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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: When bad things happen to good people

Season 1 | Episode 19 | “Eli’s Coming” | Aired Mar 30, 1999

Dan Rydell was always my favorite Sports Night character, so “Eli’s Coming” is not one of my favorite episodes. Any episode that causes Dan to make the world’s most heartbreaking sad-puppy face (see above) is just not cool in my book. But alas, Bobbi Bernstein is back to help with March Madness coverage, Rebecca is talking with her ex-husband despite us having established what a bad guy he is, and then there’s that other thing at the end that gut-punches everybody.

Dan’s first problem is that Bobbi (Lisa Edelstein) is returning to the show, because he still hasn’t managed to convince her that he never previously slept with her in Spain. Not only that, but he can’t convince Dana that he didn’t sleep with Bobbi either. The result is an awkward broadcast break in which Bobbi produces a photograph of the two of them together in a hotel in Spain. Turns out that back then, she looked a lot different and was going by her full name, Roberta. Dan realizes that he did, in fact, sleep with her in Spain—he just didn’t recognize her when he saw her again.

This is particularly bad for Dan because of issue number two, which is that his girlfriend Rebecca (at least, he’s referring to her as his girlfriend; this is the episode after she called them “just friends”) has been talking to her ex-husband Steve. Dan swears he’s fine, but he’s clearly bewildered by catching his significant other chatting up her former spouse on a Saturday. Just as he’s starting to try to apologize to Bobbi, Rebecca finally makes her way to the studio, but it’s just to tell him that she’s not really divorced. She and Steve are legally separated, and she’s now decided to go to marriage counseling.

Dan reminds Rebecca that “divorced” and “separated” are two different words, before he calms down and tells her that he’ll support her decision to work on her marriage, although he’s not shy about reminding her that Steve is a bad guy. As their relationship ends with a whimper, Dan apologizes to Bobbi, both for not calling her and for the possibility that not calling her made her feel somehow less than she is. The fact that he can man up for his mistake is another one of those moments that reminds you how genuine a guy Dan is, which then only makes it more aggravating that Rebecca treated him the way she did.

Meanwhile, Isaac is returning from a vacation to London, and Dana is determined to welcome him back. She wants a cake, which she and Casey cannot agree on, and a banner in his office, which she worries about too much. But when Isaac is late returning to the CSC building, she becomes more concerned about her boss, and with good reason. Casey is the first to find out that Isaac had a stroke at the airport and is in the hospital, and it’s bad. We all know how close a relationship Dan has with Isaac, so while he’s able to hold himself together on the air, you can tell that he’s pretty much emotionally done.

Sports Night fans know that this last plot twist was necessitated by Robert Guillaume’s real-life stroke, which was written into the series in a really nice storytelling move. The show didn’t come up with some flimsy reason for Isaac’s absence that the audience would’ve seen right through; to have the character go through the same circumstance as the actor allowed the audience to process that for ourselves. We couldn’t be there for Guillaume, but we could root for and support Isaac, which was the next best thing.

The rest of it, though, is just really beating up on Dan. Rebecca’s line about not feeling like she was lying to him but simply “withholding the truth” sounds like it belongs in a political campaign. If you look back on the short history of their relationship, you realize there are times that she hasn’t been that nice to him. Meanwhile, he’s pretty much fallen all over her. And just like it’s not right for Gordon to have treated Dana the way he did, it’s not right for Rebecca to have treated Dan the way she did. It’s clear she didn’t (and doesn’t) have a real clue who or what she wants, and Dan is the one who winds up getting hurt because of it.

The flip side of this is that Dan is absolutely on the hook for how he treated Bobbi, and at least when he finally recognizes his mistake, he immediately owns up to it. The show got plenty of humor out of him thinking she was crazy, but when it’s cards-on-the-table time, he does the right thing. It would’ve been interesting, had this show gone on to a third season, to see if Bobbi would have come back. Maybe she and Dan could’ve built a friendship out of this. Josh Charles and Lisa Edelstein certainly had good onscreen chemistry, and really, Dan is right: Bobbi is the sanest person here.

Because the series was so short, everybody basically only got one real romantic interest, and it’s sad that Dan’s was Rebecca. When you met her, you liked her and wanted so badly to be happy for him and for him to be happy. But by the end, you were wishing she’d never been on that elevator. Eli might be coming, but Rebecca is leaving, and that’s not so bad.

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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