Now We’re Talking is going to go down as one of my favorite comedy series. It’s the bastard child of Sports Night meets Space Ghost Coast to Coast with a dash of Weekend at Bernie’s for good measure.
The series tracks the misadventures of two former NFL quarterbacks, Tug Tanner and Tommy Arondall (played by series creators Tug Coker and Tommy Dewey), as they both attempt to build second careers in sportscasting. Not-so-spoiler alert: they’re not great at it. Adding more fuel to the fire is some leftover personal enmity from their football years, and they often can’t stand each other while everyone else can’t stand them.
But their slightly neurotic, definitely competitive double act is hilarious. There are so many moments in Now We’re Talking where it’s impossible not to laugh. Whether it’s the multiple on-air mistakes, the infighting that always happens at the least opportune time, or the way they react to the latest thing they could have never seen coming, these two characters are genuinely funny. It’s no surprise given that the guys who play them and write for them are seasoned pros who write comedy that’s more than a punchline and know that a celebrity cameo is something that enhances your story, not something you use to prop it up.
The writing on this show is impeccable, and has gotten even better in the newly released second season that expands from short-form to full half-hour sitcom. That’s because the humor doesn’t come from humiliation. There’s some of that in there, but the viewer isn’t spending all our time laughing at these two guys as they constantly run into a brick wall. We’re able to laugh with them just as much, not to mention laugh with the show while it skewers modern-day sports media and even the difficulties of making television. The fun comes from self-deprecating anarchy, like a scripted version of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz.
The second season digs deeper into all of these aspects. Tug and Tommy still don’t have great broadcasting skills and manage to screw up more than once, but they’re also face-to-face with a sports landscape that’s moved from studio shows and cable to streaming services and hot takes. At one point in season 2, their new boss describes them being unprofessional as a positive; it’s a complete 180 from the instructor who literally told them “fuck you” in season 1.
Now We’re Talking sharply points out the ridiculousness in a sports world where almost all shows look and sound the same, and where good reporting is often second to who’s able to yell the loudest, whether or not they believe anything that’s coming out of their mouths. It straight-up lampoons the “talking head” model when Tug and Tommy get their own show-within-a-show, Spoiler Alert, and the mild-mannered Tug Tanner becomes an unabashed raging asshole.
And in an overall broadcasting world where it seems every day there’s a new streaming service, audiences watch Tommy and Tug get hired by a streaming service called CUSP that’s the equivalent of ESPN 8: The Ocho. (I was holding out to see some chess boxing or lawnmower racing, but sadly no.)
This show, and particularly this season, hits the nail on the head about any number of things – but it always does so with love.
Sports Night gave us Casey McCall and Dan Rydell, and Tug Tanner and Tommy Arondall are no Casey and Dan. But like those two, Tug and Tommy feel like a real broadcasting partnership. Sometimes they fight and sometimes they get worked up over stupid things. But they face everything together, and genuinely appreciate each other even in the worst of times, and you get the sense that they’re better as a pair than they’d ever be apart. It’s something that really shines in season 2, as the characters essentially switch positions.
The juxtaposition between the two is something that every comedy series strives for. It’s incredibly common to have the crazy friend and the straight man – to create the contrast that makes the crazy part funny. But in Now We’re Talking season 2, we watch Tommy grow up while Tug basically gets dropped on his head. It puts both sides of that dynamic within each character, and allows both of the actors to play a full assortment of personality quirks. Because of that extra range these guys are still funny, but they feel even more human.
Tommy, who spent so long being full of himself and acting only for himself, ends up doing the most selfless thing possible – talking about starting a charity. And now he’s looking out for Tug first and foremost. Meanwhile, Tug – even more desperate to find professional success with his personal place in his family and marriage being usurped by another man – stops thinking about anyone but himself. Not only is he self-obsessed but he becomes famous by tearing other people down.
The runaway freight train of his ego comes from a well-meaning place; he hopes that if he finds success, his son will be proud of him and his wife will love him more. And it’s no surprise that Tommy enjoys being the center of attention as he builds his charity. The roots of who they fundamentally are still exist, but we see how they’ve been turned in different directions. Like Dan and Casey, they wind up having to pull each other back, because they can’t do this alone. These two guys who once fought over one NFL spot on the depth chart have become two of a kind.
Which brings me to the last thing I love about Now We’re Talking: how creative it is. Not only is the writing proficient, but there’s so much to purely have fun with if you love TV or sports or comedy. It’s one thing to hit one target, but three of them spot-on is hard, and Tug and Tommy scored with all three like Douglas Farraday at the Milwaukee Open.
When Tug is mowing down athletes and broadcasters on Spoiler Alert, it’s reminiscent of the interview segments in Space Ghost Coast to Coast, where the guests are attempting to be serious in a hilariously absurd context. When Tommy is initially trying to book guests for the show and failing, it’s like the famous answering machine bit from Swingers except in a professional context. And I (actual spoiler alert) have a soft spot for the final episode, which evokes fond memories of that great 1989 comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, with Tommy nailing the Andrew McCarthy role while Tug has become more of a disillusioned Jonathan Silverman.
These comparisons aren’t by design, but that’s the icing on the cake of this show. There are all of these things, some little and some not so little, that you can find joy in for one reason or another. Whether it’s a familiar face making an appearance or the way that a joke is set up, you notice things beyond just it being funny. It also winds up being quite fun, and by the end, surprisingly emotional.
The underlying theme of Now We’re Talking is about life in transition. As Tommy and Tug mentioned in our interview, sports is one of those fields where people only stick around for so long, whether due to age, injury or in the characters’ case, failure. But to get to the NFL or other major leagues it takes decades of work. So what do you do when the thing you’ve worked your whole life for goes away? Who are you when you’re not the person you always wanted to be anymore?
It’s a tough question, and without getting too maudlin, something I have personal experience with. Not that I was ever an NFL quarterback (I was better at hitting people in the head than in the hands), but when I broke both of my legs several years ago it caused a massive identity crisis. As someone who loved sports and had worked my whole life to be athletic at all, I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. I never completely recovered but I ended up reinventing myself as a journalist, and here we are.
Now We’re Talking weaves in that emotional underpinning without beating audiences over the head with it. The scripts find the perfect places for more serious beats, and sometimes they may be just a look or the way someone delivers a line. But audiences see Tommy and Tug growing up, in a sense, over these eight episodes. They’re not holding onto their grudges from the past anymore. They’re looking at what they have instead of what they don’t (even as Tommy’s mom and her circle of friends seem to be unable to let it go).
A scene in one early episode has a kid want to take a picture with Tommy, not because he wants to be a quarterback but because he wants to be a sportscaster. It’s genuinely heart-warming to see these two guys come to a better understanding of themselves and be able to move on with their lives, even if it’s not at all what they expected and with a ton of bumps in the road. Everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown at them, and they’ve taken a few hits, but they’re still standing.
And there’s something awesome, too, in the story of how Now We’re Talking got made: that these two fantastic guys decided to make a show together and they did it, and then when they could’ve given up, they spent more than a year searching for a new home. They not only did something they genuinely loved, but they never gave up on it and now it’s paid off. It’s inspiring and it makes watching the show even more rewarding.
When I got to the final scene of the series, I found myself getting a little choked up at the idea that it was over. We’ve been on an incredible journey with Tug and Tommy, both the characters and the actors, and you’re left with a feeling of closure but also looking to the future because you know they’re going to do something else memorable. These are two characters – and two wonderful actor/creators – who took on a crazy challenge and ran with it, and there’s no better story to tell than that.
Both seasons of Now We’re Talking are now streaming on CW Seed.