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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: Finally, it's Dan's social hour

Season 1 | Episode 14 | “Rebecca” | Aired Jan 26, 1999

In “Rebecca,” Sports Night finally lets us make fun of Dan Rydell’s romantic life. We’ve had a couple of episodes now to drive home that Casey doesn’t know anything about women, but as it turns out, his wingman isn’t that much better. Having just dealt with an angry coworker who thinks they slept together, Dan gets onto an elevator with Rebecca Wells (Teri Polo, back when she was still a redhead with a recurring gig on Brimstone) and screws up his romantic life for, essentially, the remainder of the series. Both of these guys are nice, successful, handsome, funny and reasonably smart … and yet, personally, they both wind up batting worse than Jon Lester. It boggles the mind.

“Can I spread it out for you in a nutshell?” Dan asks Casey, who scolds him for mixing his metaphors, since he is, on most days, a professional writer. Dan is undeterred and tells him about being on the elevator with Natalie and Rebecca, whom he doesn’t want to ask out since he’s been on a few dates with a third woman named Elaine, despite being convinced that Natalie has been telling Rebecca he’s going to call her. If you followed that anecdote, you’re better than Casey.

But we do still have business to be done. Isaac calls a one-minute meeting to tell the staff not to worry about an upcoming piece in the Wall Street Journal, so of course they worry about it. The next morning, Isaac has a meeting with network weasel J.J. about the article, which concerns CSC network boss Luther Sachs being reported as courting somebody else for Isaac’s job. It also takes place while the entire senior staff lurks outside the office door.

Once they’re done pretending to want a staple remover, Dan goes to see Rebecca, a CSC financial analyst who turns out to have no expectation that he was going to call her or any idea who he is. Dan has no idea how to react to being completely forgotten, except to keep telling Casey things he never wanted to know and keep apologizing to Rebecca. If being neurotic can also be cute, this is it. “I’m going to go scrape my self-image off the floor and then get ready to do my show,” Dan tells Rebecca, who’s never seen Sports Night and still doesn’t really care who he is. Yeowch.

In other water-cooler news, Dana is nervous that Gordon is about to break up with her, and we can’t possibly imagine why after the whole double-date fiasco that was last week. Natalie pressures her to ask Casey for advice, really just as an excuse to keep pushing Dana and Casey together, but Dana tries it anyway. And we’re glad she does, because that’s how we get a fantastic quote that, if I’m honest, I have pinned above my desk for all the people who tell me I watch too much TV:

“The truth is, I have a job that involves me, and stimulates me, and rewards me, and takes up a lot of my time, and I’m not willing to do my job just a little bit,” she says. “I want to do all of it. It’s part of me, and I am different without it. And that is who I am, and that is who you need to love.”

She doesn’t think that’ll work on Gordon, but Casey disagrees with her. “Dana, any man who hears that and doesn’t stay for a woman like you … I will take whatever time you can give me and be grateful for that all my life,” he says. “Any man who hears that and doesn’t throw you down on the nearest flat surface is just taking up space for the rest of us.”

This makes Dana’s day, and Isaac gets a little bit of satisfaction out of telling J.J. that he’s fairly sure the other man is the anonymous source quoted in the Journal, and that if that’s the case, he’s going to own him. But mostly, what you need to know is that Dan ends this episode exactly where he started: Sitting at the anchor desk, talking about Rebecca. Our boy is like a loyal retriever, and he is not going to let this go.

“Rebecca” is an episode that looks different in retrospect. When you first watch it, you’re really happy for Dan that he’s found somebody he’s interested in, because the show has spent so much time on the Casey-and-Dana love story and because he really is such an awesome person that you want him to be happy. But once you’ve watched the entire series and seen how this romance plays out, your opinion of Rebecca winds up changing quite a bit.

Not that anybody’s romantic prospects are that great, since everyone can see the Gordon trainwreck coming from a mile away—except Dana. These are such endearing characters that they all feel like your friends, and you want your friends to do well and to find the right people, and you beat your head into the wall when they wind up with the wrong people. But that’s another way Sports Night was kind of like life: You knew these characters so well that you started wanting to give them dating advice. Or at least instruct them on how not to mix their metaphors.

Sports Night is available on Hulu.