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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: The Thanksgiving of Mom's disapproval

Season 1 | Episode 8 | “Thespis” | Aired Nov 17, 1998

Let’s be honest: Most holiday TV episodes aren’t great. But “Thespis,” which is Sports Night‘s ode to Thanksgiving, is worth giving thanks for, what with its St. Crispin’s Day references and frozen turkey falling off the light grid.

The frozen turkey is courtesy of Dana, who’s thawing it out to avoid confrontation with her mother when she hosts the yearly Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not long before water begins dripping onto the anchor desk, followed by a 24-pound bird crashing down between Dan and Casey. “Clearly I’m going to be taking crap from my mother,” Dana says ruefully as she picks up her now not-frozen fowl and takes it back into the control room. Jeremy tries to remind her that Mom Whitaker will love her even though she annoys her, so which of these things should she be focusing on?

Dana’s not the only one focused on a memorable date. It’s the anniversary of Dan and Casey’s first-ever broadcast together in Dallas, and Dan is upset that Casey thinks the day has something to do with Alberto Salazer and the New York Marathon. Five years ago, they were anchoring Lone Star Sports, and that seems like something worthy of a little recognition. This quickly turns into a deeper discussion about how Casey was offered the hosting gig on NBC’s Late Night before Conan O’Brien; Dan feels like he was his best friend’s second choice, but Casey doesn’t want to talk about it.

See, Dan doesn’t know that five years ago, Casey turning down the Late Night job was the beginning of the end for Casey and his oft-referenced-but-never-seen ex-wife Lisa. Isaac encourages Casey to tell Dan the truth, and show him that he really does matter. “So you say a few words. You make a gesture. You remember an important date,” Isaac tells him. “Small price to pay for what you get in return. For what you get in return, it’s a steal.”

Casey subsequently confesses all, and is surprised when Dan is upset with him for letting a major broadcast gig go, insisting that he would’ve been a brilliant late-night host no matter what anyone else thought. But then he realizes what Dan’s doing: He’s making a gesture. “Thank you,” Casey says, and our favorite TV bromance is alive and well once more.

Meanwhile, Isaac’s daughter Cathy is due to have his first grandchild any day now, which understandably has him both excited and worried—especially because he had a fight with his wife Esther before she left to be with Cathy, and his son-in-law Douglas hasn’t rehearsed the route to the hospital. After Esther informs him that Cathy is having an emergency C-section, he realizes that he’s been acting a lot like a cranky old man recently and gets on the first flight out to San Francisco. He returns with good news: Cathy and his new grandson Matthew are both healthy and resting, so let’s pass out the cigars!

The episode takes its title from Thespis, the first man to speak words onstage as an actor in a play, who, legend has it, is spending his afterlife as a mischievous ghost. Dana becomes convinced that Thespis will ruin her show, which seems to be a well-founded concern: Dan mispronounces “Red Wings locker room,” a series of technical mishaps happen (including dead air that forces Casey to recite part of the St. Crispin’s Day speech he once gave at the St. Paul Radisson), and the entire show turns to static. Only when Kathie Lee Gifford falls into tapioca at a gala across town does everyone breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s hard to find holiday-themed episodes of TV that aren’t clichéd or cheesy, but Sports Night always managed to mark its occasions well, whether it was celebrating Thanksgiving with “Thespis” or ringing in Christmas with “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee.” What makes these episodes work is that the holiday doesn’t take over the entire show. It’s part of the plot, but we don’t need to have constant references to it or shoehorn in scenes of celebration. You do have to admit, though, that a 24-pound turkey falling off the light grid is pretty funny.

Underneath the events of this episode is what made the show great for two seasons: a tremendous amount of heart. There’s an important lesson here about letting your loved ones know that you love them, something that still resonates today—probably more so now that we spend half of our time busy with work and the other half staring into our smartphones. It’s amazing how much a small gesture can mean to someone, whether it’s a kind word, a quick note, or just saying “thank you.” If everyone tried to make a gesture even just once a year like Dan, the world would probably be a much happier place. Just watch out for that tapioca.

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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