It’s only the second episode of NewsRadio, but “Inappropriate” sees the quirky staff of WNYX start to get into the kinds of sometimes over the top, almost always funny shenanigans that will continue throughout the course of the series. The main plot revolves around Matthew making a rare appearance in the booth, during which he mispronounces Joey Buttafuoco’s name repeatedly (it’s not hard to guess how). Meanwhile, Dave and Lisa end up sleeping together before even knowing each other’s last names, starting the on-again, off-again relationship that will go for most of the show’s run. The other recurring plot thread that’s introduced here is the contentious relationship between Bill and Catherine, namely because Bill enjoys annoying Catherine too much. In other words, “Inappropriate” begins a lot of themes and plots that the show will continue to use for the majority of its run. That alone makes it worth watching.
The opening scene flows just about as well a good scene from Sports Night. It goes from Matthew in the booth making his ill-advised report, to Dave and Lisa cluing him into what he’s just done, to a conversation between Dave and Lisa, to Joe and Matthew, to the appearance of Jimmy, without a real break. All of it is funny, too, as evidenced by Jimmy’s part in the conversation.
Jimmy: So who called first, the FCC or Mr. Buttafuoco’s lawyers?
Lisa: We’re airing a short correction and a formal apology, Mr. James.
Dave: No, we’re not.
Lisa: Yes, we are.
Dave: No, Lisa, we’re not.
Jimmy: Okay, okay. Who did I hire as the news director here?
Lisa: I’m sorry, Mr. James.
Jimmy: No, I’m really asking, I lose track of these things.
It goes without saying that while Phil Hartman was the unquestionable star of the show, Stephen Root stole his fair share of scenes. Not to mention that Maura Tierney shows a knack for relatively straight comedy that has since been overshadowed by her dramatic work on series like ER. The entire opening sequence goes for more than three minutes, and cleverly ends on a cutaway to the main titles seconds before Matthew makes another verbal gaffe. It’s great writing, performed well by almost the entire ensemble.
Dave and Lisa bicker through the beginning of the episode, after which she invites herself to dinner with him. The next morning, everything between them has gone from vitriolic to awkward, and Beth immediately suspects something, moreso because Dave has a habit of adjusting his tie when he’s lying. She gets him to admit that he and Lisa made out, and of course, everything gets publicly weird from there. So awkward that by the next night, they’ve slept together, which happens for the third time in his office while the rest of the staff goes to lunch. Most of the episode’s comedy comes from them talking about how horrible the idea of an interoffice relationship is, and then immediately doing what they just said they’d never do.
Poor Matthew is utterly humiliated by his on-air flub, and spends the entire episode trying to convince everyone that he actually knows how to pronounce “Buttafuoco,” only to be constantly reminded of the consequences of his screwup. He spends the entirety of the episode convinced he’s going to be fired (which he eventually is in season four, not that it stops him from being in the office anyway).
Also in this episode, Bill decides he’s going to throw a literally two-minute birthday party for Catherine, who hates any reference to her age (an entire episode in a later season is devoted to how he mentions her age on the air and her subsequent desire to retaliate), complete with punch and cake. Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well at all. Neither does the birthday lunch she doesn’t even turn up to, or his attempt to defend her honor needlessly when Dave tells them both to “shut up and get back in the booth.” Bill reveals that years earlier, he and Catherine attempted a personal relationship, and they’ve never been the same since. This should be a cautionary tale for Dave and Lisa, but as anyone who’s ever even seen one episode of this show knows, it falls on deaf ears.
Almost as interesting as this episode are the things that we learn behind the scenes from this episode. If you listen to the commentary track on the DVD edition, you learn that Joe Rogan unhappily thought he was the ‘token beefcake’ on the show (and no one can blame him, as there were a lot of random excuses for him to not be wearing a shirt during the series), and that the season one costume designer apparently loved padding everything in the cast’s upper bodies, not that they ever understood why. Also, production nerds like myself will notice there’s no glass in the booth’s windows, as that created glare for the cameras (much like trying to take a picture at an enclosed exhibit at the zoo). Also, if you got the vibe that Bill and Catherine had chemistry besides being just rivals, you’re not alone…apparently the early plan was for said personal relationship to be part of the series. It certainly would have given Khandi Alexander more to do had they gone that route, though how it would have worked out is anyone’s guess. While I would have liked to see her get more screen time (how many episodes does she spend a lot or even most of the twenty-two minutes in the news booth, in the background, without dialogue?), which we know was the reason why Alexander ultimately left the show, I’m not so sure that it would have been good for the series, which already had the Dave/Lisa relationship going full steam by this point. There’s such a thing as too many couples on a show, and for NewsRadio, one was probably enough.
Regardless, “Inappropriate” is not only a good episode, but also a table-setter for the entire series.