Twice the spoilers coming up just as soon as I sing you a song from the public domain...
"If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. And if you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you." -IsaacAs I mentioned last week, the Dana/Casey romance was the part of the series I was least looking forward to revisiting, and neither of these episodes did much to change my mind on that score.
There are certain kinds of stories I'm congenitally predisposed to mistrust. One is Unresolved Sexual Tension, which only in rare cases is anything more than a desperate attempt to create some buzz while delaying the inevitable. Another is a story that has characters otherwise known for their intelligence acting like complete idiots. The Dana/Casey story arc is a combination of both of those, and I spend the majority of those scenes rolling my eyes, gritting my teeth and otherwise conveying my dismay. It's often been said of "Sports Night" -- including in some of the comments for previous reviews -- that it's hard to tell sometimes whether you're watching one of the best shows ever, or one of the worst. For me, Dana/Casey is pretty much non-stop "worst."
When I did the weekend post about disliking "Intellectual Property," a couple of readers wrote that, while they also weren't crazy about the relationship overall, the fight at the end of that episode is a very good scene, and one that does an important job of framing the relationship as something more than the traditional Will They Or Won't They? nonsense. Certainly, there are good moments in that scene (I like the way that Felicity Huffman's voice breaks as Dana asks Casey to knock it off already), and the idea that Casey has been playing this game with Dana for the last 15 years does theoretically add an edge to the relationship that you don't get in a comparable storyline from, say, "Ed." But that edge, even when it's there -- and my (admittedly shaky) memory is that it wasn't there often -- isn't enough to compensate for how often I want to slap the both of them and yell, "Quit acting like 14-year-olds! The writer says you're meant for each other, so get to it, already!"
"The Hungry and the Hunted" at least has the Jeremy storyline to compensate for the Dana/Casey idiocy. I don't know that it works 100% -- Jeremy's speech about hunting feels more out of left field than Dan's monologue in "The Apology," even though we'd been given more hints about Jeremy not fitting in than we had about Dan's brother -- but Isaac's speech, quoted above, is the kind of wish fulfillment Sorkin does so well. Where "Sports Night" and "West Wing" excelled -- and where "Studio 60" ultimately failed -- was in creating these fantasy workplaces that we all wish we could join. You don't have to care as much about the infield fly rule as Jeremy, or share Josh Lyman's views on the GAO, to admire not only the passion of these people, but their high standards for their own work, and their support for each other. I don't have the temperament to ever be a manager of people, but if I did, I would put Isaac's quote on a plaque above my desk, and check it whenever I was faltering on a decision about whom to hire (or what to have for lunch, for that matter).
Dan's subplot in "Intellectual Property," on the other hand, isn't really notable for anything other than a chance to hear Yeardley Smith (aka the voice of Lisa Simpson) speak Sorkin-ese. And it's not very good Sorkin-ese, at that -- the stuff about her predecessor in the job is among the more arch, awkward-sounding dialogue he wrote for the show. Like Casey's concern about being cool in "The Apology," the whole subplot feels like Sorkin trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to prove he can write more traditional comedy, but where the Starland Vocal Band had a beautiful payoff by tying it into Dan's storyline at the end, this one goes nowhere.
Ah, well. We get to the good stuff next week with "Mary Pat Shelby" (and, possibly, its sequel).
Some other thoughts on both episodes:
• The scene where the crew debated about poetry brought back painful memories of the "Studio 60" episode where the writers all argued about Samuel Taylor Coleridge trivia.
• Where "West Wing" more or less took place in a parallel universe with its own politicians, "Sports Night" was always a mix of fictional athletes and real-world ones, as Bobby Bowden and Pete Sampras both get name-checked in "The Hungry and the Hunted," and there's a season two episode built around the show's attempt to get a Michael Jordan interview. In retrospect, would you rather they have stuck entirely to inventing their own athletes, or did the show need to invoke real names from time to time to seem vaguely realistic?
• And speaking of realism, or the lack thereof, I go back and forth on the "Hungry and the Hunted" scene where Kim and the gang school Dan on the names of all the MLS teams. On the one hand, it's kind of funny. On the other, it sacrifices credibility -- even if Dan doesn't like soccer, you would think the show-within-the-show has done enough soccer highlights that he would remember some of the names.
• Nice use of The Pretenders' "Hymn to Her" as Jeremy calls his dad to tell him about getting The Call.
• We know "Sports Night" is a third-place show on a third-place network, but I'm still not clear whom they're behind. ESPN is one, obviously, but when I made a reference to Fox Sports as the second-place network a couple of weeks ago, some readers e-mailed me to say that, back in '98, Fox's cable operations were still too regionalized, and it would have been CNN/SI ahead of CSC. But when Isaac talks ratings in "Intellectual Property," he says they took ratings equally from ESPN and Fox.
• Getting back to the fake name thing, it's amusing to see which last names Sorkin liked to recycle from project to project. In "Intellectual Property," there's a reference to a soon-to-be-fired coach named Landingham -- which, of course, will be the name of President Bartlet's trusty executive secretary.
One final thing: I've had a few complaints from readers who are watching the show for the first time, and even trying to follow along at the pace of the reviews, so let's try to be reasonably vague about what happens in upcoming episodes. (The Michael Jordan thing I consider fair game, as it's a standalone premise, and really only a jumping-off point, at that.) We can allude to things, but let's not blatantly spell out that X is going to happen to Y in episode Z.
Keeping that in mind, what did everybody else think?