The Newsroom: Aaron Sorkin and the Infinite Dialogue

Last week my quest to watch every TV show ever made led me to The Newsroom. I say my quest led me there; really, I just asked Twitter if it was worth watching and got a very loud “OH MY GOD YES WATCH IT RIGHT NOW.”

So I made myself a cup of tea and sat in front of the TV with that strange mix of excitement and apprehension that only comes with starting something that everyone tells you is fantastic.

Before I get into things too much though, I should probably issue a disclaimer. I have no idea how newsrooms actually work, so cannot even begin to judge the show on how accurate it is or isn’t. My experience of them is thus: I once spent ten minutes in a newsroom on a guided tour and what I mostly remember is that no-one was shouting and the vending machine was broken. There definitely wasn’t an eccentric man in a bow tie calling the shots, and I didn’t spot anyone running about with VERY IMPORTANT NEWS. Maybe I was there on a boring day.

And my experience of American TV news is even more limited. I once spent a week watching news channels in Colorado after I bust my knee on a skiing holiday. But it was the week that Dick Cheney shot his hunting partner and I was frankly off my face on vicodin, so my memories of that are a bit hazy and surreal.

So yes, I can’t really judge accuracy at all. But the one bit of accuracy that I was aware of and wasn’t expecting was the use of real-world events. I thought it was going to be all West Wing and talk about stuff that Aaron Sorkin had entirely made up. And while my old friend Equatorial Kundu appeared again, on the whole it used actual things that have really happened since 2010.

And that unnerved me. I pride myself on having both a good memory and some decent history knowledge, but it turns out that my memory of world events of the past five years is actually pretty shonky. I suppose I could claim in my defence that a hell of a lot has happened in the past five years, but really I think I just have to admit that I wasn’t paying as much attention as I thought I was.

But that wasn’t the only thing that unnerved me about The Newsroom. Much has been said about how it’s preachy, and everyone speaks in unnatural soliloquies, and how it’s not so much heavy-handed as beating you about the head repeatedly with a giant televisual brick. I agree with all of that; it’s taken some of the more irritating tendencies of the West Wing and thrown them right to the front in a way that does grate.

There’s more to the unease though; I don’t quite know what to make of the characters. Don pissed me off at first, but he and Sloan turned into a magnificent thing that basically carried the entire third season. I started out loving Jim, but then he became a bit of a smug, judgemental and weirdly inactive whiner. Will followed the classic “twat who actually has a heart of gold” storyline, and I often just wanted to sedate Mackenzie.

Me or Maggie? Who can tell.

As for Maggie, it felt like her collapse and recovery were glossed over. We saw her in the second series with her breakdown hair, and then in the third she was fine and recovered and doing brilliantly again. And we never really saw how she got from one to the other. Plus, I’m personally a bit bitter that said breakdown hair is the exact same style that I had in the summer of 2000, and which I will likely never live down.

Then there’s the theme tune, which makes me irrationally ragey. It set the tone for the whole show; a bit overblown, a bit ridiculous, and something that would’ve fit in a lot better in the 1990s. Because who does big long title sequences these days?

In fact, much of the show seemed to be wishing it was still the 90s. We were told over and over again that you can’t trust “citizen journalists.” We were shown how twitter is unreliable. We saw in no uncertain terms that writers getting bonuses for page hits is a terrible, awful monstrosity of a thing. New media is bad and will lower the collective IQ of the world while simultaneously destroying everything that is good and holy. Can’t we just shut the internet off and go back to how it used to be in the good old days?

Honestly, I’ve not seen anyone harking back to the 90s so much since I last walked into Topshop.

So yes, I’m troubled by the Newsroom. It had its moments, and some of those moments were great. But I find myself feeling the same way about it that I do about ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ by the Smashing Pumpkins. If they’d just cut the overindulgent crap out of it, they could’ve had a brilliant show. Instead, it’s a bit of an overblown mess.

But then what does my opinion matter? I’m only writing on the internet.

One thought on “The Newsroom: Aaron Sorkin and the Infinite Dialogue

  1. As much as I adore The Newsroom, I can’t help but agree with a ton of your analysis and complaints, really. If I’m being honest and I look past my initial crush on the concept of the characters and plotline. Which I can. On a good day.

    The thing that probably initially appealed to me was the retrospective on how the various news stories were reported in the show vs. how they actually were reported in the media at the time they happened and my, “FUCK YEAH!” response to how TN portrayed how a reasonable, levelheaded, and rational newsroom might have done a better job, as if that sort of thing could ever possibly exist.

    They started out so well with the characters and their development, and the possible growth avenues, and then after the middle of the second season they started fucking with the formula and making characters go in crazy-ass directions and odd storylines (Maggie, anyone?) and….it got to be too much. I completely see why they got cancelled after the run because everything had unraveled. Sorkin tried for, “complex and unpredictable” and got, “chaotic and difficult to follow/justify”. There’s likely a fine line there. Be too formulaic and you churn out the same old crap time after time; dick with formulas too much and you lose your audiences’ ability to tie the show to reality and keep caring.

    I wanted it to go on, more of the 1st season and that bent, and less of the weirdness, but it was not to be. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have been a part of it in real life given the chance.


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