The Newsroom: A flash in the pan without much flash
TELEVISION shows begin and end. Sometimes you find something that ends so perfectly you can’t help but love it, like 30 Rock; sometimes things end in a way that make you regret giving up all your time to it, like True Blood. Sometimes, things just end, like The Newsroom. The Newsroom was West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin’s first project after his Oscar-winning script for The Social Network. The idea was to show the running of a news network but by having it set always a few years behind, it allowed Sorkin to dust off his soapbox and use Will McAvoy (played well by Jeff Daniels) to tell us how we should have handled everything from the Boston bombings through the Antony Weiner scandal and effectively create his own live action version of Captain Hindsight.
So after three seasons, it’s over. Sorkin’s packed up his opinions and gone off to re-draft his movie about Steve Jobs and, in all honesty, as much as I complained about True Blood ending on an anti-climax, at least it felt like it was an honest one. Here, Sorkin has less finished his television show than wandered off and hoped that no one cares about what happens next. He’s lucky that, in this case, we (I, as Sorkin himself often has done, am making my voice representative of everyone) didn’t.
I will give credit to one person before I begin complaining; Paul Lieberstein, former writer, director and performer in The Office (US) came on to this third season as an executive producer. I’m not giving him full credit but, if nothing else, the lack of real structure, pace or understanding of comedy moments of the first two series was diminished. Everything was punchier, the plot was sharper and even some of the jokes landed. The main problem with the programme was Sorkin was so determined to make a point, he forgot to write characters.
Don’t get me wrong, the man can write dialogue like very few else, but he often fails to make it sound like they are words that would ever feasibly be uttered by any human being. Also his hatred of social media or anything not printed or shouted at us by an older male is both grating and patronising especially in the characterisation of Neal (Dev Patel, who between this and The Last Airbender really needs a win) the web expert whose only character traits are Will thinks he does a fake job and that he thinks Bigfoot is real.
For a show that hates the internet and the Tumblr generation as much as this, it also spends a lot of time acting like people on the worst corners of that website and constantly shipping its characters. Anytime you think it’s starting to get interesting, it reminds us of all the lingering romantic threads it hasn’t resolved and wants to dangle in front of us. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for romance but really? You’re going to resolve that pretty much all the central characters in this news department end up falling in love with each other? I’m impressed that any news ever gets broadcast with this amount of constant sexual tension.
It must be said, the cast were mostly very good considering, especially Olivia Munn and Alison Pill who managed to actually craft fully fledged characters out of their thin script backing (I could posit here that Sorkin hasn’t written a good female character since CJ in The West Wing but that’s another rant for another day). Sam Waterson, Jane Fonda and Marcia Gay Harden are total pros and it shows with the way they all make their dialogue sing and, with character actors like Stephen Root, Phillip Baker Hall, Hope Davis and Clea Duvall amongst its guest cast, it’s hard not to find something to keep you coming back.
With any show like this ending I have to ask myself the question ‘should someone go back and explore this?’ This isn’t as simple as asking “is it good?” as there are many terrible shows I’d recommend people watch just to see why they’re terrible. However, having watched the entire programme, the only thing I can really say is… it’s done. It was never good enough to be appointment viewing and never bad enough to be hate viewing (if you want some of that, look no further than The Following, Stalker, Low Winter Sun, Hostages or post-season-four Dexter).
It was a show with high production values, good casting and a prestige writer, but it was never good or bad enough. It’s the kind of programme that the penultimate scene involved the cast having a jam session; it was always too middle-of-the-road to cause the kind of stir it wanted to. It’s hard not to think it could have been a much more interesting show if it had stuck to its guns and not just attacked targets that have already been taken out. Still, that first episode did have a great monologue.