Night Court (2023) Review – Nostalgia As Premise Proves Tricky But Possible

Despite the plethora of recent returns to past television staples, including both reboots/rehashes and new titles that aim at the sensibilities/models of “another time” in the TV universe, there are certain shows that are so locked in their time that it seems unimaginable to try to break them out. The return to Night Court is thus a pretty serious gamble because while I loved the original show, we are now venturing into the realm of shows that seem to have achieved their popularity as a result of a very specific temporal zeitgeist and a lack of options.

As we return to the bizarre world of New York City’s 24-hour court system, Judge Abby Stone (The Big Bang Theory‘s Melissa Rauch) shows up to take over where her father, Harry Stone, left off. Thus, the nostalgia of the show is baked in to virtually unprecedented levels, and it doesn’t stop there. The pilot revolves around Abby’s effort to wrangle Dan Fielding (John Larroquette) into returning to Night Court, but this time as the public defender. That’s a lot of straight rewatching in your reboot, especially as Abby seems wont to honor/become her dad whenever possible, though without the magic and eccentricity.

The original series was buoyed by its quirky ensemble, and though the quirk has been toned down some, it looks like connecting with the crew overall is going to be pivotal to the show’s long-term success. Olivia (India de Beaufort) is the assistant D.A., and for the most part, simply wants out of the clown show. Neil (Kapil Talwalkar – who was fantastic in the horribly undervalued Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist) is the semi-neurotic clerk who goes out of his way to not go out of his way and has settled into a comfortable state of not having to care about his job, because there really are no expectations. “Gurgs” (Lacretta) is the bailiff who is slightly out of her element, perhaps because she has no element, and is wickedly protective of her little family.

Despite not really having (or wanting) the likes of a “Bull” or “Roz” and even though Abby has little interest in the zaniness of her father, the new show runs with exactly the outline of the original. I don’t mean that the set and setup are the same, but the sense of humor, the campy “shocks” and responses, and the wild pendulum swings from cornball to syrupy sentimentality. For good or ill, and apart from Larroquette’s age, this is a series that might easily have turned up in ’93, and picked the ball up before it even settled.

NIGHT COURT — “Just Tuesday” Episode 105 — Pictured: (l-r) India de Beaufort, Garrett Bales as Nate Crabbe, John Larroquette as Dan Fielding, Lacretta as Donna Gurgs — (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC/Warner Bros. Television)

Unfortunately, the show’s establishment trips over itself a bit and Larroquette’s “misanthropic shell” is somewhat mishandled and maneuvered in a manner that is overly simplistic, even for this. Once we’re past having to explain our crew to each other though, this one has a lot going for it and most of the truest potential may prove surprising. You don’t really need more of a sell than an older Dan Fielding who adds a layer of crotchety to his arrogant soliloquoys leading the new class of courtroom misfits, but the misfits are potentially even better.

Kapil Talwalker is the person with the biggest shoes to fill and though his character has his own spin that is sufficiently unique, the ensemble needs a Mac, the straightman/everyman mouthpiece that Charles Robinson delivered so solidly year after year in the original. Abby actually takes some of the straight duty here, because not everyone can throw around zingers constantly, but Neil has to manage most of it as he trudges through his own lack of ambition and the whims and stylings of his co-workers, pranks notwithstanding.

The only thing that’s hard to judge about the show is what its true aims are after we’re ten or twenty episodes in. Abby’s is a different game and demeanor, and one that is focused on quashing the idea that, in certain respects, she’s anything like her father. Of course, that’s the only move because trying to replace Harry Anderson is a mug’s game, but it means that some elements of the “stabilized show” are up in the air. On the other hand, Rauch has the comedic chops and charisma to move things along on her own. The cases/defendant’s are as nutty as ever, and we’re out for laughs, but where do things land exactly and how does Abby fit in? Besides which, Larroquette is an older, wiser Dan Fielding who has learned that he was right about people after all, but that includes Harry Stone.

That said, it’s comedic comfort food that isn’t so much funny as it is funny adjacent, but you don’t mind and the characters are (potentially) the kind that will suck you in. Don’t let anything about that mislead you because this one is a little more balanced than the original, and it’s aiming for a stronger pull than endless gags. It is also, for viewers of the right age, a show that spends time delivering “the kinds of things that other show did,” and especially when Larroquette is involved, those things mostly work. It has a lot of plates to keep spinning, but if it embraces the nostalgia the cast will carry this one a long way.

NIGHT COURT — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Melissa Rauch as Abby Stone, Lacretta as Gurgs — (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC/Warner Bros. Television)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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