Monday, September 07, 2009

Sports Night rewind: "Ten Wickets," "Napoleon's Battle Plan" & "What Kind of Day Has It Been?"

Well, somehow (mostly with a lot of help from Linda Holmes), we've managed to squeeze all 22 episodes of "Sports Night" season one into a summer's worth of reviews. Thoughts on the final three episodes coming up just as soon as I traumatize a nanny...
"This show needs a ninth inning rally." -Jeremy
Because I want to get this post done before my life gets insanely busy with fall premieres, Emmys, etc., this may be shorter than a three-episode review might deserve. But I'm okay with it, not only because I think we've all discovered in these reviews that "Sports Night" is a show best not over-analyzed, but because these are less three individual episodes than an multi-episode story arc that closed out that first season. The design isn't perfect - it's unintentionally amusing to watch the end of "Ten Wickets" (where Casey dramatically says he has to come up with a plan) immediately before the start of "Napoleon's Battle Plan" (where Dan is needling Casey for failing to come up with a plan) - but it's more or less one big story here.

Unsurprisingly, the focus is on the Dana/Casey/Sally/Gordon quadrangle(*). Somewhat surprisingly, I didn't object too much, despite my general antipathy towards this storyline. In fact, now that we're at the end of these season one reviews, and with me unlikely to revisit season two(**), I should admit that much (but not all) of my dislike for the Dana/Casey pairing came from what was done with them in season two. One of the unavoidable failings of this project is that I only had time to watch these episodes at roughly the rate I was writing about them, so some of my feelings were colored by 10-year-old memories rather than what was actually going to be in the episodes I hadn't gotten to re-watch yet.

(*) In one of my "Lost" reviews this year, I asked if there had ever been a genuinely interesting love quadrangle presented on series television. As several readers have pointed out throughout this series of reviews, "Sports Night" season one came awfully close.

(**) Why won't I be doing season two? Several reasons: 1)I only have time to do this sort of thing in the summer, when the pace of original programming is relatively slow (and, frankly, wasn't that slow this summer); 2)I learned this summer that trying to do three simultaneous rewinds (this, "Band of Brothers" and "The Wire" season 2) was at least one, if not two, too many in terms of maintaining my own sanity and schedule; 3)"The Wire" season 3 has one spot locked up for next summer, and if I do a second show, I'd like it to be something different to keep things fresh; and 4)While season two certainly had its good points, it was much more uneven than season one, and given the first two points, I don't want to spend too much time writing (nor do you want to spend too much time reading) reviews of a show where I'm more unhappy than not with the episodes.

With some exceptions (like virtually all of "Intellectual Property"), Peter Krause and Felicity Huffman were given some very good material in this season's part of the arc, either together (the flirting in "Smoky," Dana yelling at Casey in "Napoleon's Battle Plan"), or separately (Casey telling Gordon about his shirt in "Sally," or the brutal walk-and-non-talk that Dana leads Gordon on after he breaks off their engagement in the finale). When Casey tells Dana that she's funny at the end of the finale, not understanding why she's so happy to hear it, it's a terrific moment that feels earned for all we've seen the two go through over these 23 episodes. Whatever silliness comes later - and even whatever silliness may have happened earlier - doesn't matter in that moment, because the accumulated power of the storyline (and the sheer candlepower of Felicity Huffman's smile) renders the bad stuff temporarily meaningless.

Yet my favorite moment of those three episodes - and one I was kind of shocked to realize still choked me up, even though I knew it was coming - comes right before Casey's compliment, as Isaac makes a dramatic return to the show, and brings Robert Guillaume along with him.

Guillaume's stroke gave Aaron Sorkin no choice but to write Isaac out of the series temporarily and hope for the best. The intrusion of the real world onto one of his fictional worlds would cause Sorkin problems other times ("Isaac & Ishmael," anyone?), but here the circumstances worked out as well as anyone could have hoped, both in terms of Guillaume's health (he's still acting at least part-time today) and the way it played out on the show. What makes that entrance - with Isaac heard before he's seen as he bellows, "Hey, lady! Are you thinking about getting my show on the air anytime soon?" - so affecting, even 10 years after the fact, is that synthesis of the two. By now, we like and respect Isaac enough - and also understand how important his presence is to the other characters we've grown to like and respect - that we're glad to see him back, but it's also such a damn relief to see Guillaume on his feet (albeit with a cane), to hear him talk without the kind of dramatic speech issues that often accompany a stroke, and to realize that he's still funny.

Off-camera, this was a very trying debut season. Aaron Sorkin was still figuring out how (logistically and stylistically) to write for television. ABC had no idea what to do with the show, most notably with the studio audience/laugh track awkwardness. The ratings weren't great. Then Guillaume had a stroke.

But in the end, Sorkin, Tommy Schlamme and company pulled off their own ninth-inning rally. The first year came to a strong creative finish, Guillaume was able to come back to work, and there was a second season (though, again, it was much more uneven).

I remember being at ABC's upfront presentation in the spring of 1998. The "Sports Night" clip reel played to uncomfortable silence. Afterwards, I suggested to a couple of veteran critics that perhaps this was the type of show that didn't cut down well; they rolled their eyes and predicted this would be the first show canceled in the fall.

Never count out a team too early, fellas. You never know when a rally's coming.

Some other thoughts:

• While we're sort of on the subject of cricket (from "Ten Wickets"), I feel I should put in a plug for "Lagaan," which is a four-hour-plus Bollywood musical about the sport. I have watched this film at least three times, despite the fact that it is four hours, (mostly) in a language I don't speak, a musical (also in a foreign language) and about a sport I knew even less about than Jeremy and company when I went in (though I feel I have a vague command of it now, even if I couldn't tell you why throwing ten wickets is so impressive). So that either speaks to the movie's quality, or to my own pathological obsession with underdog sports movies.

• Beating up on what he perceives to be the hypocrisy of evangelical leaders for not condemning the actions of their most extreme followers is a favorite pasttime of Sorkin's. Casey rants at length about Jerry Falwell in "Ten Wickets," the "West Wing" pilot will climax with President Bartlet ripping into a fundamentalist leader under similar circumstances, and if "Studio 60" dealt with any subjects other than the tension between the liberal media and the Christian right, I've forgotten them.

• And speaking of recurring Sorkin devices, all three of his series to date ended their first season with an episode titled "What Kind of Day Has It Been?" I'll take "The West Wing" one over this, but Isaac's entrance makes it awfully close.

• Is there a more pointless and/or less funny running gag in this season than Jeremy's constant attempts to get people interested in his reasons for not donating blood? Maybe a payoff got cut for time, but as presented... why?

• It feels appropriate that the finale would feature a storyline involving Casey's son, who (while off-camera) was such an important part of the series pilot.

Well, that's it for me on this summer's round of DVD rewinds. Time to get back to screeners of fall premieres.

What did everybody else think?


kwig said...

10 wickets is a very big deal. Anil Kumble, the Indian legspinner took the titular ten against Pakistan, only the second time it was achieved in over 120 years of international test cricket, Jim Laker being the 1st to do it in the 50's for England against Australia.

It's impressive because wickets (outs in baseball terms) are a lot harder to get in cricket than in baseball, the game is skewed towards the batsman (wide flat bat and so on). Bowlers alternate too, only getting six bowls (an 'over', you can't bowl 2 in a row) before another bowler takes over at the other end of the pitch for his six and then back to their end for another six and so on. A test match innings taking usually at least the better part of a day's play (6 hours) or more (usually no more than 2.5 day's play) means a team will almost always use at least 4 bowlers in an innings. This means that it is very unlikely that if the bowling side manages to take all ten wickets that it would be the one guy who did it.

It is no surprise that the 2 guys that did do it were 2 of the best spin bowlers of all time. Spin bowling being much less physically taxing than fast bowling also means they can bowl a lot more overs giving themselves a greater chance to take ten in an innings. There are usually 3 fast bowlers in a team for each spin bowler, and even correcting for that, really good fast bowlers still outnumber really good spin bowlers.

(Which is not to say fast bowlers haven't gotten close, one of the greats from New Zealand once took 9 in a test match, only to take the catch that dismissed the tenth himself, giving the final wicket to another bowler)

Rinaldo said...

It's so true about Isaac's/R.G.'s return; chokes me up every time despite knowing it's coming. And I have to conclude that it's in the writing and acting (and directing), not just the real-world background. Because a friend recently watched and enjoyed the series on DVD and singled out this scene, and was surprised when I told him of the actual stroke behind the scenes; it worked just as well for him without that.

It's funny about the second season; I tend to vaguely think of it as about on a par with the first, and even a bit preferable because of the absence of laugh track. But when I start to add up my incidental irritants from it, there are more than I remembered: the Dating Plan of course (goes without saying); the suddenly-they're-incompatible-because-we-need-to-find-new-stories Jeremy/Natalie breakup and its aftermath ("choreo-animator"); some (not all) of the W.H. Macy business; it does add up.

bill said...

kwig, while I truly appreciate the effort and your enthusiasm, I still have no idea what 10 wickets means. Perhaps a flowchart would help.

Do 10 wickets end an inning? Is it fewer than 4 bowlers or quicker than 2.5 days? I'd almost think it was 10 wickets in 10 "pitches," but your paragraph about bowlers and stamina points to 10 wickets still being a long-term event.

kwig said...


10 wickets do end an innings. An innings can take 5 days technically, but then no one would win the game, so an innings is usually voluntarily ended if 10 wickets haven't been taken by the third day. The ten wickets Kumble took, he bowled 26.3 overs, or 159 balls (or 'pitches' in baseball terms) out of 363 bowled by his team in that innings, over a period of about 4 hours.

here's the scorecard if it interests you or you can make heads or tails of it

Sorry for not being concise enough, I know you have to start at basics when discussing the rules with neophytes. I understand the rules of all the major world sports enough to know what's what, so I don't always know the best way to explain things, especially cricket to Americans, as baseball makes as many things harder as easier to explain ie; a pitch in cricket(occasionally called the wicket) is the rectangle of compressed turf between the stumps (also occasionally called wickets). Where the bowler lands the ball on the pitch is where it pitches.... nomenclature is a problem.

Also, Lagaan isn't a very realistic depiction of the game, surprisingly, Indians should know better. Back on topic though, Sorkin was spot on with his cricket story here, it was a real story and a big individual effort, up there with DiMaggio's streak, to once again put it in baseball terms.

max_h said...

Thanks kwig for that great post! I'm a cricket fan myself. I'll try to explain a bit more for bill. In a cricket Test match, each team gets to bat twice (two innings). An innings end when the batting team (Team A) loses ten wickets, i.e. when the bowling (pitching) team (Team B) gets 10 players of the batting team out. Team B now bats and their innings end when Team A gets 10 wickets (outs). This is repeated one more time for the teams' respective second innings and the aggregate runs scored in the two innings for each team are tallied. The team scoring more runs wins.

An innings can sometimes last 2 or more days, depending on the state of the pitch, performance of the batsmen (hitters) and performance of the bowlers (pitchers) and fielders. It's not uncommon for tens (or even above a hundred) runs to be scored before even a wicket is taken. If a captain thinks his side has scored enough runs for a comfortable cushion, he can declare his side's innings closed and try to bowl the other side out (try to take 10 wickets). This is because a Test match has a 5 day limit and you have to take all 20 wickets (10 wickets x 2 innings) of the opposing side for a result. Otherwise, the match is declared a draw.

Regarding why taking 10 wickets in one innings is such a big deal. Imagine in baseball that, instead of each team having 9 innings of 3 outs each, that each team now has only one innings of 27 outs each. So if the Yankees are playing the Red Sox (sorry, Sox fan so this is familiar example for me). So the Red Sox has to get 27 Yankee outs before the Red Sox bats. So Francona rotates among Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester and Paul Byrd to get the 27 outs. Getting 10 wickets in a cricket innings would be equivalent to Josh Beckett somehow getting all 27 Yankee outs, despite having 3 other pitchers taking turns to pitch.

Hope this clears things up a little bit. Apologies if I actually make things more complicated, which I've been known to do :)

Faye Woods said...

Though i'm a Brit i'm not into cricket, but I do love Lagaan. I remember being transfixed by it one weekend afternoon at uni on my teeny portable TV.

I think that an actor's stroke in real life can make a performance very emotional for an audience. An actor in a British soap had a stroke last year and they gave his (beloved) character a stroke too, convalescing off screen. They gradually brought the character back in with an appearance every month or so (with a very powerful storyline surrounding his elderly wife's indecision over whether she could care for him, resulting in the first soap one-hander where she gave a monologue to a tape recording made for him to explain).

Every appearance brought me to tears as the actor has severe speech and movement issues, but is still obviously the man he was, and the character is still true. And now he's back full-time but still handicapped I still get a bit teary every time he appears

Brandy said...

I can't say I blame you for not wanting to do season two... there were some clunkers but I'll miss the William H. Macy episodes especially Cliff Gardner.

But for me I don't think there is a better moment in the series than Isaac coming back in. Sigh. Good stuff there.

Mel T said...

I think my favourite lines in the entire first season come from when Dana calls Gordon on his B.S. I just love the sentence.

"it's a sad excuse to get out of marrying me which you didn't want to do in the third place and the only reason that you proposed in the second place is out of guilt for having slept with Sally in the first place."

pgillan said...

It's not just evangelicals; there was a another West Wing episode (season 2, "The Drop In") all about chastising the environmentalists for not condemning the actions of its radical fringe. Sorkin does like his themes...

paul said...

I always thought the bomb scare plot line to be utterly stupid. That sort of overreaction by Casey just made no sense. It's a freaking bomb scare, and no bomb was found. I lived trough many growing up. Slackers wanting a day off from school or work or just thinking the reaction would be funny. Or nut cases. Keep in mind this is all pre 9/11, and bomb threats were very popular in the pre-caller ID years.

Also, the anti-evangelical theme made even less sense in the context of a sports show than in Studio 60.

Anonymous said...

2 things about the finale:

* The best part of it, and a genius of Sorkin's writing, is Isaacs line of "let me take a look at you - you boys look good". Such a wonderful beat that only a brilliant writer like Sorkin would put in there. The very akwardness of it was so realistic - people would say something like that. I loved that.

* Casey's line to his son of "all you have to do to make me happy is come home at the end of the day" is word for word the same line Jed Bartlet says to his daughter in the season 2 episode "Ellie".


Anonymous said...

Oh, and if we aren't going to ever review it, can I plug my favorite scene in season 2?


The episode where Dan completely falls apart when he can't say Yevgeny Kafelnikof, he goes to see Abby the therapist. The last scene in that episode is Dan coming to the bar and Casey comes up to him, and Sorkin writes this brilliant dialogue:

Dan: Hey do you think it would be ok if I just sat down and just...sat down for a while?
Casey: Of course its ok. What's going on?
Dan: And there may be periods of time in the conversation where I don't say anything funny. There may be long periods where I don't say anything -
Casey: Danny.
Dan: I'm fine.
Casey: I know. [pause] I'm right here.
Dan: I know.
Casey: Ok? Let's eat.

Loved that friendship.


A Nonny Mouse said...

"Casey: I know. [pause] I'm right here."

Love that moment too. And it reminds me of probably (*) the only Sports Night moment I find more moving than Issac's reappearance in the season finale: when Casey tells Dan about Isaac's stroke, and Dan has to keep presenting the show, but Casey stays just off-camera as if he realises that Dan needs him to be physically nearby at that point.

(*) The only other moment that runs it close is between Dana and her brother: ".. do you have any idea the kind of... You look tired" "I'm not done being your big sister yet. And it seems to me that these are the moments that big sisters get paid for".

I'm the eldest of 4. It hits home.

Brandy said...

Yeah, it's a nice moment with Dana and her brother. Sigh. Season two has some good moments... plus wine and spackle. :).

Anna said...

OK, Lagaan is not four-plus hours. It is three and a half. Why does everyone always exaggerate its length? It doesn't need exaggerating. Unless people really feel like it lasts over four hours, but I definitely don't feel that way. It is my favorite Bollywood movie, except perhaps for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, a modern version of Romeo & Juliet from 1988, also starring my love Aamir Khan.

BUT ANYWAY. ABOUT SPORTS NIGHT. i actually don't have much to say about these episodes.

"Ten Wickets" really telegraphed Dan getting his heart ripped out. I can't decide if that was actually a good decision or not, because it might have made it more painful when it happened, but it also made it really obvious that it was going to happen.

And I absolutely agree with you about Isaac/Robert Guillaume's return in "What Kind of Day Has It Been?" That kind of made my heart leap. This has been my first time watching the second half of the season, and I was not expecting that.

The Chancellor said...

Thanks for doing this. This wasn't a show I regularly watched when it aired, but I Netflix'd it this summer and watched along with your and Ms. Holmes reveiws.

As a self-diagnosed West Wing addict, I had a different perspective, having seen each episode of WW many times before seeing SN. For me, it was sort of like watching highlights of Derek Jeter from AAA after having watched his career with the Yankees.

So many of the great things that Sorkin would go on to do in WW were there in SN, but with plenty of uneven moments and (obviously) a more sitcom-my vibe.

All and all, an enjoyable show, and enjoyable reviews from both of you to pass the summer. Who knew it'd end with a Mad Men about Jai Alia and a Sports Night about Cricket?

Drew Johnson said...

I just want to express that I have enjoyed your summer rewinds, Alan. I especially like that you chose Sports Night, a show that I rather enjoyed but which is arguably the least successful one to have had the summer rewind treatment bestowed upon it. Season One did, in my opinion, finish strong.

J.J. said...

Season 2 definitely got weird with Casey/Dana.

I don't know what Sorkin's deal is with writing romantic pairings.

Maybe he lent too much weight to all the comments he must've gotten over "A Few Good Men." I mean any other screenwriter probably doesn't resist the temptation (or studio pressure) to make Tom Cruise and Demi Moore couple up in that movie... so perhaps he thinks it's the ballsy thing to not let his leads go there. So, once he danced around and made it seem like Dana and Casey were going to go there, he thought he had to abort, and the best he could come up with was that bizarre Season 2 storyline where Dana makes Casey date other women.

Honestly, though, one thing that strikes me when I watch season 2: it seems like Dana has completely changed. Granted, I'm a dude and so I'm not well versed on female fashions, but it seems like Dana went from looking totally professional in season 1 to incredibly casual in season 2. Maybe I'm imagining things. Or maybe it's supposed to be some unspoken character change where she's feeling more free or confident. Or maybe there was a hit show around that time where everybody was super casual or quirky around the office and ABC convinced them to loosen Dana up to try and appeal to different people. I don't know.

filmcricket said...

I'm sorry that you won't be doing Season 2, if only because I'd enjoy having you and the commnenters on the site point out things I've missed while being excessively irritated by a lot of the storylines. That, and William H. Macy rocks.

But thank you for doing Season 1, Alan (and thanks to Linda for pinch hitting). While I came to Sports Night after The West Wing and still think the latter is the superior show (at least if we're comparing the first two seasons) there's a lot to love about Sports Night, and Isaac's reappearance at the end of WKODHIB is unquestionably the best moment in the whole series. Any time you decide to revisit TWW (and kick the writerly ass of the poor guy doing the S1 recaps over at the AV Club), count me in.

filmcricket said...

Oh, and J.J., both Dana and Natalie definitely went to more casual clothes in Season 2. The change was probably more true to life - I work with TV professionals (gumdrop) and they are mostly fairly casual dressers - but it was a distraction, I agree. Plus, Felicity Huffman just looked better in the formal clothes (and shorter haircut).

Tina said...

Agree about the change in Dana's wardrobe being distracting. I have always assumed it came from network notes ("let's make her hotter") since she also wears noticeably more makeup in season two. But I've always preferred Dana's look in season one and I think there was a way to vary her clothes without making the change so extreme.

Mel T, I also love the "third place...first place" line very much. That whole scene is wonderfully written and played. I also like Dana's line that if someone in the room is allowed to be angry, it should be her.

Thanks for the rewind, Alan. I completely understand your decision to skip season two, although I'll always love Dan's "you've just been hanging out in the men's room." It almost -- almost, mind you -- makes up for what came before.

Alex Popa said...

there's no way season 2 was not at least as good as the first season. sure, it had the crazy dana, but it also had sam donovan. just about all the things that happen in the 2nd season work, and that includes things in the periphery of the crazy dana storyline, like pixlie.

the cutman cometh, anyone?

Hannah Lee said...

Everyone's already mentioned the wonderful moments in WKoDHIB. Couldn't agree more.

I have to mention one of my favorite moments in the previous episode: When Dana storms into the office after hearing the truth about Gordan Sally and Casey, interupting Dan and Casey's fight, she lets off a tirade at Casey. To which Dan responds "Which one of us are you talking to?" I love that he tries to diffuse the situation/take the bullet.

Thanks for doing this rewind, Alan (and Linda) It's been fun to revisit these episodes.

Sorry to hear you won't be revisiting season 2. It's that stupid dating plan, isn't it? That was funny, and ridiculous, for about 1 episode, and then just smacked of an artificial way to keep Dana and Casey apart. I did like the way it ended (and The Cutman Cometh in general) plus it gave us Dan's speech to Dana.

*** Season 2 Spoiler-ish comments follow ****

There were a lot of good things in the 2nd season.

Some little:
I’ve always liked the Dan/Casey bit in Shane where they’re both having a bad day (Casey’s put himself in a tough spot professionally, Dan’s having a complete mental collapse) and come across each other, share their current problems and then calmly say “So I guess we’re each on our own today”)

And Dan wheeling and dealing to get the night off to see Tom Waits: Casey: You’re mocking me and asking a favor at the same time?

And Dan talking to Isaac about missing the big moment in The Giants Win the Pennant "You were there for the birth of your daughter, right?"
And some big: such as Draft Day Pt 1 & 2, April is the Cruelest Month. Dan and Casey’s fallout was heartbreaking to me at the time, and I was relieved that it got resolved so quickly. I thought the scenes with Charles/Krause in those episodes were really well acted, and there were little touches (like Dan casually holding Casey back from drinking the seder wine) that underscored their relationship (Though I could never understand the jump from “video store visit” to “reconciliation” ...ah, well, that's what you get with Sorkin sometimes)

Linda said...

Aw, the part where they reconciled by talking about the video store always made perfect sense to me. When you have a fight, a lot of times, you don't talk about everything. You just...start talking about something normal, and then it's over. I find that especially true with guys. I think that's a very realistic conclusion to that estrangement.

Austin Gorton said...

Thanks for the rewatch Alan, and all the insights along the way.

I, for one, hope you decide to come back to season two next summer. It may not be up to season one's standards (personally, I'm not sure if I agree with that sentiment) but there's still plenty of good and I'd love to read your take on the good and the bad, and have a forum for discussing such.

Mike Schilling said...

And yet another bit of Sorkin sports ignorance -- In "Ten Wickets", Dan thinks that Barry Bonds plays right field.

Mike Schilling said...

History too.

Dan: Napoleon wad defeated at Waterloo and dies in exile on the isle of Elba.

Casey: Actually, he was murdered on Elba.

Well, no. Napoleon was exiled to Elba, then he came back, then he lost at Waterloo, then he was exiled to St. Helena, where he died (possibly murdered.)

Ellie said...

I always thought that Dana's wardrobe change in S2 was to hide FH's pregnancy.

Alan, many thanks to you and Linda for the SN rewind. How about TWW for next summer. Pretty please? *batting eyelashes*

Eyeball Wit said...

* Casey's line to his son of "all you have to do to make me happy is come home at the end of the day" is word for word the same line Jed Bartlet says to his daughter in the season 2 episode "Ellie".

And The babysitter is Nina Siemaszko, who plays Ellie Bartlet in that episode of the West Wing. (I think it's her first appearance...)

Just last night I watched Josh Malina in an iCarly episode in which he plays the head writer on a show that's blatantly ripping of Carly's webcast.

Thanks, Alan.

Mike Schilling said...

And The babysitter is Nina Siemaszko, who plays Ellie Bartlet in that episode of the West Wing.

Then in some future Sorkin show, she should play a woman who says "all you would have to do to to make me happy would be to come home at the end of the day" to a picture of her late father, played by Richard Jenkins.

graciela said...

Thank you for the journey back through the first season. I've enjoyed viewing the episodes again and reading your thoughts and the comments left by viewers. This brought back memories of all those passionate discussions that went on at various websites when the show was on the air.

I wish you'd reconsider the second season. For me, the relationship between Danny and Casey was always the heart of the show and the second season is so much about that. There are such strong currents running through both seasons -- and they are revealed in season two in several very powerful scenes.: Danny's words to Dana near the end of "The Giants Win the Pennant, The Giants Win the Pennant" tell us so much about Casey (and Danny, too); Casey's words to Danny at the end of "Shane"; that powerful argument in the editing room; Danny's meltdown on "Draft Day".

I also wonder about the video store -- Casey finally realizing how insufferably self-important he'd been and how much he stood to lose -- and then returning to at last do what Isaac had told him to do in "Thespis": You've got to learn to show people how you feel about them, Casey -- something Danny was, at the same moment, trying to do for his friends at the Seder. Their "You do it good" and " You do it good" in the hallway are perfect.

And, of course, there are Casey's words to Danny near the end of the series: You can do it without me. What an amazing thing to admit to Danny, but, most of all, to himself.

I treasure their Finland moment, too, in "La Forza del Destino".

I'd love to have your take on those moments -- it might even be worth revisiting the porn star nonsense and the dating plan -- well, maybe not the dating plan -- but, remember, without the dating plan you don't get that great conversation between Danny and Dana.

Thanks again, Alan -- and Linda, too. And everyone who contributed their comments.

Tina said...

I always thought that Dana's wardrobe change in S2 was to hide FH's pregnancy.

I think you can see the pregnancy at the end of the first season, but only if you look carefully; it's pretty artfully concealed. In season two she's much thinner, and there's the "biker chick" and other wardrobe choices that I found pretty unreal.

Unknown said...

As others have mentioned, Chuck "Cut Man" Kimmel almost single-handedly makes Season Two worth watching. Sure, there are other good moments throughout the season, but Cut Man's interaction with Dan and Casey is a brief tour de force of screwball dialogue. To this day, I still use several of those lines on a regular basis:

"This fighter's got tremendous skills!"

"There's a joke there, I just can't get the bat off my shoulder." (Jeremy's line, actually)

"One of these fighters is gonna win this bout tonight, and the other will almost surely NOT!"

Graeme said...

I think you're wise to not bother with Season Two. I found it tremendously depressing. I would have thought I would have loved it given that it got rid of the damn laughtrack and brought more of Sorkin's bravura with story structure to bear. But I actually found a lot of it melancholic, bordering on depressing:

{SPOILERS follow)

Dan's nosedive into therapy, the Natalie/Jeremy breakup (which was utterly pointless), the killing and
abandonment of the unrequited romance between Casey and Dana (which was the whole point of the first season)... if seasons one and two were Woody Allen movies, they moved from Annie Hall to Interiors.

The thing about Sports Night is it's got the bad as well as the good of Sorkin. There's really funny dialogue and moments and brilliant drama...but it also, particularly in the second season, lacks focus and is constantly changing its mind on what it wants to be and where it wants to go with
its characters. You can see a lot of The West Wing in it (hell, some
Sports Night episodes are essentially rough sketches of what would become great West Wing episodes) but you can see a lot of the making-it-up-as-it-goes-along madness of Studio 60 in it as well.

Anna Lawrence said...

I think we've all discovered in these reviews that "Sports Night" is a show best not over-analyzed. I cannot agree with that. Every episode is so rich with language and character and emotion that to give less than 100% commitment to a series discussion short-changes the show dismally. That being the case, given how much richer and more complex much of season two is than the relatively straightforward season one, you're probably wise to give it a miss. Thank you, however, for what you did write. I can at least hope that it brought this classic series to the notice of a new generation of viewers.

Isaac Lin said...

Regarding the second season, I felt like a lot of the twists were being thrown in there just for shock value (hi there, Danny meltdown), and so it felt rather disconcerting. All the same there are still wonderful moments: as much as I disliked a lot of the Sam Donovan story (just what did he do to bring up the ratings, other than monkey around with the order of the show? and the plot in his last episode really seemed to come out of nowhere), his passionate defence of the team to the network suits is marvellous. I hope we'll get to reminisce about season 2 one day!

Matthew said...

Thanks for doing the SN rewatch, as I'd never got around to watching it before, and I really enjoyed it.

I don't have a lot to add to this - everyone's pretty much covered it - except that as a cricket fan, it annoyed me that they had no idea what had happened. I get that they're a US-centric show, but there should have been someone on the staff vaguely familar with the basics of the game, which is a fairly major sport. At the very least they should have had some Cricket For Dummies book somewhere they could refer to. Ten wickets just means that one person got the entire team out. And the nature of the game means that never happens. It's not that difficult to understand. And "wickets" is basic cricket terminology. It's not a "googly" (a particular type of bowl) or "third man" (a specific fielding position). It's just the number of people out. This is a sports show, even if they didn't know off the top of their head what it meant, they shouldn't have had that much difficulty finding it out. So that bothered me.