Sorry, Sorkin fans, The Newsroom really does suck.
The thing is: I enjoy Aaron Sorkin shows. I’m aware that Sorkin himself is a bag of dicks (here’s a recent example) and that pretty much all of his shows are a slightly embarrassing combination of Disney-level sentimentality and shining-eyed liberal idealism, but I still like to watch them. They’re fun and include some of the most entertaining dialogue on TV. Yes, even Sports Night. Here are some of the reasons why many people find Studio 60, The West Wing etc to be insufferable and/or offensive:
- The Nice Guy protagonists who just can’t catch a break with powerful women.
- The political grandstanding that mostly consists of people saying witty facts at each other while the orchestral score soars patriotically in the background.
- The weirdly dated liberal idealism.
- Aaron Sorkin’s increasingly warped idea of what the world “should be like”. (See previous point + the fact that he hates the internet.)
But I’m chill with that shit, just like how I can watch and enjoy a whole host of superhero movies where women are relegated to love-interest roles. Nothing’s perfect (except Avatar: The Last Airbender). Also I’d been pre-prepared for Newsroom by that shitty interview where Sorkin was all, “I bet I’d have done well in the ’40s, when America was still awesome!” (Yeah, like when segregation was still around?) I assumed that Newsroom would be more entertaining, dialogue-heavy liberal drama.
Yeah, no. The Newsroom has none of the charm and humour of Sorkin’s other shows. It’s 1/3 people shouting at each other (OK, mostly the protagonist shouting at other people), 1/3 infodump dialogue, and 1/3 the main character acting like a complete cockwaffle. And when I say that he’s a cockwaffle, I don’t mean in the “Josh Lyman is a lovable douche” way. This isn’t a flawed character with a few issues related to being sexist and/or an Aaron Sorkin self-insert. No, he’s just STRAIGHT-UP AWFUL. Like, he never says or does anything likeable over the course of the entire 90-minute pilot.
- He’s a terrible boss who causes almost his entire workforce to quit.
- He fires people all the time and has no idea who any of his employees are aside from the one (totally douchey) guy he mentors. Who then turns out to be incompetent.
- He has some kind of ~backstory~ with the female lead, which is to be expected in this kind of show. The implication is that she screwed him over a few years ago, but while she acts like a nice person and an adult professional throughout, trying to apologise to him on multiple occasions, he steamrollers her at every turn and pretty much acts like his character ought to be the villain of the story.
- He’s portrayed as being such a terrible boss and all-round human that he doesn’t bother to learn the names of any of his employees. This complete unfamiliarity with any of his employees leads him to accidentally promote an intern to be his PA because he can’t remember who she is. And he only learns her name right at the end of the episode, which seemed like it was being highlighted as an emotional ~learning moment~ but just came across as him rewarding a young woman by learning her name.
- He thinks that Dev Patel’s character is the IT guy, and calls him “Punjab”. And then derides him for running the show’s website/blog, because the internet is silly and pointless (even though Dev Patel provides a whole bunch of really useful information when it comes to breaking a story on-air).
- Characters keep talking about how intelligent and well-respected he is, but there’s really no evidence of him having any skill aside from the ability to make erudite speeches off-the-cuff? And even those speeches could only have been made with the help of all the people in the newsroom, ie the people whose names he doesn’t even bother to learn.
Oh, and some other reasons why The Newsroom just wasn’t very good television:
- It’s stuck in some alternate universe where the internet is a silly little accessory to ~important reporting~ done in TV newsrooms. Sorry, Aaron: having your main character actively deride the concept of having a blog just makes him seem like a curmudgeonly idiot. As of episode 1, The Newsroom seems like it should be a show about an over-the-hill TV news pundit who torpedoes his own career by alienating all his allies and failing to catch up with the rest of the world by, you know, acknowledging the importance of the internet.
- There are all these shots where the camera pans in on the two black people in the newsroom before focusing on a white person who actually gets to deliver a meaninful line. I found this very distracting because it seemed like they were trying to make it seem more like they had a diverse cast than they actually did. In fact the main characters are: four white men and two white women — and both of those women are romantically linked to male leads already. I assume that Dev Patel is going to get a more prominent role in later episodes but even though I’d say he’s the most famous actor in the cast he only had about 5 lines in the pilot.
- The old TV exec character baffles me because it seems like he’s meant to be filling the grandfatherly mentor shoes of the old TV exec in Sprts Night (who, incidentally, appears to have exactly the same office), but the guy he’s mentoring is a 50-year-old blowhard. ALSO, if he’s meant to be the lovable old Gandalf of news TV, why does his introductory scene consist of him telling a gross anecdote about a sexy ~exotic dancer~ falling into his lap? Ew!
- The aim of the show-within-a-show in The Newsroom appears to be to Stop Talking Down To Viewers and Start Doing Real Journalism On TV Again. So… I guess it’s set in a universe where Rachel Maddow doesn’t exist?
TL;DR version: Aaron Sorkin’s douchebag levels are now so high that even someone who is willing to overlook his many flaws would not find this show remotely entertaining.
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- professorbutterscotch said: hmmm. what’s interesting to me is the 70% of these criticisms (especially concerning the main character) also applied to how I felt about the first few episodes of the West Wing.
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- ben-seven said: Yeah, I just wrote out my Sorkin disillusionment on my LJ. I expected this to disappoint and it did but it still hurts because Sorkin has an incredible voice and abilities when he puts them to good use. Unfortunately, he thinks this is good use.
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- cadwallia said: Woww that sounds awful. WTF with that racist crap? (As an aside: people lost their SHIT because the characters on Girls were flawed, but straight-up male ASSHOLES like this are par for the course?)
- kotorswtor said: I’ve heard roughly equal numbers of people call Newsroom utterly unwatchable and say it’s some of the best storytelling they’ve seen in a long time. I might have to check it out just to resolve the cognitive dissonance for myself.
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