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'Night Court' at 30: Timeless Laughter Is In Session

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Jan 16, 2014 | 12:00pm EST

John Larroquette, Night Courtfreyman1976/YouTube

1984 was a great year for movies, but it was also the year that one of the great sitcoms came on the scene. I'm talking about Night Court. Yes, you already hear the theme music in your head, don't you? No? OK, for those of you who haven't heard it, here it is.

While the first season, like many shows, took tiny steps towards achieving the greatness that lay ahead (Markie Post, who played Christine Sullivan, didn't join the show until the second season), there were glimpses. Harry Anderson's Judge Harry Stone was a jurist who was still caught between stunted adolescence and adulthood. John Larroquette, the man who should have had the best supporting actor Emmy just named after him during his run as Dan Fielding, was a lothario who had the stirrings of a soul underneath. Who can forget Fielding running for a city council slot and losing to a dead man? Selma Diamond, may she rest in peace, was really the glue that held that show together with her deadpan deliveries. She was the perfect one to ground Richard Moll's Bull Shannon. It was a shame she died right after the first season ended.

Of course, the main attraction was the absolutely insane people that appeared before Judge Stone in his courtroom. There was a man in a lobster suit, to begin with. The thing was, the show, while acknowledging the sheer absurdity of these defendants and plaintiffs, it also stopped just short of labeling them as cartoon characters. The vast majority of them were imbued with a humanity that made us laugh more at the situations they were in rather than completely at them. There was the hooker with the real heart of gold, to begin with.

As the seasons went on, the people in the courtroom got zanier, weirder and the cast just jelled perfectly, with Charles Robinson's Mack and Marsha Warfield finally beating the curse of the Female Bailiff, after Diamond and Florence Halop died in quick succession. It was an ensemble comedy with all the cast members hitting on all cylinders. I'd even put it up there with The Golden Girls as best comedy of the '80s. Of course, fans of Cheers might disagree with me.

Right now, Larroquette, Moll, Post and Robinson are all still appearing as guest stars on various shows. Anderson has done sporadic work after playing Dave Barry in Dave's World in the '90s. All the seasons are on DVD - I highly recommend picking them up or renting them through Netflix. Heck, it might get you into Mel Torme too.

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