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.

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