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Night Court - The Complete First Season



DVD Release Date: February 8, 2005 (Warner Bros. Home Video)
MSRP: $29.98
Number of Discs: 2 (Single Sided)
Number of Episodes: 13
Running Time: 313 Minutes
Total Run Time of Special Features: 42 Minutes (counts audio commentary, but not commemorative DVD)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 1.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned.
Special Features:
• Audio Commentary on “Pilot” by series creator Reinhold Weege
• “Night Court: Comedy’s Swing Shift” (with Reinhold Weege and Harry Anderson)
• Warner Bros "Celebrating 50 Years of the Best Shows on Television" Commemorative DVD, Volume 3

My Thoughts:

Ah, Night Court. That is when we see hookers, murderers, and other wackos getting their own quick sentencing, at night! See all of that and more on the hit NBC comedy Night Court, now on DVD! Season one aired on NBC as a midseason replacement in January 1984. Many fans probably don’t remember this season as much as some of the characters we all know and love didn’t start coming until season two and on--characters like Mac Robinson (Charles Robinson), Roz Russell (Marsha Warfield) and Christine Sullivan (Markie Post). But not to fear—most of the other staples were here then, like the star Judge Harold T. Stone (Harry Anderson), Dan Fielding (John Larroquette) and Bull Shannon (Richard Moll). Since there was no Mac, Christine or Roz, we had Lana Wagner (Karen Austin), Liz Williams (Paula Kelly), and the memorable Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond). All of those characters lasted just this season, except Selma also lasted the second season, before her death in 1985. She was then replaced by Florence Halop for season three, but she also passed away, in 1986. So, then we got Marsha Warfield’s character. Just a history lesson! Anyway, be prepared to watch Night Court Season 1 on DVD and you’ll see all the crazy and bizarre antics of Judge Harold T. Stone ­ from his magic to his obsession of Mel Torme, Night Court has it all!

The early episodes of Night Court are somewhat different from later episodes. In the early episodes, Night Court really is more of a show about characters, rather than a show with characters, as the series would later become. Of course you have the establishing pilot which formally introduces us to the main characters, but the other shows that season are something else. You have Harry trying to restore the faith of a pair of cynical teenage runaways (Episode 2). Episode 3 explores Harry’s past, which includes a criminal record?! Episode 4 deals with a woman that claims to be Harry’s long lost mother. Episode 5 features Bull getting rejected by a charity since his appearance is considered intimidating and frightening by others. In episode six, Harry has a death threat then a bomb threat within an amazingly close time span. Episode 13 deals with a husband who returns from a Vietnam prison, legally declared dead, to find his wife had remarried.

There are only two real guest stars in the season. In episode two, Michael J. Fox guest stars as one of the two teenagers that are part of the main focus of the episode. It seems somewhat interesting that Michael, who was already a star with Family Ties, and was about to really hit it big with Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, would be a one-time guest character on a midseason replacement. Episode 10 marks the debut of recurring character Yakov Korolenko; played by comedian Yakov Smirnov (In Soviet Russia…). Frequent sitcom guest stars Terry Kiser and Jack Riley also guest star.

The packaging of the set is a rather simple keep case. Just a first season cast photo in front of a drawn city night background with the Night Court logo on top. The back cover features a similar starry night background of a city, with a few still photos from season 1 mixed throughout. The disc art is the same dark city night drawn image on both discs. Disc 1 will be where you can find episodes 1-7, while Disc two holds episodes 8-13 and the bonus featurette. Menus again follow the drawn city at night theme, with a simple purple/orange gavel denoting the choice selection. The main theme plays only at the main menu.

Warner did a mediocre job with the video on this set. The discs all have noticeable video compression artifacting. A lot of the other Warner sets appear quite nice, so Night Court really strikes me as an oddity. In addition, the episodes were shot, one - on tape, two - 21 years ago, meaning they’ve aged enough to be noticeable. There are some parts of each episode that look particularly grainy/dirty. In addition, there are no in-episode chapters. This has been a recurring problem with ALL the February 2005 Warner sitcom releases. Audio will not blow anyone away either -- a mediocre Dolby Digital 1.0 track. Granted, the show is from 1984, but still. Plus, I heard at least some hiss in places. Overall, the set feels like Warner just transferred Night Court “as-is from the Masters and left it alone. The episodes from the various bonus discs look better ­ and several of the bonus episodes are from the mid 80s themselves.

Special features are few and far between, but they do exist. On episode one, series creator Reinhold Weege does commentary duties for the full 24 minutes of the episode. He mentions, like NBC’s Cheers, a lot of the reason the show got picked up for a 2nd season despite so-so ratings was due to Brandon Tartikoff willing to give the show a chance despite so-so ratings. Also there is an 18-minute featurette called “Night Court: Comedy’s Swing Shift” featuring interviews with Weege and series star Harry Anderson.

As part of Warner Bros. 50th Anniversary promotion, various TV DVD sets released this year by Warner will each be have a commemorative disc of one episode each of two shows from the Warner Vaults not available on DVD. The disc available with Night Court is Volume 3 of the series. The first episode is of a series that’s long been a personal favorite of mine, Perfect Strangers. Perfect Strangers ran from 1986-1993 on ABC. The show starred Mark Linn-Baker as Larry Appleton, a straight-laced guy who recently moved away from his family in Wisconsin to Chicago. His roommate, and the real star of the show, is his so-called-cousin from the Mediterranean island of Mypos, Balki Bartokomous, played excellently by Bronson Pinchot. The episode included is Episode #60 ­ Maid to Order, from Season 4 of the show’s run. The video and audio look and sound great -- better than the Night Court release itself, actually! I also want to commend Warner for choosing the episode right at where Nick at Nite stopped in 2003. They stopped at episode #59, and Warner used episode 60. Small things like that really make DVD sets better. The set also includes the third episode of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” The Whose Line episode should be a real treat for fans of the show. The same episode is on the commemorative disc found on the “Jamie Foxx” set. Both episodes are unedited, with Perfect Strangers timing in at about 24 minutes and Whose Line around at 22.

Honestly, as much as I love Night Court, I really think Warner did a mediocre job with all aspects of a set. Frankly, when both episodes from a PROMOTIONAL disc look, sound, and are generally just done better than the release itself, you’ve got a problem. The special features just aren’t there, the set looks like it was transferred as-is from the master copies, and they didn’t even include in-episode chapters!

For the next season’s set, I’d definitely like to see more commentary. At the very least, get Harry Anderson to take some time away from his magic shop to do a few commentary tracks. Also, I’d love to see Warner touch up the episodes somewhat from the masters. These episodes just don’t look professionally done, and it’s a discredit to Warner themselves. And PLEASE, Warner, add chapters in the episodes themselves! If I accidentally stop my DVD Player, I’d like to be able to get close to where I left off without having to blindly bumble through 30 minutes of episode trying to find the right spot. Even the CHEAPEST consumer DVD Recorders now let you set chapters in all sorts of configurations -- how hard can it POSSIBLY be for a professional release? There is one other thing related to this set that I, and I’d believe more than a few people would love to see—a Perfect Strangers DVD Release! This is the first time I’ve seen a “new” episode since Nick at Nite stopped airing the show a year and a half ago, and the episode included reminded me of just how great this show was.

The show is still more than funny though, technical issues aside. All fans of the show -- even if you don’t particularly care for the pre-Markie Post episodes, BUY THIS SET. If you’re looking for a great comedy, I also recommend the set. If you’re a fan of Perfect Strangers or Whose Line, buy this set also, if for no other reason than to see the shows in their rightful DVD glory. But, if you buy this set expecting technical perfection, you’re in for a big disappointment, unless you’re watching the bonus disc.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 3/5
Menu Navigation/Design: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

-- Reviewed by Seth on February 13, 2005

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