Night Court Season 1 Episode 12 Review: DA Club

Television

It took months, but Night Court Season 1 Episode 12 finally switched on a plot device light bulb for me.

Abby’s Upstate stories are an updated version of Rose Nylund’s St. Olaf tales on Golden Girls. Or Sophia’s Sicilian parables. If a show’s going to borrow sitcom elements, the OG GG is one of the best to lean into. (It doesn’t hurt that it’s also an NBC IP.)

Like Rose and Sophia, Abby’s more canny than she lets on, and when she decides to rewrite the rules of engagement, old-school sharks like DeWitt show their toothless tactics are relics of a sad and shameful time.

That’s not to say young sharks aren’t eager to circle the waters.

Up until the final scenes, Olivia’s rabid for a taste of the upper echelon of legal hobnobbing.

She ruthlessly cashes in on Abby’s interest in spending some off-hours time with her to get into the club, then shamelessly abandons her as she fishes for a sponsor to gain membership.

Her calculations are surgically linear once Gurgs lets out where Abby’s meeting with DeWitt is. Her mild mania once she’s in the room where it happens is almost physically painful, but I’ll admit India de Beaufort does a kid in a candy shop impression really well.

It’s all perfectly in keeping with Olivia’s need for status and validation, so it’s refreshing when she reveals her real feelings about the Manhattan Heritage Club.

Abby: Why do you want to be a part of this club anyway? You’re better than this place.
Olivia: You think I don’t know that? I hate this place and everything it stands for. The people are jerks. It smells like gravy. And eight different men came up to me and asked me who my husband told me to vote for.

With the parade of fun guest stars that have done a drive-by so far this season, my personal favorite is Kurt Fuller. I love him as adorable nerds like Psych’s Woody Strode, but he’s an absolute delight playing nasty jerks like Jeff DeWitt.

DeWitt, as a character, is a wonderful foil to Dan.

With similar origin stories, having walked parallel paths through their early careers, DeWitt, as District Attorney, has arguably achieved the life Dan Fielding circa 1985 would’ve given his left nut for.

Jeff: So the rumors are true. You’re a public defender now?
Dan: Jeff DeWitt. I’d heard you’d drowned on the Lehman Brothers’ boat.
Jeff: You wish. They do women and children LAST.

In DeWitt, we see what Dan might’ve become without the intervention of Harry Stone’s influence and his wife’s love.

What’s brilliant is that Dan sees it too.

Dan: So you decided to go with blackmail after all?
Abby: Absolutely not. He just thought I did because that’s how he does things. And as you said, he hasn’t changed in thirty years.
Dan: You know why?
Abby: Because he’s not incredible?
Dan: Well, yeah. Also, he doesn’t have anyone in his life to make him better. Like my late wife. Or your father. Or you.

And it’s a ringing endorsement that Abby’s included in that extra special club of do-gooders.

Dan, as social decoder, isn’t a new role. Even in the original series, he innately understood people’s motivations.

He never seemed to get that he had too much of a soul to be as utterly ruthless as he needed to be to live the life he aspired to.

Our present-day Dan seems to have tacitly accepted that he’s a white hat at heart.

Dan: You’re not going to get any traction with him until you figure out what it is he wants from you.
Abby: I don’t know. I think I can sell him on this. People can change. You changed.
Dan: Yeah, but I’m incredible.

Although Abby rejects his three-pronged approach to backroom dealing, he’s amusingly cheerful when he realizes it still bears results.

Many pieces fall into place very quickly for Abby’s squash-daddy corn crime metaphor to land on DeWitt’s plate. And I feel like a couple got lost in editing.

I don’t recall DeWitt discussing his nurse lover, and definitely didn’t see him make a flirty face in the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Bettencourt in the courtroom.

I would never question Olivia’s thoroughness about a case she believes will advance her career, but I do wonder why she’d let a little thing like the nurse-wife being at the Heritage Club stop her from getting the witness statement.

Abby got invited to the Manhattan Heritage Club? The premiere club for legal elites in New York City? The club that I have dreamed of joining ever since I realized the pure joy of excluding people?

Olivia

And then there’s Neil suddenly assuming the guise of bartender and getting the inside scoop on who did what to whose face.

Neil’s the character who is taking the longest to take concrete shape.

Once again, a lot of it has to do with the airing order of the season’s episodes.

His crush on Abby is far more pronounced here than on Night Court Season 1 Episode 10, which was produced eight scripts later but aired two outings earlier.

Neil: Next case, the City of New York versus Captain James T. Kush. He was arrested for growing and selling marijuana on his charter boat.
Abby: Hold on. Yes, this is the least surprised I’ve ever been.
Dan: Your Honor, my client runs a respectable business beloved by college students, deadheads, and Woody Harrelson.
Kush: Plus, Your Excellency, I was in international waters. My only judge should be the sea.
Abby: Uh, you were in the East River. That is not international, nor water.

Once the season wraps, I suspect I’ll go back and watch all sixteen half-hours in production order and discover a far differently shaped long arc.

And Neil’s infatuation may mature into a warm, respectful affection versus the bipolar neediness that rolls in awkward waves through the episodic exploits.

Ultimately, Abby’s meeting with DeWitt probably does little to affect the change she seeks in the judicial system.

What it does prove is that she can play by her rules even when they’re interpreted as the traditional rules.

Jeff: The DA’s office takes the concerns of jurists like yourself very seriously. Let’s get a meeting on the books.
Abby: Never had a meeting on the books. I’ve had a meeting about books. Back home when they tried to ban Cat in the Hat for being pro-mischief.

Something easily missed in the execution of DeWitt’s first encounter with the young and sunny Judge Stone is that the District Attorney lost his case in a big way.

Jeff: Care to bet on the outcome like in the old days, Dan?
Dan: Sadly, I’m no longer a gambling man. So, say five hundred?
Jeff: Easy money. She looks like a pushover.
Dan: Oh, sweet Jeff, you’re going to wish you died at sea.

His dramatic and inflammatory framing of the incident — totally worthy of a Dan Fielding oration, by the way, — is easily refuted by Abby’s cursory glance at the witness statements.

This begs the question as to how Olivia thought she’d be able to get a conviction in the case to impress Bettencourt.

As you watch Night Court online, riddle me this: Who judges the judges?

Abby takes issue with how the DA’s office was handing out overzealous and inappropriate charges, but she has no say in how that office is run.

She can only make a presentation to convince him to take a different route.

Can judges ever affect change on a larger scale, or can they only try to serve justice on a case-by-case basis in their domain of a courtroom?

As always, we’re here for the laughs, but the real world does push in at times to add salt to the meal.

Can Abby’s brand of justice work in a world where the DeWitts will always wallow deeper to avoid natural consequences?

Drop your thoughts into the comments below!

Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond ’til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on Twitter.

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