Monday, August 30, 1999

Positively Divine

Last week I was lucky enough to finally get to see my favorite reporter and her husband's newly purchased house in the Summit area in St. Paul. I'm afraid my mouth was agape during my entire visit. I've never seen such a beautiful house in my life. They freaking have five bathrooms and I lost count how many bedrooms. The house is immaculate in layout and design- three floors with a Romeo and Juliet balcony outside their main bedroom looking down to the first floor living room and out to the scenic park next to their lot. I'll now just respectfully refer to it as the mansion on the hill.

Anyhoo- said reporter/friend was perceptive enough awhile back to recommend I watch the newish ABC show, Sports Night (Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.). She said it truly was a unique and wonderful TV show. I finally got around to taking her up on her recommendation. I was duly impressed. Last week I borrowed a tape from her full of the first season's episodes. It only proved that I should at the very least continue to at the pay attention to this person's opinions (despite the boycott our Governor recently announced of her fine newspaper). The half hour sitcom!? is unlike anything I've ever seen before- which is a rather remarkable feat seeing how much of television is so dependent on formulas and all that has come before.

Sports Night is definitely quirky. It is a slickly produced program about an ESPN like sports cable program. But the show isn't exactly about sports, nor is it about the medium. Rather like most of the best shows television has produced, it is about the lives of its rather interesting cast. The writing is crisp and clever- reminding me of a Dashiell Hammett novel- not exactly how people exactly speak yet so skillful in the mere use of colorful language that it does indeed manage to convey the most basic of human emotions. (A good example of this was when Sally, an amazon tall woman who has provoked feelings of lust and jealousy among various characters of the show said to Dan, one of the two witty co-anchors- "Am I making you feel diminutive?" To which Dan replies, "No, not at all though I have to look that word up now...") If you are a fan of snappy writing- you will appreciate this show. The writers obviously have a fondness for how words provoke at the same time they can obscure. (If you haven't noticed we have sort of a theme to this week's newsletter- how people use language to communicate and not communicate. I've always been intrigued by people who think about the meaning of words and take exception when others are lazy about their use of words. Like a certain individual was quick to point out to me the mistake of using "roller blading" interchangeably with "in line skating." Roller Blades are a brand name while in line skating is the activity. I'm glad that it matters to her to be so accurate.)

The show is filmed in a very glossy, skillful and fast paced style with quick camera cuts and a very good looking cast. Each week's episode has a chaotic, improvised feeling, yet wonderfully works to an emotional, cathartic conclusion. I haven't seen anything quite as stylish on TV since the heyday of that most groundbreaking show, Hill Street Blues. It is a show that breaks outside the established frames that dominate the network schedules- obviously owing some debt to the much more popular FOX show, Ally McBeal.

I have been so impressed with Sports Night that I spent some of last week recommending the show to any and all my friends that would listen. Yet it is the type of show you can't really describe what it is about- or how well it is done- without sounding like a blubbering TV head. It is an entirely unique vision and after each episode there are equal parts scratching of the head and genuine appreciation for the effort that was made.

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