(WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!)
During tonight’s episode of HBO’s The Newsroom, I came to a realization: Aaron Sorkin hasn’t evolved as a writer since the days of The West Wing. Oh, he’s still good, but pretty much everything in tonight’s episode, and really in the series so far, could have been written by him ten years ago.
This came up when, at the beginning of tonight’s episode, we have Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) issuing an apology to news viewers, telling them that he and his show have let them down. That they have been too busy pursuing ratings to actually do the news like it should be done. It’s a great speech. But it’s also yet another one of Sorkin’s soapbox speeches, and while they were fresh and popping ten years ago, at this point, perhaps, not so much.
This week’s episode is odd in many ways. First off, it’s told over a course of several months, going from May to November 2010. There’s lots in there about how to properly cover the election, and I really did enjoy that part. I also enjoyed the scenes it was spliced with where we saw Charlie (Sam Waterston) in a meeting with corporate types, including the network owner played by Jane Fonda.
It was great fun watching the election coverage and wishing, deeply wishing, that real news coverage had been more like that. It was more like that then the show wants to pretend, but it wasn’t on the same scale. It was interesting and fascinating seeing how the news was developed and watching the production meetings and everything else. It was even really neat seeing ACN’s election night coverage, which did look a little under-populated compared with what the real world versions were doing that night.
I also loved the conversations in the corporate meeting, especially at the end where Fonda’s character lays it all out and makes it very clear that she’s not impressed with the way that Will handled several people who have now been elected to Congress; people that she now has to deal with. She flat-out threatens to fire Will if Charlie can’t rein him in. I was very pleased that we saw how often business drives the news. It’s a sucky thing, but there you are.
So this, aside from the fact that it all could have dripped from Sorkin’s word processor ten years ago, was all well and good. What was not good at all were the relationship stories. We had the manufactured love triangle between Jim (John Gallgher, Jr), Maggie (Allison Pill), and Don (Thomas Sadoski). We had Will dating various women and rubbing McKenzie (Emily Mortimer) getting bent out of shape and acting like a jealous thirteen-year-old. We even had a glimpse at a relationship she’s in.
It was too much, it was too involved and it was way, way too dull. I’m not invested in these characters yet and their relationships all feel very unnatural and unreal to me. Seeing Neal (Dev Patel) waking up next to some random women felt more realistic than the way McKenzie was acting around a woman that Will was dating. Seriously, it was painful.
Sorkin is skilled as a writer in many ways. He’s very good at taking complex subjects like politics and the news and making them understandable. But he is terrible at writing relationship stories. The relationships in The West Wing were a weak point of the series and they remain a weak point here. At this point if I could have one wish for this series, it would be a focus on the “sausage making” of news, and not…well, I was going to make some joke about “sausage” and relationships, but, eh. I just don’t have the energy.