Sports Night: The Complete Series (DVD)

Sports Night: The Complete Series (DVD)

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Sports Night: The Complete Series (DVD)

As a film screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin can take credit for A Few Good Men and The American President, both of which made a lot of money at the box office in spite of (or perhaps because of) rapid-fire speechifying more common to '30s screwball comedies than issue-oriented dramas. Sorkin's words tend to sound forced and stagey on the big screen, but his wit and passionate political advocacy prove fresh and exciting on television, where he's won Emmys for the hourlong drama The West Wing. Less known but in many ways better is the unusual half-hour sitcom Sports Night, Sorkin's first run at TV, which aired for two seasons on ABC (overlapping The West Wing's first year), and now appears in its 45-episode entirety on a six-disc DVD collection. The hallmarks of Sorkin's style are fully evident on Sports Night: Characters talk in a repetitive, ping-pong fashion, usually while walking down hallways, and they occasionally stop to deliver long, thought-out pronouncements about institutional racism, or the proper way to carry on relationships. While Sorkin crams three times as many words as he needs into a scene, he also finds the funny and surprising throwaway lines that other TV writers never get to. The humor is real, too, rooted in the pleasure people feel when they say something clever. Set in the newsrooms and studios of a third-place cable sports outlet, Sports Night stars Peter Krause and Josh Charles as the snappy anchors of a SportsCenter-like highlights-and-updates show, with Felicity Huffman, Sabrina Lloyd, and Joshua Malina as their producers, and Robert Guillaume as the show's managing editor. An average episode works some social or athletic issue into a fast-paced playlet that simultaneously advances the story of Krause's pining for Huffman, Lloyd's romance with Malina, Charles' inferiority complex, or Guillaume's attempts to keep the network suits at bay. As on The West Wing, Sorkin often abandons juicy storylines too quickly while letting others drag on interminably. Some plot twists seem arbitrary, while at other times two or three episodes pass without much happening. Sports Night is a mess, but it's a distinctive mess, with more heart and more insight into the peculiarities of professional life than the standard "wacky workplace" sitcom. (Particularly praiseworthy is Sorkin's grasp of the ego-bruising interactions of close male friends.) The propulsive style and soap-opera framework makes the show ideal for DVD, where viewers can plow through blocks of episodes in one sitting. This especially pays off once the thinly plotted first season lurches to a close and gives way to the powerhouse second season. There, the characters see their seemingly secure relationships strained to the breaking point, while William H. Macy shows up as a cruelly efficient ratings consultant who puts both the show and the show-within-a-show into overdrive.