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

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by Sasha Stone
July 18, 2012 9:41 AM
12 Comments
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Thomas Sadoski who plays the show’s former producer is the one who gets to say the best line — that doctors pronounce people dead, not news anchors. Sure, as was smartly pointed out to me by Kris Tapley, it’s important that his character have an arc — so by all means, throw the show’s new producer under the bus because fuck it, women can’t make important decisions like that.  But let’s just try to imagine anyone stepping over Holly Hunter like that in Broadcast News.  This is what might have happened to them if they had:

There was a love triangle in Broadcast News and Holly Hunter has to make a decision between two men. She ends up choosing neither. But when she turns down William Hurt it’s because he represents everything she fights against. Can you imagine such a choice being written for MacKenzie?

By the show’s end, three men putting on the news stand in a room looking like the founding fathers making the “big decisions” while the women stand around and chortle, ruin the media with their gossip rags, fuck anyone they’re told to fuck, send dumb emails, throw jealous fits and so on.

At first, I was fraught with fear, worried that the show wouldn’t he good, worried FOR Aaron Sorkin.  But after last night’s episode  I too wonder what is the point of this?  Where Girls is a show about girls talking about boys (and disappointing in that way) it is far more interesting, better written, with better characters — even if they did nothing else but talk about their fat thighs and which tampon is the best.  The Newsroom is more than a waste of time. It is a throwback to a time when men were men and women were nothing.  How disappointing. How unforgivable.

So this commentary IS personal. It isn’t that all television has to be politically correct. It isn’t that all women are good and all men are bad. And it isn’t that it’s necessary to only put forth progressive images of women.  Sorkin is required to write good drama. He has failed here. He has failed because his show is guilty of everything the critics accused it of, as Nussbaum writes:

There are plenty of terrific actors on this show, but they can’t do much with roles that amount to familiar Sorkinian archetypes. There is the Great Man, who is theoretically flawed, but really a primal truth-teller whom everyone should follow (or date). There are brilliant, accomplished women who are also irrational, high-strung lunatics—the dames and muses who pop their eyes and throw jealous fits when not urging the Great Man on. There are attractively suited young men, from cynical sharpies to idealistic sharpies, who glare and bond and say things like “This right here is always the swan song of the obsolete when they’re staring the future paradigm in the face.”

The show features three people of color. The most prominent is an Indian staffer named Neal Sampat, played by Dev Patel. The dialogue makes fun of McAvoy for calling him Punjab and referring to him as “the Indian stereotype of an I.T. guy,” but the show treats Neal with precisely that type of condescension. Neal is a WikiLeaks fan who writes the show’s blog, but he’s a cheerful cipher, a nerd who speaks nerd talk. There are also two African-American producers, who are introduced to the audience when McAvoy —- who is publicly memorizing the names of his staff, having been accused of not remembering them —- says, “Gary. Kendra. Gary’s a smart black guy who is not afraid to criticize Obama. Kendra got double 800s on her S.A.T.s, makes Gary crazy. I studied.”

Nobody reacts, and I suspect we’re supposed to find his behavior charmingly blunt or un-P.C. But, again, neither Gary nor Kendra is at all developed, or given any role in the show’s wince-worthy set of love triangles. It gave me flashbacks to one of the worst plots on “Studio 60,” in which the comic played by D. L. Hughley -— the “smart black guy” who was always reading the newspaper — went to a comedy club to anoint the one true young black comic among the hacks and mediocrities. Sorkin’s shows overflow with liberal verities about diversity, but they reproduce a universe in which the Great Man is the natural object of worship, as martyred by gossips as any Philip Roth protagonist.

Despite a few bad bets, HBO is on a truly interesting run right now. It has built a solid Sunday lineup, with “Game of Thrones,” the excellent “Girls,” and “Veep,” a political sitcom that just ended its funny, prickly, but also rather dead-hearted début season. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays the title role, is a skilled comedienne, and the cast knows how to sling the writer Armando Iannucci’s nasty zingers. And yet the series was so cynical that it somehow felt naïve. When Louis-Dreyfus’s character got pregnant, she promptly miscarried, and then had no meaningful reaction to either condition. This was disappointing, but I still have hope for the second season, when many sitcoms find their feet, as did NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” the one excellent political series on TV.

“The Newsroom” is the inverse of “Veep”: it’s so naïve it’s cynical. Sorkin’s fantasy is of a cabal of proud, disdainful brainiacs, a “media élite” who swallow accusations of arrogance and shoot them back as lava. But if the storytelling were more confident, it could take a breath and deliver drama, not just talking points. Instead, the deck stays stacked. Whenever McAvoy delivers a speech or slices up a right-winger, the ensemble beams at him, their eyes glowing as if they were cultists. The series turns Will McAvoy into the equivalent of the character Karen Cartwright, on “Smash,” the performer who the show keeps insisting is God’s gift to Broadway. Can you blame me for rooting for McAvoy’s enemies, all those flyover morons, venal bean-counters, sorority girls, and gun-toting bimbos? Like a political party, a TV show is nothing without a loyal opposition.

But what I take personally is the show comes 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. It is as important as the causes Sorkin fights so hard for on this show. What gets me the most, what hits me the hardest is that he doesn’t see that — or worse, doesn’t care.

“He got the better of that exchange.” Mackenzie says after talking to Will. He always does.

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12 Comments

  • 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

    Joel.

    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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