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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: Welcome to 'Natalie World'

Season 1 | Episode 13 | “Small Town” | Aired Jan 12, 1998

Up until “Small Town,” Sports Night hasn’t told us a lot about Natalie Hurley. We know she’s Dana’s best friend and Jeremy’s girlfriend, but who is she as a person? The series’ thirteenth episode, while also featuring the most disastrous double date in history and the first appearance of House‘s Lisa Edelstein, shows us why everyone loves Natalie so much: she’s a pretty kick-butt woman.

Both Dana and Casey have the evening off. Neither Dana nor Casey wants the evening off, much to the annoyance of Dan and Isaac, both of whom have figured out that Dana and Casey don’t so much want to be at work as they want to escape their double date with Dana’s boyfriend Gordon (Ted McGinley) and a lawyer named Lisa from Gordon’s office (Alicia Coppola). Casey goes so far as to insist that since that evening is also the Major League Baseball trade deadline, he should stay in case that last minute trade they’re worried about goes through. “Any chance I can not be here,” Isaac wonders aloud, before telling both of them that nothing is going to happen at the eleventh hour and they should get out.

In the Thursday afternoon rundown meeting, Natalie gloats about the lack of the aforementioned trade, as she apparently bet Jeremy five dollars it wouldn’t happen. She also has to deal with Dan’s neuroses, as he’s unhappy with her choice of substitute anchor: Bobbi Bernstein (Edelstein), who is a perfectly competent broadcaster, but has a major axe to grind with Dan. She believes that they once slept together in Spain and is offended that he didn’t call her afterward; he insists that he never slept with her, so of course he never called her, and believes that she’s first-grade psychotic.

Working next to a crazy person is still better than going out to dinner with Casey, who’s telling Lisa about his ex-wife Lisa and then finding out that she prefers her name to be pronounced “Leeza.” Dana wants Casey to stop talking, but she’s the one who’s doing all the rambling. She wants to check up on Natalie, despite her insistence that Natalie’s capable, even if she came from a small town with 32 people in her high school class. She has absolutely no idea what’s about to happen.

During the first commercial break, Elliott comes to Natalie with some inside information: he spoke to a source at Los Angeles International Airport, and the Dodgers players rumored to be involved in the trade weren’t on the team’s plane. Natalie asks Kim to speak to Angela in Housekeeping at a Vero Beach hotel and have her check a room; Angela tells them that there were five people there, two of which match descriptions of baseball executives. “They’re making the trade,” Jeremy declares, then chews out Elliott for not getting a confirmation and Natalie for wanting to run with “unconfirmed reports.”

But Natalie has the backing of Elliott, Kim, Isaac and Dan, who delivers the news on-air—the bluff that pressures a Dodger exec into confirming the report to Natalie. She’s masterminded an exclusive report breaking a seven-player trade, earning herself a round of kudos from her colleagues and an apology from Jeremy, who says he didn’t know she was that good. While she pays up on their bet and takes a moment to celebrate her accomplishment, Dan further angers Bobbi by making a quip about getting women to his laboratory.

As for Casey and Dana, they have predictably ruined their date by hanging on all these developments, with Dana telling Lisa to “get a real name” after the other woman suggests that they’re unnecessarily intense about their show. While she’s bothered by Gordon’s admission that she has room for improvement in the girlfriend department, she nonetheless ends up at the bar with Casey.

“Small Town” is an important episode because it’s only the third episode that has focused on Natalie (following the “Mary Pat Shelby” and “Head Coach, Dinner and the Morning Mail” two-parter), and it’s really the first about something she’s done. Those first two episodes were about something that happened to her. In “Small Town,” we see what she’s capable of.

You have to laugh at Dana talking about how capable she is yet still refusing to let the show go, though one figures that’s more a reflection of Dana being a control freak than any lack of faith in Natalie. Jeremy sells Natalie a little bit short, even though she’s worked there two years longer than he has. It’s nice that she calls him out on that, and that he apologizes. Natalie’s nobody’s gal Friday, and this episode is enough to make you sad that Sabrina Lloyd has retired from acting, because like her character, she was definitely that good.

On the lighter side (sort of), we have Dan’s first on-screen interaction with Bobbi Bernstein, played to comedic perfection by Lisa Edelstein. It’s a casting choice that’s only become more memorable to TV fans over the years, because not only would Edelstein go on to be Laurie, the call girl Sam Seaborn becomes involved with, on The West Wing, but the next time she worked opposite Josh Charles, it was in a similar situation to this one. She portrayed Will Gardner’s ex-girlfriend turned opposing counsel Celeste Serrano in three episodes of The Good Wife.

It was fantastic to see her there, too, as these two play so well off each other. Sometimes, you find casting pairs that just click, and they’re definitely one of those. All around, “Small Town” is an excellent team effort that gives this show legs beyond the Casey and Dana situation, and proves everybody has something to bring to the table.

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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