Sports Night: A small instance of donor resistance

It’s not one of the best known shows, but it’s that critical darling stuck in obscurity. For fans of Aaron Sorkin, creator of the more famed West Wing and writer of A Few Good Men, including that line, “You can’t handle the truth!”, Sports Night is a different offering in the Sorkin oeuvre. It has his trademark elements of rapid fire dialogue, often pedantic rambling, yet with a thread of emotional gravitas running through it. For me, sometimes it’s almost too heavy handed in its idealism, borderline cheesy. But the good definitely far outweighs the bad.

The setting, loosely based on ESPN’s Sports Center, uses television production from a behind-the-scenes perspective, and does this extremely well. Ahead of its time, this  show about a show disavowed laugh tracks, all the way back in 1998.  And the cast is great, with Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) as the  exec producer, Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and Josh Charles as the show’s anchors, along with a stately Robert Guillaume.  The characters are well drawn, complex, and you always feel like they’re all smarter than you, but its no reason for hating them. It’s part of their allure. For these aforementioned reasons it’s certainly worth watching. In fact, for you lucky subscribers to Netflix, entire series is available to watch instantly.

So what does this have to do with donor outreach? Well, in “Napoleon’s Battle Plan” ( Season 1, Episode 22), throughout the episode, Jeremy, a “Sports Night” producer played by Sorkin standby Joshua Malina, has one main schtick: justifying his decision not to participate in the company blood drive. I’m not sure what the motivation behind his interjections about it are, whether poorly done comic relief, or just character building. It never becomes a plot point later down the line either.

This echoes  Alan Sepinwall, a TV Commentator,  reflecting on the show:

Is there a more pointless and/or less funny running gag in this season than Jeremy’s constant attempts to get people interested in his reasons for not donating blood? Maybe a payoff got cut for time, but as presented… why?

My straw grasping answer is that the language is so rich in this episode (and in every ep for that matter) that perhaps the questions of the moral high road and disclosure of information throughout are somewhat related to similar positions on blood donation. Moreover, the theme of sharing, both of information and your blood, also ties into its opposite, withholding. And in some characters’ moral universes (mainly Natalie in this ep), there are punitive measures taken for withholding.

Sadly, Jeremy is my least favorite character on the show. Although Malina does get an A for effort, and is clearly committed to his craft, his theater-y affect is often the most pronounced, which can be a detractor in television.  And he gave me even more reasons to feel ambivalent about him in this episode. His dialogue in this episode is completely in keeping with his character however, so neurotic and self-conscious that he had to broadcast his refusal and justification to allay what may have been guilt about a personal moral dilemma. It’s a pattern his character expresses often. Then again, it seems everyone on the show acts that way from time to time.  And these dilemmas, when externally manifested, including this one about blood donation, are treated with a cold shoulder or a laconic dose of sarcasm if not utmost earnestness. That seems to be Sorkin’s polarities inflected on his dialogue overall.

But anyway, I digress. It’s much better watching it all in context, but I’ve bundled all the snippets of dialogue about blood donation, complete with handy time stamps:

At 6:30

Jeremy: I got this memo. About the blood drive.

Natalie: Yeah.

Jeremy: I can’t do it.  I can’t give blood.

Natalie: Okay. That’s fine.

[Then after he talks to Natalie]Dan: Hi.

Jeremy: Dan, I can’t give blood.

Dan: Okay.

Jeremy: That’s all I had to say.

Dan: Well you’ve given me a lot to think about.

At 7:51

Jeremy: It’s not that I wouldn’t like to, it’s just that I can’t.

Dana [tersely]: Okay.

Jeremy: That’s really all I have to say.

Jeremy [to Natalie who has just entered the room for an entirely different conversation]: I haven’t changed my mind.

Natalie: About what?

Jeremy: About the blood.

Natalie [almost ignoring him]: Don’t worry about it.

Jeremy [seconds later after Natalie and Dana have left the room. to the control room crew]: Yeah I’ve really made up my  mind about this…

At 12:07

Jeremy: See, people think it’s the needle, but it’s not the needle.

Sally [referring to sports footage]: Look at this, nobody’s on the perimeter.

Jeremy: It’s  really not the needle.

Sally[referring to the footage]: One, two, three people collapse on McElroy

Jeremy: It’s this: That blood is ostensibly going someplace it needs it to go. It’s on its way to oxidize something. I have to respect that.

Sally: That’s fine.

Jeremy: All right, it’s a little bit the needle.

Dana walks in angry at Sally [to Jeremy]: Can I have the room please?

Jeremy: Dana, I know the blood drive is important.  I just can’t do it.

Dana: I honestly couldn’t care less.

Jeremy [exiting the room] : Thank you.

At 19:15 

Jeremy[announcing to the control room]: I’ll write a check, I’ll volunteer my time, I just prefer not to give my actual blood.

Dana[ignoring Jeremy, instead referring to the show’s anchors]: Why don’t they have their pants again?

Natalie: Because someone forgot to share.

Jeremy[again referring to his choice about donation]: My point is, I don’t think i should be judged for this.

I have to say though,  Joshua Malina and his recent guest post on EW’s Popwatch about the possibility of a Sports Night Movie is a redeeming move toward hilarity and self-awareness.

Can anyone else make any more heads or tails of these snippets of donor resistance and rationale? Watch this episode and let me know your thoughts!

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