Fear Not

Jun. 30th, 2012 03:08 pm
readerjane: Book Cat (Default)
[personal profile] readerjane
I watched the first episode of Aaron Sorkin's new show, The Newsroom, this week.


There's a lot that's familiar here. The fact that I'm having a very hard time consistently typing The Newsroom rather than The Network is a fair indication of how strongly a "here we go again" feel I got, when New Show started with a Network-like moment very similar to Studio 60's pilot ep.

Jeff Daniels is Will McAvoy, a seasoned and revered news anchor who has burned out. He no longer tries to challenge his audience. He doesn't know the names of his employees. He's aging and he's weary and he has caved.

In the opening scene, Will is participating in a panel discussion in a college auditorium. His co-panelists are... I'm not sure who they are, but one's conservative and one's liberal and they're both typical Sorkin characters: opinionated, fast-talking and sure of themselves.

During the open mike questions, a pretty co-ed asks all three of the panelists for their opinion on what makes the United States a great country. The liberal says, "diversity and opportunity." The conservative says, "freedom and freedom."

Will dodges the question. The moderator presses him. Will squints into the audience, thinking he sees an old flame holding up a cue card. He snaps, and responds, "It isn't." He rattles off a litany of statistics on how the US is behind other developed nations, mocks the co-ed for her question, then tries to backpedal by explaining that he has been taking medicine for vertigo.

Fast forward two weeks, and Will discovers that his producer and most of his staff are jumping ship to work for another anchor. The director of the network has hired a replacement: the old flame, whom Will really did see in the college auditorium. She has returned home from embedded journalism in Afghanistan, and the director hopes she will spark Will into regaining his old zest for hard-hitting, inspiring news reporting.

We've seen this all before. The Network-like moment when an embittered television figure snaps, like Wes Mendell's "This isn't going to be funny" speech. The boss who hires someone whom others don't want to work with, like Leo McGarry's hiring of Mandy Hampton and Jordan McDeere's hiring of Matt & Danny.

Which doesn't mean Sorkin can't do a fresh take on an old theme by moving the venue to a newsroom. Whether he'll do that successfully remains to be seen.

I didn't latch onto the characters as quickly in the pilot of The Newsroom as I did in the pilots of West Wing or Studio 60. Sorkin has gone out of his way to give Will McAvoy plenty of flaws -- and I'm all for flawed heroes. A sterling protagonist is rarely interesting. Sorkin may have overshot the mark a bit. Will's inability to remember the names of his staff was clearly meant to show us how burned-out he'd become, but when Will yelled for the Indian staffer by shouting, "Punjab!", I came darned close to not caring whether this cynical newsman succeeds in regaining his idealism.

Like other Sorkin stories, this one is peopled by characters who are very intelligent, who talk very fast, and who are very sure they're right. There was less walk-and-talk than I'm used to, and I'm not sure that's an improvement. If we're going to watch people argue passionately for 45 minutes, I think some movement only helps.

What I did like very much was an intangible which also runs true through all the Sorkin stories I've seen so far. It's a sense of melancholy. The sense that things are not as they should be, and we've been trying so hard and so long to make them better. The sense of weariness, of discouragement.

And in the midst of all that, the voice saying, "Do it. Do the right thing. You know you want to. You know you wanna live in a world where people do. Of course you're scared. You're probably going to crash and burn. Do it anyway. Do the brave thing, do the stupid thing, stop waffling and worrying and do it. Do it."

Next ep airs tomorrow.
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