Last night we all got to revisit the fun-filled world of walking and talking when Aaron Sorkin returned to television with his new HBO show, The Newsroom. After watching the first episode I have mixed feelings, though I’m hopeful that some of the weaknesses are the product of a premier episode and will dissipate as time goes on.
- Can a Redemption Story Have Staying Power?: This is unabashedly a tale of redemption for every character involved. Our, for lack of a better term, “hero,” Will McAvoy is a cynical, intellectually lazy jerk in the process of getting his groove back. Part of that process is the mending of his personal relationship with his Executive Producer Mackenzie, who is also invariably suffering from some form of PTSD. The other characters also suffer because of easily defined obstacles. I’m looking forward to watching everyone overcome their obstacles — in the manner of the show’s thinly veiled thematic touchstone, Don Quixote — but what happens when everyone succeeds? Or can the audience still be asked to care if the story strives to keep these obstacles in place artificially? It’s the Twin Peaks phenomenon — what happens when you figure out who killed Laura Palmer? I’m looking forward to the journey, but I don’t know how long it can last.
Angry is a Good Tone For Sorkin: The West Wing had amazing moments, but very little anger. The characters, under tremendous pressure as the leaders of the free world. It was unrealistically utopian how calm and reasonable everyone was. It was an unfortunate facet of the show because Aaron Sorkin writes angry characters so very well. Will McAvoy’s terse, angry demeanor reminds me of what would happen if Colonel Nathan Jessup were harnessed for the forces of good.
- Remember Before Women Couldn’t Vote? Wasn’t That Awesome?: Others have pointed out that Aaron Sorkin seems to be increasingly misogynist. This episode does little to dispel that criticism. The character whose abject stupidity sets the show in motion is not only a woman, but specifically called out as, “sorority girl” who we all hope never “accidentally wander[s] into a voting booth.” Maggie is characterized as a naive girl in over her head and the only strong woman in the show is the new Executive Producer who callously broke the heart of our dear Will McAvoy, and rewards her staff by matchmaking and taking them shopping. Indeed, McAvoy defined the heroism of past generations as the time when we “acted like men.” I grant that Will McAvoy is not necessarily a role model, but I didn’t detect any indication that this diatribe was not supposed to be McAvoy’s high water mark. If anything, this diatribe was unfiltered Sorkin.
- Psychological projection, Thy Name is Baby Boomer: The show hit one of my pet peeves when McAvoy labeled the college students watching his meltdown the, “worst period generation period ever period.” Aaron Sorkin was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomers and he is an apologist for that group which is, in fact, the “worst period generation period ever period.” Bashing Gen X and Millennials is standard procedure for many Baby Boomers these days and I’m sick of it. It wasn’t Gen X that leapt at the chance to elect
politicians promising to slash federal tax rates resulting in a massive debt. It wasn’t Millennials that have walked away from the civil rights movement and allowed economic segregation and voter suppression. The Baby Boomers brought America to this moment and all many prominent Boomers seem to do is blame everyone else while bleating about their own accomplishments in the 1960s…accomplishments properly credited to the generations born before WWII. I don’t mean to bash all the Baby Boomers, generational generalizations are always hasty, but Sorkin resists looking in the mirror when he decries the state of America.
- Those Who Don’t Remember The Past: Some critics are questioning the decision to set the show in the recent past and report on real stories as opposed to creating a fictional world where we could see reporting on events in, say, Qumar. I disagree. I think one of Sorkin’s goals with The Newsroom is to envision a world where the 24-hour news cycle driven media has the power to report what could never be accomplished in one night. The angles that McAvoy and his team tackle in the first episode were only fully fleshed out after months of research and were overlooked by viewers weary of following the story for that long. In many ways, Sorkin is providing the obituaries of these stories — mustering all the aspects of these stories and revisiting them in a short, entertaining burst to remind America of what it has forgotten. Few stories exemplify this more than the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion tackled in the first episode, a catastrophe that turned America against Gulf drilling at the time, but today expanding Gulf drilling is favored by nearly 2/3 of the country even though little has changed to make Gulf drilling any safer than it was two years ago.
In any event, I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going, even if I have to hear more about the unbridled brilliance of Baby Boomers. What did everyone else think?