Premiered January 11, 1984.
It's another typical evening, shortly after Christmas at the New York City night court, the honorable Harold T. Stone (Harry Anderson) presiding. That is, until a defendant identifying himself as Santa Claus (Jeff Corey) comes before the court on charges of trespassing. He was found sleeping in a department store after hours in possession of half a bottle of gin. The man is firm in his belief that he is the "real, true Santa Claus" and the court is in a holding pattern waiting to see if they can get more info on his true identity.
The next case on the docket concerns two troubled teens (Michael J. Fox and Olivia Barash), who were caught shoplifting. They're runaways and are unwilling to give their real names. They're also quite sarcastic, causing prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Laroquette) to voice an interest in smacking them around.
Eventually, it's revealed that the teens' first names are Eddie and Mary and they feel that no one cares about them. This leads our alleged Santa as well as other members of the court to want to prove to them that someone DOES care about them.
Could it be that this is, in fact, the real Santa? Can he help Harry get the teenagers to know they're loved?
This is the second episode of Night Court ever produced and it's quite a good one. The whole "is this or isn't it Santa" plot is hardly original, but it's well executed here.
It's interesting seeing Michael J. Fox in a role other than Alex P. Keaton of Family Ties (which was airing concurrently, also on NBC) and he does a great job as a snarky, angsty teen, who according to our alleged Santa isn't really bad, he's just a bit frustrated.
The humor in this episode is balanced with seriousness and a touch of pathos. "Santa" does seem to know a fair bit about each member of the cast adding to the "is he or isn't he" angle in a smart way.
And even though the cast undergoes some changes between this and subsequent seasons, the workplace family vibe is always believable so we get the sense that these people care about each other and the people who come to the court despite their flaws and quirks.
Night Court was one of my favorite sitcoms in the 80s, and it's nice to see that they got this Christmas-y (despite not happening at Christmas precisely) episode right so early in their run.
This episode is recommended in or out of the Christmas season.
3 and a half candy canes.
J.A. Morris says:
This is an enjoyable holiday episode of a good series. Like my co-blogger, I was a regular viewer of Night Court. I watched "Santa Goes Downtown" when it first aired. I remember being pleasantly surprised to see a "Christmas" episode premier in January.
The plot of "Santa Goes Downtown" owes a big debt to Miracle On 34th Street, but that's not a bad thing. While the belief in Santa's existence is part of the story, the most important point is that the troubled teens need someone to believe in them, and Santa and Harry seem to be the only adults who do.
Santa is portrayed by character actor Jeff Corey. He's more disheveled than most TV and movie Santa Clauses, but he conveys genuine warmth and empathy towards Eddie and Mary. It's a funny and touching performance.
I wasn't familiar with Corey. My research on him shows he had an amazing career as an actor and acting teacher. Corey's acting career stalled in the 1950s when he was Blacklisted during the Red Scare, which led him to focusing on teaching. His acting students included Jane Fonda, Leonard Nimoy and Jack Nicholson. When McCarthyism faded, Corey acted in such films as Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, True Grit, The Cincinnati Kid and appeared in TV shows like Star Trek and The Outer Limits.
"Santa Goes Downtown" is an enjoyable episode and was a pleasant way for me to revisit old sitcom "friends" from my childhood. It's post-Christmas setting makes for nice "after-Christmas" viewing.
|A surprise visitor comes to Night Court!|