The Newsroom: First Reaction
Posted on Thursday July 12, 2012, 15:30 by Stephen Carty in Small Screen
While the same could said to some extent about most storytellers, your ability to enjoy Aaron Sorkin's work very much depends largely on your response to his signature style. Returning to the small-screen after a successful stint penning some rather fine feature films (including The Social Network and Moneyball), Sorkin's new HBO drama – which follows the behind-the-scenes happenings of a fictional news team – boasts all the recognisable Sorkin touches that we've come to expect from the celebrated screenwriter. Set in yet another high-pressure workplace, it’s intelligent, idealistic and populated with quirky mouthpieces who burst into speeches which – it will surprise absolutely nobody to discover – concern integrity. As such, fans of his work will find plenty to like.
Certainly though, the reverse is also true. Though Sorkin's unique voice won him universal (and thoroughly deserved) acclaim with The West Wing (nobody really watched his first show Sports Night), we're now more than familiar with his style and beats. It doesn't help that the gifted scripter is often 'guilty' of recycling his own material, as was proven recently by a rather brilliant viral video which amusingly shows phrases and chunks of dialogue being re-purposed. Sorkin’s last televisual Sorkin-y Sork-fest, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, was cancelled after only one season, and with his detractors already complaining that The Newsroom is another speechy schmaltz-athon designed to hit us over the head with his thinly-veiled agendas, it seems that knives are being sharpened.
But while the first few episodes’ dialogue isn't as memorable or zinger-filled as we now ungratefully demand, it's still (time for some Anchorman-style maths) 80 percent snappier than 60 percent of other television out there. Okay, okay, so it's also not much of a stretch for Sorkin, but sticking to what you know (pressurised environment, television, politics) is hardly a crime.
Arguably taking Sidney Lumet's Network and easing it through his Sorkinese filter, The Newsroom sees a long-serving news anchor decide that, unlike A Few Good Men (which he also wrote), we can handle the truth. Said anchor is Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels, a canny piece of casting), a correspondent known as something of a fence-sitter. Or, as he’s described here, “the Jay Leno of news anchors”. Pushed and pushed during a mainstream political debate, McAvoy snaps and unleashes a brilliantly-penned tirade about how America is no longer the greatest country in the world, thus setting in motion a new chapter in his career focused on good ol' fashioned reporting.
To be honest, nothing in the first few instalments comes close to this riveting opening sequence, which is both understandable and, truth be told, a little worrying. As the rest of Will's new team is assembled after his surprisingly easygoing boss (Sam Waterston) hires his ex (Emily Mortimer, already looking a little mis-cast) as new producer, the show settles into something of a comfort zone. Again, you could make accusations that all the characters sound the same, given that they’re all smart and informed yet snarky and neurotic. But although the support isn’t nearly as watchable as The West Wing’s ensemble (what is?), they’re already more interesting than Studio 60’s supporting faces.
And, in a rather neat move, The Newsroom is set in the recent past. 2010, to be specific, meaning that we’re given a look at how actual events would (and perhaps should) have been covered by an idealised broadcast team in an idealised world. This is, after all, coming from the man who gave us the Jed Bartlet administration.
Overall though, you can’t help but wonder if Sorkin said all he really had to say during all those White House walk-and-talks. Has he got anything new left to offer TV? Is he now perhaps better suited to movies where the likes of David Fincher and Bennett Miller won’t indulge his bad habits? On the evidence of the first few episodes of The Newsroom, there’s enough here to keep us watching for now. Much like the fictional show-within-the-show…
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Posted on Friday July 13, 2012, 13:21
I've greatly enjoyed the first three episodes. The West Wing was obviously a masterpiece and I even had time for Studio 60. Sorkin's screenplays have also been of the highest quality.
That being said, I find the style of dialogue that Sorkin writes to be hugely dated. The snarky asides, the rapid patter, the preoccupation with pointless personal minutiae; all of these things are thrown at the viewer as if it's 1999. The Social Network, Moneyball and A Few Good Men are outstanding films, shorn of their author's more irritating proclivities and tempered, no doubt, by directors brave enough to tell him "No" from time to time.
Within TV however Sorkin remains the alpha (and, given the West Wing's influence, rightly so) yet the evolution of his style appears to have stalled at using the HBO favourite "Fuck" without censure.
I appear to be complaining. Given the overall startling quality of The Newsroom these are but minor quibbles. I look forward to each new episode and agree with much of what the show is aiming to say. It is pure Sorkin and thus brings with it all the associated pros and cons that term connotes.
Posted on Friday July 13, 2012, 15:40
"...they’re [the cast] already more interesting than Studio 60’s supporting faces."
[talking about Studio 60] "...and with his detractors already complaining that The Newsroom is another speechy schmaltz-athon designed to hit us over the head with his thinly-veiled agendas..."
I've read a lot of negativity towards Studio 60 since The Newsroom aired, but I can't figure out why. It's an absolutely brilliant and un-fairly cancelled show, and until recently I thought most people shared that belief. But it's like The Newsroom has stirred up some kind of backlash towards all of Sorkin's previous work...
Anyway, about The Newsroom itself, I'm enjoying it a lot. I kind of agree about the potential mis-casting of Emily Mortimer; she has a habit of making the end-of-episode "resolution speeches" a bit too schmaltzy, and at times I feel she's over-acting her lines just a little, but it's still too early to judge. The rest of it's shaping up nicely. With a solid cast, involving story lines and whipping dialogue, I'm settled in for more.
Posted on Saturday July 14, 2012, 01:53
I agree with you Whistler, Studio 60 was indeed an excellent show unfairly cancelled. People say it was because the show was crap, but it was clearly because he took pops at the Christian Right and the War on Terror that made people turn off, not the quality of the man's writing.
The Newsroom is, particularly from the point of view as a journalist, great fun and it's certainly realistic in terms of getting the story, finding guests etc. Emily Mortimer does seem to be overacting her lines just a tad, in particular in episode 3 which I've seen (I won't say how or how she overacts but you'll know it when you see it) but I can't see her ending up in Mandyville. If anyone does I can imagine it'll be Dev Patel, as far as I can see his character doesn't really do anything at the minute, but maybe I'll be surprised. I disagree that these guys are more memorable than Studio 60's cast, but I've no doubt they'll grow on me
Posted on Saturday July 14, 2012, 10:26
Er, don't get me wrong, I kind of enjoyed Studio 60, but this isn't some sort of revisionist history, a lot of people didn't like it at the time. Although supposedly it was cancelled when 30 rock came on the scene and was apparently wittier and less smug. Which is probably fair.
Posted on Monday July 16, 2012, 02:12
Uh, i watched sports night and it was awesome.
Posted on Monday July 16, 2012, 14:54
Have to say- Sorkin's writing is starting to bug me a bit. Being a good screenwriter (I imagine) is all about creating characters that you believe in, who say unique and interesting things. Sorkin's characters are all clearly different versions of him (to a degree) and his style and personality are right there, whether it's West Wing, Moneyball or Social Network.
The Social Network for one didn't ring true for me, in the same way that Dawson's Creek sounded at odds with its characters. It was dialogue written for adults, coming out of kid's mouths.
(Studio 60 for me was his best writing)
Newsroom looks interesting and I'll definitely check it out, but I'm hoping it's less obviously Sorkin-y than everything else, otherwise I'm going to get bored...
Posted on Monday July 16, 2012, 15:06
Its an excellent show but after the first episode the quality seemed to drop, although the third is better than the second, just! I actually think Mortimer is well cast, slightly neurotic yet in control at all times, mostly...
On Studio 60, I really enjoyed the show and felt it suffered from, somewhat ironically, 'studio' interference near the end, would have succeeded I suspect on cable..
Hoping The Newsroom can pick up a bit more of the momentum that the first episode had, it was long but felt shorter than the subsequent 2 episodes.
Posted on Monday July 16, 2012, 19:56
My problem with Sorkin TV post West Wing is that all his characters work in industries where only those at the centre of that particular world, late-night comedy show and newsroom, seem to think what they do really matters; that we're all anxiously waiting for their commentary on a current issue. They're all so self-important. That's a credible position if you're POTUS, but significantly less so if you're a tv producer, news anchor or comedy writer. They lack the gravitas that the material tries to provide. I hated all the characters in Studio 60. They we're a troupe of satirical sketch show performers and Sorkin tried to convince us that the show was shaping popular truth and opinion in government. They were comedians, for crying out loud! Make us laugh. Sure, good comedians can be intelligent and politically provocative - Ben Elton in his youth, for instance - but did any of us take him seriously, or question our views on issue because he told a gag about Margaret Thatcher? Course not. Same with the newsroom. The only person who thinks Jeff Daniels character matters is Aaron Sorkin. How many of you have given a shit what the news anchors you watch actuallly think? I certainly don't. They're a half hour distraction in my day. TV journalism is tabloid journalism. It's fast food facts. This is what happened today. This is why it happened. Make your own mind up whether it's important or not. Now watch Eastenders.
Posted on Wednesday July 18, 2012, 22:55
Current news reporting in the US is, unfortunately, an extension of the deeply divided political landscape.
Posted on Thursday July 19, 2012, 05:36
Watched the first two episodes and I was not impressed. That opening tirade I'll admit is great, but Paddy Chayefsky wrote a much better one (and Peter Finch delivered it brilliantly) nearly 40 years ago. I've never been a fan of Sorkin's dialogue (and that goes for The West Wing, too I'm afraid). It's dated, corny and totally unbelievable. Who actually talks like that? I'll tell you: precisely fucking no one.
I'll stick with Breaking Bad thanks. A far superior show in every conceivable way. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's been the most consistently brilliant TV show since The Wire. Yet Empire's reviews insult its quality with a paltry four lines. Season 4 was undoubtedly one of the best seasons of any TV show ever (those last 10 minutes of Crawl Space and the entirety of Face Off) and you pretty much ignore it. Criminal.
And whilst we're on that subject, where's the write-up on the first episode of Season 5 Empire?
Posted on Friday July 20, 2012, 17:36
Well reviewed Stephen.
I understand that Newsroom has generally been rather poorly received, and I don't really understand why. Episodes 2 & 3 were rather middling, but 1 and 4 were outstanding. Favourite moment so far: Charlie [to Will] "Have you read the Post?"; Will "My eyes are connected to my brain, so no." Sorkin at his best.
If people don't like Sorkin's dialogue/world view, I don't really understand why they watch. Personally, I think it's wonderful that a show is so avowedly preachy and 'liberal' when the vast majority of television and, perhaps less so, cinema output is depressingly conservative, vapid, cash-grabbing, soulless fluff.
I agree with others that Mortimer appears a bit miscast. She's guilty of quite wild over-acting throughout and will hopefully start to reign it in a bit.
I don't quite get the whole Breaking Bad adoration. Sure, it's good but I don't think it's great and season 4 was certainly not "one of the best seasons of any TV show ever" for my money. I don't even think it was the best season of BB. I wish the directors would STOP sticking the camera on objects while Jesse/Walt move/push things about. It's became annoying.
While we're on the subject of best TV shows in recent years, nothing even comes close to Mad Men since The Wire.
Posted on Saturday November 10, 2012, 23:05
what's this obsession people have with Moneyball? I just don't get it. I watched it and it was the most average 3 star film ever. nothing really happened in it. there was no character arc, no major plot points...it kept me interested to be fair but I don't see how it's so well thought of. and philip seymore hoffman...why was he in it?? it seemed so far beneath him, it was a nothing character. rant over.