Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has been enjoying success on both the big and small screen for decades, but his career high clearly came last year with The Social Network. Sorkin, thanks to A Few Good Men, The American President and Charlie Wilson’s War, had already been a household name for movie geeks, but the explosion of “that Facebook movie” made him into a household name for non-geeks alike.
But before Sorkin was making appearances on 30 Rock and Oprah, even before he made The West Wing, he was busy fine toning his walk-and-talk writing on Sports Night, one of the best TV series you’ve probably never seen completely. That’s okay, though, because now the complete show, which only lasted two seasons, is now available for streaming on Netflix. If you were at all impressed by Sorkin’s knack for rapid fire dialogue in The Social Network, this is a must watch series.
Who Made It: Aaron Sorkin, obviously. This was his first TV show and his first produced script since The American President. The show originally aired on ABC between 1998 and 2000, and enjoyed a brief life on late night cable syndication in the early ‘00s (which was actually when I first started watching it).
Who’s In It: Sports Night boasts one of the most cohesive ensemble comedy casts since Cheers, filled with the likes of Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), Josh Charles (Dead Poets Society), Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), Joshua Malina (The West Wing), Sabrina Lloyd (Sliders), Robert Guillaume (the excellent voice actor), Teri Polo (Meet the Parents), William H. Macy (Fargo) and a whole lot more.
What’s It About: Sports Night is a walk-and-talk comedy (with dashes of drama) about the behind-the-scenes antics of the fictitious sports commentary show, Sports Night. Basically, it’s about the cast and crew of a wannabe ESPN show, their lives, their relationships, and their love of sports.
Why You Should Watch It: The best, must succinct endorsement of Sports Night I can give is that I unabashedly love the show and yet I watch zero sports and never turn on ESPN. Sorkin’s writing is just so damned sharp, his wit so exacting and his knack for making hurts swell with feel good endings, that no love of sports is required to enjoy it. If you like people, flaws and all; if you appreciate good writing, this is a show for you, plain and simple.
The cast is so extraordinary, their interplay so organic that it blows my mind that they haven’t all become A-listers in the TV world. Peter Krause has of course enjoyed plenty of praise and steady work, having followed SN with Six Feet Under and Parenthood, and Felicity Huffman has been earning her fair share of ratings as a part of Desperate Housewives, but the rest of the cast have pretty much all resigned to jumping from mid-level TV show to TV show. And to think that asshats like Charlie Sheen enjoyed nearly $2 million per episode for crap like Two and a Half Men. It hurts my brain just thinking about it.
The first few episodes of the show are crippled by a network-mandated laugh track, but aside from that goof, Sports Night is the rare kind of TV show that brings its A game every episode without fail. There are no ups and downs, no silly plot threads that are drawn out too long. Everything in it just… works. It just works. Granted, with only two seasons to live, Sorkin’s behind-the-scenes sports show didn’t live long enough to be brought down by its own formula, but that just makes it all the more precious. Had I been a fan of the show when it aired, I probably would have been pissed about its cancellation, but as it stands right now, two seasons is the perfect length.
Those two seasons were solid enough to provide me with countless scripted conversations and exchanges that I think about often, be they thoughts on the legalization of marijuana, working in the porn industry, having a stroke, or just watching the human spirit push itself to new highs in sports. Sports Night is the kind of perfectly balanced, warming and familiar show I put on for comfort food. Hopefully it’ll be the same for you.