Archive | June, 2012

Summer 2012 Review: The Newsroom

27 Jun

The Newsroom is about a, well, newsroom, putting on a nightly news show.  The show is headed by anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, and helmed by executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), under the guidance of news division head Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston – I heart Jack McCoy forever).

Aaron Sorkin is clearly an extremely skilled writer, of dialogue in particular, even though I’ve vacillated on how much I enjoy his writing (Joss Whedon is my preferred TV staple dialogue-writing cult figure).  It’s good though, for the most part, it’s sharp and crisp, and though it can be exhausting sitting through some Sorkin conversations, they have a rhythm and a cadence that gets more comfortable over time.

Aaron Sorkin, when he’s creating a show, rather than writing a movie, is also a creator of worlds, and here his talents are not quite as proficient.  Sorkin is an utter optimist and believes things can be better; this show is about running a BETTER Newsroom; his most successful show.  I capitalize better because the problem lies in the fact that Sorkin think he knows what’s objectively better.  There’s nothing wrong with an optimistic show; not every show has to be as soul-crushing as season 4 of The Wire or Six Feet Under.  However, there’s optimistic and generally light in tone and then there’s preachy and sanctimonious, which unfortunately is where the show lies some of the time and comes awful close to lying some more of the time.

(Having briefly mentioned The Wire before, I think it’s worth noting that in fact, in many ways The Newsroom looks to be the flipside to season 5 of The Wire’s journalism plot.  Where David Simon has just as much preaching to do about the state of the journalism industry, in Simon’s world view, the good guys lose about 70% of their games, while in Sorkin’s the guys guys win that many.)

There’s also this crazy and kind of disturbing romanticism for the past; a time when enws was NEWS and the greatest generation and blah blah.  I hate past romanticism more than anything; things were different but not better in every way; we used to not give gay people rights, let along black people.  Sure, some things are always better and some things are always worse; things are different.  Jeff Daniel’s character exclaims in a controversial speech in a panel at the beginning of the show that America is not the best country in the world, but then eventually says it used to be.  I was totally with him on the first part; my-country-is-best grandstanding outside of sporting events is on of the silliest ideas prevalent throughout the U.S. that I don’t understand.  Sure, I love my country, and I’ll root for it at the World Cup but I hardly think it’s objectively better overall than every other country; it’s better in some ways, and worse in others.  Once Daniels started on the second half that America used to be better, I was turned off completely.  Not to mention this continuing idea of bemoaning the rampant partisanship of America.  My belief is, for most things, some variant of fuck compromise – I believe strongly in one side and think the other is dead wrong.

That was a little bit off track, but it wasn’t entirely because the point is, while Aaron Sorkin’s world makes it seem like a great place to leave, it’s not real life, and it’s not somewhere you’d want to be real life, and that’s because it doesn’t work.

After writing about it, I realize I think I like it less than I thought I did right when I finished the episode.  I feel confident in everything I’ve written, but it’s worth remembering before I leave off what a talented writer Sorkin is; the show has good things going for it countering the bad.

One more quick note:  The show makes the kind of odd decision to set itself on the day of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and then conceal that fact until about halfway through the episode where it’s revealed as if it’s a crazy reveal; can you believe they’re starting a news show on this day?  I don’t really understand why, if they really wanted to start that day, they couldn’t have just revealed the date at the beginning.  It’s not as if most people know the date by heart as they would September 11 or D-Day.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, Sorkin is a big enough name and a talented enough guy that I’m going to give him a little bit of leeway despite my objections.  Also, I have no other way to get my Sam Waterston fix.  I may just fast forward to Waterston parts at some point, though.

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Daily Viewing Report: June 25, 2012

26 Jun

Okay, to ensure that I post more often, I’ll be posting quick, shorter, hits, hopefully as close to daily as possible with notes on recent viewings.

What I watched today:

Daily Show/Colbert Report – Here’s a tumblr idea:  review Daily Show and Colbert Report.  I’m not going to do it.  Someone should though.

Wimbledon, wimbledon, wimbledon – I still don’t understand why more people don’t like tennis.  Sad, really.  Wimbledon was probably my second favorite major once upon a time, but that flipped, at least for now, to French because my fourth or fifth favorite person of all time Rafael Nadal wins that one every year.

Mets game – one of the worst defensive innings I have seen in my entire life; two dropped pop ups for three base errors each, and a third error, for good measure.  Brutal.

The Newsroom – I’ll write more about this later; but here’s what you need to know in a sentence – pro: Aaron Sorkin is a very talented writer and though watching some of the conversations can be exhausting, there’s also a distinctive Sorkin patter that finds a rhythm by the end of the episode/ con: the show is fairly preachy and sanctimonious and while more TV shows are showing a world that is, Newsroom still lives in Sorkin’s sensibility of what a world should be

Watch it Again: Community

11 Jun

In order to celebrate the three wonderful years of Community before Dan Harmon was fired, and the show may or may not be terrible and cancelled, in that order, I’ve begun a re-watch of the first season.  I was curious to see how it held up to the later seasons, but in terms of how funny it was, but also in terms of tone and personality.  As I watch, I’ll be writing up little summaries and notes, and assessing each episode with a rating, all relative to whatever arbitrary rating I give the first episode.  If you’ve already seen Community, consider this an invitation to re-watch yourself, or at least read and remind yourself of the good times.  If you haven’t seen Community yet, no better day to start than today, what may have been the best comedy on TV of the past couple of years.  Here we go:

Pilot

It’s very different than what the show has become, but not quite as different as I imagined it would be going back.  We have to deal with the whole introduction to the show, which comes out of Jeff wanting to hook up with Britta, and Community is hardly the ensemble it’s become; rather it’s a Jeff show, with a bit of Britta.  John Oliver shows up as Professor Ian Duncan, a former client of Jeff’s who Jeff tries to get answers to, and it seems like he would be in more episodes from this pilot.  The dean appears for a second with his mangled opening speech, which is a hilarious way to start off the show.  There’s basically two plots which both star Jeff; Jeff arranging the study group to hook up with Britta, and Jeff trying to get the answers from Professor Duncan.  The two parts I remember as particularly memorable are Abed imitating Emilio Estevez from The Breakfast Club and Jeff’s speech about how humans are the only animals who observe Shark Week.  Abed seems far less socially adept in the pilot than later on, though obviously he gets super crazy in other, evil Abed Dreamatorium ways.

Overall, I remember being instantly hooked on the show, and though I was worried this would pale compared to some of the newer episodes, although it was different, I can see again why I was hooked.

Rating:  7.8  – This number is completely arbitrary yet is the number by which I will judge all subsequent episodes; I would put it higher, but I want to give some solid room so I don’t have most episodes crowding between 9 and 10, say.

Spanish 101

Still the Jeff and Britta show, but Pierce becomes our first additional character to play a major role.  The A plot is Jeff and Pierce being paired together for a Spanish project; Jeff trades cards and shirts with Abed to be paired with Britta, but Britta’s traded cards as well, so he’s paired with Pierce.  Jeff’s been avoiding Pierce, and after getting sick of him while Pierce turns a five minute Spanish project into an hours long extremely racist whiskey session, finally comes back around and decides to join Pierce and present their project together.  The B plot is largely forgettable as Annie and Shirley trying to learn from Britta’s protest-y past, forming a protest and candlelight vigil for a Guatamalan journalist, while realizing that Britta talks a big talk about protesting but doesn’t do it herself.

This episode is the birth of the Troy-Abed connection, even thoughTroy’s still barely a character, as they are Spanish project partners, and then conclude the episode in the cold closing with their Spanish rap, which I didn’t realize in hindsight, started as early as the second episode.

The most memorable scenes are probably the Pierce and Jeff performing their Spanish project montage, where they wear all sorts of hilarious costumes, an theTroyand Abed rap at the end.

Rating:  7.2 – it’s not quite as good as the pilot, and the B plot is largely unmemorable.