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Saturday, 25 of May of 2019

The Newsroom – “We Just Decided To”

“Seriously, though. I have a blog?”

Mackenzie gives hints to Will on what to say next.

It’s not the greatest show in the world —

I’m sure this will all sound glib. But that might be fitting for the subject.

Aaron Sorkin brings another series showcasing the wild, emotional chaos happening beneath a shiny veneer we as a public consume, ripping the facade off something polished and well-oiled to show all the moving parts that makes everything tick, especially if those moving parts are near clinical in self-importance and neuroses. If The Newsroom doesn’t work out, maybe Sorkin will pitch a series about how sausage is made with the most pedantic and fervent meat-handlers Johnsonville has ever put to work.

But he wouldn’t do a show about sausage workers. The shows he wants to do are about higher, shinier offices that have direct and immediate sway over a large swaths of the public. The shows he brings to series all seem to be ones that focus on vanted elements of our society, humanizing the faces and talking heads we tend to detach from the rest of us in order to get over the fact that they rose from our depths. It’s heady stuff.

But does anyone else get the feeling Sorkin churns out shows because he’s still dealing with his disappointment in Sports Night?

I imagine if you’re reading this, you know the history of Aaron Sorkin’s failures and successes with television but some aren’t aware of his hand behind the programs. Sports Night was his first television offering, a show about the inner-workings of a sports news program in the vein of Sportscenter, complete with two charismatic co-hosts rife with chemistry and comedy chops. It was the show that introduced many to Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, and Josh Malina and features a collective talent ego (often the tandem hosts acted as a single unit) that grates against the wishes of a single-minded, idealistic, and determined executive producer. Plus hijinks that surround the underlings that work for them.

Sound vaguely familiar?

I’m not proposing that The Newsroom is a repackaged Sports Night, not in the least. The Newsroom is an evolution of Sorkin’s television résumé, a vision that’s been sent through the ringer of all his previous outings. While it invokes the chaos of television production found in both Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it has the values and lack of fear in putting a character on a soap box that The West Wing offered. Sports Night had its fair share of characters monologuing on the border of soliloquy but not in the same refined way it is in The Newsroom, and I would have to assume this is an art perfected by years of the Bartlett administration.

It just feels like every new series by Sorkin is another way for him to get to do the things he wanted to do on Sports Night but never go the chance with its run cut down at two seasons. The West Wing was an expansion of the hints of political humor/drama put into Dan’s voice, as if Dan left the show to work as an aide in the White House. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip offered the same symbiotic relationship Dan and Casey used to employ but behind the scenes (if not out of the spotlight). And The Newsroom offers many of the same premises as Sports Night (static between the EP and the talent, working at possibly a struggling network, the connections people share when their work is everything) while maintaining what he’s learned in a decade and a half of producing television, and then he put it on a show where Casey’s alone and jaded and Dana comes back to produce him out of his surly, curmudgeonly despair.

That being said, that this is a new opportunity for Sorkin and company to get out all the stories and themes that’ve been cooking in his head since Sports Night‘s defeat, I like The Newsroom. The pilot does have shades of pedantic soapboxing about idealism, media, and America but the characters are interesting and the conversation is compelling. What this story does that Sports Night never could do with any moral ground is address the concerns of the fourth estate and its evolution in an ad-controlled and polarized America. My agreement with the expressed views notwithstanding, it is heady stuff. Setting it in the not-to-distany past (two years ago) so that major events in recent history can be addressed and couched in this Sorkin-ized world also makes it interesting and, hopefully, connects with an audience that is familiar with these news stories (instead of the stories feeling fake or the audience feeling removed). We are no longer dealing with stories ripped from the headlines. These are the headlines themselves and the stories are wrapped around them.

We talk often about how pilots are hard and this one isn’t without its problems, particularly that there are so many scenes where the dialogue of one person probably fills a page and arguments last for so long they come off like solipisistic conversations than those had by real people, but what the series can carry forward is interesting. Mac is a talented producer with a change-the-world attitude not hampered by youthful abandon, Will is an affable and conflicted anchor yearning for the glow of trusted-anchor’s past, and the staff is young enough for hijinks while establishing themselves as capable enough to support the fancies of their superiors.

And Sam Waterston’s there to be drunk and challenge people to fist fights. What more do you want?

While I like to dream about this show being a Sports Night remix flung into a dystopian future of the Sorkin universe (read: our current reality), it isn’t that. Assuredly, it’ll give Sorkin the opportunity to work out some issues if he has them but the pilot alone seems to accomplish much of what the show wants to do: challenge the media, say the things he wants to say about a polarized country, and discuss what needs to be done in order to bring back the yesteryear everyone harkens back to but doesn’t realize that vision needs to be modernized. Can the story carry forward from here? Can it be this compelling for a run?

Let’s give it a few episodes. “Shoe Money Tonight” didn’t even come around until episode 10.

Other things:

  • I’m really happy the pilot delayed the appearance of Munn-face. That longer we hold that off, the better.
  • That opening, with Will’s pedagogy inspired by a vision of his more idealistic past, is a perfect advertisement for this show. Can’t stand the conversation? The approach? The seemingly endless diatribe maligning America and its institutions? Probably time to change the channel then.
  • Avian bone syndrome. There. I said it. Now I can look past it.
  • I really hope the opening credits are as masturbatory and self-important as they are in the pilot. We don’t need the history of broadcast news to lead into the world’s longest credit sequence.
  • Alison Pill knocks her underling role out of the park. The drawn-out “Yesssss” when Mackenzie ask Maggie to confirm Will is at his agent’s kills me. Emily Mortimer is unsurprisingly amazing.
  • That being said, Dev Patel is my favorite.
  • By the way, the conversation between Will and Mac about her job and the state of cable news lasts 13 minutes including the short bursts of news to break it up. 13 minutes.
  • Every reference to Leno being popular because he’s inoffensive. I love it.
  • MAC: “Nothing on the prompter is where this man eats.”
  • Producing the show within the show, seeing the characters come together to make this happen, makes the dragged out set-up feel worth it. That flirty/professional/abrasive EP/talent relationship is finely tuned.
  • Was that inspector on the phone Jesse Eisenberg?
  • I’m not sure what to think about Mac actually being at Northwestern and it not being a figment of Will’s longing. I suppose because it wrecks his sensitive side but also may fool Will into thinking he has one. I do like that she didn’t reveal it to him. I also rolled my eyes a little when we pushed in on the note in her binder for a minute. I get it.
  • JIM: “I don’t know what you’re miming.”
  • Will = Casey/Dan, Mac = Dana, Maggie = Natalie, Jim = Regular Jeremy, Charlie = Isaac, Neal = Nerd Jeremy, which means Kim = Sloan (Munn’s character)? Hopefully not because they’re Asian because I don’t want to be racist?

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