Sunday, June 24, 2012

TO BE FAIR, YOSEMITE IS PRETTY GREAT: Obviously, we're going to talk  about The Newsroom, and, unlike critics, we mere mortals have only seen one episode.  Perhaps because of that, I liked the show much more than many of the critics did (Alan in particular noted that his review would have been better if based on the pilot alone).  In particular, the opening sequence and most of the actual newscast worked quite effectively, and the performances were pretty uniformly solid.  A few thoughts to provoke discussion:
  • Especially in the middle portion of the episode (after the opening sequence but before they go on air), it seemed to me part of the problem was the direction.  Sorkinese is meant to be spoken very very quickly (especially Romantic Comedy Sorkinese), and the pace seemed oddly slow for a chunk of that act, with pauses that seemed out of place.  (Allison Pill, who has the most screwball part, arguably suffers the most from this.)
  • Several of the reviews have noted that the decision to set the show in the recent past leads to the show being about people who have almost magical knowledge.  The pilot includes a bit of reporting where Will and his team are able to get a story far before anyone in the real world did because of pure, unadulterated luck and dei ex machinae.  I hope this doesn't continue and turn into "Aaron Sorkin shows how to do news better than it was done!"
  • There are very clearly gender issues there.  Obviously, Sorkin has relationship issues, given that Studio 60 was a very long apology letter to an ex-girlfriend, but maybe he needs to work them out in a way other than TV writing.


  1. Duvall11:42 PM

    Isn't the real problem with using real news stories the fact that it completely invalidates the premise of the show?  Every fact that the News Team reports will be something that was uncovered by reporters in the real world.  So how is presenting those facts on NewsNight going to save America when those same stories couldn't even help the New Orleans Times-Picayune save itself?

  2. Duvall11:43 PM

    Also, the gender stuff is making the stalkerish relationships on Studio 60 look good at this point.

  3. It doesn't matter if they actually save America, only if they can get the stirring music to play in the background while they try.

    Immediate reactions:
    1. Stop shouting, everyone!
    2. Jack McCoy can curse.
    3. Gender issues.
    4. Every time someone touches Emily Mortimer, I worry about her Avian Bone Syndrome.
    5. Yikes, the machinae are strong in this one.  Will HeroProducerGeek have more relatives in important places than Gabe Kotter had uncles?

  4. Benner9:24 AM

    I had the same concern as Duvall going in, but in addition to that, there was a lot of telling, not a lot of showing. And in some cases, it doesn't make sense. I'll buy for now that MacKenzie McHale (really sorkin?) is a great war correspondent, but if Will is as full of himself as we saw, how did he ever become the "Jay Leno of news?"

  5. I'm usually the first person to cry foul on gender issues (hello, Natalie and Dana!), but what were the gender problems with this show?

  6. 1.  Allison Pill's character is kind of the standard Sorkin female stereotype (great at her job, oblivious about personal relationship stuff).
    2.  The whole "I'm going to take you SHOPPING!" bit.

  7. I admit I yelled, "BECAUSE YOU'RE FEMALE!" at my TV after the "I'm going to take you shopping" line, but I think Mortimer and Pill will handle his language better than previous actresses.  I often wonder how much of CJ Cregg's likability was Sorkin and how much was Janney, and could Dana and/or Natalie have been better characters with more nuanced actresses?

    I like both Mortimer and Pill's characters because they can handle Sorkinese without becoming "masculinized."  They can still be feminine and not be seen as inferior.  (Male characters run the same risk as being seen as incompetent or douchebags.)  I don't know that Maggie is clueless about relationship stuff; I just think she's young and will experience a lot of growth in her character.

  8. You don't hire Jack McCoy if you don't want shouting.

  9. christy in nyc12:46 PM

    He says this in the "Smile, honey" tone of much less successful jerks.

    I love this writer.

  10. I sort of wish instead of playing "Margaret" Allison Pill was playing her character from Scott Pilgrim. That young woman had spunk. (And given that Lou Grant isn't in this newsroom, I would hope that'd be ok.)

  11. Maret1:01 PM

    So glad you posted that link Adlai...I'm an unapologetic fan of Sorkin as a writer, but I really think he should just not be allowed to speak in public about his work. Also, this post on Sorkin, fandom, criticism, and biases is very well written and worth reading.

    Re: the Newsroom pilot, I liked, but did not love. Aside from the gender problem issues and the show doing the news with the benefit of hindsight, I keep coming back to the overall structure. I don't know that we actually needed Will's monologue at the opening of this episode (or possibly ever.) To start a show out with a big oratorical moment is a risk and not one that worked successfully in this case, IMHO. I don't care if Will is an unlikeable protagonist -- but I didn't need a Sorkin lecture to establish the premise of this show. In many ways, if this had been structured more like the West Wing pilot, and Will hadn't come in until towards the end, it might have worked better. The same thing could have happened -- and you could hear about it from colleagues who were moving on, through the new producer who was being brought in, through youtube clips of the speech which you might never see as a whole, through management talking about his enforced vacation while they did some clean-up and prep for what would happen when he came back, etc. and I would have been much more fascinated by the guy, who would then come in and do a hell of a job anchoring a segment on a distaster that's just unfolding, even if he is rude when he comes back and doesn't know people's names. With the lecture at the beginning, I basically just felt like I was being talked down to by a guy who was not actually passionate about what we should be doing as a country, but was JUST SO TIRED of being SO MUCH SMARTER than everyone else ALL THE TIME. And that turned me off of the main character.  

    Really thought all the supporting actors were great, and was a big fan of the dialogue between them (was less a fan of the big Emily Mortimer/Jeff Daniels confrontation but liked them better during the newscast and post newscast.) And despite my not liking the whole hindsight vision of how news is reported and discovered, I liked all the business of finding out about the spill and woprking to get all the people on the record, etc. etc. 

    I'm going to keep watching, because I do really love Sorkin as a writer, and even if I don't end up liking the show I know there will be bits of writing in each episode that leave me amazed at his talent. But I wanted and hoped that this would be better than it was. 

  12. Marsha2:00 PM

    What a horrid interview. "girls who can't high five?" Seriously? I would say that man is badly in need of a big sister, but he already has one. So maybe he what he needs is an ass-kicking from said big sister.

  13. Marsha2:08 PM

    Am I the only one that thought that one of the biggest problems was the attempts at Sports Night style humor? The control room bit was right out of Sports Night and absolutely did not work.The backpack-tripping entrance of Jim Harper was silly, overdone, and inconsistent with what we see of the character after that. And the final "Seriously, I have a blog?" bit nearly ruined what had been a very good scene up til that point. It's not that the show can't have humor - I found a lot funny about Emily Mortimer's early scenes, as she figured out what was going on, and a lot of the stuff with Dev Patel (what is his character's name? I'm not going to call him Punjab.) was amusing. But broad humor and slapstick we don't need from this show - it's very out of place.

  14. christy in nyc5:04 PM

    I don't feel much conflict between my love of Sorkin's writing and my criticism of it (or hearing others' criticism of it). I can watch The West Wing and certain other projects of his time and time and time again because I love them. And then, because I've watched them so much, and so carefully, I feel qualified to identify where they fall short.

    As for conflict between liking his work and disliking his personality? Well. I still love Rosemary's Baby. The gulf is not that wide with Sorkin.

    In fact, I'd venture to say that something like The West Wing would not be as good without Sorkin's arrogance. I'd also venture to say it'd be even better without his sexism. But whether we can have one without the other will have to be seen in future writers--that ship has sailed with this one, or at least for that particular project.

    I so agree with Maret about the structure of the pilot. I was thinking about how The West Wing started with Josh's public outburst and how much more effective it was (or how much LESS effective it would have been if it had begun with the outburst scene in real time). I think the exact same basic plot, but with a different structure, way less relationship angst, and a fake environmental disaster (even a very thinly veiled one) would have made a big improvement on an already fairly solid pilot.

    Interesting how Linda Holmes compared him to David Simon, given the contents of THAT interview and the whole recent-past debacle. I actually DID watch The Wire pilot twice in a row the first time because it was so complex that I wasn't sure I caught even the main jist, let alone everything. Treme is set in the recent past and is completely amazing, and other David Simon projects deal with the recent past in varying degrees of literalness. Is Sorkin deliberately inviting the comparison? Both are great writers. Both seem arrogant in real life. Both make shows I watch on closed caption to make sure I catch every word. But in terms of capturing REAL EVENTS? There's no contest. (There's also no contest when it comes to female characters). (Or other minority characters).

  15. No, I hire Jack McCoy for exasperation.

  16. Jenn C10:06 PM

    I think his name was Neal.

  17. Jenn C10:09 PM

    The "real events" part of it makes it unwatchable for me. I can get over the Sports Night/West Wing-ness of it, and the repetition, and the weird gender issues, but I can't get over the smugness of hindsight.

  18. Paul Tabachneck11:04 PM

    "You're not hiring (my ex)."

    "(S)he was the only one for the job!"

  19. Well, I think Jay Leno's pretty full of himself, so maybe that's how ;)

  20. This is an amazing description of why I love Sorkin by Linda Holmes as quoted in the article Maret linked above:
    "...hearing a Sorkin character forcefully argue something you believe to be true is like bathing in a tub full of champagne while you listen to a CD of affirmations called You Are Great And Smart, And No One Understands You: You know at some level that it’s self-indulgent, but it feels so good…”