We watched the first season of this show a month ago now, but I didn’t write the review until today because it’s only this week that I finally committed to giving up on the show. So I’m slightly concerned that I won’t remember everything I thought about it when we first began watching it back in February.
But, I gave up and it’s only two seasons, which should tell you a lot.
Sorkinesque dialogue is now a cliche, and it’s kind of hard to see through that. But I think I can safely say that little on American television sounded or felt like Sports Night when it premiered in the late ’90s, especially sitcoms. We can pick at his tropes all we want, and we can absolutely criticize this show for its supposed progressive bonafides given how horribly a lot of that has dated, but I still think it’s fair to view this show as a landmark in terms of its attention to dialogue, again especially for a sitcom.
The other really notable thing is the way it was filmed. I don’t spend a lot of time watching ’90s sitcoms, nor ’90s TV dramas for that matter, but I lived through them, and I cannot remember a show like this, with these long takes and moving cameras. I’m sure there was the odd moment in other shows, especially in the more creative and weird American TV shows of the ’90s. But most American sitcoms were filmed exactly the same way. And most American TV drama was filmed very similarly. This stands out, to put it mildly. And yes, like the dialogue, the walking-and-talking is now a cliche. But it wasn’t in 1998.
So, I think, had I watched this in 1998, when it premiered, I might have loved it, especially if I didn’t know anybody else who watched it. (I was that kid.) But now, over two decades later, it’s really, really hard to give it its due.
For one thing, this convinced me never to watch The West Wing. This kind of manipulative, preachy moralizing without any jokes? Jesus. Kill me now.
Sorkin is trying to be super progressive but, whether the times have changed, or he has just always been out-of-touch, what he thought was progressive in the late ’90s seems horribly dated now. This is particularly true with the “battle of sexes” stuff that dominates so much of the show. Despite having a woman run a TV show on his TV show, so much of this feels like it was written by a man who doesn’t particularly respect (or understand) women. Jenn and I had a conversation about this weeks ago, where I felt like we reached some fundamental insight about why women actors would want to work with him, but I can’t remember the whole thing now.
Sorkin is also hilariously confused about the internet and technology. I can only imagine the shit he says in relation to the internet in his more recent shows. I had dialup back then, sure, and there was no Wikipedia, but at least some information was available online.
And that brings me to all the little mistakes throughout the show. There are tons of little things that somebody should have caught. I should have made a list back when I was watching the first season, but it felt like at least one silly factual error an episode. I know, I know, it was the ’90s and using the internet to get information was different back then. But I still think it’s reasonable to expect better.
So I hemmed and hawed my way through the first season, enjoying how radical the filmmaking must have seemed, impressed by how theatrical the dialogue was (not in the campy sense, but the Theatre sense), and genuinely enjoying the parts where it was focused on people making a sports TV show. But I didn’t like a lot of the interpersonal relationship stuff, with the worst of it being Dan’s pursuit of Rebecca, which is just awful. (And super hilarious given Sorkin’s vision of himself.)
I was ready to give up on the show, in fact, but then some strong-ish episodes at the end convinced me to give season 2 a try, despite Jenn’s warnings.
But then, we watched two episodes of season 2 and the same problems resurfaced. Also, I was introduced to the stupid plot contrivance that Jenn remembered from season 2 which she had hinted at. That was enough for me and I bailed. But, like I said, it was ages after we started watching by the time we made it this far, so I do feel like I’m forgetting some of what I had to say. Oh well.
I don’t know that I enjoyed myself, but I can’t deny it was trailblazing in some ways. 7?/10