Monday, December 15, 2014

The Newsroom finale

Ed here: I actually enjoyed the previous week's episode, the only time I've ever enjoyed anything written by Aaron Sorkin. So I watched last night's episode with hope I'd like this one too. But it was high Sorkin hokum start to finish. I know a number of you disagree with me. Any time I mention Sorkin I hear from you. He has a large and earnest following. I read the reviews this morning. Here are two very mixed and one good one. I should say here I understand why people like his material. He's very skilled--even genius--at structuring his dramas. For me the trouble is the self-conscious dialogue and the endless contrivances. Carol and I like "Nashville" which is even more contrived--a violent plot turn every other scene--but it's soapy fun.  Nobody could take these lives seriously and that's built into the writing. Sometimes you can hear the writers laughing--let's see how about if the Mayor of Nashville starts seeing a hooker on the side. That ain't gonna happen but it sure stirs the pot. Sorkin's problem as I see it is that he does the same sort of thing but he wants to be seen as
a great dramatist.

The following are excerpts

ny times alessandra stanley

The same could be said of Mr. Sorkin, of course. Despite the virtuosity of the dialogue and the charm of the cast, “The Newsroom” was quickly eclipsed by more knowing, acerbic dramas like “House of Cards” and even “Scandal.” “The Newsroom” re-enacted the real-life battle between old media and new, and didn’t seem to interest either. It had an ardent cult following, but no matter how idealistic and cleverly written, the series shimmered outside the dome of relevance.
Until this season, that is, when two subplots eerily anticipated real-life news: an accusation of gang rape at the University of Virginia and a mutiny at The New Republic magazine. “The Newsroom” started out on the winning side of both, and still lost the argument.
It lost by arguing, so often and so smugly, about everything. Most cable dramas make a virtue of vice, studying the cracks in heroes who aren’t just flawed but irredeemable. “The Newsroom” was obsessed with virtue. In this fantasy newsroom, Will, an irascible but stubbornly ethical and high-minded television anchor, led his band of quixotic reporters at the fictional ACN into covering only news that’s worthy of the name and dignified to debate.
There was lots of comedy, drama and office romance, but “The Newsroom” wasn’t really about the characters, who were all uncannily alike: fast-talking, preachy know-it-alls who told truth to power every time they ordered coffee. Some viewers complained that the show took a condescending view of women, and the ditziness was duly toned down after Season 1. Mainly, the show took a condescending view of its own heroes, turning them all into vessels for one glib, erudite but cantankerous point of view.

 the guardian brian moylan

The problem with Sorkin’s fatally flawed mission is that it could never exist in the real world – or in the USA, at least. What he wants is something like the New Republic, which is being kept afloat by rich people who want high-minded journalism not designed for a mass audience. That is, at least, until Facebook mogul Chris Hughes bought it and now wants to change it into something sustainable, a move met with Sorkinesque flagellation by many in the old media.
   We are entering into a new world where the internet is king and everyone else is still playing catch-up. Journalism will still matter, yes, but without traditional revenue models, someone needs to find a way to pay for it. But Sorkin never bothers to dream up a solution for what the journalism of the future will look like. He just writes off its quality or the balance between gif-based listicles and deep investigative reporting about weighty matters. He’s stuck in the past.
That was the problem with the finale, too. Rather than showing us where everyone might end up, it is busy with telling us how they got brought together three years ago. The Newsroom has always been about rewriting history, telling people in the present how the past should have been reported. We see Charlie (Sam Waterston) recruit MacKenzie, Don (Thomas Sadoski) get demoted and spar with Sloane (Olivia Munn), MacKenzie recruit Jim (John Gallagher Jr), and Will cuss out his flighty new assistant Maggie (Allison Pill).
The episode ends with Will starting another episode of his programming, proving that the news never stops, the machine keeps turning, and life continues on for these characters – Don takes an idealistic job, McKenzie becomes news director of ACN, Jim takes over Will’s show, and Maggie heads off to DC to become a field producer (whatever that is).
The Newsroom finale had many groan-inducing awful moments – Neal (Dev Patel) shutting down ACN’s website, Will’s jam session in the garage with Charlie’s grandsons, Will’s sophomoric jokes about McKenzie’s pregnancy, the complete waste of Tony winner Joanna Gleason playing Charlie’s wife – but the worst of all was the way this show continued to treat its women.

The Daily Beast Kevin Fallon

There were people who were never going to like The Newsroom. And there were people, like me, who wanted to like it very, very much.
Aaron Sorkin’s very particular, very Sorkin-y style of writing and storytelling—whiz-bang banter interrupted by extended grandstanding of implausible eloquence—is polarizing. It is loathed by some critics who find it patronizing, silly, and superficial. Fans, however, relish it, blissfully walking and talking their way through Sorkin’s liberal fantasyland.
Such has been the much talked about run of The Newsroom, which ended Sunday night after three seasons.
The series came to life just as the era of “hatewatching” was at its peak. Given that Sorkin’s weekly hour-long examination of how the government’s watchdog—the news media—has lost its way and its mission dialed up the Sorkin tropes to 11, the series was ripe for “hatewatching” by the writer’s detractors.
For the rest of us, though, while certainly not firing at the level of The West Wing at its heyday or The Social Network, The Newsroom was a bit of comfort food, cooked with Sorkin’s special recipe. There was the curmudgeonly hero with the heart of the gold (Jeff Daniels’s Will McAvoy), the hapless-brilliant ensemble of hyper-sarcastic minions helping along the way, and the signature blend of intellect and emotion: the rapid firing of facts and figures in monologues and storylines ultimately meant to tug at the heartstrings.
Sunday night’s series finale of The Newsroom was weird. The episode that aired before it, which involved a campus rape victim, was highly controversial. And the string of episodes that aired before that were gripping, noble, and simply entertaining to watch. It’s a progression of quality—entertaining to controversial to just plain weird—that has come to define The Newsroom, too. For better and for worse.
First, Sunday night’s weird finale.
Coming after a season focused on two grand story arcs—protecting a source the government wants unveiled and the compromising of news values to cater to the people who hold the purse strings—the episode loosely and with little fuss tied up story lines while offering up a bizarrely kumbaya “how we all learned to get along” flashback hour.
It’s Charlie’s (Sam Waterston) funeral. If you’ve watched a Sorkin series, you know that this guy can write a funeral. Remember Leo’s on The West Wing? Tears just thinking about it. It was strange, then, that rather than use Charlie’s death to tug at heartstrings, which the audience kind of wants Sorkin to do, it was used as merely a venue for eye rolling plot twists (Will and Mack are having a baby, ugh) and wistful nostalgia to take place.
At first, the wistful nostalgia seemed promising, with a look back at how That Speech from the pilot episode came to be from different perspectives. It’s smart to revisit That Speech, Will’s blistering monologue about why America isn’t the greatest country in the world, because it remains the series’ finest moment. It was provocative. It was dangerous. It was kind of true. It won Jeff Daniels an Emmy.
But alas, it wasn’t just That Speech that was flashbacked, too. It was Maggie’s (Allison Pill) first day at the office. It was Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Sloan’s (Olivia Munn) first over-wordy fight. It was how Charlie recruited Mack (Emily Mortimer) to work at ACN in the first place. It was the kind of origin-story flashback episode most series do mid-run when they’re creatively bankrupt and need a break to refocus because they’re running out of ideas. That this kind of episode was The Newsroom finale was…confusing.
The rest of episode—the scenes taking place in the present—alternated between brilliant and schmaltzy. The best moment came when Jane Fonda’s Leona Lansing got to school petulant new ACN owner Lucas Pruitt (B.J. Novak) on his sexist behavior with a blistering monologue on gender pay inequity and the misogyny of the entitled male. It was, simply, splendid to watch.
The web editor who abetted espionage and fled the country to protect his source returned to belittle the young web editor who failed to elevate himself to that impossible level, who simply just wanted to create content that people would read. You know, do his job.
There was also a quintessentially Newsroom moment. Neil (Dev Patel) returns from hiding abroad, where he went to protect his source, and just gives it to the doofus web editor who was ruining ACN’s website with pedestrian clickbait content. “You embarrass me,” he tells him. Yes, the web editor who abetted espionage and fled the country to protect his source returned to belittle the young web editor who failed to elevate himself to that impossible level, who simply just wanted to create content that people would read. You know, do his job.
It was pretentious, it was patronizing. It was elitist and smug. And it was fun to watch. Some critics accuse Sorkin of those things, as if it’s not a self-aware decision to write characters that way, or make those statements. They say the show is those things as if they are insults. But watch The Newsroom through a lens where it is expected to be pretentious and patronizing, and knows that it is, and it not just fulfills its mission, it’s highly entertaining.

As for the rest of the finale, everyone’s storylines were tied up in little bows: Mack is the new president of ACN. Jim is her E.P. Maggie is interviewing for a dream job. No one breaks up. Everyone sings a song of happiness together. (They literally do that.) It’s happily ever after—and all a bit much.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I have friends who love Sorkin shows but I am always put off by people who think they always get it right. even WEST WING bothered me after the first few seasons. Complexity and ambiguity make for better drama.

Mathew Paust said...

Interesting viewpoints. The only Sorkin show I saw any of was a few segments of West Wing. That was before my divorce and my forgoing TV (and Internet) when I moved to an apartment. I found the uberglibness of everyone on West Wing annoying.

The only scene I've seen from Newsroom is the McAvoy rant about America's slip from greatness. It's fun to watch, but each time I've seen it I found myself laughing at the notion anybody could extemporaneously rattle off all those statistics without so much as a pause, even to breathe. Plus, I doubt I will ever be able to erase from my mind the image of Daniels with his tongue frozen to the ski lift in Dumb and Dumber.