So far, very sturdy voices have chimed in against Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom (HBO), including John Powers in Vogue, Jake Tapper in the New Republic, and Tom Carson in GQ. As a journalism teacher, I’m developing pedagogical angles, but his trope of revisiting recent news events quickly wears thin. Sorkin uses it mainly to preach about how much better journalists should behave on deadline, how often everyone bursts into applause, etc. The clincher for me came with his use of Coldplay’s lame “Fix You” in episode four, with that maudlin Rudy ending.
The further we get, the more Sorkin scans like a hack thoroughbred schoolmarm. Nevermind how all his female characters squirm in their relationships to men. He really ventures outlandishly lavish and entertaining frames around soggy ideas. And too much fails the smell test: Does Sorkin’s anchor really not know what a “takedown” piece is? Would a gossip columnist (Hope Davis) really proclaim “We’re all journalists” as that anchor writes out his dirty check to keep her mum? David Thomson nails it for my money:
Will keeps proclaiming he’s on “a mission to civilize,” like that is not an extremely loaded, paternalistic, colonialist life goal barely more sympathetic than the white man and his burden. Each time Will declares he is on a “mission to civilize,” I expect Sorkin to follow this thought to its semi-logical conclusion and stage a defense of colonialism as another form of wrongfully maligned elitism we should seriously consider bringing back.
Will McAvoy isn’t going to exhibit the struggle of such family genes. He may compromise along the way, he has to regain his ex-girlfriend, but he will stand up for TV news just as surely as Bartlet embodied the hope for a functioning democracy. Such sentimental hokum sits uneasily in the wild head of Sorkin (I suspect he fights a daily bipolar contest between Charlie and Martin), beside his high skill with dialogue and narrative. But he is way behind the insights of a modest but pretentious movie like The Ides of March, which shows innate corruption dissolving every iron anchor in sight, or the passing insight of his own The Social Network, that Mark Zuckerberg is a brilliant black hole while the president of Harvard may be a high-minded scoundrel. That is the most challenging work Sorkin has done because it coincided with director David Fincher’s misanthropy, to show that the world was adrift on a sea that no longer honored or insured anchors…