Ever have that experience of reading a book, seeing a film or a show, or hearing a lecture that just leaves you dumbfounded, feeling that a whole unknown portion of your brain has opened up for the first time?
I’m sprinting after the bandwagon on this, I know, but I have to say something about THE NEWSROOM. I watched the first episode this morning and it left me with goosebumps.
There’s something about Sorkin. His style is distinctive – sharp, fast-paced, intelligent… he balances between comedy and drama without going to the extremes of out-and-out absurdity or melodrama. His work doesn’t cater to the least common denominator, but rather sets the bar high and demands that we reach it. No excuses are tolerated.
And then there’s his incredible luck with casting ensemble shows, from SPORTS NIGHT to THE WEST WING, and now to THE NEWSROOM. Even in the pilot episode, without any kind of physical contact, Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels have so much chemistry onscreen that sparks practically came out of my computer.
Some reviewers look at Sorkin’s work and are put off by the determined thread of patriotism. THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT and THE WEST WING are about the presidency, and THE NEWSROOM begins with Jeff Daniels’ character participating in a panel at a university in which he is asked why America is the greatest nation in the world. After hedging around the issue, refusing to give the predictable answers of “freedom” or “democracy,” he says quite plainly that it isn’t. He rattles off statistics showing where the US ranks in various areas, finishing with the fact that the US is only first in areas like the size of the prison population. He says that we were once great, but that we aren’t anymore.
But then you get to the newsroom, and the newly hired ex-girlfriend executive producer goes head to head with the cynical newscaster. I can’t really do it justice, but her point is that she believes you can do the news AND have opinions, that you can respect the viewing audience enough to give them something potentially controversial. She tells him he’s so afraid of offending someone that he’s lost his fire.
Yes, the patriotism and the liberal message can be laid on a bit heavily at times. Yes, it’s clear where Sorkin’s politics lie. Yes, it’s ridiculously idealistic. But the thing about THE WEST WING was that it made a lot of us see what the process could be, and how far we are from it. Think about it – when you hear fans of WEST WING talk about the show, they almost inevitably say that it’s what they wish Washington was like. They wish their politicians and representatives could be so moral, so articulate, so effective.
I’m only working off the pilot episode, I know, but THE NEWSROOM has potential. The last fifteen minutes had me breathless, and the last thirty seconds gave me the shivers.
Let Sorkin be Sorkin.