Sorkin Hate

I watched The Newsroom and I loved it. From Jeff Daniels rant on a stage at Northwestern to his congratulations to the wrong control room, I loved it.

Evidently, the criticracy begs to differ.

Why all the Sorkin hate?

From the Daily Beast

The West Wing was Sorkin’s seductive fantasia about how America should be governed; the new series is his equally far-fetched reverie about how it should be covered. Both shows rely on the same basic building blocks: handsome idealists emitting reams of encyclopedic Sorkinese as they canter through glassy office spaces on an improbable quest to redeem the American experiment. But The West Wing did something The Newsroom doesn’t, at least not yet: it put its characters before its politics. The result? Both seemed more real than they had any right to be.

Sadly, Sorkin flips this formula on The Newsroom, pumping his creations so full of media-critic talking points that they almost suffocate. And while Sorkin is right about the false bias toward balance that plagues the postmodern press, his decision to center the series on the real events of 2010 prevents him from dramatizing how that bias could actually be combated. When the Deepwater Horizon rig explodes, McAvoy’s team immediately intuits that the real story is the size of the coming oil spill rather than the ongoing search-and-rescue mission—even though in real life it took days for anyone to -report that oil was leaking.

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From the Huffington Post

The biggest problem with “The Newsroom” — and it’s one of many, many problems — is that its goals and its narrative strategies are in direct conflict with each other. The result is a dramatically inert, infuriating mess, one that wastes a fine cast to no demonstrable purpose, unless you consider giving Sorkin yet another platform in which to Set the People Straight is a worthwhile purpose.

The ironies abound, but one of the central ironies is this: The lead character on this show, news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), bemoans the fact that much of the public discourse has become an unsubtle shoutfest, yet “The Newsroom” displays all the subtlety of a jackhammer set to maximum or a terrier on speed. Characters talk at each other, they constantly preach to their colleagues, and McAvoy frequently fulminates at his viewers at length. These soliloquies, even allowing for the familiar tics and tricks of Sorkinese, become deadening over time.

Ultimately, the show is the worst possible vehicle for promulgating the values and beliefs that the core characters profess. With shrill, self-righteous friends like these, journalism doesn’t need enemies.

The speechifiers on this show, who include Emily Mortimer as Will’s executive producer/former girlfriend MacKenzie McHale, aren’t really people as such; they function as Sorkin Belief Delivery Systems. Don’t try to look for consistency in their behavior, because you won’t find it. (Another irony: Will and his colleagues constantly complain about the lack of professionalism and decorum in the news business, yet they consistently act in ways that makes me lose respect for them as professionals). Sorkin isn’t that interested in sketching out anything more than vague character traits, and though he makes some gestures toward building star-crossed romances, the plots on this show, if you can call them that, are half-formed at best.

Don’t be trivial, television viewers! “The Newsroom” isn’t about to stoop to dumb stunts like telling stories or exploring the nuances of human nature. No, these people exist to Tell Us What’s What, especially Will, yet another middle-aged Sorkin hero who bears the heavy burden of being smarter than everyone else. Can he help it that he’s fated to save the stupid people of America from themselves? It’s not easy, you know! I think we’re meant to think that Will is a flawed, yet brave man, but I found him to be a smug, self-absorbed windbag.

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And of course, the New York Times

That’s what distinguishes the self-righteous from the righteous, and that’s what fuels “The Newsroom,” a new HBO series by Aaron Sorkin that starts on Sunday. Railing against the shallow, ratings-driven discourse on cable news shows, Mr. Sorkin has created his own newsroom — a Brigadoon version — where high-minded journalists pursue accuracy and excellence by, as one character puts it, “speaking truth to stupid.”

Yet oddly enough “The Newsroom” suffers from the same flaw that it decries on real cable shows on MSNBC or Fox News. Cable television would be a lot better if anchors pontificated less and went back to reporting. “The Newsroom” would be a lot better if the main characters preached less and went back to reporting.

At its best, and that doesn’t come into full view until the third and fourth episodes, “The Newsroom” has a wit, sophistication and manic energy that recalls James L. Brooks’s classic movie “Broadcast News.” But at its worst, the show chokes on its own sanctimony.

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There are plenty more reviews on line and if I were so inclined I could add my own confusions and disappointments to the cacophony of lamentations, but I won’t. Suffice to say the Pilot was at times confusing, adorable, hyperbolic, and slapsticky sometimes one right after the other and sometimes all at once.

But the reviews are thing that have grabbed my attention.

They share a theme and the theme is: “Alan Sorkin is preaching at us again,” and preaching is a sin.

Critics don’t like preaching, unless it is sufficiently sophisticated to go over the heads of the masses and properly proportioned in its cynicism of its own morality which in a post modern world can never demand anything from anyone outside of its own creator.

What critics miss because they tend to be so much smarter than the rest of us, is that the rest of us, like preaching. We like morality tales. We like doing the good thing, or at least thinking we are doing the good thing, for no other reason than it is the good thing. We crave narrative that instructs us as to what is righteous and what is wicked. We long for connection with the generations who came before and somehow know a wisdom of ages that we have lost.

We like words and music and sounds and fury and wit and style and the coming together of ideas and expression. We want the passion of speech sung to us with a shout and a moan.

Sorkin gets this. Sorkin gets us.


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