Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE NEWSROOM goes dark

In discussing the collapse of plot, coherence, and inspiration on the last legs of the HBO newsroom drama The Newroom ,Slate magazine asks the question if creator and principle writer Aaron Sorkin forgot how to write a television drama . After recounting structural and themetic problems with his post West-Wing work , their answer is  "yes". I prefer to think that Sorkin hasn't forgotten what he did so well on the acclaimed Sports Night and WW so much as he doesn't care. He certainly hasn't forgotten how to write , as his writing on the superb motion pictures Charlie Wilson's War and The Social Network showed he could create his self-styled "sound of intelligence" with the pacing, phrasing and character development that makes his hyperactive dialogue believable and occasionally exhilarating.  His was the smart, snappy, quick witted conversation that combined book smarts and a trained ear for the idiomatic expression, a gift  Sorkin in his best writing shares with , say, Emore Leonard and David Mamet; there was verbal fireworks that left you dazzled and quoting favorite bits days later. Sorkin retains the skill to make the facts sexy, dynamic, the grounds for dialogue that sometimes brilliant in the way it becomes a tone poem of intellectual awareness and petty chatter. It seems, though, the writer needs matters that he cannot change, IE history, to keep his tendency toward nuclear effusion in check.

Both those films, though, were based on actual events and people and although it's obvious that Sorkin took liberties with the historical accounts he was restrained by vetted fact; his plot outline was presented to him . What he demonstrated was a wonderful knack to dramatize, enhance recent events and social trends. For television, though, his sense of plotting is herky-jerky and the dialogue, especially on show premised on a work situation that should have been ideal for imagined smart talk, a newsroom, came off as a sort of cold virtuosity an uninspired musician resorts to in the belief that how fast one plays (or in Sorkin's case, how fast one talks) is a measure of genius and artistic grit. It isn't. There isn't any conversation, so called, in 'The Newsroom" that I found memorable or worth quoting days later. As has been pointed out, the effortless command of facts, figures, the arts, history, statistics and the general ability to sound like a chipmunk while punching out a Foghorn Leghorn quality of eloquence made you aware of how impatient , angry and unrealistically confrontational the characters were; there was serious blockage happening that only a  gruesome disaster could resolve.

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