Monday, June 25, 2012

Informal critical thoughts on The Newsroom pilot.

Yes, there is comic value in this 7-minute super-cut of oft-repeated phrases in the work of Aaron Sorkin.  But it also highlights just how damn entertaining his shows are and how much credit should go to the various actors of The West Wing, Sports Night, and the disappointing but not awful Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip.  And come what may, The Newsroom is 'okay Sorkin'.  It's not great, but it is relentlessly entertaining.    On just viewing the pilot, I wish the supporting cast didn't seem so heavily made up (thus far) of somewhat similar-looking young white men.  And the undercurrent of Sorkin's passive-aggressive sexism rears its ugly head in several unnecessary ways, be it Jeff Daniel's opening speech opining about the good old days when 'Men were men!' or an entire first half where most of the female characters almost exclusively talk about relationship issues.  And while the show once again taps into the excitement of seeing professionals excelling and putting quality of work over other concerns, it reminds us again that Sorkin's world is a fantasy, a utopia, which makes it hard to watch in times such as these.

The West Wing, both the first four Aaron Sorkin years and the majority of what makes up the John Wells seasons (5-7) rank among the best network dramas ever aired.  But I'd be lying if I didn't get a little depressed watching the show during the post-9/11 Bush years.  At heart, The West Wing and now The Newsroom aren't just liberal fantasies about those in power doing what they should according to liberal dogma.  Heck, I'd argue David E. Kelly's Boston Legal was more of an explicit liberal/progressive treatise than any of Sorkin's work. No, The West Wing and The Newsroom are fantasies based in the idea that those at the top of their respective professions (politics and now national media) actually want to do their jobs as well as they can be done and that their excellence and sheer competency would be rewarded and admired rather than treated with scorn.  It is not a little sad that we live in an age where the mass media seems so beholden to conformist ideology that merely telling hard truths qualifies as a career-threatening gaffe and merely aggressively pursuing a potentially damaging story qualifies as fantasy-level excellence.  At the end of The Newsroom pilot, the uplifting climax is merely that a news team did their job and broke important news damn the consequences to hell!  That such a development needs to be set to stirring music, and that it does get such an emotional rise out of the viewer, is almost pathetic.

But personal issues aside, The Newsroom falters just a bit in a way related to the above YouTube clip.  There are times, many times, where The Newsroom feels so 'Aaron Sorkin-y' that it resembles someone else trying to do an Aaron Sorkin show and hitting all the beats.  Among those 'beats' are a need to convince viewers that the profession in question (an ESPN-type sports show, a cable news network prime time show) is of paramount importance to society and/or a microcosm of all that can be good.  Also disconcerting is Sorkin's need to craft horrifying fictional events (even ones based from reality) that exist purely to allow our heroes to shine in their profession (think the pipe-bomb explosion that brings instant-gravity to the otherwise light season four premiere of The West Wing).  Comparably, Amy Sherman-Palladino's new ABC Family dramedy Bunheads feels absolutely a work from the creator of Gilmore Girls, yet feels like a fresh story with characters that aren't token variations of the Stars Hollow residents.  I cannot speak to the quality of later episodes, although there are rumblings that the pilot may represent its peak, but The Newsroom feels less like an original creation and more like 'plug the Aaron Sorkin template into a national media news room'.  But the Aaron Sorkin template is still completely entertaining.  Whether the show can fix its very real issues and/or whether I can get past my personal issues is a matter not yet decided.  But it's good to be back in the comforting fantasy of exceptional competence.

Grade: B           

1 comment:

Scott Phillip Spern said...

It's not necessarily a fa


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