Good Sports is a small triumph of packaging. This sitcom pairs Farrah Fawcett with Ryan O’Neal, a couple favored by the tabloids in real life; their show features prime time’s best theme song (soul great Al Green in his funkiest performance in a decade) and the best opening credits (O’Neal in a tux, Fawcett in a tight black cocktail dress, alternately tangoing and wrestling on an abandoned dance floor).
The show itself? Pretty good, quite shrewd, and very intriguing. Fawcett is a sportscaster for a cable sports network; when her co-anchor dies, she’s teamed with O’Neal, a former pro footballer fallen on hard times (his previous job was delivering pizza). Their lines are sharp, and each is perfect — Fawcett, self-absorbed and sleek; O’Neal, self-parodying and pudgy. Fawcett has spent so many years proving her credentials as a serious actress that it’s fun to see her relax into comedy. Right now her character is rather stiff-necked — she disapproves a bit too strenuously of O’Neal’s rowdy sense of humor and lack of professionalism. But this is less Fawcett’s problem than the writers’ — they have to find a way to allow her to loosen up, to use that toothy smile and sex-symbol image to convey both warmth and humor.
O’Neal, on the other hand, has found himself a great character. As down-and-out Bobby Tannen, he’s completely convincing; he carries his bulkiness with the surprising grace of an ex-athlete. Then, too, O’Neal is savvy enough to know that, to a certain extent, he’s being used — when we watch Ryan O’Neal play a once-famous figure gone to seed, we can’t help but think of the actor’s own stalled movie career. O’Neal, to his credit, seems to relish making fun of his real-life dilemma. As Bobby, he whines, ”I really want this job!”; in a recent TV Guide interview, he claims he sold Fawcett on the notion of doing the show by pleading, ”I need this. I need this.” If Good Sports is a hit, O’Neal may finally get the credit he deserves as a skilled light comedian, a side of his personality he’d previously displayed only in What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and the underrated So Fine (1981).
But Good Sports doesn’t succeed on star power alone; there’s also a solid cast of supporting characters. Lane Smith, extraordinary as Richard Nixon in The Final Days miniseries (1989), is terrific as a huffy, Ted Turner-ish cable channel owner; Brian Doyle-Murray is satisfyingly subtle as the show’s obsequious producer.
So what’s bad about Good Sports? Just the premise: We’re supposed to think that Fawcett and O’Neal hate each other on the surface and have the hots for each other just below it. But isn’t this Will They Do It? question precisely what hobbled shows such as Moonlighting and Anything But Love? If the couple in question doesn’t get together, the series is in danger of becoming a tiresome tease; if they do, the suspense dissipates. How the show will resolve this problem remains to be seen. In the meantime, here is a sitcom that creates a beguiling new genre: the goofily erotic. B+