Skip to comments.When God Was on Sitcoms
Posted on 04/23/2018 10:12:41 AM PDT by Kaslin
The late Harry Anderson and his appearances as the youthful Judge Harry T. Stone on Night Court and elsewhere in the 1980s were funny and often magical. It should not be surprising as magic was Harrys passion. He was a special guy and will be missed and the show that defines him, Night Court, which ran from January 1984 to May 1992, was a unique show. Night Court was never popular in the way The Cosby Show, Family Ties, or Cheers were. Perhaps this is because Night Court had strong slapstick comedy. Night Court also had a more than a few very strong moments of seriousness that were never pushed in the very special episode way of reaching the audience.
In its early days Night Court was considered a realistic portrayal of a New York City court and could tell a powerful story such as the episode where a kid, played by a young Michael J. Fox, who was angry at the world and ended up crying in the arms of Judge Stone. But nowhere were Night Courts moments more powerful than in this sitcoms several references to God.
Perhaps the strongest Night Court reference to God came in the October 1987 episode entitled Death of a Bailiff the ending of which can be seen here.
The bailiff named Bull was struck by lightning and during the time he was critically injured Bull thought he heard the voice of God telling him to give away all his life savings to the needy. Bull gave away all of his money to everyone who needed it, except for the narcissistic prosecutor Dan (played by John Larroquette) who hilariously dressed up like a hobo to get his friends money.
After giving away his money, Bull found out that it was not God speaking to him but Art, the building maintenance man, who definitely did not tell Bull to give away his money. After finding out he lost his life savings, Bull sat alone in the courtroom. A poor looking man came in the courtroom looking for the man who gave away all his money. Despite having lost his life savings, Bull gave the man his last 100 dollars so the poor man could take a bus to South Carolina to see his son who was coming home from military service. The poor man realized that Bull was the individual who gave away all his money said to Bull I dont know what to say. God bless you. Bull said he would not hold his breath. Judge Stone came in and Bull said he wanted to be left alone. Harry Andersons character patted Bull and told him that my friend is something you will never be.
Bull talked to God with honesty and told the Lord he was upset about losing the money but then came to the conclusion that helping other people is the way we get close to you. After that, a Mayors office representative came in and offered Bull a check to not sue the city. The check was the exact amount of Bulls life savings and signing the check waived his claims against the City, calling it an act of God.
Other episodes showed a fully robed Judge Stone sitting in the witness chair in a deserted courtroom talking to God asking him deep questions about life. In a tragic situation, a kid was shot in part because of judicial decision Judge Stone had to make. Of all people it was Dan who cunningly compared Harry to Jesus and asked him to turn some water into wine and cure a few blind men. Dan was not being sacrilegious but he was telling Harry that none of us are God and that bad things will happen that are beyond our control. Dan, who often disagreed with Harry told him, You were impartial, you were fair and I admired you. Harry returned to the bench.
While many religious leaders in the 1980s and even today would have balked at the idea that Night Court had a religious bent to it, it is also worth noting that no episode like Death of a Bailiff would be seen on any of todays sitcoms. Such a contrast shows the intelligence of Night Court creator Reinhold Weege and also how Hollywood has changed, and not for the better.
Night Court was not an overtly religious show but it certainly was not anti-Christian in the way shows increasingly are today. Even the playboy Dan refused to do the worst things that tempted him on Night Court and came through, like Archie Bunker, when it really counted. Night Court was not the most popular show on television but it certainly is among the most well intelligently written series ever. Humor is too serious a thing to be forgotten in a sitcom. So is God.
Thanks for posting.
I remember the Bull episode discussed here, and it was a rare moment where a comedy show basically told a Christian parable of some sort. I’ve been waiting for another such parable but they tend to only occur every twenty years.
Christianity used to be part of the fabric of America. You didn’t have to be part of it — you could choose another path, including no path at all. But shows and songs talked about God because people talked about God.
Then the Left began interpreting the First Amendment as a guarantee of freedom FROM religion and they used it to force an atheistic worldview on everyone whether they liked it or not.
I miss the old days.
I always enjoyed Night Court. It was overtly slapstick, but it could also be witty. Then there were the episodes that went deep. Under appreciated I think.
Then there was Archie on God! Archie: “In the Bible it says God made man in his own image. He made women after!” Gloria: “You mean God’s mistake!” Archie: “Hey, Hey...God don’t make mistakes...that’s how he got to be God!”
...And Larry Bird!
They did a good job with that episode.
Yesterday I was watching a station that plays the old shows, and ‘Hazel’ was on.
One of the characters quoted Ecclesiastes ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven’ in order to explain why life wasn’t exactly going the way he’d like.
“Christianity used to be part of the fabric of America”
By the 1840’s.
The Flower of our first two generations, learning the lessons of religious war in Europe and fanatical Puritanism on their own shores, were overwhelmingly and proudly Deists.
I can recall some old sitcoms, such as Brady bunch, or Andy Griffith, in which the characters went to church.
It wasn’t preachy by any means. It simply was matter of factly showing that these people went to church.
I doubt any shows today ever show any character in any religious context.
“Night Court” debuted when I was in my mid teens and I remember watching the first episode in January 1985 when me and my family were living (for a few months) in Sydney, Australia. The sometimes off the wall and quirky, but not malicious in any way, type of humour was very enjoyable and perfect for that time in my life.
I by chance saw the Bull episode just last week.
The interweaving of God acting while not being real but seemingly present was extremely well written and acted by the cast.
Even "The Simpsons" go to church. Bart even does his hair up nice for it.
My memories of Night Court are all very fond. And they dealt with some extremely serious situations where morality, law and values were in direct conflict and there was no result that would satisfy the all.
But never lost the common man that was Judge Harry that made him so beloved.
Thank you for posting this. I remember watching Night Court and enjoyed it. In retrospect, perhaps this is one reason why. & I remember the episode described.
Blue Bloods does.
In terms of sitcoms, I'd say that the last sitcom that had going to church as a common plot device was Everybody Loves Raymond.
There’s a great episode of ‘Becker’ called ‘Larry Spoke’ in which Becker has a patient who believes he is speaking with GOD:
Boyd only thinks he hears God because the dopamine-receptor system of his brain is malfunctioning.
Well, maybe when God wants to talk to someone, that’s how he does it.
Look, G— God is a concept of man.
You know, Becker, some of us believe that man is a concept of God.
My wife and I watch a lot of the old Western many of which often talk about God. AH... those were the days
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.