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'The Newsroom' Reaction: Early Reviews Are Tough on Aaron Sorkin

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 18, 2012 at 1:40PM

The mark of a great writer is that you can recognize their voice. There's no other Charlie Kaufman or Woody Allen or Aaron Sorkin. But what happens to a lauded player at the top of Hollywood's writer pyramid after winning the Oscar for "The Social Network" and sharing a nomination for "Moneyball" and landing his own HBO series? He gets killed.
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"In 'The Newsroom,' clever people take turns admiring one another. They sing arias of facts. They aim to remake television news,..Their outrage is so inflamed that it amounts to a form of moral eczema—only it makes the viewer itch,..This is not to say that 'The Newsroom' doesn’t score points now and then, if you share its politics. It starts effectively enough, with an homage to 'Network'’s galvanizing 'I’m mad as hell' rant, as McAvoy, a blandly uncontroversial cable big shot whom everyone tauntingly calls Leno, is trapped on a journalism-school panel...Much of McAvoy’s diatribe is bona-fide baloney—false nostalgia for an America that never existed—but it is exciting to watch. And if you enjoyed 'The West Wing,' Sorkin’s helpful counterprogramming to the Bush Administration, your ears will prick up. The pilot of 'The Newsroom' is full of yelling and self-righteousness, but it’s got energy,..'The Newsroom' gets so bad so quickly that I found my jaw dropping...

"Some of this banter is intelligent; just as often, however, it’s artificial intelligence, predicated on the notion that more words equals smarter,..As Dan Rather might put it, that dog won’t hunt. Sorkin’s shows are the type that people who never watch TV are always claiming are better than anything else on TV. The shows’ air of defiant intellectual superiority is rarely backed up by what’s inside—all those Wagnerian rants, fingers poked in chests, palms slammed on desks, and so on. In fact, “The Newsroom” treats the audience as though we were extremely stupid,..Rather than invent fictional crises, he’s set the show in 'the recent past,' so that the plot is literally old news: the BP oil spill, the Tea Party, the Arizona immigration law. That sounds like an innovative concept, but it turns the characters into back-seat drivers, telling us how the news should have been delivered."

Variety:

"Tackling the glaring shortcomings of modern news, Sorkin writes like he's trying to save America from its basest impulses. He can't, and it's alternately fascinating and irritating to watch him try,..It's worth noting, right up front, that a lot of what Sorkin dishes out in 'Newsroom' isn't remotely plausible,..The most significant maneuver Sorkin executes in the setup is starting the show in April 2010, which allows him to explore actual events -- beginning with the BP oil spill, followed by Arizona's immigration law in episode two, and so forth -- through the prism of Will's fictional cable news program, 'News Night.'

"Sorkin's primary targets -- the use of false equivalency in news, and presenting the veneer of fairness at the expense of truth -- should be no stranger to viewers of 'The Daily Show' or (more acidly) HBO's Bill Maher, and Sorkin assails all the expected conservative media mouthpieces. Look more closely, though, and "Newsroom" exhibits an underlying faith in the U.S. public: a belief in hunger for news and information that's genuinely 'fair and balanced,' if only someone had the balls to serve it to them,..Despite this laundry list of shortcomings, Sorkin's machine-gun dialogue still yields observations you simply don't hear on TV often, such as a news exec's second-episode musing that reeling in younger demos will let the network 'get out of the wheelchair-selling business.'

It's just a shame there's not more subtlety in Sorkin's arguments, not because he's wrong, but because his characters so conspicuously become surrogates for a dissertation on where the American experiment is falling short. Indeed, at times watching 'The Newsroom' explore idealistic solutions, it's easy to think of the scene in 'Annie Hall' where Woody Allen magically produces Marshall McLuhan to buttress his argument, saying, 'Boy, if life were only like this.'"

This article is related to: HBO, Television, Reviews, Reviews, TV Reviews


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