I’ve watched the first episode of The Newsroom twice now. Not because I wanted to, but because the hubbub surrounding Aaron Sorkin’s new drama seemed to demand that I do so. (Usually, my re-watching of his work happens late at night, when I’m having trouble sleeping. It’s not that I find his work boring, you understand, just that I’m a nervous sleeper and am reassured by the thought of a world run by people so dedicated to politics, baseball or late-night sketch comedy that they’ll do with an endearing mix of gravitas and levity and make poignant speeches at exactly the right moment.) I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a Sorkin fan, although it’s possibly because he consistently portrays writers as heroes. Still, The West Wing remains one of my favourite television programmes, I thought Moneyball was great (despite not much about baseball apart from the fact that my team – the Mets – really seem to suck) and I’ve even grown to like the parts of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that don’t focus on the show-within-the-show (don’t get me wrong, there’s still much that’s wrong with Studio 60, but the fact that the sketches aren’t funny stopped being a concern when I actually watched a whole episode of Saturday Night Live and found it just as stilted and heavy handed as any of Matt Albie’s gems).
I’ll be interested to see where The Newsroom goes, but I think I’ll avoid reading about it, not least because the criticism seems to be more about Sorkin than the show itself. This is perhaps inevitable, given unusual amount of authorial presence he has compared to other showrunners, but the whole tenor of TV criticism seems to have become skewed into a twisted perception of the medium it covers. The AV Club, for example, seems to have stopped assessing media on its merits and instead seems to give grades based on what the reviewer thinks it will, could or should be. It’s difficult to tell whether this is because there’s a lot of good television around at the moment, which makes it difficult for reviewers to create scathing hack and slash eviscerations (always the most fun to write) or if it’s because TV’s so good that they feel they have something to do with its success and by association can write whatever they damn well please, because they’re part of a golden age. (The AV Club also seems to be developing a strange king of Stockholm Syndrome with its commenters. When a journalist of any stripe says:
And with that, I’m going to say this grade is both entirely provisional and able to be affected by you. I drop in on the comments from time to time. Convince me this was either better or worse than it was over the weekend. I’ll change the grade (or not) on Monday.
I think it’s time to acknowledge that you’re no longer a critic, but a chat room moderator.)
Anyway, the main thrust of the criticism of The Newsroom states that it’s more of the same from Sorkin – highly polished, wordy drama that doesn’t say anything new and is based around the same tropes as the rest of his oeuvre. But Sorkin has always recycled his material and his fans don’t really care. You either dig it or you don’t and you’re not going to change your mind whether it turns up one time or twelve.
Indeed, there’s probably an element that welcomes the reappearance of his idioms and tropes, be like the return of an old friend. I’m less enthusiastic, but I’m willing to give it a go. I’ve only seen the first episode, so can’t say how things will develop. I’m not sure I agree with Warren Ellis that The Newsroom is Studio 60 redux and I’m certainly not qualified to disagree with Dan Rather’s assessment, but The Newsroom seems like it’s at least the right context for the heart-felt speechifying that Sorkin does so well. For better or worse, I’ll probably end up watching it all, and probably more than once.
But if another character say they “could care less” when they mean “couldn’t”, I’ll switch the fucking thing off right there and then.