‘Night Court’ review: The new ‘Night Court’ keeps it old school
John Larroquette finds the groove, while the rest of “Night Court” squanders its promising premise by playing it safe.
“Night Court,” which ran for nine seasons from 1984 to 1992 on NBC, was a sitcom that relied heavily on its first syllable. Set on the night shift at Manhattan Municipal Court, seven-time Emmy-winning creator Reinhold Weege’s film is built on the flexible foundation often favored in the TV era, when seasons ran 22-24 episodes a year. New cases appeared quickly and funny: some episodes focused on a single subject, while others ran through several at the same time, shifting the focus to the people in the court. Both choices brought out plenty of weirdos, wrongly accused and random denizens of the night for Judge Harry Stone (played by the late Harry Anderson) to encourage or punish, as often based on his own idiosyncratic instincts as the arguments of some. defense attorneys (Markie Post as Christine Sullivan was the longest-running, starting in Season 3) and a steadfast prosecutor: Dan Fielding, played by John Larroquette.
Whether the gang decided that an all-knowing, red-suited trespasser could be Santa or they were just trying to clear a busy hill, “Night Court” could always count on its surroundings to stir things up – even if the jokes were telegraphed. the beats are tired and the characters are helpless. Great situation with sporadic comedy if you like. But “Night Court” can also rely on Larroquette — who won four of those seven Emmys himself (and could have won more had he not withdrawn from consideration) — and all of the above is true of the new “Night Court.” also to too. Even with a revamped cast, a refined dynamic, and a constant reassessment of the American justice system, the NBC comedy remains the same as ever: It’s just fine.
Developed by Dan Rubin, “Night Court” 2023 (or Season 10, or whatever you want to call it) starts off similarly to the original pilot. A new young judge holds the gavel and is as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they come. Judge Abby Stone (played by Melissa Rauch, who also serves as an executive producer) is Harry’s daughter, who is eager to follow in her father’s soft-soled footsteps, but not everyone sees sunshine and rainbows on the shift after midnight. Neil (Kapil Talwalkar) is the impatient clerk, Olivia (India de Beaufort) is the ambitious administrative assistant, and Donna “Gurgs” Gurganous (Lacretta) takes her job as a baliff too seriously to tolerate fooling around.
Jordin Althaus/NBC/Warner Bros. Television
Still, folly is what confronts her when Abby insists on testing a candidate’s psychic abilities, and even her shrewd assessment proves too much for the public defender. He quits on the spot and sends Abby on a mission that, unlike her father, is both sweet and not really her job. (There are too many shows where a judge plays the role of lawyer, and the OG “Night Court” is as guilty as anyone of fueling such misconceptions.) They want to bring back Dan Fielding, only he didn’t play the prosecutor in previous decades, but as a protection designated by the state.
This shift represents the first smart rearrangement of the series. Dan is still Dan: a front-facing roller whose heart isn’t gold, but it might be bronze with a yellow coating. But he is no longer the hound of his youth. “You live, you love, and you lose—big—so you close your heart,” Dan writes of his lonely life after Season 9. Dan doesn’t date, let alone chase skirts, so the “upper-middle-class white guy” (as a prospective mate calls him) is far more inviting than the horny old man he could have become. It’s also fitting for his role reversal as a lawyer who has to believe in people rather than expect the worst, and “Night Court” takes the time to bring out Dan’s inner teddy bear.
Larroquette remains an exemplary talent. He plays his character gracefully, making it easy for seasoned fans to buy into the changes, and even easier for newcomers to get behind the once outrageous womanizer. His comedic timing remains sharp and his softer moments even more poignant. Unfortunately, the rest of the courtroom can’t keep up. Abby is a neutral presence: perfectly capable of getting the job done, but rarely adding anything substantial to the mix. Gurgs steals all the punch lines, but never really comes together beyond a soulful presence. And Neil is a total mess: in one episode, he’s so inept at dating that he relies on a 12-year-old’s advice (while stretching this joke for 22 excruciating minutes); in another, she claims “my job is to be good around moms.” But how can that be true if it’s impossible to imagine him on a single successful date?
Through six episodes, “Night Court” doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The humor is accessible, the characters are broad, and the messages are open. Yes, the show makes a half-hearted attempt to address the shift in perception “unusual” judges in episode 2, “Only Tuesday” and the damaged public appearance of the court (in episode 4, “Justice Buddies”), but no wrestling actually takes place; for all the acknowledgment of modern sensibilities (“Paw Patrol” is copaganda!) there is a convulsion-inducing banality. (Judge Abby has the nerve to admit that she’s “not anti-protest.”) Old fans may be content to see Larroquette again, and she may win over new fans — but the latter group won’t stick with it. an all too familiar old school reboot. There is too much order in this “Night Court,” which never gets as weird or wild as its premise demands, so its relevance is all too easily dismissed.
“Night Court” premieres Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 8 p.m. on NBC. New episodes are released weekly.
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