Archive | December, 2014

End of Series Report: The Newsroom

15 Dec

The Newsroom

So, this is kind of a misleading post. I watched The Newsroom finale, but I’ve only seen about five episodes of the show, so this post is actually going to be about Aaron Sorkin. Please though, read on.

I watched the last episode of the Newsroom without having seen any since the first season, and while that admittedly doesn’t make me qualified to talk about the show as a whole, it adds to my body of knowledge about Aaron Sorkin, and continues to make clear what he’s good at and what he isn’t.

Hey, sports fans. You know that basketball player type, like Lance Stephenson, JR Smith, Monta Ellis and others – players who are obviously talented, but not quite talented enough at all facets of the game to be a star. Due to their innate talent, these types of player are just good enough to think they can do more than they can, and want more control of the came they should have, but the whole team suffers due to their increase workload. The kind of player who the right coach can turn into a superbly useful asset, but who, if granted too much power, could poison an entire team, simply by throwing off everyone’s role just a little bit?

Aaron Sorkin is TV’s answer to that archetype, TV’s Monta Ellis. He’s a savantishly brilliant dialogue writer; it’s easy to be jaded and sick of his style, because it’s so ripe for easy parody (Amy Schumer and Seth Meyers have put out exact recent parodies), and sometimes it seems a parody of itself, but if you can, as I try occasionally to, sit back and watch a scene, without looking out every second for one of the many Aaron Sorkin tropes, it’s damn good. When it’s on, it’s quick, sharp, clever, and biting. The problem, unfortunately, is that on TV, Sorkin keeps being hired not simply to write dialogue, but to write an entire show, and this, instead of playing to his strengths, tends to highlight his weaknesses instead; he can write great dialogue, but he rarely writes great stories.

I left in the first season for several reasons. The show’s famed women problem was real; female characters were portrayed in strangely regressive ways, with Alison Pill’s Maggie the poster child for Sorkin women, as clumby, fumbling, and always screwing up certain tasks that are for men. In another show, Maggie might just come off as a bad example, but in The Newsroom’s world she feels emblematic of Sorkin’s difficulty writing women characters the same way he writes males. To be fair, it was also part of a greater character problem; most were uninteresting at best, and grating at worst. Sorkin’s infatuation with love triangles and lingering sexual tension between two people who will incredibly obviously get together is a trope that has been overused and overused and felt forced, primarily with the Don, Maggie, and Jim first season triangle, but also with the fact that from day 1, it was inevitable that MacKenzie and Will would end up together. The single biggest irritant to me, which showed up constantly in the few episodes I saw (and again in the finale), was the self-righteous, smug attitude of The Newsroom characters, who believe their way is the right way, and everyone else’s is wrong;  even when I agree with them, I root against them because of the way they go about it. In the paraphrased words of The Dude, they’re not wrong (well, they are often, but), they’re just assholes.

The dialogue which I just raved about can be occasionally insufferable; people talk too much, too fast, and sometimes I just want to scream “slow down and take a breath.” Still, as someone who has tried to write dialogue on occasion, I have great respect for it even when I want them to slow down – it’s an art form, and when they’re saying dumb things, it’s usually a macro problem and not a micro one.

Aaron Sorkin has a signature style (the walk-and-talk, the repeated lines, the big, passionate speeches, etc.), and the parodies are earned not just because it’s easy to mock but because people like the style for a reason. There’s a little movie called The Social Network that shows the power of a harnessed Aaron Sorkin. When he’s not someone responsible for the entire narrative and characters of a series, but rather is someone who writes a script for a confident A-list directory like David Fincher who knows exactly what he wants and won’t accept anything else. When he’s someone who knows what the story is supposed to be, what the scenes are supposed to convey, and simply needs to get from point A to point B. Under those conditions, Sorkin kills. He just needs to be under those conditions more often.

Fall 2014 Review: Play It Again Dick

1 Dec

Play It Again Dick

I’ll expound further on this below, but for those with short attention spans, let me save you some time. If you love Veronica Mars, watch the short attention span-friendly webisode series Play It Again, Dick. It’ll take between and hour and an hour and a half of your day and you’ll be glad you did.

Now here’s some more info for those who haven’t gone over to the CW’s website and started watching yet (yes, that’s the best way to watch, and it’s surprisingly decent enough to use).

Play It Again, Dick is a web series created by Veornica Mars scribe Rob Thomas. In it, Ryan Hansen (Dick from Veronica Mars), playing an exaggerating version of himself, makes an ultra-cheap pilot for a Veronica Mars spinoff starring Dick, in which Dick is a detective solving crimes, which should seem as ridiculous as it is to any Veronica Mars fan well-familiar with Dick’s character. He, following up on the suggestion of a CW executive, attempts to gather together many of his old VM cohorts together to shoot scenes for the pilot. The whole serious is shown as if it were the making-of documentary Ryan is shooting for his pilot; we see the cameramen in several of the episodes.

Everyone plays exaggerated versions of themselves (except for Kristen Bell, who seems surprisngly normal in the context of the show, but as the first guest star to show up she helps ween us into this world). Ryan Hansen is an only slightly toned-down version of Dick, who believes he’s far more competent than he is and that everyone loves the character Dick as much as he does. His unbridled enthusiasm is so infectious that it makes you want his pilot to succeed no matter what an incredibly stupid idea it is. Many other characters get a couple of scenes to shine – Enrico Colantoni (Keith) is willing to help if Ryan puts a strange box with undisclosed contents under Tom Hanks’ bed, Pergy Daggs III (Wallace) is a serious gangster type doing his best Marsellus Wallace impression, and Francis Capra (Weevil) is a capital A actor who feels like his Shakespearean talents were underserved by Thomas in Veronica Mars.

It’s well-executed, with a lot of the charm of Veronica Mars, except skewed far more towards the funny, without any of the drama and action. The actors are all game, willing to mock themselves and each other, and it’s laugh out loud funny, more so towards the later episodes, as you see scenes from the pilot itself, which may be the most hilarious scenes in the show.  I laughed, I smiled, and I was just happy to see all of my favorite actors back on screen together having fun. Something like this could easily have been very awkward and hard to watch, British-comedy style – Ryan is such an idiot, and several of the others are over the top caricatures with utter social obliviousness, but because it’s so ridiculous, it never goes on too long, and we know that everyone is in on it and having a good time and enjoys being part of the Mars universe, it’s never difficult.

Rob Thomas has a Joss Whedon-level pass guaranteeing I will give anything he is prominently involved in more of a chance than I would any old show as the man behind Party Down and Veronica Mars, two of my favorite shows of all time. He doesn’t let down here. This is for the hard core Veronica Mars fans, the Marshmellows, and  I think anyone who loves the show will at the least enjoy Play It Again, Dick.

Will I watch it again? Yes. It’s about an hour and a half total. I’ve already watched all of it. It’s short. It’s funny. It gets you reunited with all of your friends from Veronica Mars. What’s not to like? The answer is nothing. There is nothing not to like.