Heroes Week 2009: Studio Sorkin on the Sunset Strip
Ah, television. I love me some television. I watch a lot of TV on a weekly basis, but it’s arguable that I watch even more on DVD. When the decision was made to start releasing full television seasons on DVD, the prices were outrageous (remember those old X-Files sets that were about $120 per season? Yeah). The prices have come back down to earth, and I’ve built up quite the little collection of series. It’s been fun to have older series that I hadn’t seen in a while be released on DVD to allow for me to relive some of the glory days of my youth. A perfect example of this would be when the full series of Newsradio was recently released in its entirety. I loved getting to catch up on that series, but it is not the holy grail of my DVD collection. That would be a little show created by Aaron Sorkin called Sports Night.
I didn’t see all of Sports Night when it aired. I probably saw a good 70 to 80% of the episodes, but I missed some things here and there. It’s the best show I’ve ever seen. This unassuming little two season half hour show that was billed as a comedy but was more of a drama with comedic elements (hilarious comedic elements, mind you), and it was nothing like I had ever seen. Why would anyone care about the back stage politics of a struggling SportsCenter rip off? Because Aaron Sorkin made us care. Dan, Casey, Dana, Jeremy, Natalie, Isaac, these were all extremely compelling characters with compelling stories and real growth from show to show. These were not particularly happy or nice characters either. But they felt real. In many ways, especially during this period, Sorkin is the David Mamet of television. His characters feel real, and this is very important for a show like Sports Night that is so much more about the characters than the sports they cover.
The show had a lot of fantastic humor throughout, and some of my favorite witty exchanges I’ve ever seen on a show, but what really drew you back in was the drama. This selection of heroes week is technically about Sorkin, but it’s more about Sports Night than anything. I never really watched The West Wing, and while I thought Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was generally good (loved the pilot), it was not nearly as strong as his work on Sports Night. Considering that Sorkin was involved in the writing of the vast majority of the episodes, he’s getting the love as my hero of the television industry.
Top Five Sports Night Episodes:
5. “The Cut Man Cometh” (Season Two, Written by Alex Graves)
Simple. Effective. Hilarious. Find out what happens when Dan and Casey are covering a big-time prize fight that ends in about twelve seconds. The team has to cover the aftermath of the fight for nearly an hour, and have a completely inept color commentator (the aforementioned Cut Man) to make matters worse. Dana and Casey’s relationship comes to a head, but this episode is all about the comedy. It’s probably the funniest episode they ever did, and even though it might not be up to snuff in some other perspectives, the humor makes it sing.
4. “Quo Vadimus” (Season Two Finale, Written by Aaron Sorkin)
This is a very emotional episode for me to watch, not only because it’s the last ever episode of my favorite show of all time, but because of the way the show moves forward as it reaches its climax. This is Clark Gregg’s second episode as the mysterious man at the bar constantly bothering Dana (and I love me some Clark Gregg). Rebecca returns, and everything slowly unravels as Dan and Casey plan to break up their team and move to different coasts. The ending is bittersweet with a wonderful jab at ABC for canceling them. Great episode and a fitting end.
3. “The Sword of Orion” (Season One, Written by David Handelman, Mark McKinney, and Aaron Sorkin)
You know, I didn’t even know Mark McKinney (more famous for being one of the Kids in the Hall, actually wrote for this show until I looked it up. This episode is all about the way something in your personal life can affect the way you work, specifically pertaining to Jeremy’s relationship with his parents. He becomes absolutely obsessed with understanding what happened to The Sword of Orion, a yacht that disappeared ten years in the past, which is really just an analogy to his attempts to deal with the divorce of his parents. Joshua Malina is so incredibly good in this episode, that it has become one of my favorites.
2. “Draft Day Parts 1 & 2” (Season Two, Written by Matt Tarses, Aaron Sorkin, and Kevin Falls)
Oh, Draft Day. The day that Dan and Jeremy completely fall apart (though it’s not the first time Dan falls apart, technically). Both Dan and Jeremy are heavily perturbed about having to cover the second round of the NFL draft, causing Dan to rebel and humiliate Casey live on the air, and Jeremy to scramble to attempt to save his new relationship. It’s heavily dramatic; there isn’t much comedy in each episode, and it’s all about watching this stiflingly uncomfortable drama unfold. Shows like this (and my number one choice) are great examples of why this show was so incredibly different than any other half hour show on television at the time.
1. “Eli’s Coming” (Season One, Written by Aaron Sorkin)
Remember when I said that Draft Day was not the first example of Dan completely falling apart? Well, this is the first example. His relationship with Rebecca falls apart. He’s constantly beset upon by a fill-in anchor who is convinced he slept with her (who is played by Lisa Eddelstein, better known as Dr. Cuddy on House these days). Things are going crazy all over. What’s so great about this episode is the way that Dan rises above the problems (he agrees to support Rebecca’s choice to go into couples counseling with her separated husband, and apologizes to Bobbi when he discovers she was right), but ends up getting blindsided by the revelation that Isaac had a stroke. He talks about the Three Dog Night song “Eli’s Coming” earlier in the episode and how he misinterpreted it as a song about impending doom, and the musical cue of “Eli’s Coming” is so goddamned perfectly timed that it continues to give me chills even though I’ve probably watched the episode and that scene about 30+ times. This is the best single episode for any television show I’ve ever seen EVER.