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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To say Judge Harold T Stone's methods in court were unorthodox and
unpredictable would be an understatement. But during the Night Court,
where all the loons and weirdos come out to congregate or "be
represented" by defense or prosecuted for their crimes, Stone's methods
seemed necessary. And to think, the reason Harry (he wants everyone to
call him Harry) become a sitting judge to begin with was because he
"was home." The way Harry handles a domestic turmoil does provide a
method behind the madness as he attempts to settle a marriage on a path
of dissolution after the wife fires a gun (where it was fired is
determined later) supposedly at her husband because he was with a
prostitute. His suggestion that Dan, the assistant district attorney,
and Sheila, legal aid, take the married couple to a restaurant to
"settle their differences" might certainly sound outrageous considering
the case is to determine if the one on trial should go to prison for
seven years, but Harry has a reason for doing so.
That was the beauty of the wacky comedy Night Court, while the situations and cases allowed the court of law in New York to become a "theatre of the absurd", there was a ton of heart behind the bizarre shenanigans and gallery of strange characters (including the cast) that was appear during the show's incredible run during the 80s.
This pilot show had some unrecognizable faces not to be seen long after the first season such as Karen Austin as Harry's court clerk, Paula Wagner, looking literally exhausted by the end of "All You Need Is Love", and Gail Strickland, as attorney for the defense, Sheila.
In retrospect, now that I am an adult and can understand more about the show than when I watched it as a young teenager, it would take a judge like Harry to handle the shift of Night Court, with all the different types of cases, each so fundamentally odd someone almost equally as daffy seems ideal to fulfill the post and wield his own brand of unusual justice. John Larroquette, as Assistant DA Dan Fielding, hadn't yet revealed his appetite for sex, a staple in the overall show's warped sense of humor for the long-term. He does hint, less than subtly, his disbelief that someone as Harry could even be named a judge in a realistic courtroom setting. Richard Moll, as Bull, the kind of security that keeps anything from escalating (Moll's facial comedy and impressive size fit beautifully into the show's overall tone) and Bailiff Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond, just perfect as a "woman of experience" who has seen it all and can seem to relate to even the most oddball of cases) also round out the first season's rich cast, contributing greatly to the hi-jinks and non-stop zingers. Of course, a show like this, so droll and unsubtle, hurls so many jokes, some quite non-PC and offensive, at us, many still work, some not so much. That heart comes through each and every episode, though, and we see that behind the layer of silliness is a lesson to be learned or the characters of the show evolve (or are developed, for better or worse). Harry Anderson, in jeans and long-sleeve shirt, with sneakers, looks like the guy who works on the elevator of the courtroom not a sitting judge, which works wonderfully for his character, because it points out that he doesn't follow that mold of what an "officer of the court" is supposed to appear as. Two important aspects of Harry's character are revealed here, such as his love for Mel Torme and a passion for magic tricks (and toys). How the crowd in attendance get involved in the case, offering their opinions as to whose fault it was that the marriage, of 27 years, was on the rocks, is hilarious.
In this opening episode of a successful television show, we see the
entrance of the new judge, a laid-back, blue-jean-ed young guy that is
not what the other employees of a Manhattan arraignment court expected
to see: judge Harold T. Stone, played by Harry Anderson.
In fact, when he arrives the court clerk "Lana Wagner" thinks he's just a delivery boy bringing some of the new judge's belongings. "Harry" unveils himself as the kind of guy he is immediately with some rubber snake gag.
When the first trial scene is ready to begin, the judge is a minute late and "District Attorney Dan Fielding" (John Laroquette) when asked what's holding him up, answers "probably a diaper change" which tells you how the others first looked at the boyish judge. Not having seen this show in a number of years, everyone looked pretty young to me, especially the guy who made the wisecrack: Laroquette.
There were tons of one-liners in this show, some of them funny. No judge. obviously, would start his first case by asking everyone, "How the hell is everyone?" That's the irreverence of the show and Anderson's character, a little too Liberal at times for my tastes. The main case is a woman trying to kill her husband after he's caught cheating with a prostitute. Harry takes the ultra-liberal approach which doesn't work but then does better when Harry becomes more of a marital counsel during the trial than a judge.
The canned laughter was overdone with applause also added in a number of times, which is pushing it a little. Karen Austin overacted in her role as "Lana" and God's name was abused five times, which is one reason I haven't watch sitcoms in years.
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