Movie-Hype00686 - Sports Night
It only lasted two seasons. If it was a comedy, it was not always funny. If it was a drama, why only half an hour? They used technical jargon up the ying-yang and not once did they bother to explain. The performances are occasionally uneven and the show wrote itself into a corner several obvious times, getting out only by inorganically crushing blooming love stories. One of the main characters had a stroke halfway through Season 1 and was not much of a factor from then on. Athletes’ names were thrown around, mixed with “fake” athletes’ names, totally confusing non-sports people, but professional athletes themselves were never on the show, not even for cameos.
So, why do I want you to go out and rent (and/or buy) Sports Night?
Set behind the scenes of a fictional sports highlight show, Sports Night was never about the sports. Does it help to know a thing or two about sports? Not at all. Well, maybe insomuch that it might get your boyfriend or husband to watch it with you. If anything Sports Night was more geared by women (the two main producers backstage are women), but the writing, acting, and chemistry is so good that I think men and women would take to it equally.
Sports Night the show never got big ratings (leading to its eventual demise). This is fitting, because the fictional Sports Night show within a show is ratings-challenged from moment one. This propels some of the plotlines: fear of being bought out or cancelled, or even just “messed with” by evil corporate concerns.
The two “Anchors” are Casey (Peter Krause who later went on to star in Six Feet Under, but he is more real here) and Dan (Josh Charles, whom most of you will recognize as Knox Overstreet from DEAD POETS’ SOCIETY). They have a fantastic chemistry together, and really get that Aaron Sorkin back-and-forth dialogue rhythm perfectly. Luckily, both of them have messed up love lives, which also give us many plots for the show.
Casey is in love with Dana (Felicity Huffman), or maybe Dana is in love with Casey. It goes back and forth, and sometimes it is hard to tell. Felicity Huffman had a minor career until Sports Night. This show made her, and deservedly so. Her neuroses are incredible.
Another great combo is Natalie (Sabrina Lloyd) and Jeremy (Josh Goodwin, whom you may remember as Will Bailey from West Wing, or the nervous guy from THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT who joked he was having lunch at the Kremlin. Jeremy is an incredible nerd who happens to have a first-class analytical ability to process sports data. He is in love with Natalie, which more or less works since she is in love with him.
When the show starts Jeremy is applying for a job, and we sort of learn the ropes through his eyes. He is not really the lead. None of these people are. And all of them are.
And of course I am forgetting Isaac Jaffee, played by the incomparable Robert Guillaume. He is the one I told you about who had the stroke, and rather than recast or come up with something fake, they wrote the stroke into the story line. One of the most emotional and memorable plotlines in sitcom history (especially knowing it is true).
Guillaume plays Isaac in the same gruff “why are these morons bothering me?” manner of his earlier immortal Benson, while at the same time clearly loving all of his people. Perhaps even more than Adam Schiff on Law & Order, Isaac has “presence” on this show, in a way that awes me.
So, I have told you the cast. I cannot “prove” chemistry, so what is left? The dialogue. Without voice inflection I cannot replicate, but use your imagination:
[Here is a scene where Jeremy feels like he sucks at his job and is soul-searching with Isaac…]
Jeremy: Fire me.
Jeremy: You heard me, I want you to fire me.
Isaac: I'm not going to fire you.
Jeremy: I'm a terrible worker, I'm the last to arrive and the first to leave.
Isaac: You're the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Jeremy: And don't you think that's a little strange?
Jeremy: I'm a racist.
Jeremy: I am, I'm a terrible racist. I think all those people with the funny accents and weird skin color should go back to wherever they came from and leave this country to the people who rightfully stole it from the Indians... which they deserved.
Jeremy: I'm serious, this country is being ruined by the blacks and the Jews.
Isaac: You're Jewish.
Jeremy: And I have to be stopped.
[Here is another exchange, when Jeremy and Natalie first meet…]
Natalie: Why'd you scream?
Jeremy: I meant to say hi.
Natalie: What happened?
Jeremy: I misspoke.
[At one point, Jeremy temporarily breaks up with Natalie, but to save face she is claiming to everyone she broke up with him….]
Natalie: I broke up with you Mr. "Obviously has a short-term memory loss with a myriad of other problems which I won't even go into but thinks he broke up with me because of the short-term memory loss which is so obvious".
Jeremy: No need to be formal. I've seen you naked. Call me Jeremy.
[And for a total non sequitor (and just so all the lines would not involve Jeremy), here is Elliot bringing Dan flowers…]
Elliot: These are for you.
Dan: Elliot, look, last night, seriously, I was talking to Kim. I was doing a little thing...
Elliot: They're not from me.
Dan: Like it'd kill you to give me flowers once in a while?
Are these making an impression? (I cannot find my very favorite quote, but let us just say it ends with, “I can see it now: me sitting out by the fire, my trusty space squid by my side…” How can you not want to see a show that talks about—however briefly—space squid?)
Every time I think about Sports Night only getting two seasons I get upset. But in a way, this works well for you. You can watch each season in under 8 hours if you do it back-to-back (and if you have never watched TV on DVD without commercials, trust me: you will want to watch several episodes in a row.)
Sports Night is also perfect because it has something for everyone: sports for the guys, relationships for the girls, snappy dialogue for all. How can you lose?
Go rent Sports Night pronto. Better yet, buy it and let me borrow it!