The American judicial system is an enigma, to say the least. Judges and attorneys alike have the very unenviable task of listening to some of the most outrageous (sometimes true) stories imaginable. No matter how ridiculous things can get, the men and women taking part in these proceedings do their best to keep a straight face about them at all times. And, while most television series adhered to that strict, no-nonsense atmosphere found in just about every courtroom in existence, NBC’s sitcom Night Court took a much-needed and comical approach to the law.
Night Court went through a number of cast changes during its first three seasons. By the time its ‘86-‘87 fourth season rolled around, however, the show finally settled on what would become its most recognizable (and, in my opinion, definitive) lineup of characters.
Once more, Harry Anderson leads the comic ensemble as Judge Harry Stone: the eccentric courtroom referee with a passion for magic tricks, practical jokes, and some of the worst puns imaginable. By his side is season two recruit Mac (Charles Robinson), the cardigan-loving court clerk. And on the floor is the lecherous Assistant District Attorney Dan Fielding (John Larroquette, in a role that won him several Emmy Awards) and naïve public defender Christine Sullivan (Markie Post, who joined the series in season three).
Of course, no court would be complete without its bailiffs. Throughout the entire series, the great Richard Moll co-starred as “Bull,” the seemingly half-child/half-dog-like pillar of a being, while the position of the “2nd Bailiff” changed a couple of times. And, since Rusty Burrell wasn’t available for the spot, the producers of Night Court found a gem of a co-star in Marsha Warfield, who joins the cast in this season as the stone-faced, wise-cracking “Roz” Russell.
Some of the highlights of Night Court: The Complete Fourth Season include the gang trying to get through a record-breaking 200 cases in one night (“A Day In The Life”), Dan and Roz getting trapped in an elevator with two sumo wrestlers (“Earthquake”), and Harry learning about his late mother from her ex-husband, the certified-crazy Buddy (John Astin) in “The Next Voice You Hear…” (which also contains a courtroom full of ventriloquists). Meanwhile, Bull is torn when he learns his entry for a children’s book contest has been rejected over its horrifying content in “Author, Author.” Poor guy.
Seeing as how John Larroquette’s brilliant comic ability had already earned him three Emmys, the character of Dan gets a lot of attention here. Witness “Rabid,” wherein Dan lets Harry stay the night after the magistrate’s pad catches on fire, only to be bit by the dog that saved Harry’s life; “Giving Thanks,” wherein Dan saves Christine’s life and demands that she sleep with him in return; and the two-parter “Dan’s Operation,” which finds Dan going in for an operation, only to fall into a coma.
On a completely silly side note, the first half of “Dan’s Operation” is the perfect companion piece to Larroquette’s memorable guest appearance in the Season Three episode of House — “Son Of A Coma Guy” — where he plays a coma patient. Speaking of House actors, don’t you dare miss Harry and Dan fighting over “Christine’s Friend,” a hilarious episode guest-starring Sela Ward. The episode also features one of several appearances by Mel Tormé (the object of Harry’s obsession). Other guest stars throughout the season include Brent Spiner, Michael Gross, Fran Drescher, Harold Gould, Florence Stanley, Allan Rich, and regulars Gary Grossman and William Utay.
A note of warning: The Complete Fourth Season ends in the middle of a four-part story arc (“Her Honor”). The story gets picked up in season five, which we shall hopefully see on DVD sometime soon. The episodes appear in their original broadcast order, and their order was obviously switched around a bit (the copyright at the end and Marsha Warfield’s onscreen credit at the beginning of each episode is the giveaway).
Night Court: The Complete Fourth Season is one of the latest releases in Warner Bros.’ “made-to-order” lineup. The set (available via www.wbshop.com) brings us all 22 episodes of the long-running sitcom on four DVD-Rs, which have been culled from the best existing video masters. Like most of Warner’s “manufactured-on-demand” releases, you won’t find any special features or subtitle options. Neither the audio or video aspects of this season have been remastered or restored.
The set presents Night Court: The Complete Fourth Season in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, and boasts a mono English soundtrack. For the most part, the presentation is passable (this was an ‘80s sitcom, after all: which means it was shot-on-video), with a few video lines are present here and there. There’s also an unforgivable problem with the set’s first episode wherein the sound goes out of sync a few minutes in (the rest of the season is synched-up just fine, though).
But the most noticeable flaw that I saw was that the episodes that are listed as being on each disc is different than what actually is on them. For instance: Disc 1 says it contains Episodes 1-6 when it actually contains 1-5, Disc 2 says 7-12 when it’s really 6-10, and so on. It gets a bit confusing.
All in all, Warner’s Night Court: The Complete Fourth Season is good fun. However, in light of the sync and labeling problems, I’m ordering them to pay a $50 fine and time served.
Don’t let it happen again, fellas.