Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sports Night Rewind: "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" & "The Sword of Orion"

As mentioned on Monday, when Linda Holmes kindly filled in again on a "Sports Night" review, we're doing four episodes this week (two by her, two by me) in an attempt to get this season done with before the fall season begins. And at the end of this review, I'll have an explanation of how/if we're going to pull that off.

Thoughts on "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" and "The Sword of Orion" coming up just as soon as I build myself a wall of pain...
"This is where I like to be. This is what I want to do. This is what I care about." -Dana

"So the great pink star in the sword of Orion turns out to be... something far more complicated and interesting." -Jeremy
Just my luck: with the way the schedule has worked out and how Linda has generously pitched in (more on that below), she gets two of the season's high points in "Sally" and "Eli's Coming," and I get the two uneven episodes in between.

"Glocca Morra" (which is, oddly, not the episode of the series that actually references the song of the same name) is definitely the stronger of the two, as it deals with what we know - and, more importantly, what Dana doesn't know - from "Sally." Casey knows, Gordon knows, and Dan eventually finds out, but Dana is tragically ignorant of what's going on between the two most important men in her life. She has no idea Gordon cheated on her with Sally - and Casey doesn't want to tell her, for reasons so eloquently stated by Linda earlier in the week, and so she spends the entire episode feeling guilty over how she's treating a boyfriend who doesn't remotely deserve her.

There's a lot of good material for all four key actors(*), and particularly for Felicity Huffman and Josh Charles. Dan definitely plays second fiddle to Casey a lot in this first season, but the character really starts coming into his own in these later episodes, between the relationship with Rebecca (more on that below) and here with his complicated reaction to Casey's secret. Dan would never, under any circumstances, keep this secret from Dana if his and Casey's roles were reversed - but then, he wouldn't have slept with Sally in the first place, and either way, it's not his secret to tell. So he's mad at Casey for what he did and what he won't say, and he's mad at Gordon, and he's mad at himself for valuing his friendship with Casey over his friendship with Dana, and the best he can do is to vent to Rebecca, who has no idea what he's talking about but likes him enough at this point not to care.

(*) That includes Ted McGinley as Gordon. McGinley's an easy target due to the Jump the Shark thing, but he fits in really well here. And, to be fair, both "Happy Days" and "Married... With Children" ran for a long time after he showed up.

Where "Glocca Morra" bugs me, though, is in the return of the voiceover narration device from "Dear Louise." It worked much better there, where it was tying together a bunch of small and unrelated stories, and where it was telling us things about the characters we still didn't know at that early stage of the series. Here, we know the characters, know the relationships, and know how they're going to react to situations, and so Jeremy spends a lot of time underlining emotions that the audience should be able to recognize by now. (The whole thing, frankly, feels like it was the result of a note from ABC: "Hey, do that thing you did in that other episode that testing said made the show more accessible.")

Jeremy's also involved in some unsubtle storytelling in "Sword of Orion," where you don't need to have ever seen the show before to understand, well before Jeremy tells Natalie about his dad, that the wreck of the ship is supposed to be a metaphor for the wreck of his parents' marriage. In general, subtlety isn't Sorkin's thing (sneaky moments like "You're wearing my shirt, Gordon" excepted), but usually he hits you over the head with so much flair that you don't mind the headache. Not so much here.

On the plus side, I find I'm feeling much more warmly about Dan and Rebecca's storyline than I did a decade ago. Maybe it was the haircut, or my memories of the final season of "Northern Exposure," but I wasn't much of a Teri Polo fan back then, and that may have colored how I felt about her presence on this show. But she and Josh Charles have obvious chemistry, and it's fun to watch him draw her out of her shell, little by little, and particularly fun to see Dan irritate the hell out of her with the Orlando Rojas obsession. As people talked about when Linda reviewed "Rebecca," Dan's stalking of Rebecca was far more effective than the similar Danny/Jordan storyline from "Studio 60" because here it's played entirely (and successfully) for laughs. "Alright, everybody, please stop being friendly to Dan!" is a really funny, disarming moment.

Danny's Rojas fixation and Jeremy's thoughts on Alberto Fedrigatti in "Glocca Morra" are also examples of Sorkin's love of stories about nobility in defeat. Nobody thinks Fedrigatti is going to beat Sampras (or that he's going to advance any further if, by some fluke, he does win), and even Dan admits that he's just rooting for Rojas to get cut later than people expect him to. But it's that kind of focus on the emotional minutiae of athletics - those stories that no one but a devout sports romantic would know or care about - that make it feel like "Sports Night" really is about sports, even when it isn't. Sorkin may not always get the practical details right (see the baseball trade deadline story from "Small Town," which was set in February), but when Dan goes to all that trouble to experience Orlando Rojas' exhibition innings with Rebecca, or when Jeremy recognizes the look in Fedrigatti's eyes, I believe that reporting on sports is where these characters like to be, what they want to do, and what they care about.

Coming up next: "Eli's Coming" and "Ordnance Tactics," in which the real world intrudes on the show Sorkin and company are making. And, as alluded to above, that'll be brought to you once again by Linda, theoretically sometime next week. (I'm taking several days off next week, but not every day, so I'll post it whenever I'm in office.)

So that leaves three episodes, including the first Sorkin season finale to be titled "What Kind of a Day Has It Been?" As I mentioned in the "Sally" review, not only am I on vacation part of next week, but for all of the following week, and I'm going to return to work with a mountain of new shows to watch and write about. My hope is that I can sneak away some time for the last three "Sports Night"s of season one and dash off a triple-header review sometime before September 21, which is the official start of the TV season. Can't promise an exact date - and there remains a chance that the post-vacation workload's just gonna be too much - but like the man says, stick around.

What did everybody else think?


Rick said...

Interesting that you weren't a fan of Polo- this was the first thing I saw her in, and I followed her for a good chunk of time afterward based on this.
Really, I'm not sure why I stopped. I wonder what she's up to now... Oh. Another Ben Stiller sequel. That's why.

Rick said...

...And apparently tax evasion. Weird that her name would be in the news this morning.

Mike C said...

The end sequence of "Sword of Orion" is probably my favorite minute of Sports Night. The sheer joy on Dan's face as they walk out, with that music playing (I forget the song offhand), always makes me happy too. And I like the little touch when they walk by the editing room and we see Jeremy, Natalie and Casey talking things over.

Craig Barker said...

A very solid review, and certainly points out some of the flaws which I gloss over when I watch "The Sword of Orion", but I must agree with Mike, the entire episode is made by that last minute. Starting with when Rebecca comes in and leads with the tangerine peel thing and it ends with the walk out montage. While it may be another Sorkin trope, he does it so well (he pretty much perfected it in "Two Cathedrals"), but "Sloop John B" is such a perfect choice to close out this episode.

Sam Sevr said...

Holy Warp Speed Batman! We started at 1 episode per week and now it's 4 - I can barely keep up! Let me add a belated and forward looking thanx to Linda for her reviews.

Couple of thoughts on Glocca Morra: didn't the real world intrude on THIS episode? So maybe in scrambling to deal with that they went back to the voiceover. I agree that it worked better in Dear Louise, but it doesn't bother me here. Also, like Rick, this was the first thing I saw Teri Polo in and I also liked her, liked the chemistry she has with Josh Charles and the rest of the cast. But looking back now at her hair I'm like, you're kidding right?

As for Orion, to pile on the Trading Deadline/Spring Training gaffe from Small Town, in Dan's quest to watch a spring training game he tries to avoid any American League scores. Spring Training isn't split into AL / NL. It's Grapefruit (Fla.) and Cactus (Ariz.). Yeah I know the show's not really about sports but when they do venture to the sports world things like that stand out more.

That said, there are a lot of nice small touches. A nice callout to Isaac - "We don't sit in Isaac's chair when Isaac's not here." When Casey endorses Jeremy's feature on the Sword of Orion, it seems more of a recognition that Jeremy has some stuff to work thru and this will help. Rebecca's "I'm just gonna lay down on the floor and cry", which I'm sure is a reaction some people have to Sorkin's style of repititve banter. And the tangerine peel and the closing walkout are great too.

OK, I'm off to frighten the people in graphics...

Linda said...

I agree that the last minute of "Sword Of Orion" is nice, but that metaphor is SO heavy-handed that it's hard to enjoy the entire episode. I just feel like it could have been written a little softer. I really like the fact that Casey is the one who seems to be most aware of Jeremy's feelings, partly because Dan is so distracted. But still, it is kind of a hit-you-over-the-head thing.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Couple of thoughts on Glocca Morra: didn't the real world intrude on THIS episode?

Yes, of course you're right. It's been so long that I had forgotten that they produced a couple of already-planned (but no doubt tweaked) episodes before writing the Guillaume situation into the show. But "Eli's Coming" is where the series will actually address it.

Mike C said...

In another Sorkin series parallel, the obvious metaphor with Jeremy's father's infidelity is done in a similar fashion on The West Wing with Sam. I think it was "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going To Jail." I think it was handled a little better on The Wing.

A Nonny Mouse said...

The plot that revolves around the lyrics to "...Glocca Morra" was originally in this episode (I seem to remember finding the draft script online once). It got shelved for the obvious reason of Guillaume's problems. I don't know why they didn't change the title too - maybe it was past some deadline or other.

Given that the Glocca Morra plotline is about Isaac worried he's losing his memory, I always found it a little creepy that it was planned for now.

A Nonny Mouse said...

Found that script on the wayback machine:

BF said...

The Sword of Orion always bugged me because of the "Previously On" that never was actually Previously On.

rosengje said...

Is there some order jumbling with these episodes? I remember being confused when re-watching the episodes about how much the audience was supposed to know about the situation with Jeremy's parents.

Very excited about the pending "Eli's Coming" review. Coupled with "Sally" and "What Kind of Day Has It Been" probably one of my favorite episodes of the first season.

rhamilton said...

BF, me too. I never caught the show until the first DVD release, and was convinced by this and that releases other flaws that I must be missing an episode or something. What a strange thing to do.

Hannah Lee said...

The Sword of Orion always bugged me because of the "Previously On" that never was actually Previously On.

Yeah, I kept thinking I had missed a scene. Plus the "previously on" clips kind of come an go on Sports Night; most episodes didn't have them.

Alan, about your new header: are they people who can turn the world on with their smiles, even if some of them are secretly Canadian spies?

Or the "sane" characters who all held their crazy families / workplace families together? (Sports Night didn't really have one of those, since everyone was a little crazy in different ways.)

Drew Johnson said...


The Sword of Orion is my favorite episode of Sports Night, a show of which I have always been quite fond. I think that you have impressively articulated every reason why in this post. Thanks, Al!

rosengje said...

Also: the whole theme of the nobility of the underdog ties in nicely with the season finale when Jeremy is obsessed with the idea of a ninth-inning rally. Just like Dan's need to be liked, that showed some nice character continuity.

graciela said...

"Sword of Orion" comes down to these two moments for me.

Dan: There's really nothing like seeing a guy realize he's not done yet. Usually it goes the other way. Watch the game with me.

No more cute-as-a-button stuff; this is real and he's down to his last out with her.


Rebecca: Take the tape.

filmcricket said...

As annoyed as I was by Dana's dumping the show, Felicity Huffman played the hell out of Dana's dilemma. Really strong work from her and Krause. And great screen cap for this post, Alan - that walk to "Sloop John B" is one of my favourite scenes in the series.

New blog banner: straight men (and women) who get laughs?

Pamela Jaye said...

I thought that looked like Teri Polo.
I first saw her as a young scrub nurse accusing (EG Marshall?) of sexual harassment on Chicago Hope.
Nope - Northern Exposure. last season. the one I pretty much didn't bother to watch.

She's everywhere but can never seem to hold onto a show (though I'm sorry I missed that one where she played an actress)

Susan said...

BF, thank you for this! "The Sword of Orion always bugged me because of the "Previously On" that never was actually Previously On."

I'm rewatching the series on DVD, and when I watched "Sword of Orion," recently I thought, "Did I miss an episode? I don't remember this."

I find Sword of Orion's boat-Jeremy storyline to be extremely heavy-handed with the analogy/metaphor (and I do think it was done better on The West Wing, although the repetition of a character whose father had a 26-year affair is also pretty annoying), but I thought Joshua Malina acted it beautifully. I'm also a big fan of "Take the tape, Dan."

Mike said...

Are Season 2 spoilers OK? If so, I'll add that the "lost at sea" analogy was even implausible than Natalie's post-breakup "I won't give up the things that are mine" unwillingness to give a videotape of a crime scene to the cops. Beautifully acted in both cases, of course.

Eyeball Wit said...

In another Sorkin series parallel, the obvious metaphor with Jeremy's father's infidelity is done in a similar fashion on The West Wing with Sam. I think it was "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going To Jail." I think it was handled a little better on The Wing.

Just a flier here, but can someone explain to me the relevance of the title of that West Wing episode.
The ep starts uncharacteristically with that bombastic and kinda bad Don Henley song and the title which echoes it.

But as I recall, No one goes to emergency and no one goes to jail.

Is there something beyond "it's a metaphor" that I'm missing?