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Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

Shout Factory presents
Sports Night: The Complete Series 10th Anniversary Edition (1998-2000)

Casey: All right, all right, listen to me. We're the best, OK, the very best.
Dan: Yeah?
Casey: Well...maybe not the best but we're pretty good.
Dan: Right.
Casey: I put us easily into the top thirty or forty.

- Peter Krause, Josh Charles

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: September 29, 2008

Stars: Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Sabrina Lloyd, Joshua Malina, Robert Guillaume
Other Stars: Kayla Blake, Greg Baker, Timothy Davis-Reed, Jeff Mooring, Ron Ostrow, Suzanne Kellogg, Ted McGinlet, Teri Polo, Brenda Strong, William H. Macy, Clark Gregg
Director: Varies

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for television audiences)
Run Time: 20h:00m:00s
Release Date: September 30, 2008
UPC: 826663109290
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B+ A

DVD Review

Sports Night is one of television's forgotten gems and remains among the strongest half-hour series of the past decade. Created by Aaron Sorkin and appearing one year before the premiere of his breakout hit The West Wing, this intelligent show avoids easy classification. On the surface, it is a sitcom chronicling the behind-the-scenes happenings of a nightly sports show. There's even a laugh track, but it rarely appears after the first 10 episodes or so. This audio intrusion was pushed by the network, and the producers continued to diminish it as the year progressed. The series' single-camera format feels much closer to Sorkin dramas like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip than a typical comedy like Friends. And the clever, rapid-fire dialogue brings rampant energy to stories that mostly involve people talking. The one-liners rarely feel designed for a cheap laugh and fit perfectly within the context of the creative discussions. The result is a charming mix of humor, romance and drama that grows more appealing with each successive episode.

Sam: I've noticed you people have an ability to chatter at someone with energy and enthusiasm regardless of whether they appear interested or not.

This 10th anniversary edition is the second complete series release, but this version includes exciting extras in similar fashion to Shout Factory's must-have releases of Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life. This set includes all 45 episodes from the two seasons that this comedy aired on ABC. Since the episodes run about 20 minutes each, it's easy to watch small marathons in one sitting. After just a few hours, I guarantee you'll be hooked and wondering how it became 2 a.m. on a random Tuesday night. The ensemble cast makes even the weakest entries memorable, and it starts with the two anchors—Casey McCall (Peter Krause) and Dan Rydell (Josh Charles). Modeled after popular Sportscenter personalities from the mid-'90s, both guys exude charisma while remaining down-to-earth characters. Krause's recently divorced Casey is often awkward when away from the camera, while his smoother partner Dan struggles with his own feelings of self-worth. Both are completely believable as national television anchors and speak with the witty banter of professional writers. Their discussions behind the scenes and during commercial breaks go well beyond sports and effectively depict the long-time friendship of two co-workers.

Dan: It's a well-oiled machine here. I don't want to see anything interfere with that.
Casey (looking at a piece of paper): Did a high school girl from East Lansing run the Boston marathon in 2.6 seconds?
Dan: That doesn't sound right.
Casey: Not as well-oiled as you think.


The first season introduces the team and begins to delve into the hopes and difficulties of each individual. The Pilot depicts the hiring of young Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina), who joins the team as an associate producer. His romance with fellow employee Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd) is a key story arc and includes sweet moments. Both Malina and Lloyd have a refreshing chemistry but avoid the typical conventions of a sitcom romance. Although they speak with clever scripted dialogue, Natalie and Jeremy feel like real people who could be involved together. The other possible connection is between Casey and show producer Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman), who have feelings for the other but can't seem to actually get it together. Both are romantically self-destructive and jettison other relationships while remaining apart. Their inability to come together might be frustrating at times, but it also leads to plenty of classic moments. In The Hungry and the Hunted, Casey tumbles over after viewing Dana in a sexy dress, and this type of silliness occurs consistently. During the late season, actor Robert Guillaume suffered a life-threating stroke, and it was written into the show as an affliction of his character Isaac Jaffe. Guillaume's emotional return during the season finale is as moving as any scene in a “serious” drama. Another pivotal moment is Natalie's violent encounter with a sexist football player in Mary Pat Shelby. The aftermath reveals the strong bonds between the entire group and expands our understanding of Natalie. Nearly every story has equally powerful scenes that are both enjoyable and touching, which help to deliver a wonderful season.

Dan: What are friends for?
Casey: To annoy the hell out of you?
Dan: Exactly.


The emotional stakes are heightened during the second season, which reveals cracks in each person and enhances the conflicts. There's also the growing threat of the network being sold, which would almost certainly end the show. Jeremy and Natalie's relationship takes a sour turn and leads him to begin a possible romance with an adult film star (Paula Marshall). Dan struggles with his past and sees a psychiatrist, which appears to only increase his uneasiness. And Dana and Casey continue their problematic relationship, with her ridiculous dating plan being the main culprit. This season is tougher on nearly every character, but it leads to fascinating viewing. The humor remains even while each lead faces duress. One of the series' best episodes is the premiere Special Powers, which concludes with a “hell yeah” moment from Casey and Dana. William H. Macy shines in a recurring guest role, particularly in Cliff Gardner, which brings the gang directly into conflict with the network. Macy plays Sam Donovan, a free-wheeling ratings consultant hired to improve the show. His appearance plays everyone on edge, and the veteran actor perfectly embodies Sam's often-frustrating persona. Another classic is the two-part Draft Day story, which places several relationships in severe jeopardy, including Dan and Casey's. Thankfully, the series concludes with a refreshingly positive episode that couldn't have been executed better. Quo Vadimas finishes the buyout storyline and gives hope to nearly everyone—exceeding all expectations for a closing episode.

Dan: And for those of you still watching at home—please give us a call and tell us why.

It would be impossible for me to truly express all the reasons why I love Sports Night within a review 10 times as long. Instead of trying, I'd like to address a few possible reasons why you might choose to avoid this series. The most obvious negative might be a dislike of sports and what it represents. I will agree that my enjoyment of sports does play a role in my excitement. However, it's only a minor part and is not a requirement for enjoying each story. The production of a nightly sports show is only the framework for the action, not the sole focus. It's the characters' dedication to their jobs, not the nature, that really sells the drama. Sorkin also injects his interest in random minute details and politics into the mix. Of course, his liberal perspective could be a downside based on your personal views. I enjoy the way Sorkin's characters act as a mouthpiece for his ideals without being heavy-handed. Another negative could be the half-hour sitcom format, which some intelligent viewers wisely avoid. I believe it's the denial of the genre conventions that really makes Sports Night such a unique creation. Instead of falling victim to the same traps as numerous bland comedies, it redefines the mold completely. Finally, you might not be interested in the possibly shallow characters' romances and weekly obstacles. All I can say is to give it a chance. Sorkin has crafted a remarkable show that still ranks among the most entertaining series presented on the small screen.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Sports Night is shot almost entirely indoors, so there are limited opportunities for innovative visuals. However, the single-camera approach makes the show a lot more attractive than your typical half-hour series. This full-frame transfer contains some grain, but it retains the bright colors of the studio and background rooms. It's not a groundbreaking transfer, but it effectively presents the excitement with few defects.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: It's unfortunate that a 5.1-channel transfer is not available with this release, but I expect it would take some serious remastering. The 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track has good power, particularly with the upbeat series theme. The fast-paced dialogue springs well from the front speakers and delivers fine entertainment. The complexity is limited, but it's not really needed in this format.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series
4 Documentaries
8 Feature/Episode commentaries by cast and crew (see below)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
8 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag reels
  2. Collectible booklet
  3. Original promos
Extras Review: This collection's features don't match the crazy inclusions of the Freaks and Geeks set (29 commentaries!), but there are some nice extras. This release contains eight discussions on individual episodes from a wide array of cast and crew members. Aaron Sorkin appears with Thomas Schlamme for the series premiere and finale, giving plenty of worthy details. Their discussion about the diminishing of the laugh track during the Pilot is definitely worth a listen. Most of the main and supporting cast appear at least once, with the exception of Felicity Huffman, which is disappointing. The cast member tracks, particularly with the larger groups, are sillier but not always as informative. But there aren't any that become tedious experiences. Here is the complete list of commentaries:

Pilot: Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme
The Six Southern Gentleman of Tennessee: Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Sabrina Lloyd and Director Robert Berlinger
Small Town: Editor Janet Ashikaga
Sally: Greg Baker, Kayla Blake, Timothy Reed-Davis and Ron Ostrow
Eli's Coming: Peter Krause and Robert Berlinger
Kafelnikov: Greg Baker, Kayla Blake, Josh Charles, Timothy Davis-Reed, Joshua Malina and Ron Ostrow
The Local Weather: Josh Charles and Joshua Malina
Quo Vadimus: Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme

The remainder of the extras are included on two bonus discs housed at the end of each season. For the first year, The Show chronicles the series' origins through interviews with Sorkin, Schlamme and the main cast members (including Felicity Huffman!). They discuss its divergence from the typical half-hour format, which inspired everyone's creativity. And it's wonderful to see Robert Guillaume, who's not looking great but is still inspiring. They describe the experience of dealing with his tragic stroke, which is heart-warming. A considerable portion of the 33-minute feature covers the casting of each key figure with good details. It's an enjoyable retrospective, and could have gone on much longer without any loss of interest. Faceoff: ESPN's Sportscenter vs. CSC's Sports Night talks with ESPN employees about their work experiences. They also describe how the fictional world compares to the actual setting. The spirit appears to match, though the specifics are obviously much different. This disc also contains a gag reel that offers the typical crack-ups, cursing and off-color humor. It's longer than your typical reel and does include some funny moments. Finally, there are four original promos created early on, including a clever shout out to Benson.

The second season's bonus disc includes a smaller group of extras, but there still are some interesting features. Looking Back brings Sorkin and Schlamme together for a 25-minute conversation recounting their experiences. They discuss their initial meetings and how the show's feeling differed from the typical format. A good portion offers even more details on the laugh track saga, which is sad but entertaining. We also hear about the difficulties in balancing time on two shows, the frustrations with low ratings, and the keys to the creative success. Inside the Locker Room presents the unique elements of Sports Night that weren't seen in other half-hour series. The focus is the technical aspects and the tricks needed to make the multi-camera set-up work. The information's a bit dry, but it does include some notable details. Finally, we have a second gag reel, which provides more of the expected hijinks. Bravo!

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Sports Night received offers from several cable channels for a third season, but Aaron Sorkin had decided to focus solely on The West Wing. Its premature demise is sad, but its cancellation did help this series to avoid the self-parodying late seasons of classics like Seinfeld and Cheers. The two seasons offer a top-notch story and an amazing cast at the top of their game. Their creative success helps this fun, intriguing comedy to remain fresh and surprising 10 years after its original airing.

 


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