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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: 29,000 rulers and an epiphany

Season 1 | Episode 9 | “The Quality of Mercy at 29K” | Aired Dec 1, 1998

In Sports Night’s ninth episode, “The Quality of Mercy at 29K,” everybody wants something. Dan wants to pick a charity to support. Natalie wants to inspire people. Dana wants everyone to appreciate her epiphany. Casey just wants someone to feed him.

But first, this: “The Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast and high-school sophomore said that after all those years of hard work, it was a relief to finally realize her lifelong dream,” Dan tells the show-within-a-show’s audience. “Good to get that out of the way at 15.” I don’t know why, but those lines always crack me up—presumably because when this episode aired, I’d just finished pursuing my lifelong dream of seeing the San Diego Padres in the World Series. Ah, childhood.

Everyone in the control room discusses how tall Mt. Everest is, as CSC is covering Desmond Corey’s ascent on the great mountain. Elliot suggests lining up 29,000 rulers. The next morning, Dan complains about being on the “uber charity mailing-list,” inundated with requests for money. He asks Casey what he should do with his liberal guilt, but can make a case for pretty much every organization, including Alabama’s Montgomery Symphony Orchestra.

He also wonders if something should be done for the homeless people who’ve started using the CSC building for shelter from the New York–winter cold. Natalie offers to give him the information for the AIDS charity she donates to, and tells him that if two guys can climb Mt. Everest, then there’s no limit to what can be done if he just does something already.

Dana takes the early evening off to escort her niece to a matinee of Broadway’s The Lion King, even though she doesn’t want to and didn’t remember to get the tickets. After she’s laughed off the phone by the box office, it’s Isaac to the rescue with a pair of passes, because he knew she’d be that out of it. She returns raving about the musical as if she’s just seen God—much to everyone’s bewilderment and slight horror—but she does hit the same point about mankind being capable of amazing things.

Because a water main broke on the street in front of the building, Casey can’t get any food delivered and decides to let everyone know how deprived he is. That includes making a plea to the TV viewing audience, in case anyone happens to be walking by with a pizza. (Too bad Dana’s turkey isn’t still around from last week!) Oh, and apparently he’s a climber, because there’s a wall that simulates a Class 3 mountain in his gym. Yeah, he’s a little off this episode, except when he repeats Natalie’s advice that Dan should just do anything, as much of it and as often as he can. Are you seeing the theme of the episode yet?

Isaac adds his wisdom to Dan’s charity problem when he says that he gives his spare change to the homeless in the city as he makes his way to work. This proves to be relevant a very short time later. When the guys remember that there’s half of a turkey sandwich in their office, Dan’s intent on splitting it with Casey but changes his mind when one of the aforementioned homeless guys is hiding there. After getting over his initial fear of potentially being stabbed, Dan decides to share the sandwich with the unexpected visitor instead, and pulls up a chair so that they can both watch Corey and his team reaching the summit of Mt. Everest. He tells his new dinner companion, “Look at what we can do.”

While “The Quality of Mercy at 29K” is one of the more obvious Sports Night episodes, as far as what it wants us to take away, it’s preaching a message that is completely worthwhile, to this day. There are countless causes always looking for help, and if you’re in a position to give, it can seem impossible to decide where to start. Like Dan, you wind up feeling as if you’re saying one crisis is more important than another.

But as several characters point out, there are always going to be more than enough problems in the world, so just pick one, and don’t worry about if it’s the right one. You don’t even need to help monetarily; even if you just volunteer your time, the important thing is that you’re helping in the first place. It’s not climbing Mt. Everest, but making a difference in someone’s life is pretty special, too. So if you’re reading this recap right now, may I suggest you take Natalie’s advice and get in the game?

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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