The Newsroom: Aaron Sorkin Forgets What Year It Is

24 Jun

The cast of HBO’s The Newsroom, looking Sorkinish.

Watching The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series following the misadventures of a Keith Olberman-like cable news anchor (Jeff Daniels), is like being subjected to a horrible children’s show without the pleasure of a cartoon dog. Aaron Sorkin attempted the show-within-a-show genre before in 2006 with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. That show, which you may not remember, failed miserably when it tried to be edgy and smart.

Sorkin is at it again, writing characters who are so unrealistically sharp and quick that their believability is lost when “Written by Aaron Sorkin” appears across the screen.  The way the actors yip their dialogue at each other with such violent speed leaves no time for anything to be absorbed.  The audience is left behind to try to piece together everything that’s just been said as the dialogue continues barreling onward.

The biggest problem with the show is that it takes place two years in the past. I have no idea why and I don’t care to find out why, but the main action of the pilot centers on the news of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  That’s right, the breaking news on The Newsroom happened over two years ago!!! Amazing! Maybe Sorkin is going to try some sort of time-jumping plotting, but I truly doubt that The Newsroom will end up being a science fiction show.

Here’s a sample of Jim Harper (Hello, Jim Halpert!?! Too close!) explaining the seriousness of the oil spill to Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), anchor of News Night on ACN:

Jim: “They don’t know how to cap the well.”

Will: “Why is this well different from other wells?”

Jim: “It’s depth.”

Riveting.

Another issue in the show is the way the female characters speak. In true Aaron Sorkin style, there are two female characters and everyone else has a penis.  Those female characters are Mackenize (Emily Mortimer) and Maggie (Erin Andrews). Could those names be more “Most Popular Names for Children of Yuppies 2007”? Mackenzie dated McAvoy one million years ago (but of course it is a HUGE deal) and is now his executive producer on News Night. She spent her last few assignments in Iraq and is our solitary strong female character, even though she spends the episode whining about McAvoy going on vacation with Erin Andrews. Our other female character is Maggie Jordan (ew), played by Allison Pill. Maggie, most naturally, obsesses over relationships just like Mackenzie. How much penis worship can Sorkin force these two ladies to spew out? Not enough, as the first episode indicates.

Another tired Sorkin standard is the use of camera zooms to emphasize tension between characters and in the story.  If a character says something that is should be perceived as dramatic or intense in any way, the camera will quickly zoom in on their face and then pull back.  This happened at least twenty times in the pilot episode. That zoom is played out, Sorkin.

The Newsroom is another show about a TV show that fails to capture anything relevant.  The fact that the plot of the show centers on an event so far in the past (though not too far as to diminish the impact of the disaster) makes it feel stale and irrelevant.  And who is Jeff Daniels playing? I sense a strong scent of Olbermann with a hint of Bill O’Reilly, without the extreme conservative bent. Supposedly he is a right-leaning journalist, but we have not seen that quite yet. When McAvoy refers to the one minority character (Dev Patel, although I am not counting the nameless black man) on the show as Punjab, that O’Reilly scent arises once more. In any case, Jeff Daniels does not look as serious as the man he is trying to play. He also looks like he had some botox, but that’s just my opinion.

Should you watch The Newsroom? Meh. The Newsroom airs Sunday nights at 10 PM EST on HBO.

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