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The Studio > > > Recaps & Reviews > > > And They're Off, Ladies and Gentlemen!
And They're Off, Ladies and Gentlemen!
a review of the "Pilot" episode, by Jason Martin

"Sports Night" kicked off on September 22, 1998 and did as many pilots do: starting some conflict, but making sure to introduce all the relevant characters. The show had an oddity, which never sat right with me, but now doesn't really get to me nearly as much as the obligatory sitcom laugh track. Perhaps the reason the laugh track did not work out well for our program is the following, hopefully obvious point: "Sports Night" is not a sitcom. "Sports Night" had much more drama in it than I ever anticipated and bordered to some critics on becoming preachy at times on issues of female and drug abuse, amongst other things. But quite frankly, those are for a few weeks down the line. Let's enjoy that first episode, or at least what we can of it, before all of the more serious stuff kicked into the fray.

Our first view of the cast gives us only a taste of what is to come- not giving everybody everything at once and, in some ways, not giving everybody much at all of a few people. Since I have misplaced my copy of the episode and the DVDs will not be here until December 25th (if you know what I mean), I'm going to have to base my piece today on what I can recollect from one viewing, focusing on two of the stories intertwined to create the pilot.


Jeremy Goodwin made his first emergence onto the idiot box after Sabrina Lloyd's character, Natalie Hurley, had lobbied him hard to the executive producer, Dana Whitaker, hoping to get him hired onto the staff as a research analyst after seeing him in the office. Needless to say his talents were not exactly the catalyst for her decision, she had an instant crush on him. What basically transpired was that Goodwin was entirely too nervous because it was literally a dream of his to work for CSC, a longtime sports fan and a master of statistical information as well as modern technology. Dana apparently had a minor soft spot for his anxiety and after he made an impassioned appeal for the position after not knowing all the answers to the three big questions being asked- which were all specific sports trivia- he was given the job. Of the first show, I was most impressed by two characters, and one of those was Jeremy. Josh Malina did a commendable job of getting the jittery, high-strung Goodwin over with the audience and making him matter right out of the gate. Though it might have been over the top to some people, I enjoyed it and it set the stage for some interesting and entertaining developments down the line.


We move on to the anchors of "Sports Night," Dan Rydell and Casey McCall. I am not positive as to if the characters were based on specific personalities from ESPN's flagship show, "Sportscenter", but if I had to make a guess on it- I would see similarities between Rydell and Dan Patrick and also Casey McCall and Craig Kilborn. However, if it was the other way around I would not be the least bit surprised. The pilot put the spotlight on McCall and let Rydell play his sidekick. For me, I was more interested in Rydell's character because I was much more familiar with other roles that Josh Charles had played, most notably the character of Knox Overstreet in one of my personal faves, "Dead Poets Society." Dan's past was not the issue at all, but Casey's was, as he was in the midst of an ugly divorce that resulted in him losing custody of a son he loved intensely. The bitter situation surrounding his off-camera life caused McCall troubles and left him bitter around the office and considering walking away from a sports-related profession. He used his son as the reasoning, stating that his son thought of athletes as heroes when all they do is get arrested, break the law, use illegal substances, batter women and start brawls, and every other seedy thing one could conjure up in the old cranium. The fired shots had several meanings, but they both showed overreaction to a tough ordeal- and at the same time illustrated some of the problems that certain individuals have for idolizing everyday humans, who just happen to be gifted.


The argument is that they make mind-boggling piles of green and many, who don't have that talent, feel that it is undeserved compensation. Either side can prove its side of the case, that isn't the point. The point is that Casey McCall's character brought into question the validity of sports as an enterprise and also showed through the divorce how trivial it is in the grand scheme of things.


Casey had his distractions, foils, as did we the viewers. Dan played the sidekick, going through his own usual quirky deals, and later would become a much more dynamic character and will be brought up in more detail. In this episode, he was simply window dressing and was used just so the audience would recognize his future relevance to the storylines. The other distraction wore a skirt, the executive producer of Sports Night, Dana Whitaker. She was an attractive, talented, and extremely once again high strung (that's becoming a theme here) individual, and immediately she and Casey exuded flirtatious, tension-filled exchanges and we were left wondering how long it would take before the two did the deed.

So in short, we were introduced to the early stories the show would deal with in regards to character interaction and pried very gently into their heads to begin to understand what made them tick. If this review felt stream of consciousness or illogical at times, I agree with you. It's tough to do with only seeing that particular elusive episode once and having to pull it together out of the blue. In the future, I'm sure we'll connect quite a bit stronger.

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