Running for nine seasons from 1984 to 1992, the original Night Court was something of an anomaly. Despite being part of NBC’s legendary Thursday night line-up, it never seemed to get the same support as shows like The Cosby Show and Cheers. Its finale was not truly its finale, thanks to a scheduling snafu, and the series ended with so many unresolved cliffhangers that 30 Rock devoted an entire episode to giving Night Court a proper ending.
Sadly, the new Night Court does not address most of the questions fans of the original want answered. The new series features only one actor from the original cast and makes reference to the fate of only two members of the original series’ ensemble. Thankfully, those hoping for an amusing continuation of the original show and a spiritual sequel will not be disappointed.
The pilot episode introduces Abby Stone (Melissa Rauch), a newly appointed judge who has been assigned to the same Manhattan criminal arraignment court that her father, Harry Stone, presided over three decades earlier. Idealistic to a fault, Abby tries to inject some humor and compassion into the proceedings. This brings her into conflict with her ambitious prosecutor Olivia Moore (India de Beaufort) and her underachieving clerk Neil (Kapil Talwalkar).
Abby’s bailiff, the cheerful Donna “Gurgs” Gurganous is more understanding, but also more concerned with hunting the prankster who changed the courthouse directory to spell out several rude names than rocking the boat. However, when Abby’s public defender calls it quits after one case, she becomes inspired to seek out Dan Fielding (John Larroquette), who is the only one of her father’s old friends still living in Manhattan. While Dan is reluctant to go back into court, particularly as a defense attorney, Abby’s earnestness convinces him to return, though he insists it is strictly temporary.
The first few episodes lean heavily upon the interactions between Abby and Dan. This is both a blessing and a curse for the new Night Court. Both Melissa Rauch and John Larroquette are gifted comedic performers with big fan followings and they have good chemistry together, so it makes since that the show would focus on them. Unfortunately, there is so much attention paid to Dan’s struggles with returning to court in a new role and Abby’s living up to her father’s legacy that the rest of the cast seems poorly developed in comparison. In fairness, this was also a problem with the original Night Court, where most of the episodes focused on Dan and Harry Stone.
Thankfully, while the new Night Court repeats many of the mistakes the original series made in finding its footing and developing its ensemble, it also enjoys the same strengths. The show’s writing team find the perfect balance between screwball humor and character-based comedy. The episodes after the pilot also include some genuine pathos, with Abby and Dan bonding over a shared trauma.
Bottom line: If you come to the new Night Court expecting the same kind of disorder in the court as the original, you’ll enjoy it. It’s a perfect follow-up in terms of tone and humor, though the cast of characters is completely different. It remains to be seen, however, if Harry Stone and Christine Sullivan got married, as the show is curiously quiet regarding who Abby’s mother is, despite all the focus on Harry.