First things first: I'm a huge Aaron Sorkin fan girl. I love The West Wing - as I'm talking to you right now, I'm also walking - and while I know that Sorkin isn't perfect (see - or perhaps: don't - Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, The Farnsworth Invention and Charlie Wilson's War), I'm devoted to him in the same way that I'm devoted to Woody Allen. That is to say: they're heroes of mine, and as such, I don't hold their turkeys against them.
But I've watched the first four episodes of The Newsroom, and, I'm sorry, but I'm thrusting this one onto Sorkin's chest by its scrawny turkey neck. Or at least, I doubt very much that I'm going to watch episode five.
Because, while watching The Newsroom, I've been finding myself rolling my eyes, shouting at the screen and vowing never to watch it again. I've been finding it awful - and yet awfully compelling. In short: I've been hit by the rather shocking and sad realisation that watching an Aaron Sorkin show has somehow gone from being a nuanced, dramatically and intellectually satisfying experience to being a guilty pleasure.
How on earth did it come to this? I'm not sure. But I'm going to have a stab at answering it with what I believe is a nuanced, intellectually satisfying argument. Namely:
10 Things I Don't Like About The Newsroom
1. Its superiority and self-righteousness
If, like me, the only moments of The West Wing you didn't enjoy were its self-righteous ones, then boy, are you in for a treat with The Newsroom. Because everyone in it (i.e Sorkin) is right and you are wrong, and everyone in it (i.e Sorkin) hates you and thinks you're stupid.
Aaron Sorkin Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) even says at one point that he has to "speak truth to stupid". And what makes this doubly worse is that I don't believe The Newsroom is as smart as it thinks it is. Ironically, given that it's about a news team devoted to Facts and The Truth and Expert Witnesses, the show (and the show within the show) skims over issues, presents arguments and opinions in a highly simplified way, and patronises and ridicules anyone with opposing views. And while, as in The West Wing, its characters are braniacs with degrees and awards up to their eyeballs, unlike The West Wing, I don't admire or look up to them - I simply think "What a bunch of smug, self-important, self-righteous, condescending people you are". Even the cute one, Jim.
2. Its use of real-life news stories
Sorkin uses actual news stories from the not-too-distant past as a way of giving The Newsroom an air of authenticity and as a device to show how smart the news team is (and remember: they're smarter than all the rest of us. See 1.). But in fact, it serves to do the opposite of both those things: it's intellectually dishonest (as puppetmeister Sorkin has the benefit of hindsight) and thus makes things feel fake. Behold: the News Night team make all the right calls! They're the only ones who realise that the Deepwater Horizon explosion is going to be an environmental disaster of epic proportions! They're the only ones who say that Gabrielle Giffords is... well, see 3 below:
3. The combination of 1. and 2. In episode 4 (spoiler alert!)
On the night of the Arizona shootings, the network boss is yelling at the News Night team because they're losing viewers for every second they don't announce that Senator Gabrielle Giffords is dead. So guess what - News Night refuse to announce it! Because they always do the right thing! Because they have the benefit of hindsight and - real-life spoiler! - Gaby Giffords isn't dead! As a result, the episode ends with the News Night team smiling smugly. Not because Giffords is alive, you understand, but because they called it right. And that, as we all know, is the most important lesson that can be learned from a shooting incident in America. *bangs head on news desk*
4. Its devotion to the past and dismissal of the present
Murrow! Cronkite! Those other white, middle-class guys from the '50s and '60s! Those are
Aaron Sorkin's Will McAvoy's heroes, and their names are mentioned over and over again. As a result, Sorkin is increasingly coming across the grumpy old man who laments "If only things were like the past" (when things were, of course, pretty good for white, middle-class guys. Others? Not so much). There's no acknowledgement, let alone admiration, for anything the present might have to offer. Sorkin appears to despise the internet, bloggers, reality TV, celebrity magazines and Twitter. And woe betide you if you like any of those things, because you'll be portrayed as cruel, shallow or worse still: believing that Big Foot is real.
5. Women being incompetent/hysterical/annoying/unprofessional...
Don't be fooled by the economics degrees, Peabody awards and general smarts possessed by the female characters in The Newsroom. Because they will also, of course, have a propensity to knock things over, send mass emails by mistake, hide under beds while boyfriends have sex above them, and generally behave massively unprofessionally. Women will also love gossip and reality shows and for that, be hated and patronised (see point 4). It's sad that, in creating flawed characters, Sorkin can't portray a woman who's professionally together but emotionally a mess (like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, say, or - hey! - Will McAvoy in The Newsroom). It's even sadder that the likes of CJ Cregg, Donna Moss, Abbey Bartlet and Amy Gardner are visions of a dim and distant Sorkin past. Hell, I'm even missing Mrs Landingham.
6. ...and men being their saviours
As he makes perfectly clear in episode 4 (I'll Try To Fix You - yes, as in Coldplay), Aaron Sorkin doesn't just want to fix America, he wants to fix America's women. Well, bless them, they do knock things over, behave massively unprofessionally and read gossip magazines, so they do have it coming to them. Also, sadly - compared to say, Josh and Donna, Sam and Mallory or Jed and Abbey in The West Wing - the sparring between the sexes in The Newsroom comes across less as wonderful '30s romcom-esque banter and more as the women being put right by the men. Which leads us to...
7. The replacing of 'walk and talk' with 'grab by the arm and lead to an area where everyone can overhear you'
This is, of course, normally done by a man to a woman (see point 6), and amazingly, never seems to result in disciplinary procedures. In Sorkin's defence, journalists - unlike White House staff - do tend to spend most of their days just sitting around, so there's only so much walking and talking that can be done when going from someone's desk to, erm, someone else's desk nearby. But the result is that a) we feel chained to the desks with them - they even hold their New Year's Eve party in the office! - and b) 'hilariously' overheard, massively unprofessional conversations taking place every five minutes in the News Night office. Seriously, how do any of these characters hold down jobs?
8. The endless excusing of Jeff Daniels' supposedly bad behaviour
Sorkin breaks the 'show, don't tell' rule with 'don't show, and do tell, over and over and over again'. Jeff Daniels is a monster! Apparently! Which is odd, because he just seems to be a bit of a selfish, egotistical man who gets grouchy from time to time. But no! He's a monster! No, wait! He's not a monster! He's a good guy really! It's just that he was wronged by his ex-girlfriend! And how do we know all these things? Because we are told them. Over and over and over again.
9. Smart people getting cultural references wrong
Firstly, it's getting boring as a device for putting someone down and/or showing the audience that they're not as smart as they think they are. (That said, The West Wing viewers will no doubt be pleased to know that Sorkin has moved on from Gilbert and Sullivan). And secondly, I refuse to believe that a whip-smart, Peabody award-winning British person would think that Don Quixote was written in French. Even I know that it's in Spanish, and I've never even seen a Peabody award (apparently it has the body of a pea).
10. The line "This right here is always the swan song of the obsolete when they're staring the future paradigm in the face", as delivered by Dev Patel
Although to be fair, the poor chap didn't have much of a chance.
So there you go. But in the interest of being as fair and balanced as Fox News - and News Night itself - I feel I should also present:
4 Things I Do Like About The Newsroom
1. Sorkin's majestic, soaring speeches
If you're going to get speeched, you might as well bend over, take it like a man, and be speeched by an Aaron Sorkin character. Jeff Daniels' rousing rant in opening scene of the pilot episode (which is delivered, naturally, to a Stupid Woman Who Doesn't Know Any Better) is spine-tingling stuff. No one touches Sorkin when it comes to this sort of writing, and it makes me feel smarter just by hearing it, or by trying to remember at least one of the facts quoted.
2. Jeff Daniels
He's Jeff Daniels. With a bit of Keith Olberman. What's not to love?
3. All the other actors
With a particular hat-tip to the permanently half-sloshed Sam Waterston (though I fear he might not make it to season 2 at this rate), Jane Fonda, who makes a cracking cameo in episode 3, and all the women who make the best of the poor unfortunate, massively unprofessional characters they've been given.
4. The theme music
The opening theme of The Newsroom, by Thomas Newman - who also gave us the scores to American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption and WALL:E - is a wonderful, stirring, Goddam-This-Is-Gonna-Be-Great-Television introduction to the show. Sadly, as a result, it makes the ensuing programme even more of a letdown. But hey - at least for those first few minutes, I'm proud to be an American. Even if I'm British. That's how good it is.
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