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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: 'Sorry' is the hardest word

Season 1 | Episode 2 | “The Apology” | Aired Sep 29, 1998

Nobody puts Dan Rydell in the corner. That’s the premise of Sports Night‘s second episode, where Dan’s bold statement in an Esquire interview gets him in trouble, leads to the series’ most emotional character development, results in a brilliant performance from Josh Charles, and teaches the audience a little something about life.

Dan thinks he has a stalker from CSC Morning Aerobics, but he’s about to have a problem even bigger than Mandy. You see, he’s just been printed saying that he belongs to an organization supports the legalization of marijuana, because he believes that “drug abuse isn’t a criminal issue, it’s a health care issue.” Except everyone else has completely missed the point. They think he’s encouraging people to use drugs, and that’s against the image the network wants to project. “I’ll remember that the next time I’m reporting on how the Miller Genuine Draft car did in the Winston Cup,” Dan retorts, his flippancy only digging him a bigger hole.

It’s not so much a hole as a chasm. There’s the morals clause in his contract. Then one of the network suits mentions that Dan was very specific about the last time he’d used drugs—11 years ago—which has caught the attention of the network’s health insurance company. Finally, Isaac cuts the argument short by telling Dan he’s going to give CSC boss Luther Sachs what he wants: an on-air apology during the evening’s broadcast. “To who?” Dan asks. Isaac replies, “Who cares?”

Dan might be in a better position if he had more help from his friends, but they’re all a bit self-oriented. Casey thinks Esquire perpetuated an idea that Dan’s cool and he’s not. Natalie has feelings for Jeremy that she has to tell everyone about, when she’s not trying to hook a now officially divorced Casey up with Dana.

Jeremy can’t understand why Casey is cutting down his first highlight, which is eight and a half minutes long and contains such breathtaking moments as a routine ground ball. The most interesting part about this is that Sports Night‘s real editor, Janet Ashikaga, appears as the editor who has to listen to Jeremy ramble about how “the storm clouds are gathering.”

This is all okay, though, because this isn’t their episode. It’s Dan’s. Come showtime, he launches into a form apology that takes a sharp turn into something much more raw and personal. No words can sum up how powerful this scene is, so here’s the video.

There’s really no way the episode can follow that, so Casey tries to help Dan shake it off by arguing that the Starland Vocal Band is cool, while we get to listen to a segment from “Afternoon Delight.”

All 1970s rock songs aside, we come away with three things from this episode. The first is that Aaron Sorkin is clearly not writing your standard sitcom. The second is that Josh Charles is one hell of an actor. The third is just to take a moment to make sure we appreciate the loved ones in our lives. In a half-hour show with a laugh track, “The Apology” is an unexpected punch to the gut.

Dan’s apology scene is one of the best single scenes ever to be put on television, because of how it’s a very specific and very real moment, not just for the character, but also in creating that for the audience.

Allow me to step out of my recap box and tell you a story. Fourteen years ago, I lost my best friend in a car accident. It was the one night that I wasn’t there to take him home. He got into a car with someone else, the vehicle rolled, and he was killed instantly. I struggled with guilt and self-loathing for years, feeling as if I had let him down. I thought no one could understand that, and then I saw “The Apology.” That scene captures the turmoil of losing someone, and feeling responsible, and changing who you are because of it. It’s not showy, it’s not necessarily even entertaining, it just is. It helped me make peace with my best friend’s death, and I know other Sports Night fans who still get choked up every time they watch it.

That’s a testament to Sorkin and how he kept the entire episode straightforward, not trying to get into any sort of pro- or anti-drug debate or distracted by any of the humorous subplots. He just told Dan’s story. It’s also a testament to Charles, who takes those words and is able to communicate the intangible vulnerability, and sadness, and so much more—through not only his delivery, but everything he isn’t saying. He’s a brilliant actor who thankfully finally got his due on The Good Wife.

Dan makes another great point in his meeting. He says, “Actions are immoral. Opinions are not. And I won’t apologize for mine. Discussion is good, and for those of us fortunate enough to be the subject of magazine articles, it may be our responsibility from time to time to raise the level of debate.” This is what Sports Night does. It’s not really about sports, but it crafts stories that start a discussion, or raise a question, or make us think about the person we never got to say goodbye to. That’s why it holds up so well.

Although the storm clouds might still be gathering.

Sports Night is available on Hulu.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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