Sunday, 14 July 2013

Aaron Sorkin's 'The Newsroom'. Season 1 retrospective.

If "The Newsroom" was filmed in front of a live studio audience the loudest applause would come from Aaron Sorkin clapping himself on the back.
I want to like "The Newsroom", I really do, it's written by Aaron Sorkin, I still rank the first 4 seasons of his series "The West Wing" as some of the best television I've ever seen, forcing the box-sets of DVDs on to friends and family.
And I do, I like it. I like it in the same way I liked "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", I'll watch it, once is enough, and I never really want to talk about it with anyone; like making conversation with a stranger in a long queue, it passes the time but I've no desire to revisit the experience.

The show is set 2-3 years ago so we never have to worry about speculative plots/ changing on-going plots in response to on current events, or new evidence coming out to contradict Sorkin's firmly held opinions on things that the viewers already staunchly agree with.
This show is firmly grounded in the real world of 2010 and moves on from there, well, it "dwells" there.

It is "The Newsroom Adventures of Captain Hindsight". Broadly, it's like using time travel to go back 3 years to give yourself a better opinion, then having your past self come forward in time to high five you on front of a large national audience, congratulating you for what your past self perceives as a rich fountain of forward perception.

In a way 'The Newsroom' is like a science fiction show or movie where the characters are propelled back in time to a historical event and find that rather than stopping the event, their best efforts are reduced to the role of an active spectator, like at the end of 'Twelve Monkeys'* when Bruce Willis gets sent back in time to discover the cause of a virus that eradicates humans from the face of the planet. Despite all of his best efforts to stop it he eventually gets shot in the airport where the virus where the virus is first released, his younger self sees him die, doesn't know who he is, grows up, gets sent back in time, gets shot, and that's that.
He doesn't change anything, he just runs alongside the events futilely trying to stop them.
Nothing any of the characters in "The Newsroom" do is of any consequence to their own world.
It's like a cruel punishment to the characters, like an entire group of people have been granted the ability to go back in time but to have none of their actions change anything.

Remember at the end of "Being John Malkovich" when John Cusack has to watch the woman he loves grow old, while he remains stuck in her baby's mind, longing to be a part of her life or affect anything outside of his mind?
That's "The Newroom"s newsroom. Stuck outside of time, providing commentary on political events without any means to touch or affect them the way a real newscast could.

But, it wouldn't be fair to a show to reduce it solely to it's plots. What about the characters?
Mostly, they're functional.
Whether they just happen to know someone personally connected with a major national story, or sometimes they're very excited that it's 2010 and no one knows what an 'internet troll' is, a lot of the time you just don't care.
I like Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Sam Waterson, h*ck I even had to give in and say that Olivia Munn does a good job, and they bring a lot to their roles, but the rest of the cast just isn't as interesting. They just never really just a stamp on their roles other than:
- "scowl at boy" here
- "scowl at girl" there
- provide lengthy exposition for Jeff Daniels to cut in two in one offhand remark
They're functional.
They still have an Aaron Sorkin script, and most of the time even an average Sorkin script is still better than a lot of the dreck on tv these days.
It can be preachy, and it's "grand standing in hindsight" can be tiresome, but if you can get past that there are some fun moments and some really good performances.

Anyway, much like the futile actions of the characters, in spite of what I think of season 1, season 2 has the go-ahead and will be airing this week.
And, like the characters, I will be watching, because this "not terrible" show is still one of the more watchable things on tv at the moment in spite of its flaws+.

* No, this is not a 'spoiler alert' worthy reference. "Twelve Monkeys" was out almost 20 years ago.
+ This is a back-handed compliment.

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