Case Number 18439

NIGHT COURT: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON

Warner Bros. // 1985 // 526 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // March 3rd, 2010

The Charge

Mac: Bull has got himself a girlfriend.
Dan: Really? Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

Opening Statement

Night Court started out as a relative of Barney Miller, but it quickly established its own personality. The third season began by mourning the loss of bailiff Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond, My Favorite Year, who died between seasons). At the same time, the third season saw the arrival of Selma's replacement, Flo Kleiner (Florence Halop, St. Elsewhere) and public defender Christine Sullivan (Markie Post, There's Something About Mary). In addition to the cast changes, the third season saw a gradual shift in the tone of the show, moving from a more-or-less realistic depiction of night court to a more madcap, anything-for-a-laugh tone. The evidence will show that Night Court: The Complete Third Season, despite a slow start, finally begins to evolve into a laugh riot.

Facts of the Case

NYC Municipal Court Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson, Dave's World) runs night arraignment court in which he sorts through the newly arrested, either by dismissing charges, handing out minimal sentences and fines, or remanding the case to a grand jury. He's ably assisted by court clerk Mac Robinson (Charles Robinson, Buffalo Bill), assistant DA (shameless womanizer and moral toejam) Dan Fielding (John Larroquette, Stripes), public defender Christine Sullivan, and bailiffs Bull Shannon (Richard Moll, Caveman) and Flo Kleiner. With them at his side, Harry is on a quest to make New York City safe for truth, justice, and Mel Tormé.

You get 22 episodes on three discs (recommended episodes are marked with an asterisk):

* "Hello, Goodbye" -- Everyone tries to adjust to Selma's death.
* "The Hostage" -- A strange little man takes Dan hostage and demands parts needed to communicate with Saturn.
* "Dad's First Date" -- Christine's father has his first date in eight years and ends up before Harry, along with the tenants of a clothing-optional building.
* "Mac and Quon Le: No Reservations" -- Mac tries to hide his wife Quon Le (Denice Kumagai), from his prejudiced grandfather, who's trying to decide who will inherit his fortune.
* "Halloween, Too" -- Harry falls for a beautiful woman who turns out to be a witch.
* "Best of Friends" -- Dan freaks when his college best friend shows up a decidedly changed man.
* "Dan's Boss" -- Dan tries to deal with his new boss: a little person with a nasty personality.
* "Up On the Roof" -- Harry tries to free a rock star literally imprisoned by his overly solicitous therapist.
* "The Wheels of Justice (Parts 1 & 2)" -- Everyone has money troubles when the city can't pay its employees, Harry has to evict a woman and son, and a homeless couple from West Virginia tells their tale of woe.
* "Walk Away, Renee" -- Nobody wants to tell Bull that his new girlfriend is a prostitute.
* "Dan's Escort" -- Dan takes a job as an escort for a wealthy, lonely woman, and Yakov (Yakov Smirnoff) asks Harry for help when his wife is arrested.
* "The Night Off" -- A crazy judge substituting for Harry imprisons Dan and Mac for contempt and appoints Florence and Phil the wino as the defense and prosecuting attorneys.
* "Harry and Leon" -- Harry takes pity on the building shoeshine boy (Bumper Robinson), who seeks refuge from a social worker trying to place him in another foster home.
* "The Apartment" -- Harry throws a surprise birthday for Dan, whose date is extremely anxious to be home by midnight. Quon Lee's family arrives from Vietnam and move in with Mac and Quon Lee.
* "Leon, We Hardly Knew Ye" -- Harry's concern with Leon's imminent adoption blinds him to the presence of Mel Tormé in the courthouse. John Larroquette directed.
* "The Mugger" -- Christine decides to quit after she's mugged in the cafeteria, but a man takes her hostage in the courtroom before she can leave.
* "Could This Be Magic?" -- Harry decides to help his idol, a down-and-out magician (Carl Ballantine) who promptly cleans out Harry's apartment.
* "Monkey Business" -- Bull tries to save a baby orangutan from animal-research experiments.
* "Flo's Retirement" -- The staff tries everything they can think of to postpone Flo's mandatory retirement.
* "Hurricane (Parts 1 & 2)" -- Hurricane Mel traps four pregnant women in the courtroom. Chaos ensues.

Recommended episodes include "Dad's First Date," "Mac and Quon Le: No Reservations," "Best of Friends," "The Wheels of Justice," "Dan's Escort," "The Night Off," "The Apartment," "Leon, We Hardly Knew Ye," "The Mugger," "Could This Be Magic?," and "Hurricane."

The Evidence

The third season gets off to an uneven start, as the show struggles to incorporate the two new characters. Florence Halop's Flo hits the ground running -- although the physical similarities between Flo and Selma are apparent, Flo is more in your face. Halop does a solid job, and it's a shame that she would succumb to breast cancer within a year, opening the door for Marsha Warfield's Roz in the fourth season. Markie Post has a harder time with Christine, mainly because the writers don't define the character well. Initially, she's defined by her inexperience; it isn't until next season that her general prudishness turns up. The Christine of the later seasons would never have worn the costume Christine wears to Harry's party in "Halloween, Too" -- not that I'm complaining, mind you.

night court

The early episodes are a bit uneven, as though the writers are trying too hard. The tone is uneven, and "Halloween, Too" is a bit too similar to Season One's "Harry and the Rock Star." However, around "The Wheels of Justice," the season hits its stride, managing to balance genuine pathos with total absurdity. That episode also introduces the Wheeler family, led by patriarch Bob Wheeler (Brent Spiner, Star Trek: First Contact). The Wheelers -- who make the inhabitants of Dogpatch look like urbane socialites -- made such an impact that the governor of West Virginia wrote to NBC complaining that the Wheelers depicted West Virginia in a bad light.

night court

So when the Wheelers resurface in the season finale, they reveal they aren't from West Virginia after all, but Yugoslavia. They were ashamed of their heritage, and when immigration asked where they was from, Bob said West Virginia because "it was the first exotic place I could think of." (The court approves tweaking the West Virginia governor's nose in this fashion.) The Wheelers turned up periodically during the fourth season, and were set to become regulars in Season Five -- until Spiner was cast as Data.

Acting is good across the board. The show gets particularly good performances from the guest stars, from veteran character actor Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) as a judge suffering a breakdown to Susan Ruttan (LA Law) as an evicted mother to Carl Ballantine as one of Harry's boyhood idols fallen on hard times. Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) turns up as a troubled defendant.

Video has improved over the previous releases; the colors are more vivid, though the flesh tones seem just a little off (probably the makeup). The sound gets a clear stereo mix; for the episodes, the stereo mix really doesn't add much, but the theme music gets a nice punch.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

No extras. Not a one. Not an interview, commentary, or photo gallery to be found. This will not do. To paraphrase Bull, "I WANT SOME EXTRAS, AND I WANT THEM NOW!!!"

The show is at its best when it abandons pretense and embraces the silliness; it's at its worst when it tries to make a serious point. A example of both is "Dan's Boss"; at either end of the episode is pure, unadulterated, non-PC snark as Dan lays into Vincent Daniels with unabashed glee, but sandwiched in between is an Afterschool Special Moment as Daniels, for no particular reason, sits down and tells two complete strangers (Harry and Dan) about his terrible childhood as a little person. The tone is completely out of whack with the rest of the episode, and is a ham-handed way to Teach Dan a Lesson.

Closing Statement

Provided that you can ignore some of Christine's outfits (we're talking NFL-grade shoulder pads), the show has aged fairly well. I loved the show back then, and while some of the warts are a bit more noticeable than they were then, the show remains one of the court's favorites.

Just as an aside, I've long suspected that Mac's endless series of cardigans is a veiled poke at Bill Cosby's endless series of sweaters in The Cosby Show.

The Verdict

Night Court is acquitted of all charges, but Warner Bros. is hereby warned that if they don't scrape up some extras for the next season, they'll be looking at a hell of a lot more than fifty dollars and time served.

Review content copyright © 2010 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 84
Audio: 86
Extras: 0
Acting: 88
Story: 83
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 526 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0086770/combined

* Wikipedia: Night Court
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Court