if aaron sorkin’s new show on hbo, “the newsroom,” was a new version of the iPhone, people would’ve been waiting around the block for days in advance of its release. if it were a major SCOTUS decision, excitable mobs would camp on the capitol steps demanding things of it before they’d even seen it. if it were a new star wars or harry potter movie, people might’ve dressed up like sam seaborn and re-enacted scenes from the steam pipe trunk distribution venue while gilbert&sullivan songs played in the background. turns out, some of those comparisons might be more appropriate than i anticipated while just sitting here trying to think of ridiculous things i could compare “newsroom” anticipation to.
despite pulling in an admirable number of viewers for it’s first episode (2.1 million), and some critical appreciation, there’s been a
healthy significant amount of negative criticism for the show this week. and then there was this—a seven minute(!) collection of trademark sorkin writing:
i was (briefly) perturbed but (ultimately) amused by this “sorkin supercuts” video. at first it felt lazy on sorkin’s part, recycling all those lines. didadtic, too, with talking points sometimes masquerading as dialogue. but consider that there were 45 episodes of “sports night,” 89 episodes of “west wing,” and 22 episodes of “studio 60 on the sunset strip.” plus sorkin’s screenplays and stage plays. i think he can be forgiven for having a distinctive style, and for trying to communicate an idea (or several ideas) through his collective work. especially when the main medium is television—inherently more passive than reading, and thus much harder to engage an audience through with complex ideas.
i enjoyed “the west wing” and the social network and “sports night” immensely. but i also felt like the gold standard for quality television was raised higher since “the west wing” aired (thanks in large part to “the wire”). and i feel like my critical faculties and expectations of tv have risen dramatically since president bartlett left the white house, too. so, yes, after episode 1 of “the newsroom” i was a bit disappointed to not have seen more growth in sorkin’s writing (which i certainly felt was evident in the social network). the workplace romance(s), the left-leaning viewpoint(s), the token (and not nearly believable/deep enough) republican character: we’ve seen it all before from him. and once it’s in your head, it’s kinda hard to ignore, which is annoying. but there’s also reason to give the man some rope.
judging “newsroom” by it’s first episode might be like reviewing a book based on the first chapter. we’ve barely even begun to get to know these characters, let alone explore the landscape sorkin’s trying to show us. leo mcgarry once quipped that there were two things americans never wanted to see get made: laws & sausages. but sorkin tried to show us the latter anyway. and that’s often part of the fun of fiction, isn’t it? being shown something we have no knowledge or experience with. and with sorkin, not only do we get to learn something, we get to be entertained and told a good story at the same time. even if most americans understand philosophically that compromise is at the heart of governing, i doubt most people understand how that translates into what their elected officials do on a daily basis. “the west wing” dared to show us how complicated that business is. we got the stats & numbers thrown at us, but we also saw where the rubber met the road in the nation’s capital.
it’s easy to pick on televised news these days, not least because the networks seem to put pressure on themselves to get there first rather than get things right. and it’s easy to pick on fox news if you’re a liberal (or msnbc if you’re a conservative), not least because they so clearly have an editorial bias to anyone who stops for a moment to think about what’s being shouted at them. so i have no higher hopes for “the newsroom” than being able to show america how we got into this clusterfuck of cable news nonsense that will mcavoy is so right about. those cable news shows only have power because we, the viewers, give it to them. i’m hoping “the newsroom” doesn’t shy away from either the complexities involved with producing a news show, or from indicting all of us in the decline of the news industry.
“the west wing” was good, but not great in its first episode. the characters amassed depth and revealed things personal and political as the seasons continued. yeah, there were plenty of blatant talking points along the way, too, but that was never the show’s greatest strength. it was, of course, that sorkin drew us in with story. and it behooves us to give the man a chance once more.