With the addition of perky Markie Post in season three, Night Court was positioned to become the quintessential eighties sitcom. Night Court: The Complete Third Season presents all 22 original half-hour episodes from the 1985-86 season, and is truly a Reagan-era time capsule.
The Manhattan courtroom Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) presides over is something of a madhouse. All of New York's crazies seem to find their way into the night court, especially hookers, winos, and the simply absurd. Oh yes, there are appearances by a witch, (who Harry falls for) a rock star, and an old lady cited for assault in a Springsteen ticket line, as well.
Assistant D.A. Dan Fielding (John Larroquette) is the personification of evil Yuppiedom, obsessed with sex and money. Of course, he gets the best lines. Court clerk "Mac" (Charles Robinson) is friendly to a fault, and has a uniquely dry method of announcing some of the more bizarre cases. "Bull" (Richard Moll) is the hulking bailiff, a dim bulb with a heart of gold.
Besides the frequent slapstick nature of the show, the relationship between Judge Harry Stone and Public Defender Christine Sullivan (Markie Post) is at the heart of Night Court. A lot of people hoped to see this relationship consummated back in the day, thankfully the producers resisted, and kept the tension alive.
Watching Night Court again all these years later is quite the nostalgia trip. Every episode is replete with contemporary references such as New Coke, Pia Zadora, Dr. Ruth and even Twisted Sister. To illustrate the lengths the show would go for a laugh, they trot out Estelle Harris (best known as Mrs. Costanza on Seinfeld), as a hooker in one episode.
Season three of Night Court was the year everything fell into place, and each episode is hilarious. Be warned though, this is broad comedy, and very different from the more refined notions of humor in Seinfeld or Frasier. There is also a tendency to include "serious" moments, such as when Dan has to come to terms with the fact that his old college drinking buddy has returned, as a woman.
The development of "topical" plots goes back at least to All In The Family, and was perfected by M*A*S*H. These types of storylines are also a product of their times, as that is what was expected in 1985. It would take Larry David's famous exhortation, "No learning" to eliminate this somewhat ham-fisted approach to comedy.
Having said all that though, I thoroughly enjoyed all 22 episodes of Night Court's third season. It remains of the definitive sitcoms of the eighties.
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