The Newsroom Criticism: A Fan Responds
Rolling Stone's resident pop culture guru, Rob Sheffield, calls The Newsroom "the best bad show on TV." (Read his argument in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.) I disagree. I don't think it's a bad show. It is not consummately terrific, but none of Aaron Sorkin's series were right out of the gate.
Let's remember: The West Wing wasn't out of this world incredible in every single moment of every single episode in season one. (We'll use The West Wing as a comparison because many argue it is Sorkin's best series.) It took a while for The West Wing to find its footing. (Remember Mandy?) I periodically re-watch my favorite series, and right now I'm re-watching The West Wing. I'm about eight episodes in, and while I love the series, as I watch each episode this time around, I'm watching it while thinking about some of the criticism hurled at Sorkin for The Newsroom.
I think much of the criticism is unfair, holding Sorkin up to an impossibly high standard, and it is also immediate. When The West Wing first aired, Twitter wasn't around. Neither was Facebook. Blogs were just starting to break through. You didn't have websites dedicated exclusively to breaking down every single moment in every single episode in almost real time. Hardly anything, especially anything with already unreal expectations, can hold up under that kind of scrutiny.
(Do you think Vince Gilligan, for example, will be treated to such scrutiny with his next project? Breaking Bad is his The West Wing, and it's (unfortunately) almost over. What about Matthew Weiner?)
When we look back on The West Wing now, we remember it fondly because we remember it as a whole (well, the Sorkin seasons, anyway). Yet many, including myself, point to the second season as the show's best. (You start off with "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts 1 and 2," and then you have my three favorite episodes, "The Stackhouse Filibuster," "17 People" and "Bad Moon Rising." Oh, and "Noel"? Brilliant!)
You could say that because The Newsroom is in its second season it should therefore be up to snuff. But The West Wing's first season had 22 episodes; The Newsroom's first season had 10. 12 extra episodes means 12 more hours to tell a story; 12 more opportunities to work out the kinks; 12 more chances to delve into the characters and their lives.
So cut the guy some slack, OK? Yes, even as a Sorkin acolyte I can admit that the first season was uneven; some moments were even eye-roll inducing. And the second season isn't perfect but it's heading in a different direction and it shows growth. But think about what you love about The West Wing (or Sports Night or even Studio 60, for that matter). You love the Sorkinese, that beautiful musicality to his writing. You love that these are smart people who love their jobs, who are good at their jobs (even though they sometimes make mistakes - what, are you infallible?) and who fumble just about everything else. You love the way the tension breaks with some throwback, screwball comedy moment of physical comedy (like Mackenzie hitting the trash bins in "One Step Too Many"). All of that's there in The Newsroom. Watch the whole season. Take a step back. Then tell us what you think.
A final thought: I wonder if the people complaining about Will McAvoy's penchant for preaching are upset because they simply don't have respect for news anchors. President Bartlet did his fair share of speechifying and Leo and Josh and Toby and Sam and even CJ were often self-righteous. Did we allow this because we think being in power is more noble than speaking truth to power? Investigative journalists and other members of the press are an important part of our republic. They don't all get it right, and we should be up in arms when that happens. We should be criticizing the people bringing us the news, not a fiction writer's romantic fantasy about what's possible.