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Television Review: Sports Night The Complete Series 
13th-Jan-2005 01:37 am
Andy Dreamy
It's the cast of people you know from other shows

Sports Night The Complete Series

Starring: Robert Guillaume, Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Sabrina Lloyd, Joshua Malina

Series Creators: Aaron Sorkin

After many abortive attempts due to the fact that seemingly every copy in Music World's inventory had the same defect, Kim and I finally finished watching the whole series Sports Night. Ask anyone who knows, and they'll tell you that this was one of those series that was too good for television, a damning phrase directed toward my first love (TV) that is nonetheless true, especially when one is speaking of network television.

Had this whip-smart, 22 minute, "dramedy" set at a fictional sports network, depicting the lives of those who work at that network's flagship news anchor show (titled "Sports Night") aired on a network like HBO or Comedy Central, it might have had a chance. But, a network like ABC had no idea what to do with something mature and innovative like this (just as they had no idea what to do with another of my favourite cancelled TV shows Once and Again). It doesn't have an immediate audience. On paper, it seems like a comedy for sports fans. But sports is only the window dressing for a work-place comedy that dishes observational humour on subjects ranging from relationships to politics.

Further troubling to vapid network executives is the fact that while Sports Night is a comedic show that is 22 minutes in length, it is hardly a sitcom by the traditional definition of the term. Sitcoms are usually formulaic offerings that puts familiar archetypes in wacky situations to allow the hilarity to ensue. Rarely do characters grow or evolve, besides the pesky children who grow necessarily, usually alienating the core audience by doing so. Sports Night is paced more like a TV drama, a drama that happens to be 22 minutes and funny. The humour is generally of the high-brow variety, derived from the rapid-fire dialogue that is the trademark of writer and series creator Aaron Sorkin. This isn't typical sitcom humour, but ABC really wanted it to be, evidenced by the horribly distracting laugh track used in the first few episodes and later (thankfully) abandoned.

Sorkin and his writing are the true stars of the series, but his words would be lifeless were it not for the outstanding performances turned in by the stellar cast. Peter Krause (who would later go on to shine in HBO's Six Feet Under) stars as anchor Casey McCall, a character loosely-based on former ESPN anchor, and former late night talk show host, Craig Kilborn. His co-anchor is Dan Rydell, played ably by Josh Charles (of Dead Poets Society fame). He's so good that you wonder where he's been all these years. Dan is my favourite character on the show. Sorkin favourite Joshua Malina (who also appeared in Sorkin's The American President, A Few Good Men and The West Wing) plays tech-geek Jeremy Goodwin, stealing many scenes and making me wish he did more on The West Wing. Desperate Housewives star Felcity Huffman plays show producer Dana Whitaker, Sabrina Lloyd (who I guess was on Sliders) is her assistant Natalie Hurley, and Benson himself, Robert Guillaume added the star power to the series as the boss, Isaac Jaffe (Guillaume had a stroke during the series, which in turn gave a stroke to his character).

It's sad that such a funny, intelligent and entertaining show couldn't last more than two seasons, but it's ultimately for the best. Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme (who was executive producer and directed many episodes) would go on to create The West Wing, which was a better showcase of his talent and quite possibly the finest drama the medium has ever produced. Plus, had there been a third season, Buena Vista probably wouldn't have released the whole series in one set, choosing instead to release season one, then never release another season again! Sorry, I'm just bitter because that's what they did with Once and Again. I'm just happy to finally own these two seasons so I can re-live them to my heart's content.

I leave with one of the final quotes from the show, a quote I'm sure Mr. Sorkin directed at his own network's executives: "If you can't make money off of Sports Night, you should get out of the money-making business".

5/5
Comments 
13th-Jan-2005 08:55 am (UTC)
I'm hating that half-assed laugh track so much.
13th-Jan-2005 09:02 am (UTC) - Hang in there
It goes away soon. Like me, to bed, now.
14th-Jan-2005 02:28 am (UTC) - To be fair...
To be fair to ABC, they said they were going to keep Sports Night, but then Aaron Sorkin quit to spend more time on The West Wing. I don't blame them for canning it after that.
17th-Jan-2005 12:02 am (UTC) - This show was great
I always loved this show, it was quite funny and had some sports too. and Felicity Huffman isnt bad to look at either..
17th-Jan-2005 12:05 am (UTC) - Re: This show was great
indeed.
7th-Feb-2005 12:53 pm (UTC)
i watched every episode of SN from day one. and while i'm not a major sports fan (though i do like sports, just not sports shows), i saw promos for a show that had Josh Charles and i knew i had a show for Tuesday nights at 9:30. i was very impressed on first viewing. the cast meshed so well, felt like a family that had been together for years and seemed so natural in their interactions. the humor wasn't ordinary idiotic humor that was used in every other comedy. it was smart and not very obvious for the most part (once the laugh track stopped telling us when we were supposed to laugh), it was my kind of show, so i knew i'd be watching again.

and then something happened that had never happened before. i became emotionally connected to the characters (mainly Danny) during the second episode - usually it takes at least 5 or 6 before i really connect with anyone on a show. i was in tears by the end of The Apology. i just sat there in front of the tv crying over Dan and his gut wrenching pain and guilt. here this was classed as a comedy and my heart is breaking during the second episode because a character, i just met the week before, is telling me about the death of his brother, who i didn't even know existed. they had me dead to rights and i watched every minute they were on the air.

i went through withdrawal during the summer hiatus and the weeks without episodes during the season. i got pissed at ABC for playing such stupid games with it (even wrote a nasty little limerick about them). i petitioned when cancellation was threatened and made great friends over the heartache of losing it. i even bought taped copies off someone because the thought of never seeing Danny and Casey, Jeremy and Natalie, Isaac and Dana and all the rest ever again was just unthinkable. i watched those taped constantly for months and never got bored with them. and unlike many of my friends, i was happy with the end because in my head i could pretend that they were all still together making the show.

when the dvds came out, my best friend bought them and the very next week i drove all the way from NY to IN and the two of us sat up and watched the entire series in 2 days. it was one of the best weekends of my life - that sounds sad, but it's true.

never before and i fear never again will there be a show like Sports Night. how sad for us that that's probably true.

~~~~

and because i feel like sharing even more, here's my favorite quote (which i use quite often): "What're you nuts? Are you just some... nutty, nut-girl who's nuts?"
7th-Feb-2005 05:45 pm (UTC)
You're so right. Dan's apology was the best moment of the series. I'd actually never seen the second episode until finally getting a good copy of the DVDs, and it floored me. Up until that moment, I'm not sure if my wife was sold on watching the show (the laugh track was pretty bad). Casey's moment with his son got her, but she was absolutely BAWLING after Dan's apology. The rest of the episodes whizzed by.
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