The Loathsome Awesome of the Newsroom

Or, Aaron Sorkin, stop ruining my fond memories of The West Wing. I recommended Scandal here, and that made me want to go watch some West Wing, but then I remembered that I have seen the Newsroom, and now all that stuff suddenly cannot be unseen and I can no longer watch the West Wing. That is terrible unfair, but at least I still have my Newsroom hatewatching.

I hate The Newsroom. I do, however, absolutely love to hate it. It's proper, hard-core hatewatching. Not "eh, this isn't that great but it can play on in the background," not "well, there's a few redeeming features so I can wring a little enjoyment out of it," not "this is awful but I'm a masochist."

No, I really, really enjoy watching it, while hating almost every single goddamned thing about it. I yell at the screen, I wave my arms, I pause it so I can rant at the empty air, and then I go back to watching it some more. I am furious and disappointed with the state of television and simultaneously overjoyed to hear that it apparently got a third season.

It's a show about a news-anchor who becomes - one bright day - dissatisfied with the state of American news television and decides he's going to bring about a revolution. He has a duty! This is America! It could be great! It could be great if it had a great news show! It is his duty to make a great news show, because AMERICA!

The Loathsome Awesome of the NewsroomS

Does this make sense, at all, in the slightest? Can the myriad social and economic woes affecting that nation be influenced by a better informed public? Possibly. Can one hour of television on one network create that? Can one man on one hour of television create that? Who cares. This can't just be a story about one dude's midlife crisis or one quirky workplace, fuck that. THIS IS ABOUT AMERICA. Never doubt that. Every event and every action carries the same significance and gravitas as if it were happening in the West Wing. (Sorkin appears to exist on a graph converging inevitably to making a show about a guy who makes tv shows and how they're going to save America.)

So there's that endlessly odious overlay of AMERICA sucks! AMERICA should rock! LET US SAVE AMERICA, thing, which includes endless trite, reductive rants about various social issues and how all those dumb American plebs out in that dumb America aren't getting this obvious advice and failing to MAKE AMERICA GREAT. The Newsroom team could solve all poverty, inequality, racism, etc, etc, in about ten minutes, if only everyone else was just like them, all pretty and smart and always with a quip.


But nevermind the political-political, the personal-political is JUST AS BAD. (huzzah!) The gender stuff is odious and obvious. Women stand around being hot and quippy and smart, so we can admire the men who lust after them for being confident and interesting enough to go after smart, quippy women. Those women themselves, however, are of almost no interest to the narrative. Their sophistication is entirely decorative. What they actually DO is to flail about like a bad stereotype of highschoolers with crushes and be endearingly waifish.

Mind, it's not like any of the male characters are terribly compelling or interesting. Will's "brilliant, driven, alienated man" schtick is bland, boring and utterly standard (daddy issues! past regrets!) There are, literally, a hundred just like him on television, and Don Draper or Walter White he is not. He's not even Gregory House. Everyone else is a terribly clever, but largely interchangeable mishmash of generically attractive faces. Why is Maggie attracted to Jim and not to Don? Who knows? They have no discernably distinct personality traits.

The Loathsome Awesome of the NewsroomS


So, I hate all that. But let me tell you what I hate, what I really, really hate: It's all so fucking precious. This is a show that wants to be about great, powerful, complex, compellingly interesting people taking on vast and deliriously insolvable tasks in an epic struggle. It's what it really, really wants (and a zig-a-zig-ah.) It oozes out of every pore. The earnestness, the framing, the drama, the silences. Instead, it's a show about a lot of tiny, tiny teacups that live on a tiny, tiny shelf and sometimes have tiny, tiny kittens, who wear tiny, tiny velvet bowties snuggle up inside them. (Alas, not literally. BUT ALMOST.)

Admittedly, this is a pet peeve, or maybe just something I'm oversensitive to, but I'm bothered and bored by portrayals that try to go for flaws and mistakes, but are simply too in love with their characters, with the conceit of their characters, to actually do it. Someone, somewhere, figured out that flaws and vulnerability and struggling with mistakes are cool, and being utterly in love with 'cool', decided, yeah, lets do that. The other side of the flaws, of course, is that they're usually not very cool, and they couldn't actually be uncool. So you get...this. This shambling Frankenstein's monster* of glossy photoshops of people, perennially listing Their Greatest Flaw to a job interviewer.

And the Newsroom is THE WORST at this. (Far outstripping Hannibal or Elementary, my other I-don't-like-you-because-pretty.) All mistakes turn out to be totally and thoroughly someone else's fault, but not before Our Heroes have had a chance to nobly and emotively excoriate themselves about them, because they're that awesome. (The Ender's Game of Characterization.) The entire second season has a giant framing device slowly unravelling backwards how an enormous mistake was actually someone else's mistake.

For a moment, just a moment, it looks like Will might actually get interesting, with his vanity and hubris suddenly coming to the front...but then it dissolves into a need to be loved because his father never did, or something, and we're safely back in the land of the acceptable, sexy flaw. "I am callous to the people around me and can't confess my need for affection because of evil parents," is like the rakish scar earned nobly in the war while saving small children of personality flaws. BOOORIIIING.

If you're going to give me a show so utterly about a person battling their demons in their quest to change the world, and you want me not to laugh in it's face with total derision at the pathetically vast yet shallow salt flat of your hubris, you had better give me the STD rash of character. The suppurating zit of flaw. The knobby ingrown hairs of personality, the...er, you get the picture. But it isn't this. These people are not capable of ever less than dignified, or sexy, or sympathetic or generally appealing. They will never alienate me (on purpose) or make me uncomfortable for them, or embarassed for them or even sad for them.

Whoever is writing them clearly and so desperately wants to be them, in this fantasy world where the beautiful women are also the interesting women, where there's always a quip, always a good excuse, always a friend who always has your back, and you always totally deserve it. Where the people delivering the news know about the news two years in advance. You really can't mix genuinely interesting characters with such slavish aspiration. Who knew?

...and i'm totally going to keep watching it and fuming my grinchy little heart out. We must enjoy what we still can, in a world such as this one, you know?

The Loathsome Awesome of the NewsroomS


*With apologies to the monster, and even to Frankenstein, who are both actually wonderfully flawed, complex, vulnerable, uncomfortable creations.