For a brief time, I had a back office with shutters that rattled if the door was ever slammed shut and a desk where I could pound my fist if I were ever angry. But none of these things ever happened. I was never as much of a blowhard as the anchorman leading the new show about news (He was formerly a dog groomer with intellectual shortcomings and later a cop who Keanu Reeves just couldn’t save, remember?)
I’m speaking about Jeff Daniels, the actor and principle character in Aaron Sorkin’s new show, Newsroom on HBO. You’ll know Sorkin from the West Wing and more recently The Social Network as well as several other successful and well-written movies and shows. He’s a prolific screenwriter with several accolades to his name but I’ll let you look him up on your own.
This is about the Newsroom and all the dramatic yelling and big words peppered in to make the commentary seem witty and intelligent even as it accuses us, the viewer, of being dull and ignorant.
Jeff Daniels, or Will McAvoy (his character) or Sorkin (the writer) begins the show by telling us that America is not the greatest nation in the world anymore. However, after their inspiring diatribe (Is that an oxymoron?), they offer that it can be again. The program forges onward to beat us over the head with pragmatic calls to morality and good old-fashioned calls to the American ego.
The dialogue favors quick wit, literary and political references, and point vs. counterpoint fencing-style dramatics. Conversations essentially become chess matches. All this is set over an impossible amount of inner office romance. We’ve seen enough of that already and it was only one episode.
The show can be exciting, particularly when one is swept up in the first big news story that the crack news team slowly uncovers. You’ll feel empowered because if you weren’t occupied clubbing baby seals in Alaska, you already witnessed the event firsthand. Think recent man-made natural disasters. The show apparently takes place in the recent past, covering all sorts of large news events that actually happened.
McAvoy, in one of his verbal sword fights, actually accuses the American populace of being uninformed. Perhaps the show tackles these “major” events to ensure that we didn’t miss anything the first time. I hear calls to returning journalism to its once formal glory, too. Names like Cronkite, Woodward and Bernstein, who once delivered great justices, are now impossible aspirations for McAvoy. And we’re supposed to believe all this while brooding and budding romances fuel fencing matches between producers. This has all the makings of mixing my senior honors project in journalism (now wasting away in my memory) with a night at the local watering hole. My professors would shake their heads.
The New Yorker review put it aptly when it described Sorkin’s work: “His shows are the type that people who never watch TV are always claiming are better than anything else on TV.”
The intelligent banter is artificial and the context is wrong. The stands these characters make are too high and too mighty, and the subtext is also probably too old. But maybe, just maybe at the very least, it will offer us ignorant Americans some new insights on the major events this time around. Or maybe they’ll just beat us over the head some more and feed us a constant stream of sexual tension layered with wordy speeches and slamming office doors.
Look for me comparing my newsroom with Sorkin’s — they’re both similarly fictionalized.
More as the story develops.