If there’s one thing that TV shows are bad at (and there’s not, there’s lots) it’s making people look like they’re good at sports. It’s especially egregious because often time the storyline depends on a character being REALLY good. What comes to mind is the Whitney episode “Getting to Know You”. The conceit is that the titular Whitney is a great basketball player when in fact the scenes of her playing basketball are painful to watch. She can’t even dribble. Even worse they use the method every shows seems to use to try and make someone look good at sports which is they make the person guarding them hurl themselves on the ground. Which just looks stupid.
I don’t claim to be the greatest sportsman in the world (certainly not at the level of Natalie Sportsman) but I have played basketball and I have watched basketball a decent amount and I have never seen anyone try to play defense by belly flopping onto the ground. I’ve even seen little kids play basketball and none of them just dove at the ball like they were sliding into home plate. The scene is always the same, our “hero” does some fucking awkward ass bullshit “cross-over” move while everyone else stands there like a statue and then the person guarding them jumps face-first onto the ground and then our show’s main character gracelessly dribbles forward and makes a horrible layup.
The sports episode is a sitcom classic. One show that comes to mind that has a decent sports episode is the basketball episode of the office – even that is a little shaky because Jim is supposed to be really good and they throw in a sequence were he does the jerky-herky clumsy cross-over mentioned above. It’s not as bad as normal in the sitcom world but it’s not great. Also later on they do a volleyball episode where there is some ridiculous diving mentioned before that’s supposed to make us think Pam is great at volleyball.
Another fantastic example is also around volleyball – the short lived Jenny McCarthy sitcom “Jenny” from the era when Jenny McCarthy was a thing and 33% of the sitcoms were just the name of the person in them. The idea here was that Jenny and her pal Maggie were playing sand volleyball but then Jenny ditches Maggie for a better partner so they can win the championship. Gasp! First of all the volleyball court they were playing on was maybe six feet by four feet and the net was maybe five feet high. This ridiculousness was overshadowed by the fact that Jenny McCarty apparently has zero athletic ability of any kind. Presenting her as someone who’s supposed to be good at volleyball was laughable. If only that had been the joke.
On the face of it it seems odd. These actors are generally speaking people who are in good shape, part of their job is looking good so you have to assume that they must work out. How can they be so uncoordinated? But that’s probably faulty reasoning. The idea that anyone in decent shape would be okay at a sport probably doesn’t hold water, it’s something you have to learn and practice to get good at, there’s really no reason to expect anyone doing something for the first time to be good at it.
Remember the X-Files episode “The Unnatural” where the guy from Law & Order plays an alien who loves baseball? I do.
A better question is perhaps why do writers keep writing these episodes? I could understand if maybe if you were the writer on a show and you found out the star of you show was a great snowboarder and you were like “awesome” lets write an episode about snowboarding. But short of that why would you want to try and write something where you cast is going to end up looking like assholes trying to be sporty?
But it doesn’t always fall flat, here are the best sports episodes of all time.
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – The Gang Hits the Slopes
- Futurama – A Leela Of Their Own
- Community – Physical Education
- The Simpsons – The Homer they Fall
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Hundred Dollar Baby
Two of those are cartoons which probably isn’t a fair comparison but maybe it’s a valuable lesson about the fallibility of gross human actors. I for one can’t wait until we use our computers to make shows instead of real people. Will things get better? I don’t know, but it’s going to be interesting for sure when people can make the show they really want to.
I just finished reading a J Michael Straczynski’s autobiography, he wrote a ton of comic books and also the TB shows Babylon 5, Jeremiah, and Sense8 and the movies the Changeling and World War Z. I had the book for a while but I kept putting it not at the top of the stack because Straczynski has always seemed like kind of a douche to me. I don’t think he’s any less of a douche now after reading but since it sounds like his dad (who was a Nazi collaborator in occupied Poland) physically and emotionally abused him well into his 20s and his grandma sexually abused him as well so I can understand better why he might have certain tendencies.
Anyway the point is I’ve read a couple books by people that write TV and they often talk about how their show was ruined because an actor has a contract dispute or gets sick or has an contract to be on another show or something like that. So all the work they did setting up something gets submarined by real life considerations. It will be interesting to see how shows evolve once they don’t have to depend on human actors anymore. I’m really curious to see if these writers are really as great as they think they are once they can do whatever they want.
I think I may have written about that before. I’m only twenty posts in and already I’m repeating myself. It took years before I did that in my old blog. Clearly I’m losing it.
Whitney was a wonderful show, I’m sad there were only 2 seasons, but it suffered from “I liked it” syndrome so it was obviously cancelled. I am however shaming you for knowing anything about that dumpster fire Jenny McCarthy. You also forgot MoneyBart from the Simpsons, another amusing sports related epsiode.
Whitney was ‘okay’ but Chris D’Elia is a peddo so you know. I didn’t forget about MoneyBart, watching it what made me write this! And the real shame is on you for being my friend.