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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: Just a little gambling between friends

Season 1 | Episode 10 | “Shoe Money Tonight” | Aired Dec 8, 1998

When is the office poker game not just the office poker game? When it’s Sports Night‘s “Shoe Money Tonight.”

Dan and Casey’s plans for a night of blackjack (whether or not either of them are any good at it) in Atlantic City are scuttled when the anchors of West Coast Update are stranded on a tarmac in Pittsburgh, which means that our boys have to stick around until two in the morning and pick up their slack. They also have to deal with West Coast Update‘s executive producer, the vertically blessed and more-than-slightly scheming Sally Sasser (Brenda Strong, who would reteam with Felicity Huffman on this very network years later for Desperate Housewives). Sally basically wants to be Dana: She wants Dana’s job and she wants to sleep with Casey, which Casey is totally fine with because it’s not like Dana is giving him any attention.

While they’re waiting for West Coast Update to start, Dan and Casey decide to get their gambling fix by taking money from their colleagues in a poker game. So, around the table we have Isaac (who believes he’s shrinking), Dana (who keeps yelling “shoe money tonight,” hence the title of the episode), Sally (who wasn’t invited but shows up anyway to annoy Dana), Jeremy, Natalie, and even some of the awesome folks from the control room, who really should’ve gotten more screen time.

In the midst of this friendly game, a fight between Natalie and Jeremy (who have lost the shine of their young relationship) steamrolls though. Natalie is angry because on their one mutual evening off, Jeremy decided to go play tennis with an old friend rather than go to the movies with her—possibly because that friend is a beautiful actress, and maybe also because Jeremy has to be right all the time. The argument plays out at the poker table: Jeremy takes all of Natalie’s money (although apparently her parents have a ton) before Dan schools him on exactly what he did wrong. Maybe Dan should just start charging people for relationship advice.

There’s also a verbal standoff between Dana and Sally, because Dana knows what Casey wants—when it comes to producing, anyway—and her much taller cohort doesn’t. She’s actually a bit offended to hear that Casey approved Sally’s rundown without really looking at it, and more offended to hear that Sally’s got her eye on Casey for sex and contacts. Dana drags Casey into the control room and accuses him of taking everything she does for granted; he digs a bigger hole for himself by saying that Sally’s body was “put together by a technician very close to God.” But he’s eating those words the moment Dana reveals that his script for West Coast Update contains puns.

Natalie and Jeremy continue to stare each other down at the poker table. Natalie doesn’t have anything, yet again, but she’s refusing to fold because she doesn’t want to lose to Jeremy (and possibly because she doesn’t know the first thing about poker). Her boyfriend is forced to tell her, “When I started liking you, I didn’t stop liking tennis. And I want you to know that I don’t think there’s a woman in the world that you need to be threatened by, no matter how glamorous you think she is. But mostly, I want you to trust me, just once, when I tell you that you have three sevens and I have a straight.” Joshua Malina does have a way with monologues, doesn’t he?

A stunned silence falls over the room … and then Natalie still refuses to fold. But at least she makes up with Jeremy, who does fold like a cheap card table when she says they should go back to his place and she can wear one of his shirts. Perhaps inspired by what she’s just seen, Dana agrees to come to Casey’s rescue, but only after she plays a little more poker.

What’s fun about “Shoe Money Tonight,” in retrospect, is that while the characters might not be great at poker, in real life, the actors are actually pretty good players. Joshua Malina would go on to be one of the cocreators and executive producers of Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown, which was basically exactly like this episode, except for that the celebrities were playing for various charities. Aaron Sorkin fans will be interested to know that the show’s second installment featured the cast of The West Wing.

Oh, and if you needed more proof that Malina is one of the smartest guys in the room, let’s not forget the time he dominated an entire game of Celebrity Jeopardy in 2003. Going into “Final Jeopardy,” he had $24,000 to CCH Pounder’s $3,800 and Jeff Probst’s $1,800. Seriously, we’d be scared to play so much as a round of Candy Land with this guy.

That said, this episode of Sports Night will always be remembered as “The One That Introduced Sally Sasser,” who’d wind up being Dana’s nemesis in more ways than one. Brenda Strong was a great recurring cast member, playing well off Felicity Huffman, and her banter with Josh Charles was pretty fantastic, too. Something that this show never got enough credit for was it’s ability to flesh out the CSC office with wonderful supporting characters. It wasn’t just the stars who got the spotlight, and anyone on the team was someone you’d want to hang out with after work. Even Sally. Maybe. On a Tuesday.

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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