As I watched the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin’s new drama, “The Newsroom,” I couldn’t help but wonder if I was watching someone, maybe an avid fan of Sorkin who had worshiped everything he has ever done including something like Studio 60, had decided to do a show in the Sorkin style, which is fine, in theory, as long as said writer/creator has their own interesting unique voice. This is what would happen if I, a Sorkin fan boy myself, were to do a show like this. And even with my Sorkin fanboyism, I couldn’t give the show as pass. I don’t want to say that “Newsroom” seemed like a parody of Sorkin’s work, because it didn’t necessarily come off that way, but watching, it felt like some of the very worst habits of Sorkin consumed a good deal of the pilot episode.
The show starts off with anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) speaking to a crowd of college students at Northwestern University. He is being pressured by the moderator to give his opinion on something, anything, because somehow he’s managed to become a popular cable news anchorman without ever coming off as subjective. Sorkin can take his liberties, though, so I’ll ignore that one.
Anyways, McAvoy after a pretty coed asks him what he thinks makes America the greatest country in the world, he goes on a longwinded rant about how much contemporary America sucks ass. Let me note the word contemporary there. In this same speech, McAvoy goes on about what a great country America used to be in the old days with it’s segregation, the horrific and disgraceful mistreatment of blacks, lack of opportunities and rights for women, WW2, Viet man, McCarthyism, no civil rights, no internet etc. you get the point.
Sorkin loves to throw his rather idealistic opinions in his shows, so I just found it odd that someone like Sorkin would go in that direction. I found it odder for the character, because the pilot didn’t present much of anything in characterization for McAvoy, the main character, which left me cold and uninterested.The rant was supposed to rejuvinate the audience, but it ended up boring me in ways that I didn’t think were possible with someone like Sorkn, because even when he’s misfiring he’s still interesting.
In terms of the supporting characters, there wasn’t much to salivate. Emily Mortimer plays McAvoy’s executive producer, Mackenzie MacHale, who comes on to save his dying show after the PR nightmare which followed McAvoy’s breakdown at Northwestern. She had some kind of relationship with him, so now he hates her or something like that.
Alison Pill plays an associate producer who is dating another hotshot producer on the staff. And Dev Patel plays McAvoy’s blogger who becomes an expert on engineering through two minutes of research because of a volcano project he had when he was in grade school. Hmm? I didn’t care about any of this because a lot felt too easy. Sorkin didn’t really do his work. All of this information is presented very dryly and in Sorkin’s usual rapid fire dialogue, which worked so brilliantly in The West Wing and The Social Network because the actors seemingly had a hold on all of it. Here, it’s either clumsily or very self importantly pontificated. But that’s more of a slight on Sorkin’s writing. He didn’t present a story with the characters, he presented ideas.
Aaron Sorkin is really not on HBO either. You see, Aaron Sorkin loves to go on soapboxes and grandstand quite a bit. On network television with The West Wing, he had time restraints thus he made the show palatable for the audience. Here, it often feels like someone is lecturing you for a good portion. When Jed Bartlett would lecture you, it felt like there was an emotion core at the center. When Will McAvoy was doing it here, it felt ineffectual for someone like Sorkin, who we’ve known as much different, and at it’s worst, flat out ludicrous. Also, as a side note, his comment about Gen Y being the worst period generation period ever nearly made me spit out my coconut water. Our generation has turned out to be the generation that is faced with 9/11, a recession, terrorists, job woes, global warming, multiple wars at once etc. etc. The so called worst generation ever might just save the world.
The pilot was not without its Sorkin charms, though. His wit is intact and the supreme optimism that is missing a lot of times in television dramas is in play here. We get a nice Don Quixote speech from Mortimer as she tries to rally McAvoy into action. This nearly revved me back into the show. This first episode represented Sorkin at his very best and Sorkin at his very worst. I look forward to watching the whole season as it progresses, and hoping the pilot was just a misstep.