I still have 15 minutes of the first episode of Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom to watch, but I won’t let lack of knowledge stop me from commenting. Ah, the freedom the internet grants to the ignorant.
Sorkinisms are all over The Newsroom: rapid-fire dialogue, walk and talk shots, line repetition. There are maybe only two screenwriters whose dialogue you would recognise with your eyes closed and with no idea of what’s on: Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino*. The main friction in this episode is the protagonist’s ex-girlfriend being hired behind his back, a device also used in Sorkin’s West Wing. My eyes rolled during Will’s (Jeff Daniels) rant about what America could and should be. They rolled once more when the brilliantly named MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) went on about the great heights popular news shows can reach. But these were the same kind of rah-rah idealistic, utopian ravings I hoovered up when Jed Bartlett was delivering them in West Wing.
West Wing finished six years ago (the good stuff ended long before that). It got away with so much trumpet-blowing because it was interspersed with humour. Few shows have managed to walk the moral line that West Wing did without falling into maudlin. We might be less prone to beat on our chests in 2012, less inclined to be inspired by Emily Mortimer than Martin Sheen, but if someone can make a point about how they think the world should be and make us swallow it by coating it with humour, it’s Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin seems determined to avoid using stereotypes here. While that’s to be admired, the characters feel somewhat uneven and hard to peg (which is the point I guess). Will is supposed to be a somewhat reformed asshole, but despite his inability to remember names and propensity for shouty, he’s mostly unconvincing as a bad guy. Daniels seems to struggle being loud, and his performance is better during quieter moments.
MacKenzie is a tough producer who’s literally been through war zones (and has the scars to prove it). Yet she lacks a sense of toughness and determination, bouncing from dominant to self-aware and insecure, positive to not, quickly and unrealistically. Jim was introduced as clumsy and uncomfortable before showing his talent, I’m not sure if he’ll be the indispensable genius of the show, or the buffoon.
The main characters all show promise but it’s hard to get a grip on them as yet. Shows in which characters take time to truly show themselves can be all the more intriguing for it, but they can struggle to hook viewers in the early stages. I’m sure a lot of cancelled shows took the same tack but never got the chance to do anything with it. Thankfully, viewers seem to be sticking with The Newsroom.
Some may see the fast pace as appropriate for a show based around breaking news. I see this more as a happy coincidence. Sorkin’s work often goes at breakneck speed—characters rush through buildings, their movement matching the pace of their conversation. Sorkin pushes and pushes, character moments play out in seconds, every episode using and discarding more quips and ideas than most shows would use in half a season. It’s easy to imagine his writing process, him feverishly hammering away, a pile of worn-down keyboards at his side, drinking coffee by the gallon, reading word aloud (kinda like this)
I was pleasantly surprised to see The Newsroom take on real-life news, in this case the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010. Though I could’ve done without the time and date running along the bottom when the event was announced (oh my god this is real!). I hope this idea continues throughout the rest of the series.
All in all, a very promising start to the show.
*Writing this post I often found myself adopting Will’s cadence of speech from the show. After one episode, some 15 hours after watching it. Which shows just how memorable Sorkin’s dialogue is.