Friday, February 11, 2005

Judge Harry, # 2

After my previous post on Night Court, I was inspired to dig out an old VHS tape of the show's best episode, the two-parter "The Hurricane," written by the show's creator Reinhold Weege. This is the one where a hurricane traps everyone in the courtroom just as four pregnant women (who were arrested, along with their husbands, when a young cop mistook a Lamaze class for a pornography ring) go into labor. It's from the third season, and hopefully the DVDs will sell well enough to make it that far.

This episode pretty much sums up everything the show did, for good or ill: huge laughs, an absolute willingness to go for any kind of joke no matter how old, corny, or vaudevillian (and I mean those words as compliments), a blisteringly fast pace up until the big "serious" speech at the end, and an attempt to put some kind of social-commentary face on the whole thing (each of the guests represents some cross-section of society: the yuppie couple, the proud single mom, the old-fashioned couple adjusting to new realities, and the immigrant couple). It's like one of Weege's Barney Miller scripts rewritten by Paul Henning.

The episode also features the show's most famous recurring characters, Bob and June Wheeler (Brent Spiner and Annie O'Donnell), a perpetually luckless couple from West Virginia. Except that when they first appeared, the stereotyping provoked a lot of angry letters from West Virginia, so when they reappeared in this episode (having bought a hot-dog cart that got destroyed by the hurricane), they announced that they lied: they were not from West Virginia, but from Yugoslavia. ("Isn't the accent obvious?") They became so popular that they were supposed to become permanent characters, but Spiner got the part on Star Trek and put an end to that.

Anyway, here are some quotes from the episode:

JUNE: We sold everything we had in the world just to buy this business, your honor.
BOB: The pickup truck, all the livestock...
JUNE: Granny even wanted to sell her wheelchair, but Bob wouldn't hear of it.
BOB: Well, it isn't really a wheelchair. We strapped her barcalounger to a furniture dolly.

(During the storm, the courthouse runs out of food and people fight over a hot dog that Bob and June have left over from their business)
BOB: Please, I beg of you, no! This is the only memento we have left of our business!
JUNE: I'm warning you, keep your hands off my husband's weiner!

BABS (the yuppie woman): Just so you know, Chad and I feel that motherhood will in no way interfere with my career, and that having a baby will only enhance our status as live-in lovers and friends.
DAN: You both drive Volvos, don't you?
(Babs and Chad both nod.)
CHAD (the yuppie guy): Anyway, your honor, the film that Officer Connor saw was the last in a series of visual aids on the Lamaze method of natural childbirth.
BABS: They were showing the final stages of rhythmic labor. I haven't been that deeply moved since I saw the lobster scene in Annie Hall.
HARRY: Babs, and Chad -- if those are your real names -- so what you're telling me is, this was all part of a childbirth class?
OFFICER CONNOR: But I saw it on the screen! It was bigger than life!
HARRY: What was it you saw?
(After a pause, the officer takes out a pad and pen, draws something, and shows it to Harry.)
HARRY: I'm telling your mother.

DAN: I was just trying to help.
SINGLE MOM: Well, I don't need any help, and I don't need any pity, and I certainly don't need you.
DAN: Fine. I'll just be over here beating myself to death with the Boy Scout manual.

HARRY: All right, people, here is the situation! We have four women in active labor and we have lost all communication with the outside world! Are there any questions?
BUM: Why is the sky blue?
HARRY: Because if it was green, we wouldn't know where to stop mowing! Any other questions?

STANLEY (the sexist husband): Nobody's looking at my wife's private parts except me! Some things are still sacred!
FLO (Selma's first replacement, who also died): Well, if it was sacred, she wouldn't be in this mess right now.

DAN (delivering a baby): Tommy, get me some surgical gloves.
DAN: My briefcase. Top pocket. Great, now I can deduct them.

The other thing you remember watching Night Court again is that one guy in the audience who had the most annoying, intrusive laugh in sitcom history. This was either Reinhold Weege or his father (I'm not sure which); the same laugh was used over Weege's production-company logo at the end. It is a general rule of sitcoms that the loudest, most annoying laughter comes from people who are somehow connected with the show; legend has it that on the soundtracks of Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi, if you hear a really loud laugh at something that doesn't seem all that funny to the rest of the studio audience, that's James L. Brooks.

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