The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin’s latest foray into television, and the hubbub has been omnipresent enough that you’ve probably heard about it, even if don’t get HBO or don’t intend to watch it. It’s too easy to say that if you like Sorkin, you’ll like The Newsroom, too easy and false, because The Newsroom is like a concentrated dose of Sorkin, so much so that people like me who are fans of his work will nonetheless cry uncle at some point.
For most television watchers, the name Aaron Sorkin means The West Wing, his most-acclaimed series. For the haters, Sorkin means Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, his least-acclaimed series, at least until The Newsroom. What you need to know is that the quality of The Newsroom is closer to Studio 60 than it is to The West Wing. Thus, the “Sorkinese” dialogue that fans love becomes something less than charming. There are moments, of course … Sorkin is too good to offer up total crap. But, as so many critics have already noted, The Newsroom is also full of the kind of speechifying that has always been Sorkin’s Achilles heel.
It’s the speechifying that led me long ago to conclude that The West Wing was not the best series Aaron Sorkin ever created. It was very good for a long time, even if I finally gave up on it (around the time Sorkin left, as I recall). Aaron Sorkin dialogue without the speechifying is a joy to hear; with the speechifying, what you get is mostly sanctimonious. The quality of his series is directly correlated to that sanctimony. The West Wing took place in the White House, so of course there was plenty of opportunity for this or that character to get on a soapbox. But Sorkin also gave us many memorable characters we could care about, and they didn’t all sound the same. The Newsroom has time to grow into itself … I’ve only seen the pilot … but it’s worth nothing that the critics who complained the most about the show have seen several episodes, and they don’t think it gets better.
I’m going to stick with it for now … I stuck with Studio 60 for awhile, although I didn’t make it to the end. But it is safe to say, my own choice for Sorkin’s Best Series isn’t going to be changing anytime soon. That series was Sports Night, which had several things going for it. It was the first dose of Sorkinese for most of us, and it was very fresh. The actors and characters were interesting. And, of course, everyone had the gift of gab. But perhaps most importantly, it was a show that took place at a sports highlight show at a fourth-rate network. OK, it was about the characters, but the setting was a low-rent Sports Center clone, and while even there, Sorkin didn’t entirely avoid the soapbox, a sports setting was less amenable to such problems as was a show about politics, or about news. Sports Night was the perfect outlet for Sorkin’s style, because the ratio of sparkling dialogue to dull speech-making was high, whereas in The West Wing, and in the pilot for The Newsroom, there is less sparkle and more dull.
So if you find The Newsroom depressing, pull out your old Sports Night DVDs and remember when Aaron Sorkin really was great.