By MARK KENNEDY
AP Entertainment Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — You can forgive John Larroquette for thinking he’d entered a time machine when he stepped onto the sound stage of the rebooted NBC sitcom “Night Court.”
The sets for the arraignment courtroom, chambers and hallways where he had first made people laugh as prosecutor Dan Fielding starting in the 1980s had been carefully remade and even the green couch in the judge’s office and the cafeteria chairs were found in storage and redeployed. It was he who had changed.
“Revisiting a character that one played 35 years ago is both an interesting problem as an actor and also a bit disheartening. When I look at my face then and my face now, I’m playing my own grandfather in a way,” the 75-year-old actor says.
In the reboot, Larroquette’s former prosecutor Dan Fielding is convinced to return as a public defender after years out of the courtroom. He has become a lovable curmudgeon, who says things like: “This is a court. Not a therapist’s office, no matter how many mental patients march through here.”
Melissa Rauch plays prior Judge Harry Stone’s daughter, Abby Stone, the new night court judge and the sunshine to Larroquette’s gloom. Of the weirdos who show up in her after-hours court, the judge declares: “It’s hard not to like them once you know what’s going on underneath.”
A verdict on the new “Night Court” has already been handed down: NBC ordered a second season early after the revival earned the highest ratings for a comedy series on the network since 2017.
Larroquette suspects some of the interest is due to nostalgia and reruns but also pointed to the popularity of Rauch, a former star of “The Big Bang Theory.” “I’m sure there were millions of people who were very interested in seeing what she would do next,” he says.
Rauch also produced the show and came up with the revival concept. She was a huge fan of the original, as a youngster using VHS tapes to capture her favorite episodes to watch and re-watch.
“I think if you would tell the child version of me that I’m getting to do this, my head would have exploded, and I probably would have wanted to fast forward my whole life to get here,” she says.
She was drawn to the show’s ability to effortlessly shift from heartfelt drama to heightened comedy, a flip she wanted to recreate in the reboot.
“First and foremost, it’s a comedy and we’re there to make people laugh. But I always feel that you laugh harder if you’re also able to feel something. And I think ‘Night Court’ did that so brilliantly,” she says. “Our writers, led by our wonderful showrunner, Dan Rubin, have really struck that balance in a beautiful way.”
Larroquette is the only actor to return to the series that first aired from 1984 to 1992, starring the late Harry Anderson, the late Markie Post, Marsha Warfield, the late Charles Robinson and Richard Moll.
The original show’s breakout character was Fielding, both clever and lascivious. Larroquette won four consecutive Emmy Awards playing the part, a record at the time. But he initially resisted a return.
“I was not interested in revisiting him for many reasons, partially because of the love I have of physical comedy and the fact that I’m almost 40 years older than I was then, that I can’t jump over tables. I can’t quite do the things with my body that I could then so easily. And just what do you do after that amount of time? Who is he now?” says Larroquette.
“The more I thought about it, the more as an actor it became an interesting sort of problem to figure out —how could I be funny at this age with him now?”
The Fielding in the reboot has matured past his sowing-his-wild-oats stage. His character finally found the love of his life between the end of the last show and its return — but lost her.
“The Dan Fielding that existed and at that time was very different from the Dan Fielding we’re seeing,” says Rauch. “But he’s still the same person. He still thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s still a narcissist. And but at the same time, he’s evolved.”
While the new series is clearly a product of today — with references to Uber and DJ Khaled — there are plenty of callbacks from the original show, like toy, springy snakes in cans that explode and the stuffed armadillo displayed by the previous Judge Stone.
Set designer Glenda Rovello recreated the sets from the original blueprints. “We gave it a coat of paint to update it, but we thought a government building wouldn’t have changed that much over the years,” Rauch says.
“Walking onto that set just feels so, so special. And I honestly, I pinch myself when I’m walking through those halls. It feels so surreal.”