Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's Wrong with "The Newsroom"?

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” is not as bad as most critics say, but it is not very good either.

Take Will McAvoy’s opening rant.

One might imagine that we are being shown a man who has suddenly freed himself from repression and can now speak the truth.

As a character says later, the role of journalism, as Sorkin sees it, is “to speak truth to stupid.”

And yet, McAvoy’s tirade has a dark side. The show makes clear that he has become unhinged, and is sorely in need of adult supervision. Besides, the question that provoked his outburst was asked by a pretty blond college student. In context, the tirade was abusive; it felt like McAvoy was beating up a child.

Why is “stupid” always portrayed as a supposedly dumb blond?

McAvoy does talk down to the audience, but the show seems to believe that he is speaking a higher truth.

As a character, he seems to have lost control, but his views are not balanced by any alternate opinions.

For my part I found it implausible that McAvoy had at his disposal such an abundance of facts and figures. Only those who suffer from from Asperger’s syndrome can rattle off a page full of numbers on cue.

While most of the characters are not as deranged as McAvoy, they tend to be pompous and overwrought. 

Since the characters, for the most part, think alike, many critics have correctly concluded that Sorkin had made them all into mouthpieces for his own views.

Dramatically, this is ineffective.

Sorkin’s strong suit is rapid-fire witty repartee. Some critics have pointed out that no one really speaks that way. I take the point, but no one speaks like Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing or like Petruchio and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. No one ever reproached Shakespeare for it.

For my part I appreciate repartee. Yet, quick witted remarks only work when the actors performing it have perfect diction.

And, very, very few American actors even have diction. They slur their words and mumble their lines, often trying to cover up their bad diction by over-emoting.

Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue serves mostly to reveal his actors' inadequacies.

With the exception of the wonderful Emily Mortimer, who plays MacKenzie McHale, aka Mac.

(Someday someone will explain why feminism insists that successful women must not bear names that reveal their gender. If a woman is proud to be a woman she should revel in her feminine name. If she or her feminist sisters are not proud to be women, then tell us.)

But, I digress.

To this viewer Mortimer was the best thing about the show. Her acting performance was brilliant to the point where she overshadowed everyone else. 

Unfortunately, the McAvoy and McHale relationship suffers from a basic flaw: they were previously involved in a romantic relationship that went sour.

Thus their comic repartee contains elements of bitterness, contempt and blame. It’s very difficult to do romantic comedy when the two lovers are really former lovers who hold grudges against each other.

Sorkin did not have to give them a past history. The show would have worked better without it. As is, it functions as a gratuitous distraction. Beyond that, it places a fundamental implausibility, even an irritant, at the show's core. Who among us would ever want to work closely, day in and day out, with a former lover?

Critics were right to react with chagrin. Women, in particular, must have found the concept especially cringe-worthy.

Witty repartee between attractive young people—here, not so young—is great fun. Yet, as Shakespeare understood and Sorkin does not, such repartee is courtship behavior. It is pre-coital, not post-breakup.

If Sorkin had wanted to draw Will and Mac into a relationship, through romantic banter, we all would have been happy to witness the event. By making them ex-lovers he has made it nearly impossible for us to want to see them get involved.

Beyond the unromantic relationship between executive producer and anchor, there’s the news.

The show takes place in April, 2010. Presumably, it reports on the news as it would have been covered if only Aaron Sorkin had been running his own news department.

We are taken back in time-- back to the future, if you like-- to watch, yet again, earnest reporters cover the story of the Gulf oil spill.

Sorkin plays the story as a massive catastrophe, a game changer or black swan.

And yet, how many of us are sitting around today bemoaning the Deepwater Horizon blow- out?

The Gulf coast has recovered and life has moved on.

Sorkin, however, plays the story as a massive catastrophe that could have been prevented by more government spending. By his show's logic, more money would have meant more inspectors and more inspectors would have prevented it from happening.

This may be true; it may be false. One thing that is true, but never really mentioned,  is that the accident occurred on Obama’s watch, at  a time when the government was massively increasing spending. 

For my part I do not recall the media ignoring the story. Like Sorkin they did everything in their power to demonize BP and the big, bad Halliburton.

Still, if it was not bigger news the reason might have been that the media did not want to draw too much attention to an accident because that would have shone a distinctly unflattering light on the Obama administration. 

Perhaps the media feared the intelligence of the American people. 


Nick said...

I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be interesting.

It's difficult to envision this show sustaining a large audience. Who really wants to watch a show about depressing news stories from two years ago being presented in a similar (er, is it exactly the same?) manner to what we witnessed then?

What new take on the situation are we being presented with? If I viewed the episode a second time, would I learn anything new? "The Newsroom" adds little.

HBO needs to get busy making the next Sopranos, if they are capable of doing so any longer.

*I did like the montage during the opening credits.

Rondo said...

Have you you read this review?

Why The Newsroom is Good News for Republicans

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I hadn't seen it, but it's excellent. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.