Adi Tantimedh writes for Bleeding Cool;
You know, all through last week, I had no idea what today's column was going to be about. I was dry, there was nothing the really caught my attention, I thought I might write something about endings and how manga series end…
…then Aaron Sorkin's new show THE NEWSROOM happened.
At this point, any new Sorkin show or movie he writes is going to be an event. We've been hyped and primed for it for months. The first reviews in the week have been mixed to negative, with accusations of pomposity, repetitiousness and hamfistedness, which, frankly, are qualities common in Sorkin's writing since his days writing plays for Broadway. I feel as if the reviewers, after years of praising him to the skies, have decided it was time for the backlash. Familiarity breeding contempt, perhaps?
I was never a fan of THE WEST WING, though I respected some of the writing, and I hated STUDIO 60, but I quite enjoyed the pilot episode of THE NEWSROOM. It is 2010 as Science Fiction. It is as much a wish-fulfillment fantasy as any superhero comic or Bruce Willis action film, only in this case much more upmarket. Like the BBC's recent THE HOUR, it pushes the idea of a responsible journalistic institution as essential for Democracy. The characters speak the way you wish you could in real life, behave the way you wish politicians and journalists would in real life. We wish there was a newspaper or network Justice League watching our backs in 2010 when in reality the media industry was – and is – still running scared in the era of corporate ownership and compromise. I enjoyed it, but I don't necessarily believed it.
Many of the negative reviews give a blow-by-blow of how and why they thought the show was bad, but this seems to miss a larger point, which is that there is a hunger in the audience for a drama that makes a point of appearing socially and politically engaged. As silly or pompous or naïve as they might think Sorkin is being in his fantasia, it is at least his vision and his fantasy. It is also the best-made show you could possibly get: the best possible actors for delivering the lines and nuances of Sorkin's dialogue, DAYTRIPPERS director Greg Mottola orchestrates the show with more tight shots, speed and intensity than John Wells did on THE WEST WING. The script has stylistic echoes of classic Hollywood comedies starring Stacy and Hepburn and Howard Hawks' HIS GIRL FRIDAY.
I tend to believe that all fiction is autobiography. It is a record of the inside of the writer's mind rather than his or her life. Sorkin's THE SOCIAL NETWORK had at its heart the story of a man who never got over the girl who got away, even though in real life, that wasn't really what drove Mark Zuckerberg to set up Facebook. THE NEWSROOM features as its major emotional subplot the return of the women who got way to possible redeem a bitter man. I know nothing about Sorkin's personal life nor do I want to, but it's interesting that this plot variant has been in his work for a long time. I think every fiction writer has one story that he or she will continue retelling again and again, and this might be Sorkin's.
What THE NEWSROOM made me think of was 1970s show about the news, LOU GRANT. LOU GRANT was, surreally enough, a spinoff of a sitcom, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, but unlike its parent show, it was a serious hour-long drama about a major Los Angeles newspaper and how its staff covered the news. It was one of those great Seventies Liberal Experiments on American TV, explicitly political and serious about social issues, won awards, had good ratings and ran for four seasons.
Of course, many shows have had great pilots and then the rest of the series proceeded to fuck It up. STUDIO 60 seriously jumped the shark when its most interesting plotlines ended up focusing on the news and how it should cover the Iraq war and pretty much nothing to do with the story of the running of a top-rated live comedy sketch show. I got a strong feeling that the news and the integrity of the news was Sorkin's real passion, and here he finally gets to deal with it head-on.
At the end, THE NEWSROOM made me ask one question: WHY THE FUCK ISN'T "LOU GRANT" ON DVD?
Watching the news at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh