Sunday, May 28, 2006

You Yugoslavian Recidivist Knuckleheads!

Some enterprising contributor at the IMDb has added a really fantastic collection of quotes from the show "Night Court", that pretty much sum up why this was the funniest show on NBC in the '80s. Note I didn't say the best, or the most sophisticated, and certainly not the smartest; but at least until the departure of its creator/showrunner Reinhold Weege, "Night Court" brought teh funny more often than most shows, including even the sainted "Cheers."

As I wrote in an earlier post, "Night Court" started out with relatively dry, understated humour but soon became the broadest, most Vaudevillian comedy on TV: in its nonstop punchlines (if you didn't like one joke there'd be another joke coming in about ten seconds) and willingness to do anything for a laugh -- puns, double entendres, crazy costumes -- it was a throwback to the TV comedy of the '50s, and even somewhat of a throwback to radio comedy. That made it kind of fresh at a time when most TV comedy was getting a little too bland.

Some particularly good quotes from Weege-land:

[on trial are a group of beauty contestants who attacked their sneaky pageant coordinator]
Dan: Your Honor, according to witnesses, Miss Congeniality led the attack with a kick to the groin.

[Mac is trying to figure out the new computer system]
Harry: What's the next case, Mac?
Mac: [staring at the computer, confused] Uh, People vs. Pac Man, sir.

Lorna Huebner: Your Honor, my father's dying words were, "No matter what, don't make me go with Arlene."
Arlene Huebner: Why, you lying...!
Harry: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Dying words? Is Dad dead?
Dan: As a kipper on a cracker!
[shocked looks]
Dan: I'm sorry to say.

Dan: Harry, here it is in a nutshell. Mel Tormé is in your office right now! He wanted to leave but I couldn't let him, so I locked him up with your trick shackles!
Harry: I don't have any trick shackles. Those are real, and I don't have a key!
Dan: Oh! Then I just managed to kidnap a well-known jazz artist.

Dan: Women.
Harry: So, who was it last night? The Soviet gymnast?
Mac: The farmer's daughter?
Bull: One of those rubber-jointed ladies from the freak shows that like to be handcuffed and thrown around the room by their ponytails, screaming for mercy until they black out?
[Stares from everyone]
Bull: What?

The flaw of the show was that Weege was apparently under the impression that he was doing a show with a mix of comedy and social significance, like the show where he got his start, "Barney Miller." So every "Night Court" episode would come to a halt for several minutes while the characters explained the Message that the episode was trying to convey. But the cardboard cartoon characters of "Night Court," unlike the more realistic and three-dimensional characters of "Barney Miller," just couldn't hold up during serious moments, so the serious stuff felt forced and contrived. But when it came to pure unapologetic well-crafted low comedy, it was the best of its time -- what other show would have a major character running down the hall from a giant 8-ball?

To wrap it up, here are three clips from Weege's best episode, the two-parter "Hurricane," which Weege wrote (and Jeff Melman directed). Here is "Night Court" at its best, for better or for worse: no subtlety, not much characterization, but lots and lots of jokes, and most of them work. The first clip features the guest characters of Bob and June Wheeler (Brent Spiner and Annie O'Donnell), who would have become regulars on the show had Spiner not gotten the "Star Trek" gig. This bit could easily have come out of a '40s radio comedy, complete with Harry doing age-old straight lines like "Okay, let me get this straight...":

The second clip features two of the better scenes from the baby-delivery marathon that takes up the second half of the episode: highlights include the inevitable vagina joke ("Night Court" had more vagina jokes than many an uncensored cable series), and John Larroquette's best bit -- "my briefcase, top pocket."

And finally, in the most famous bit from this episode, Harry Anderson explains why the sky is blue:


npetrikov said...

Nice subject line.

mitch said...

You pegged the tone of this this show - it was akin to "Gilligan's Island", except one where the Skipper beats Gilligan with his hat, then goes into a serious sob story about how he lashes out in anger because of an abusive home life as a child.

John said...

You could see in some of the later episodes of "Barney Miller", like the one with Kenneth Tigar as a man who thinks he's a warewolf, but who may really be a warewolf -- going by the special effects while he's in the jail cell -- that Weege was inclined even before "Night Court" to take the show in a more fantastic direction than Danny Arnold did when he was producing the show (which in a way mirrors the pre- and post-Arnold "Bewitched"). So it's not surprising that after establishing itself the first couple of years on a night of NBC shows like "Cheers" "Cosby" and "Family Ties" that were fairly restrained, he would move the comedy into a more outlandish style he was hinting at over on ABC.