Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sports Night, Episode 2: The Apology

Synopsis from DVD: When Dan is quoted in a national magazine supporting the legalization of marijuana, the network demands an on-air apology, but no one is more sorry than Casey, who is described as the “not-cool-one” in the same article.

And as thorough as the synopsis for the first episode was, this one leaves quite a bit to be explained, so that’s somewhat exciting. Also, it’s unclear from the synopsis who it is that supports pot legalization, Dan or the magazine he’s quoted in. Also, I don’t expect to see Casey go on the air and apologize for not being cool. Though, really, maybe he should. Anyway. Let’s get to it.

As the episode opens, Dan is visibly nervous, though he says it's not about an interview that he gave to Esquire but because one of CSC’s morning aerobics instructors is stalking him. He and Natalie try to determine what the woman’s name is as they prep for the show. He’s totally covering his actual nervousness about the article with this stalker nonsense, but we’ll play along because it’s funny and Dan is just so damn charming. In the control booth, Dana is informed that some pitcher (I don’t remember who, it’s not important) is working on a no-hitter in the 7th inning, and she instructs Dan and Casey to tease it in the live promo that’s coming up. Jeremy insists that they shouldn’t do this because it’s bad luck for the pitcher to do so, but Dana ignores him. Dan and Casey complete the promo, complete with tease, and moments later the pitcher loses the no-hitter. Jeremy consoles Dana, who clearly does not care.

The next day, everyone in the office is reading Dan’s article. Casey and Dana discuss whether Dan might be in trouble, but Casey is more concerned with the fact that he is portrayed in the article as not being cool. Something to think about, Casey: if you’re sitting around worrying about whether or not you’re cool, you are definitely not cool. Dana tells Casey that lawyers from Standards & Practices are in Isaac’s office at the moment discussing what to do about Dan. It seems that Dan mentioned being a member of a group that supports the legalization of marijuana, and this is a problem for the network probably because drugs are bad, m’kay?

Just call me Casey McCool.

Casey heads back to the office he shares with Dan, and on the way is approached by Natalie, who asks him to help Jeremy edit his first highlight reel. Natalie says that she would do it, but she “may have certain feelings” for Jeremy, and she doesn’t want them to compromise her subjectivity. That’s a totally professional thing to do, Natalie. Though maybe going around telling everyone that you may have feelings for the guy that you helped hire is the opposite of professional. Maybe she should be meeting with Standards & Practices.

Dan arrives at the office as Natalie is leaving. Casey remarks that Dan’s stalker seemed to show no interest in him earlier that morning, and Dan shrugs it off, saying that this is how stalkers work. Dan seems to have an intricate understanding of how stalkers operate, and I doubt it’s because he’s been stalked before. Casey asks Dan when his meeting with Isaac and the lawyers is, and Dan says that it’s right now and that he’s making them wait for him. They discuss how the writers of the Esquire article missed Dan’s point, which, he explains, is basically that the law that criminalizes marijuana is a bad law because it makes criminals of millions of people and the money used enforcing the law could be better used elsewhere. Not a bad point, except he forgot the part where drugs are bad, m’kay? I mentioned that earlier, he might want to go back and check it out. They then discuss how Casey isn’t cool, and Casey asks Dan for help, to which Dan reminds him that he was never cool to begin with. Burn, Dan, but you’re saying what we’re all thinking, and I thank you for that. Isaac arrives shortly after, clearly perturbed by Dan’s absence, to demand that Dan get up to his office.

In Isaac’s office, the lawyers from Standards & Practices explain that, while they may not necessarily disagree with him, they still have an image of healthy living to project and Dan’s statements do not fall in with that image. Luthor Sachs, the CEO of Continental Corp. (CSC’s parent company), has requested that Dan issue an on-air apology to the viewers who may have been offended by his comments. Dan balks (it’s like scoffing, not like when a pitcher winds up but doesn’t throw the ball), and the lawyers remind Dan that there is a morals clause in his contract that he must uphold, to which Dan argues that his opinion is not immoral. The lawyers also mention that Dan is quoted in the article as saying he hasn’t used drugs in 11 years, which caught the eye of CSC’s insurance company as being something that a recovering drug addict might say. Isaac finally intervenes and tells Dan to do what they’re asking, not because he agrees with it but because it’s just how things are done. He dismisses the meeting, and after the lawyers leave Dan tells him that he’s not sure what he’s supposed to say. Isaac says that Dan needs to apologize. Dan asks to whom he should apologize, and Isaac simply replies, “Who cares?” Sage advice from Benson.

Later that day, Casey tracks down Jeremy to help him edit his baseball highlight footage. Casey explains that most highlights are 30 to 40 seconds long, and that Jeremy’s is too long at eight and a half minutes. Jeremy puts up a spirited defense about how there is action in baseball beyond hitting, and that it’s important to show the battle of wills that takes place between a batter and a pitcher. Nevertheless, Casey insists that Jeremy make the footage shorter. I think that Casey is just intimidated by the length of Jeremy’s footage. Casey’s footage is only 20 seconds long. Poor guy. Between that and the fact that he’s not cool at all, it’s no wonder his wife left him.

Meanwhile, Dana and Natalie have just ended a meeting with the technical crew of the show. Dana asks if Dan or Casey need anything before the show, and Natalie replies that Casey needs a woman. Apparently this is something that she has brought up to Dana before, because Dana gets instantly defensive, saying that Casey got divorced two weeks ago, but Natalie persists, saying that Casey needs knives, forks, and a woman. Apparently women come with utensils? This is news to me. I bet it’s awesome to date Natalie, though, she just carries a bag of knives and forks with her. You’ll never be without a necessary eating tool again, you date that girl. Natalie says that Casey is reaching out to Dana and that she is missing his signs, but Dana brushes her off. She never denies that she might be the woman for Casey, she just says that Natalie should leave her alone about this.

Two hours later and fifteen minutes until airtime, Casey and Jeremy are still working on the highlight reel. There’s more discussion about the battle and affecting people’s appreciation of baseball, until Dana comes in and tells them that she needs the tape now. She rattles off three short bits to include in the reel, and Jeremy exclaims that this is a travesty, to which Dana simply smiles and exits with Casey on her heels. They discuss some show stuff, and as Casey walks off to get ready for the show, Dana asks him if he has spoons and a fork, to eat with. Casey looks at her like she’s a crazy woman. Then she asks if he has a whisk, and Casey asks if he can’t just use the fork. He leaves, clearly bewildered, and Dana gets all twitchy like she does sometimes before finally getting it together to run the show. Also, does Dana think that the only utensils a person needs are some spoons and one fork? Does she wash her fork after every use so that she can just use the same one over and over again? And a whisk is an essential utensil, but no knives? Dana Whitaker, you are a baffling woman.

Fun fact: I learned how to whisk based on Dana pantomiming it.

Later on during the show, Dan issues his apology. He tells the viewers about his younger brother, Sam, who is brilliant and a great source of pride for the family, and who’s dead. Sam emulated his older brother, which meant, according to Dan, smoking a lot of pot. He was killed in a car accident when he was 16, having been hit by a semi while driving drunk and high. Dan explains that this happened 11 years ago, and he apologizes to Sam for not being a better role model. There is a long, stunned silence in the studio after Dan takes the show to commercial, and finally Casey leans across the desk to Dan and starts talking about how cool he is because he listens to the Starland Vocal Band. They discuss other icons of cool (Jack Nicholson, the Muppets, and Zamfir, master of the pan flute among them) as the episode ends.

Review: I should say right off that this is one of my favorite episodes, I think largely because it’s Dan-centric and I’ve always found Dan to be my favorite character on the show. He really is the cool one, where Casey is not at all, though that might be part of Casey’s charm. The episode as a whole has a lot going on – we get some important back story for Dan, some nice interaction between Dan and Isaac (whose relationship I’ve always enjoyed), the beginning of Natalie having feelings for Jeremy (and the seedling of Dana having feelings/having always had feelings for Casey), and an entertaining, if not extremely unrealistic, character-building side story for Jeremy.

Let’s talk about Jeremy for a moment. The bit at the beginning about the pitcher with the no-hitter is brilliant. It’s funny, and it underscores the love and respect that Jeremy has for sports. And then we have his eight and a half minute highlight reel, and while it certainly fits the character trait displayed earlier, it's also completely ludicrous, and I have to ask: what the hell, man? Have you ever even seen a sports show before? If you have (and he said in the last episode that he’d seen every episode of Sports Night), then you know what a highlight reel is supposed to look like. So I guess my question becomes, not what the hell, but why the hell? Why would Jeremy do something like this, that he has to know in his gut is just going to be replaced with a thirty-second clip? I almost wonder if he didn’t think he would get away with it, that maybe he could get this one reel in, and then another, and another, until he is finally able to make Sports Night what he thinks it should be. He created an eight and a half minute masterpiece, and forces beyond his control (the basic format of the show) chopped it to shreds. Is Sorkin letting off steam here about the half-hour format of the series, the network-imposed studio audience/laugh track? Who knows. All I know is, the story is entertaining, but it also felt highly implausible.


There is an underlying tension in this episode, and I think that tension is due to the idea of perception. Dan is in trouble because it appears to Luthor Sachs that he condones drug use. Isaac makes Dan apologize not because he agrees with Sachs, but because he needs it to look like he does. Dan tells people he’s nervous about his ‘stalker’ because he wants to appear unphased by the trouble he’s in about the article. Casey is upset because the magazine article makes it look like he’s not cool. Natalie pressures Dana to go after Casey because she perceives Casey to be reaching out to Dana for help in the wake of his divorce (though how much of this Natalie actually thinks and how much of it is just Natalie being Natalie is hard to tell). Jeremy wants to use his highlight reel to change the way the show’s viewers see baseball. Dana and Isaac both note during the show that it looks like the set is changing colors, and the technicians argue over what might be causing the supposed change. It’s really that last one, which has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the episode, that drives this idea home for me. I’m not sure what the show is trying to say about this, but I do find it interesting, and it may be something to think about during future episodes. I’d love to hear what others think.


Juliet said...

Crossing my fingers that this actually goes through as to date, none of the comments I've left on this blog have.

I think it's absolutely about perception especially when I think of my own evolving perceptions about this show. Now granted, I've never been the most TV-centric person, but I never watched Sports Night when it was first on the air because I thought it was some show about people who like sports. And I don't like sports, so why would I want to watch people talk about something I don't like for half an hour. I suspect I'm not the only person who thought that, and didn't watch.

And lo and behold, years after Sports Night was canceled, I got so completely hooked on this show (thanks by the way) because although the show is called Sports Night, sports are a device to build metaphors, connect scenes, etc. They're not the topic.

Joe G. said...

It did go through! Yay!

What you're saying about the perception thing is more or less along the lines of what I was thinking, and it sort of ties in to what I was saying about the Jeremy storyline. The Jeremy storyline is about struggling against the constraints of the show's format, and the little side thing about the set changing colors is about the show appearing to be one way when it's actually another. Sports Night is, I think, an hour drama masquerading as a half-hour sitcom.

AaronandJessica said...

Julie, I wouldn't watch the show for years after Joe told me I should because it had sports in the title. Joe, I think your thought that the show is an hour drama masquerading as a half-hour sitcom is spot on and the entire reason the show didn't make it. I don't think that sitcoms necessarily have to be slapstick or all about sex (any Two and Half Men lovers out there? If so, what in the world is wrong with you?) but it doesn't lend itself to the gravity that Aaron Sorkin can't seem to do without.

Jennie said...

I have nothing of value to add to the conversation but I will say that Dan is so my favorite. Heh.