At a time when any number of long-running series are waving bye-bye and leaving the air, let us stop to help one of them depart. This week, after nine years, Night Court passes its last set of unfunny sentences on unfunny criminals, and one can only hope that its mostly unfunny cast can retire in syndicated splendor.
In the courtroom-clearing finale, Harry Anderson’s blandly eccentric judge weighs job offers ranging from a Columbia Law School professorship to a chance to tour with his idol — yes, melodious Mel Tormé is back again to beat a one- joke cameo into the ground. Markie Post’s blandly nice lawyer wins a seat in Congress; Charles Robinson’s blandly decent court clerk quits to become a filmmaker; Marsha Warfield’s blandly hostile court matron decides to stay where she is, glowering; Richard Moll’s blandly dumb bailiff has an encounter with extraterrestrials that provides the expanded-to-an-hour episode with its groaner of a ”surprise” ending. And what of John Larroquette’s blandly libidinous prosecutor, Dan Fielding? He almost gets married, and realizes he loves Post’s Christine. Even if you like this series, I’m sure you’ll find this one of the flattest final episodes you’ve ever sat through.
Night Court started out in 1984 as Barney Miller in a courtroom, a showcase for magician-comic Anderson. After a few months, though, the producers seemed to realize that while Anderson was a bit too, ah, bland, Larroquette was just itching to chew some scenery and could do it well: Rarely has horny smugness been so convincingly portrayed, week after week. But prime time imposes strict limits on the depiction of horniness, with the result that after a while, Fielding seemed like a rebellious satyr without a cause.
Of the trio of actresses to play the show’s combination public defender/sex symbol — Paula Kelly, Ellen Foley, and Post — Foley was my favorite, because she displayed spunk. But as Lou Grant would say, Night Court hated spunk, and she was gone after a single season, 1984-85. Now so is Night Court. Case dismissed.