A Sporting Chance

Hey there sports fans!

As you may just about have noticed, especially if you happened to be wandering around my home town of London, this summer was pretty much taken over by the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It all kicked off with the opening ceremony, which was a pop culture-y joy to watch (An army of Mary Poppins! Giant inflatable Voldermort! The creepy Child Catcher from Chitty!) and since then all kinds of sportsy knowledge has infiltrated the zeitgeist, as well as permeated the membranes of me and Miss Penn’s brains.

I realised that I’ve (accidentally) imbibed a lot of information about various sports from the wonderful world of television in my time. I’ve never even seen a game of American football in real life, but I learnt all about its ins and outs due to my love of Friday Night Lights. I seem to have absorbed a whole lot of sports idioms which confuse my fellow Brits (far too much stuff about yips and wheelhouses), for which I blame basically every American sitcom ever. And the final season of Angel even taught me a quite a bit about the weirdness of corporate racquetball playing!

So for those of you missing the coverage that became commonplace over the summer, here are ten of my favourite representations of (Olympic) sports from fictional TV-land as suggested viewing to help you deal with the four-year wait before it all comes around again.

fencing (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Buffy catching sword

Although Buffy’s weapon of choice was a stake- aptly dubbed Mr Pointy (although given that the Scooby gang were tasked with whittling wood quite a bit in the early seasons I think there must have been more than one bearing that name, although maybe it earned its moniker when she realised that it’s ok to wear the same vampire-stabbing accessory out more than once)- she was also proficient with several other weapons like the quarterstaff, crossbow and sword. The season two finale has a particularly memorable sword fight, where she ended up sending her temporarily evil boyfriend to Hell. All that fencing practice must have come in handy when she had to start wielding the scythe, a mysterious slayer weapon that allowed her to take on the First Evil and its crazy human priest vessel, at the end of season seven.

football (Renford Rejects)

Renford Rejects

This was a bizarrely surreal British children’s show about football, that had an almost Bugsy Malone feel with the kids fantasising about- and attempting to act like- actual adult stars. This was supported by the super-posh coach, Stewart, who’d suffered an injury but gave inspiring speeches just like you’d expect from the person in this role in any cheesy sports film, as well as the team’s friend Vinnie who dreamed of being a famous commentator. The players were all mad, Ronnie seemed to think he was the Fonz and spent most of his time combing his hair, the practically blind goalkeeper Ben wanted to write poetry instead of wear his glasses, while “Bruno” shunned his real identity and tried to convince everyone he was actually Italian. With such ridiculous characters, a proto-feminist vibe (the best player on the team by far was a girl called Robin) and plenty of Elvis impersonations from their weird grown-up friend Eddie, what’s not to love?

basketball (The L Word)

Shane and Papi facing off while playing basketball

The L Word was at its best when it was being utterly ridiculous, and willing to take the piss out of itself and its characters a little. The basketball game that Papi (the new hotshot around) challenged the gang to in season four was a brilliant example of this. The gaggle of West Hollywood-ites mostly working in arts jobs were pretty shit at basketball, and too downright petty to work together all that well, and that was incorporated into the plot rather than waved away. Jenny was of course utterly useless- she barely took off her sunglasses and wandered away to smoke mid-game, Bette got increasingly angry at her team-mates for sucking, and they gave up a player because they were too annoyed at Tina for sleeping with a man to want to play with her. As always though, the best things about the show were Shane (and in this case her apathy towards Papi’s taunts) and Pam fucking Grier as Kit, who seemed bored and exhausted by the game about a minute into it. Legends, both of them.

swimming (Pretty Little Liars)

Emily and Paige on swim team, Pretty Little Liars

For some reason most of the baby lesbians in PLL (namely Emily and Paige) seem particularly drawn to swimming, maybe watching The L Word put them off ball sports for life. Emily’s probably my second favourite of the core Liars (Hanna being far too amusing to ever get knocked off that top spot), as she’s endlessly sweet and doesn’t end up in creepy relationships with inappropriately old and/or ugly people. Her love of the water has been a running theme- she was genuinely heartbroken when she wasn’t allowed on the swim team, her friendship and later relationship with Paige blossomed because of this shared passion (and competitiveness) and Maya bringing the water to Emily via an art project was one of the most overblown yet adorable romantic gestures of all tele-time.

rowing (Young Americans)

rowing at Rawley Academy

Life at the posh private school Rawley was rather different to what Will had experienced on the other side of the tracks. The boys were taught rowing and literature simultaneously by their manic pixie dream tutor Finn, and expected to spontaneously swim or launch into pseudo-intellectual waffling about the sound of history on the lake. Despite only lasting eight episodes, there was a plethora of events depicted in the show’s short run, including a regatta where the rowing stakes seem ridiculously high. All that time on boats probably came in handy for “Jake” and Hamilton when they had to rush back and forth between the girl’s and boy’s school, while Jake aka Jacqueline had to keep changing outfits, in order to both participate in the rowing team as a boy and meet her mother for the parents’ weekend events as a girl. There’s a joke about drag racing in there somewhere, I’m sure.

tennis (Phenom)

Phenom opening with tennis balls

This short-lived show was about a young tennis champ struggling to retain a sense of normalcy, I think tennis is the most painfully dull thing to watch (I’d genuinely prefer staring at paint dry) but somehow this sitcom managed to make it entertaining. Angela was a very likeable main character, and her crazy family and coach presented plenty of opportunities for humour. It actually had a really good cast, which makes rewatching it all the more fun, including Judith Light (Angela from Who’s the Boss?) as the mother, William Devane (you know, that guy who’s in basically everything all the time who you always recognise and can never quite remember where from) as the coach, recurring guest stars like Sara Rue (PopularLess Than Perfect) and Debra Jo Rupp (FriendsThat ’70s Show), and a very young Ashley Johnson (that chick who keeps getting mostly cut out of Joss Whedon things like Dollhouse and The Avengers but is actually going to be in Much Ado About Nothing) as the baby sister.

archery (Game of Thrones)

Game of Thrones archery

The first episode of Game of Thrones started off with some Wall shenanigans, before swiftly switching focus to Winterfell, and little Bran’s archery practice under the eyes of his family. The scene functions as a great introduction to the Stark clan who I initially thought I’d never be able to get straight in my head given that there were bastards and hostages confusing the place up and, more importantly, Robb and Jon basically have the same fucking face. Not only are the Starks and all swiftly introduced and explained, the archery practice scene sets up the fact that Ned is a kind father, that Bran’s only a little kid and that his sister Arya (who actually manages to shoot the target) is clearly a badass. As the series developed it’s made abundantly clear that the world they’re in is a very brutal one, and that Bran would have to grow up quickly and learn to protect himself in order to survive.

sailing (Dawson’s Creek)

Pacey holding up boat sign saying True Love to Joey

Every time I hear the phrase ‘True Love’, I think about Pacey’s boat. Pacey was just about everyone’s favourite Dawson’s Creek character, and his and Joey’s mutual attraction and later relationship felt natural and adorable, in contrast to the Joey/Dawson storylines characterising the earlier seasons. GOOD LORD, DAWSON WAS JUST THE WORST. Becoming borderline obsessed with sailing (and later cooking) gave Pacey something to take his mind off Joey while he was waiting for her to make a decision, and employment opportunities when all his friends buggered off to university. But most importantly it also gave us the emotional ending of season three where Joey ran off to go sailing with him for the summer at the last minute; I firmly believe it’s the standard against which all schmaltzy season finales should be judged.

running (Felicity)

Ben trying out for track, Felicity

Felicity’s cringeworthy behaviour due to her inexplicable crush on Ben (he wasn’t particularly attractive and his most interesting personality trait was pronouncing ‘Javier’ weirdly) was evident right from the beginning of the show. She followed him across the country to the University of New York, rather than going to Stanford, due an off-hand comment he made at their high school graduation. When he tried out for the track team she sat around perving like a crazy person, and to top it all of he wasn’t even that good! At least this failure led to him taking up swimming, and eventually him and Felicity breaking into the pool drunk, which was kind of hilarious- along with the therapy sessions Felicity had to undertake as a result. Basically without athletics Ben would have been entirely devoid of any defining characteristics, and I have no idea why Felicity was obsessed with him, but it’s still my favourite J.J. Abrams show by a long shot, even if Revolution does look pretty promising.

shooting (The West Wing)

Toby rifle

Although I think there’s a lot of problems with the later post-Sorkin seasons of The West Wing, there are also some great moments. For example, although the beginning of season six started with a preposterous storyline involving the President potentially bringing about lasting peace in the Middle East by getting everyone to hang out at Camp David for a few days, I’m almost willing to forget that nonsense if only for the scene of Toby trying out skeet shooting. First off, you’ve got a guy who’s all for gun control running around with a rifle, which is just automatically funny to me, especially because he’s trying to distract a Defense Minister in order to get the magical Peace Talks moving along- which has the air of a French farce to it. But best of all, he’s got absolutely no idea what he’s doing and gets knocked on his ass. People falling over is endlessly hilarious! And The West Wing has slapstick humour like that in abundance, check this beautiful fanvid if you don’t believe me.

Got suggestions of what else to watch for sporty goodness? Tell all in the comments, especially if it involves people falling over and hurting themselves, it’s comedy gold!

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