what i watched last week
olive kitteridge (lisa cholodenko, 2014)

the newsroom, series finale

If Aaron Sorkin never made another television series (and there are rumors that The Newsroom is his last), he would still be in the TV Hall of Fame. For most people, the main reason would be The West Wing … I liked that show, too, but my fave Sorkin was always Sports Night. Sports Night came before I started this blog, and The West Wing was already well into its run when I first opened the site for business, so I didn’t write a lot about Sorkin for a long time. So Sorkin’s third run at TV, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was the first Sorkin show I paid much attention to here. And boy, did that series lose its appeal quickly. On September 26, 2006, I wrote “Studio 60 is a pretty good show, has the makings of a very good show”. By February 6, “I’m done. At this point, the show is just horrible. I’ve cut it all sorts of slack because I’ve liked Aaron Sorkin in the past, but it is almost impossible to imagine that this is the same guy who wrote Sports Night. Studio 60 is probably one of the biggest TV series disappointments in many years.” In a comment I added, “Bad stuff about Studio 60: The way every female character is written. The way every black character is written. The writing. Saddest of all, given the artist: the dialogue. The last episode's dinner sequence with Matthew Perry and Sarah Paulson was painful, and would have made just as much sense if they just dubbed in those waa-waa horns that mean an adult is talking on Peanuts cartoons.”

And so, The Newsroom. Some people were excited that Sorkin was returning to a world closer to the White House than to Saturday Night Live. My first thoughts were that it was a slight return to form, but that the pontificating had become almost unbearable. A few episodes in, I noted, “Plenty of witty dialogue delivered at a rapid-fire pace, lots of condescension towards the female characters, and a ton of speechifying where every character on the show serves not as an individual but as a mouthpiece for Sorkin. I agree with a lot of what is said in those harangues, but the soap-box aspect isn’t why I watch TV.” By the end of Season One, while admitting I’d be back for another year, I wrote:

Most of the characters on The Newsroom are infuriating and unlikable … Everyone gives rousing speeches that would sound great coming out of the mouth  of Aaron Sorkin, but since he is supposedly writing dialogue for individual characters with differences, the speeches, which all sound like Aaron Sorkin, don’t work. He creates interesting female characters and then undermines them every chance he gets, making them clumsy, socially inappropriate, stupid, anything but professional.

The sad thing is, Sorkin writes great dialogue, and he is terrific at what is best called “banter”. But when the banter takes place between unlikable characters, it’s not so terrific.

I gave Season One a B-. I gave Season Two a B+, although most of what I wrote reflected my earlier problems with the show.

And now it’s done, and I realize I won’t miss it. I liked watching it, for those scenes in each episode that were a delight, where a stable of fine actors got to wrap themselves around Sorkinese. It was good to see Jane Fonda whenever she turned up, and I hope by now everyone knows that Olivia Munn can act. If Sorkin ever returns to TV, I’ll probably give him another shot. But I’ll come at it with lowered expectations. Grade for Season Three and for Series: B.

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