show. But here I was, Tuesday night, ready to see what Night Court is like now. Sadly, a lot of the actors who were on the original run are now longer with us, like the aforementioned Anderson and Post. And the first episode is actually sad and almost a meditation of who Dan Fielding was and the relationship Larroquette had with his castmates. Dan now lives alone, mentioning he had a wife named Sara, and seems to just be happy keeping to himself. This new Dan is a shell of the Lothario he was in the original show. Which, actually, is kind of interesting.
When Dan first meets Melissa Rauch’s Judge Abby Stone, daughter of Harry Stone, he has a pretty interesting line. Dan mentions he’s sorry about her father’s passing, then says, “We lost touch over the years, but he was a great guy.” Later in the episode adding, “Say a lifetime ago, you worked with a guy. You had your ups and downs. But on the whole, you liked each other. Respected, even. The job ends and you go your separate ways. Life happens. You live. You love. And you lose … big time.” Look, I have no idea what Larroquette and Anderson’s relationship was in real life, especially back then, but it does seem like Larroqutte was speaking from the heart there about Anderson. Which is also pretty interesting.
Watching the two episodes of Night Court that aired on Tuesday night, this feels like a show almost designed so John Larroquette can get some stuff off his chest, wrapped up in a bundle that includes: sets that look like they were built in the ’80s, a multi-cam situational comedy setup, and a laugh track. Which kind of makes it all more surreal. Again, even while watching on network television on Tuesday, I still can’t figure out who wants this or why it’s even on. Also, I’m probably going to be watching every week. If for no other reason, to finally, hopefully, find out, after 30 years, how Bull Shannon is doing living on an alien planet. So far, shockingly, this has not been addressed in the first two episodes.
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