Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Night Court Before Christmas, on NBC

Usually, a series needs a few seasons under its belt before building an episode around nostalgic flashbacks. Of course, Night Court has the benefit of its predecessors’ nine seasons in the 1980s. Yet, for its first special Christmas episode, it is only flashing back a few weeks—back when Grinchy Dan Fielding was still the unlikely Public Defender. He also kind of, sort of saves Christmas, but he is not happy about it in “Night Court Before Christmas, which premieres Saturday on NBC.

Recently, Fielding accepted an appointment to the bench in his beloved hometown of New Orleans, but he is still a weekly cast-member, so we will see how log that lasts. Abby Stone also broke up with her fiancĂ©, so now she is “dating herself.” She gets torched pretty regularly over that, but the original show would have been harsher.

Tonight, the court is processing cases related to Santa Con, so it is packed with bad Santas. A little girl struggling with her parents’ recent divorce happened to slip her Christmas list to one of the disorderly drunks, because she would only entrust it to old St. Nick himself. Judge Abby is determined to find it, because she is hyper-into the Christmas spirit, so she enlists the reluctant Fielding. Meanwhile, “Gurgs” the bailiff is hiding her own Christmas surprise for Fielding: a personal appearance from his hero Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The second “Night Court Before Christmas” (a reference to the original series’ Christmas episode) harkens back to what made the original so popular, but also shows the limits of the playing-it-safe reboot. It is just too safe and too polite. However, viewers should give Abdul-Jabbar credit for being a good sport. He is willing to look a little silly in a surprisingly substantial guest turn, which follows in the tradition of Mel Torme’s weird appearances on the original.

The reboot writers get one thing right as rain. Santa Con is a drunken, ugly mess. Having witnessed it sweep down on an unsuspecting Arthur’s Tavern early in the history of the drunken happening, I can tell you they could do a three-part episode dedicated to Santa Con.

Of course, John Larroqutte
 continues to be the funniest thing about the new Night Court. Melissa Rauch is still finding her footing as the new Judge Stone, but her elf costume is a case of brilliant comedic wardrobing. It feels very network, which it is, but it makes suitable family holiday viewing. Recommended for fans and Santa Con survivors, “The Night Court Before Christmas” special episode premieres Saturday (12/23) on NBC and streams the next day on Peacock.