Why I Love Aaron Sorkin and a review of 'The Newsroom' - episode one
Movies, TV, Movies, HBO - What will he say next?
I saw "A Few Good Men" for the first time in Christchurch, New Zealand. Easy enough reason for it to be one of my favorite movies. With Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, what was not to love? But beyond the movie stars in the cast, and the bevy of newcomers who would go on to become movie stars, it was the script, specifically the dialogue - the writing that grabbed me.
Just a couple of years later, "The American President" came out. It earned my respect by being a movie my husband also liked in spite of the fact he hated the political message of it. Again, the intelligent banter between the characters was the highlight of the experience for me.
When "Sports Night" hit the TV Guide schedule, I VCR-ed every episode and rewatched them all at least three times. Hooked, you say? You betcha. I loved the characters, the settings, the dialogue - especially the dialogue. Who writes like that, I asked? The answer: oh yeah, that guy who wrote those movies I liked so much.
But then after only three seasons, it got cancelled. Are you kidding me? This was a world of entertainment where shows like "The Simpson's" were in the top ten, but a show like this gets cancelled? They dealt with racism, sexism, violence against women, drug use in sports, being charitable, and a host of other worthwhile subjects all while being funny and witty at the same time. Oh no. The networks didn't have room in the schedule for that.
What I didn't realize was that at virtually the same time, a show was being created on another network about something that had never been dealt with on prime time television, at least not as a weekly program. It was to be called "West Wing," and it was going to be about the inner workings of the White House. Blatantly partisan. Democrats when the universe was Republican. It was doomed to fail. But a funny thing happened. It didn't.
Seven years later, "The West Wing" had won every award you can win in television. It probably came to an end because the American public is just not naive enough to believe the Democrats could actually get their candidate elected three times in a row. Willing suspension of disbelief will only go so far.
And even before the final season, in fact a couple of years before the final season, Sorkin bowed out. As much as I liked him, I thought the show got even better. It was like everyone involved had been sitting on an idea for a script they were just dieing to write. Finally they did. Now, those writers might not have been good enough to produce the quality of work Sorkin did week after week, but those individual efforts were pretty darned good. My all time favorite West Wing was one of these. It was the episode, I think in the fifth season, about selecting two Supreme Court Justices at the same time - on ultra conservative and one extremely liberal. Wouldn't that be something? That one comes in close on the heels of the first season's Christmas episode where one of the staff organizes a military funeral for a homeless man who was also a former Marine. I tried to post a video clip from this one, but it is no longer available.
So the show ended. Would we ever enjoy the writing of Aaron Sorkin anywhere, anytime again? Yeah we would. "Charlie Wilson's War" "The Social Network" "MoneyBall" Three better than good movies and an Academy Award later, it looked like we'd be seeing Sorkin's work on a regular basis on the big screen and via Netflix. I sat through "MoneyBall" in the theater and didn't realize he'd been involved with it until the closing credits. I could have punched myself. I should have known.
Somewhere mixed in there was a brief experiment called "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." Sorkin loves the behind the scenes storylines. This one was about a thinly-veiled version of "Saturday Night Live." It had a killer cast, Matthew Perry , Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford. How could it fail? Well, the same way "Sports Night" did. Sorkin succeeds when he writes drama with a steady dose of comedy. The other way around? Not so much.
Then just when I was adjusting my pallet to intermittent dozes of his dialogue, I catch an interview on one of the morning shows about a new show on HBO: The Network, written by (one of his favorite phrases - wait for it) Aaron Sorkin. It's a behind the scenes drama about the workings of a cable news program - all the elements that suit Sorkin's pallet.
I couldn't wait for Sunday night to come.
I have to say, I don't like the live video look of the show, but I'll no doubt get used to it because I like Sorkin's writing so much. I'm afraid those who are not so enamoured of him will move on quickly. But it's HBO, so maybe they'll give the show more of a chance than NBC did with Studio 60. I'm sure the point of the VCR look is that it has a genuine quality to it, like you are actually standing in the room, not watching a television show. But it makes the rapid-fire dialogue seem not as believable, being as real people are not often as quick-witted as those on TV.
Sorkin is following his tried and true formula of story development, which is basically if it ain't broke - don't fix it. An old girlfriend is forced upon him in the role of a colleague or boss (circa SportsNight, West Wing, Studio 60). There is an older mentor in the role of supervisor (circa SportsNight, West Wing, Studio 60). The lead character waxes on with who-can-remember-all-those-stats and practically-poetry-prose filling his uninterrupted speeches (circa everything Sorkin has ever written).
This lead character, Will, is not as likeable as most of Sorkin's leading men, but then this is the news. News people aren't usually willing to slow down long enough to be bothered with niceties. If you were hoping for another C.J. Craig, you're probably going to find her in Will's counterpart, his British-speaking executive producer, aka old girlfriend forced upon him.
My major concern is the absence of veteran Sorkin producer/director Thomas Schlamme. He has filled one or both of these roles on all the previous television shows, and I always got the feeling he was the inspiration for the repeating Danny-character in so many of Aaron's scripts, which said to me that he was more than an employee to Aaron. Schlamme's brief adventure with a program of his own last season was a disaster and a waste of Allison Janney and Matthew Perry's considerable talents. I hope Aaron doesn't suffer as well from Thomas' absence on this project.
Here's hoping also that Sorkin is not playing fast and loose with historical facts in his recreations of real news events. We don't need another Oliver Stone. Actually, I don't believe we need the one we've got.
"Ten minutes ago we did the news well, because we decided to." So sayeth the mentor character on the show. I wish all the" brands of news" out there would watch this show for however long it lasts. I'd like to see it make them angry. It ought to insult them. And it ought to remind them of what they are supposed to be doing.