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Cross-Post: Dear Aaron Sorkin: Someone Please Fix You

by Sasha Stone
July 18, 2012 9:41 AM
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I have now been caught in the ninth circle of Hell.  When the bad reviews came out about The Newsroom I couldn’t believe how harsh the critics, especially The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, had treated Sorkin. One even called for Sorkin’s Oscar to be revoked after watching the show.  I quickly wrote up how the backlash was inevitable, how anxious journalists were to finally knock Sorkin down from his pedestal.  But I was wrong.  Nussbaum and others had a right to complain. Not only is the show clumsy, badly written, badly acted, self-righteous, and deserving of all of the complaints the critics lobbed upon it, but in the final analysis, it is so hateful to women it has altered my whole opinion of Sorkin as a writer and as a thinker. I never thought that would happen; I have followed his career with the same adoring eyes as Mackenzie has done for Will.  I have called him the best writer in film. He could do no wrong with me. Until he finally did.

The first episode of The Newsroom wasn’t that bad. It was actually good. We were hearing things that had never been said about our dysfunctional relationship with corporate news as entertainment. No better person to tell those things to us than Mr. Sorkin, someone who seems, at first glance, to be of high moral ideals, especially when it comes to speaking the truth and doing the right thing.  This is just one of the things about Sorkin that makes him such a great person.  The dialogue seemed up to snuff, considering how good Sorkin is with creating the kind of memorable lines that elevated The Social Network — those lines have been brewing in my head since I first saw the film.

How could the reviews be right, I wondered. How could this Aaron Sorkin be the same Aaron Sorkin who wrote A Few Good Men and The West Wing and The Social Network? Even The American President had wonderful dialogue and a strong female character who was, okay fine, dating fodder, but she also was a lobbyist for the environment and someone who actually cared about her President being a standup guy.  She was an accoutrement, perhaps, but she was at least a somewhat intelligent one.  The West Wing and even Studio 60 had, for the most part, well written characters — females who were more than just boner fodder.

But The Newsroom is so bad that I too have begun to wonder whether his female characters were really well written or were they just played well by better actors who made them good? Would MacKenzie, for instance, be a better character if she were played by someone harder, someone whose tone and attitude didn’t match the syrupy dialogue? Is it Mortimer’s fault or Sorkin’s?

Does it even matter who’s fault it is? Badly written characters, whether they are male or female, bring the whole show down. Sorkin et al are asking us to admire people who don’t deserve to be admired. And it’s asking us to disregard those we do think matter. The men are not interesting enough to deserve the affections of interesting women. They are worse than not interesting enough, two of them are assholes outright.  That the women are interested in them at all immediately lowers our opinion of those women. Therefore, there aren’t many characters to admire, defend or like in The Newsroom at all. We don’t care whether they get together or not. We only want someone to get a pie in the face, repeatedly, until their obnoxious, self-righteous behavior is toned down.

The first episode made me think, wow, what got stuck up critics’ collective asses? Here is Will as realized by Jeff Daniels, telling it like it is.  We deserve to be put in our place because our country and the news machine it has birthed is beyond repugnant. Who better than Aaron Sorkin to right the wrongs in the media the way he righted the wrongs in the White House? But the key difference is that The West Wing wasn’t only about romantic entanglements with politics being a side issue.  It took a while for those entanglements to emerge.

I was especially resistant to Nussbaum’s review because I thought it sounded too personal. But the critics had the advantage of being four episodes in. It turned out to be tremendous advantage because The Newsroom finally shits the bed on Episode 4.  Maybe it gets better, maybe it doesn’t, but the critics, I must eat crow and say, were dead on.

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  • Visiter | July 26, 2012 10:00 PMReply

    "Of course, he probably won’t show those moments when the news media did get it right — like during Hurricane Katrina, for instance."

    Do you mean when the media was reporting widespread murder and rape?

  • F.P. | July 20, 2012 4:29 PMReply

    Ugh Sasha, you can re-publish Nussbaum's ridiculous hypocritical theory that the flawed 'Veep' could redeem itself in season 2, but that, only 4 episodes into 'The Newsroom,' cannot, and then you pile on, adding that your 'hero' has disappointed you for being so misogynistic towards his show's female characters, "at a time when women have to fight hard for equality in the media — only one of the nine films up for Best Picture last year was even about women at all. Women have to fight every day for validity." 1) You're comparing TV to film, and in fact, women on TV having their best year ever, considering the number of excellent contenders in all the major categories, who's running networks and prod. co.'s and creating shows. 2) 'The Newsroom' is not perfect, no show in its first 4 eps will ever be. The love triangle storyline is beyond tedious, and the normally engaging Allison Pill has been deadened by it. Sorkin has stated that the Neal character was only supposed to be in the pilot, so this racial 'theory' being offered is alarmist at best given that I'm sure most characters beyond the top 6 have been barely considered in terms of arc and character (and I frankly rather see Adina Porter on TV than not). But to over-analyze McKenzie's place in that clumsy, Coldplay'd ending of a messy episode 4 is akin to complaining that you were photographed poorly at a close family member's funeral (expect that to be a storyline on a future episode of the "excellent," "interesting," 'Girls,' and it be lauded, especially by women, because it's 'real'). 3) Most importantly, what probably pisses you off isn't that the show is presenting a bygone era, it's that it present a world you don't WANT to believe is today. But men like Will, rich and successful a-holes who think the sun rises when they open their eyes, DO bag and use and insult intelligent women, because women want to 'fix' (ironically) such difficult men - isn't that the dynamic on 'Girls' in the early going between Hannah and Adam? Isn't it odd then then that defenders of 'Girls' now hate McKenzie - because she wants to fix Will, and OH how must they feel so frustrated that she's doing something as futile as what almost every woman in some capacity wants to do for the man she she loves/d? Your frustrations with the show are about our frustrations with ourselves, and frankly that a man, instead of Lena Dunham, calls you out on it. It's the frustration that attractive/powerful men reduce us to that because we LET them, because we mold OURSELVES into that position to get closer to them, and then we resent it when they don't change. Notice how you (and many other critics) don't complain about Sloan or Leona. That's because, the small amounts we've been given about both in a short space of time suggests they are actually like the modern women we want to be. But inORDINATE amounts of ink are spilled when women stereotypes that could be true are presented. And frankly, Will was correct - any woman (or man) that wants to engage in the deadening of our culture for spurious reason, like writing takedown pieces for Jennifer Aniston tabloids or watching (or producing) Real Housewives shows, should be taken down a peg and if the reaction to that is a drink in the face, then clearly he must be right. If he wasn't, then there'd be NO reaction, and certainly not the one where the characters go running to the tabloids. THAT'S what should be getting women upset - that the women he dates are so petty, they run to the tabloids about him. But then again, read the Facebook pages of women who just broke up with a guy, and then allow your rage to be quelled for how the overrated author of 'The Social Network' has FUBAR'd a self-admitted polemic about the media before it's gotten fully underway.

  • TCinLA | July 19, 2012 7:31 PMReply

    If you think the most overrated hack of the last 30 years is a Great Writer you need to go take a reading class. Aaron Sorkin has been the same PoS asshat from the first syllable of the first word he ever put on a page. What an idiot you are, lady. But at last you finally work up to what a scum he is.

  • Tom | July 19, 2012 10:01 AMReply

    If the show disappoints you guys so much just stop watching it.
    Four episodes in and you are still bitching about it, just give up on it then and let the rest of us enjoy it.
    It's light entertainment, relax and stop treating Aaron Sorkin like the devil.

  • TCinLA | July 19, 2012 7:33 PM

    Dear Wingnut PoS: drop dead you talentless asswipe.

  • theperfectnose | July 18, 2012 6:58 PMReply

    You're not going to get very many comments with this antiquated commenting system. Get disqus already!

  • theperfectnose | July 18, 2012 6:56 PMReply

    Newsroom over uses the same lazy tropes and cliches that its main characters ostensibly abhor (lazy, easy, outrage inducing, eyeball grabbing, top 10 things about-y drama-crap).

  • Angelle | July 18, 2012 1:50 PMReply

    Tom, go sit in a well-lit room and work on your reading comprehension. You're responding to accusations the writer never made.

    The reason Sorkin is open to attacks like this is because the show is so very poorly written. In every episode, there are multiple moments when you'd swear you can see his hand up the actors' backsides, making their mouths move. And Mackenzie gets this more than anyone, although no character is safe. In this world, people say and do things not out of realistic behavior or even dramatic need, but because Sorkin wants them to. The stink of authorial intent permeates the whole show, sucks out much of the drama, and disappoints me mightily.

    Like Sasha, I really wanted to like this show. And it still has some redeeming qualities or me. But man, I wish there were more.

  • theperfectnose | July 18, 2012 6:57 PM

    You're awesome. XD

  • Tom | July 18, 2012 1:41 PMReply

    Get over yourself.
    The show is not 'hateful' towards women. You are really nitpicking here and desperately seeking hits for your article. It's just a tv show, and a very entertaining one at that.

    Was 'The Flinstones' a sexist show because it portrayed Wilma as a housewife and not an independent career driven woman? Is 'Cheers' one of the most mysoginistic shows ever produced because Diane and Carla were working in a bar that catered for the working class (yuck).

    You really need to go into a dark room, sit down and have a chat with yourself you idiot!

  • Tom | July 19, 2012 10:03 AM


    Piss off.

  • Joel | July 19, 2012 2:08 AM

    Tom, You really need to go into a dark room, sit down and have a chat with yourself you miserable misogynist douche bag. Thanks for reinforcing all the negative idiotic self-involved fratboy stereotypes about our gender, you classless dickwad.

    Sasha, thanks for your honesty. I didn't agree with everything you wrote, but you opened my eyes to some issues with this show. And I agree, you're right.

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