Tag Archives: Aaron Sorkin

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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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.