Saturday, July 20, 2013

"The Newsroom" Is Back

It’s not one of the times when you ask yourself: What was he thinking?

We know exactly what Aaron Sorkin was thinking when he put together his train wreck of a show: “The Newsroom.”

Acclaimed screenwriter Sorkin let fame go to his head. He knew he was a great writer, but he convinced himself that he was also a great thinker. He believed that his opinions were so obviously true that he could save the Republic by showing how the network news should be run.

He ended up showing us why he is not running the network news.

Imagine his surprise when the first season of “The Newsroom” was uniformly panned by television critics.

If Sorkin thought that having characters mouth politically correct bromides would cause the commentariat to swoon, he was very wrong.

Nevertheless, the show was renewed. Insider buzz suggested that Sorkin had learned his lesson and would be offering a new improved “Newroom” this year.

After watching the first show of the second season I can report that the buzz was wrong. The show continues to be propagandistic; the characters are still unsympathetic; they all speak too quickly; the plot lines still express adolescent liberalism. A great screenwriter like Sorkin should know that the approach makes for bad storytelling.

The lead character, Will McAvoy is a smug, self-righteous, self-important asshole… excuse the expression. It is impossible to care about McAvoy, or, for that matter, about any of the other characters. No audience is going to care about characters that are merely vehicles for disseminating the puerile political opinions of Aaron Sorkin.

When it comes to political opinion, this year Sorkin has chosen to double down on stupid. His first episode revolves around McAvoy’s statement that “the Tea Party is the American Taliban.” Admittedly, there are precincts where the Tea Party is routinely excoriated, even singled out for political persecution, but no one with a brain really believes that the Tea Party is the American Taliban.

Writing in the Guardian, not an organ of the Tea Party, Jeff Jarvis takes the full measure of Aaron Sorkin’s failure:

You could be forgiven for thinking that journalists hate  The Newsroom because we are unbearable, self-centered nitpickers who think the show doesn't tell our story.

But that's not why I hate The Newsroom.

You'd be right to theorize that we hate The Newsroom because:
• it is filled with sanctimonious showoff soliloquies by its creator, Aaron Sorkin
• It exploits headlines with hindsight instead of insight, though at least that gives the audience the foresight to dread what's coming (says The Onion: "Nation hoping 'The Newsroom' ends before Trayvon Martin storyline")
• It portrays women as ego-deprived, simpering, clumsy, man-dependent fools who are afraid to display their own intelligence and don't know how email works
• It portrays men as ego-sated, sexist, horny, loser oafs
• It – or rather, Sorkin – hates the Internet, the domain of "the pajama people"
• It forces its actors to talk faster than a New Yorker on a case of Red Bull and, worse, has them finish each others' sentences, which would make a real New Yorker just slap them.

In other words, the show fails because it’s all about Aaron Sorkin.

But Jarvis offers a cogent explanation for why journalists hate “The Newsroom.” They hate it because it makes them look like smug, self-righteous, self-important assholes.

Ultimately, Jarvis is disappointed by a missed opportunity:

On The Newsroom Sorkin's characters act mournful and mopey that they can't fix their sex lives or the world when what they should be fixing is their industry. And in truth, all they really do is read the news off TelePrompTers and get paid way too much to do so. They don't earn their ennui.

Sorkin could reinvent TV news. He could present us with a vision of what it could be. TV news could be good at explaining complex issues and narratives. It could be good at visualizing complex data. It could be good at telling us what we should know rather than what we already know. It could be good at giving us the point of view of witnesses -- real witnesses who now carry their own camera trucks in their pockets. It could be good at convening us to action.

But TV news isn't any of that that and neither is Sorkin's moody rendition of it in the show within his show. He merely takes TV news as it is and adds a layer of adolescent emotion and obnoxious rhetoric to it. That's why I hate The Newsroom.

While I mostly agree with Jarvis, I would add one slight qualification. There is no way on earth that Aaron Sorkin was going to reinvent televisions news. If he thought that he could, he should be treated for hubris. If he chosen a less ambitious project, one that involved telling an interesting story with characters we care about he might have succeeded. For having aimed too high, he failed.


Sam L. said...

Sorkin portrays women as stupid and the feminists roll over and play dead?

Not true to life, huh!

JP said...

"There is no way on earth that Aaron Sorkin was going to reinvent televisions news. If he thought that he could, he should be treated for hubris."

I'm certain that somebody out there could start a project to see whether they could make an adequate form of television news that is more useful than our current version.

However, the problem with Aaron Sorkin trying to do something like that is the fact that he's Aaron Sorkin. So it will completely fail for reasons directly related to the way Mr. Sorkin relates to reality.

Anonymous said...

I lasted less than one episode last year. Our hero scoffed, "Sarah Palin knows Nothing about the Oil Industry!" Now that's pig ignorance.

BBC America's "The Hour" is the proud obverse. Based on a real Brit woman news producer in the '50s. I wonder where it's gone. -- Rich Lara

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree completely about "The Hour." I hope its just on hiatus while preparing the next season.