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What Once Was Old Is New Again: Night Court and That '90s Show

Red: “Ah, teenagers. I feel for you, son. On the other hand, payback’s a bitch.”

It’s official. With no new ideas, TV producers are re-creating successful sitcoms from the far, far past. This week, two reboots landed – Night Court and That '70s Show, now That '90s Show. One should have been left in the past; the other started well then settled into something fun to watch.

While Night Court was on NBC from 1984 to 1992, I loved it. Recently, I decided to revisit what I remembered as such a gem. The original show, now on Amazon Prime (with ads), has not aged well. Many of the jokes are about things that, luckily, we do not find funny any longer. I was amazed at the amount of sexism and sexual humor the show contained. Not at all funny, it sometimes borders on the offensive.

The first two episodes of the new Night Court aired January 18, anchored by Melissa Rauch as Abby Stone (Harry Stone’s daughter) and John Larroquette, the only returning character, as Dan Fielding. In the pilot, Abby convinces Dan, who was a prosecutor in the original, to come back to court as a public defender, and the second episode shows Dan settling into his new role.

Other than Dan’s switch in roles, this reboot offers nothing new. The sets, the characters, the theme music, even the props are all throwbacks to the original. Seeing how many Easter eggs you can spot is amusing for a few minutes, but the game gets boring quickly as we’re shown most of the eggs, sometimes more than once.

For me to fall in love with a sitcom, the writing and the characters need to make me laugh out loud. Or, at the very least, leave a grin on my face. Night Court did neither. The jokes are bad and horribly telegraphed. Some of the storylines are so odd that I wonder what the writers were thinking by adding them.

By far the most egregious error, however, is the laugh track. I am always suspicious of a show when it is used. The audience should know, not be told, when to laugh.

Night Court had a massive opening night, but I will be interested to see what happens moving forward. Alas, the show will move on without me.

That '90s Show takes That '70s Show into the next generation. Although I was never a die-hard fan of the original show, the few times I watched it, I liked it. I am almost exactly the same age as the characters, so I easily related to their experiences as they took their first tentative steps into adulthood.

Five or six years ago, I stumbled across this show and watched the whole series over the course of about a year. It always left me feeling happy and nostalgic, occasionally even making me laugh out loud.

I wasn’t completely surprised when I saw that Netflix was doing That ‘90s Show. Having Red and Kitty as the grandparents to Eric and Donna’s daughter was too good a premise to pass up. And it doesn’t disappoint.

The pilot episode is one of the best reboots I have ever seen. While all the characters have clearly aged twenty years, the Formans, including Donna now, have many of the same dynamics. I found myself laughing out loud more than once at the callbacks and especially at the genius twist at the end of the episode. I actually laughed so hard that I missed a whole section of dialogue. Even re-watching it, I laughed every time.

As the season progresses, the show settles into an entertaining coming-of-age story, not unlike the original. Eric and Donna’s daughter Leia (that took me a minute), the main character, is a sweet, naive young woman when the show opens. Unfortunately, she is played by a newcomer, Callie Haverda, who is clearly still learning her craft. The other kids, though, are well cast.

As you would expect, the show features a number of cultural callbacks to the 90s. One entire episode is a parody of 90210. Since I never watched one minute of that show, I could not comment on how accurate it was, but I still enjoyed watching the episode.

More than the episodes with just the kids, I had the most fun watching and waiting for the cameos from the original cast. They all show up eventually, and when they do, it is comedy gold. The only original cast member missing is Hyde, understandably as he was played by Danny Masterson.

The final episode made some odd choices, some of which felt unearned. But at least the writers did not leave Leia with her grandparents – that would have been a step too far. The cliffhanger we left our new gang on, however, will be interesting to watch play out next season. Will That '90s Show become a classic sitcom? Probably not, but it found an outstanding balance between the old and the new.

ChrisB watches more old TV than new recently.


  1. Shame about Night Court. Lots of opportunity there in someone else's hands.

    1. Agreed. I went into it with high hopes, but it just didn't take off for me. It might improves as it settles in, but I won't be along for the ride.

  2. I liked the Night Court twist that their original MVP John Larroquette's character switched from prosecution to public defender, but there just wasn't a lot that I loved.

    I've never watched That 70s Show. Maybe I should.

  3. that 70s show is one of my favorite sitcoms, so I highly recommend it, billie!

  4. Anonymous and ChrisB, I will absolutely give That 70s Show a shot.

    1. That 70s Show is not the greatest sitcom ever to grace our screens, but it is a lot of fun. As I grew up in the era, the clothes, the cultural references, even the food served all made me smile. Lots of invoked memories of hanging out with friends in another time.

  5. I'm actually surprised that you didn't remember what was funny about the original Night Court. I haven't seen it since its original run, but if anyone asked me what it was about, the first thing I would have said was about John Larroquette as a misogynist. It really had very little of anything else. I loved Richard Moll as Bull, but stupid jokes run thin just as quickly as sex jokes. They take no talent to write, and once I figured that out, I lost all taste for them. And beyond that, I never thought that Harry Anderson was a funny guy, so I never completely understood why they centered the show around his character. I saw him in a few other shows, such as Cheers, and he never made me laugh there either. I always thought he would be a much better straight man to other comedians.
    But even John Larroquette isn't especially funny. There is a reason he's always been a lesser-known personality. The most successful comedians need to have a razor-sharp wit that can't be matched. I think the most telling appearance of his was an old interview he did on (I believe) Oprah. I'm not sure if it was her show, because I found it on YouTube. It was John Larroquette, Dudley Moore, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams. I'm a huge fan of Williams, so I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, but I could help but feel a tiny bit sorry for Moore and Larroquette, who were completely out of their depth. Crystal alone gave them almost no room to speak, and even he was completely eclipsed by Robin. And even when they asked a question of John specifically, even Dudley Moore had more to say and was funnier.

    1. Thank you, Anonymous, for such a great comment. I completely agree with you that what we all remember from the original Night Court was the misogyny and how funny many of us found that. As I rewatched some of the old episodes, however, I discovered that I no longer did.

      When asked who the funniest comedian ever was, John Cleese (himself no slouch in that department) said without hesitation that it was Robin Williams. Cleese went on to say that while many comedians such as himself have to write and re-write, Williams could just riff. To see this action, watch Williams on The Actors Studio play with a pink scarf for about five minutes. It is laugh out loud until you hurt funny,

    2. I've seen the bit with the pink scarf. Just thinking about it now makes me laugh. "Welcome to Iran... HELP ME!" I've seen most of his appearances multiple times. He never fails to make me laugh. He also is the only celebrity I've ever cried for. I can honestly say I'm sad when certain celebrities die, but I've never cried for one, because I don't really know them. I've met a handful of celebrities in my life, and even had a few I could call friends, but no one who I would cry over. But Robin Williams was special, and when I found out he had died, I had to find a quiet room away from people and I sobbed for about 15 straight minutes. Then I went home and I saw the clip from Conan O'Brien at the end of his show, when he announced it and you can hear the audience gasp, and it made me start crying all over again. And to this day, I love watching his work, even though I usually wind up crying before it's over. (I think my favorite of his appearances was when he appeared on the Craig Ferguson Show. "Chlamydia, your dad's here! Aye, I was looking in a medical dictionary when I named you. Where's your sister, Gonorrhea? Get over here, girl!")


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