Ask Matt: The Newsroom, Glee Project, Falling Skies, True Blood, More
The Newsroom | Photo Credits: John P. Johnson/HBO
Question: It seems that many TV critics (you being a notable exception) are coming down hard on The Newsroom, and I was wondering if you have an idea of why this is. Yes, it's preachy, but every Aaron Sorkin show and movie is. Successful, intelligent career women are portrayed as being driven mostly by their hormones, but that's true of every woman character on TV that's written by a man (unless played by Julianna Margulies or Connie Britton). And some of the plot contrivances (the wayward e-mails, the Bigfoot obsession, the cute blonde assistant who is smart when the plot needs her smart and dumb when the plot needs her dumb) are cringe-worthy. On the other hand, you've got a talented, likable cast ably delivering some of the snappiest dialogue on TV, which right there puts it ahead of 95 percent of everything else. Give me 10 minutes of Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels bantering back and forth each week and I'd be happy, and the show delivers considerably more than that.
I'm not saying it's not flawed, but the pluses outweigh the minuses by quite a bit, and the show is wildly entertaining. So why the heavily negative reaction? Is Sorkin held to a higher standard? Are journalists taking more shots because the show is set in a milieu they know (a newsroom) rather than the White House? Curious on your take on this. — Rick
Matt Roush: To answer your specific questions, without attempting to speak for other critics who are more than able to explain their (often extreme) positions on this understandably polarizing show, I do think Aaron Sorkin is held to a higher standard than many, which only seems fair given his track record and the anticipation that greets each new project, not to mention something airing on HBO. From my very first review of The Newsroom, I have declared it to be both exhilarating and exasperating, and like you I find the whole package entertaining enough that I tend to rise above if not ignore the glaring flaws. I freely admit I'm a sucker for Sorkin, but even so I find myself wanting to strangle many of these characters at least once per episode (and in last night's episode, Maggie more than once as she kept obsessing on Jim and Lisa's relationship while real news was happening). Staging an over-the-top romantic comedy amid the real-life workings of an idealized cable newsroom is inviting brickbats from journalists, who often come off sounding even more self-righteous in their apoplexy — and sometimes political correctness — than Sorkin's patsies.
When Sorkin met the critics at last week's TCA press tour, even I cringed when he contended there was no difference in his treatment of the male and female characters. (When I see a male character count on his fingers, or fail to understand what "LOL" means, then I might be appeased.) It was clear from the start of that session that he and his harshest critics weren't going to come to any sort of agreement, but the sparring was still an enjoyable spectacle. I do wish there was someone at HBO or in Sorkin's circle who could rein him in from many of the show's sillier and more sentimental excesses, but that's Sorkin, love him or hate him. It's impossible to stay neutral, which is one of the things I most enjoy about him.