Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Comfort TV Court – Three Memorable Cases


Any successful situation comedy will likely feature at least one episode set in a courtroom. The reasons are obvious:


1. It’s a familiar setting even for the non-felons in the viewing audience.


2. Conflict between characters drives narrative and intensifies audience interest – the courtroom provides a fitting backdrop for such conflicts.


3. Courtrooms are serious places, and thus ideal to have their solemn procedures upended with comic situations.

I thought about doing a top ten list of courtroom shows, but there are so many examples of this trope that an occasional series of pieces seemed like a better option. So let’s begin with three cases on our docket today. All rise!

Case #1: Duggan vs. Brady

The Brady Bunch


“The Fender Benders” opens after a vehicle accident in a supermarket parking lot. Viewers don’t get to see the crash – the episode opens with Carol and passengers Marcia, Bobby and Cindy returned home in their station wagon, which now sports a dented fender.


What should have been settled amicably escalates into a small-claims court case when Mr. Duggan (Jackie Coogan) gives Mr. Brady an exorbitant bill for $295.11 to cover the cost of car repairs.


Complicating matters is the fact that Bobby and Cindy suspect the accident was their mom’s fault – though Cindy is a known tattletale and Bobby once idolized outlaw Jesse James, so neither make particularly reliable witnesses.


Highlights: Mike reenacts the accident in the Brady driveway to determine who was at fault; Duggan’s courtroom entrance in a neck brace; the verdict triggered by a clever ploy by Mike that delivers one of the more surprising and satisfying climaxes to a Brady episode. 



Who’s that Judge?

Robert Emhardt, who also played judges on several other TV series from this era, including Medical Center and Police Story



Case #2: Petrie vs. Wiley

The Dick Van Dyke Show


In “The Case of the Pillows,” the Petries sue door-to-door salesman Wiley for $80, the price they paid for four pillows that were supposedly made from eiderdown, but were actually filled with, in Rob’s words, “cheap, chopped chicken feathers.”  


Highlights: The judge’s growing exasperation at Rob’s bumbling attempt to play Perry Mason (“Would the introduction of an indication of a misrepresentation be a substantiation?”; Alvy Moore as Wiley – he’s best known as Mr. Kimball on Green Acres, but here gets to channel his inner Mr. Haney. 



At one point, the judge refers to Mr. Petrie as “Mr. Preston,” a  joke I didn’t get until years later, when I realized it was a reference to Lawrence Preston on The Defenders.


Who’s that Judge?

It’s veteran character actor Ed Begley, who won an Academy Award in Sweet Bird of Youth, and was brilliant as a legal professor in an episode of The Fugitive entitled “Man in a Chariot.”



Case #3: The People vs. Addams

The Addams Family


Grandmama is arrested for illegal fortune telling, and is defended by Gomez.



Highlights: just about everything once court is in session. “The Addams Family in Court” is a great showcase for John Astin, and the courtroom provides a perfect backdrop for his wild-eyed, grandiose flights of rhetorical non-sequiturs.


Introduced by Morticia as “The bar’s brightest light, Gomez “Loophole” Addams,” he proceeds to baffle and frustrate the judge with inspired nonsense worthy of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. This is definitely the funniest of the three cases on today’s docket. 



Who’s that Judge?

Hal Smith, aka Otis on The Andy Griffith Show and the Santa Claus that Cindy Brady asked to cure her mother’s laryngitis. He’s the perfect flustered straight man for Gomez, though it’s Morticia who finishes him off:


Judge: “In all my 30 years on the bench, I have never seen a more preposterous, idiotic, reprehensible display of court conduct.”


Morticia: “Well it did start that way, but you redeemed yourself.”


Until next time, court is adjourned.


  1. IIRC, Alvy Moore had appeared on DVD SHOW just weeks earlier as an IRS agent, Handlebuck, who helped play a joke on Buddy.

  2. And of course Hal Smith also played Kartoon King on the Brady Bunch where Bobby tries to win an ice-cream eating contest.

  3. I would also include on this list the "Odd Couple" episode "My Strife In Court" where Felix becomes Oscar's lawyer and delivers his classic "assume" line: "When you 'assume', you make an 'ass' of 'u' and 'me'!" Truly an unforgettable moment!