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June 25, 2012 7:27 PM   Subscribe


 
Coincidentally, streaming free on YouTube is the first episode of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show The Newsroom.
posted by isnotchicago at 7:37 PM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


The sad part is I recognized most of them. If it works why change it must be the thinking... formulaic.
posted by pdxpogo at 7:37 PM on June 25, 2012


If we went back in time and told Aaron Sorkin that someday there would be a YouTube Supercut of all this, I think he would say, who the fuck are you, why are you in my house
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:42 PM on June 25, 2012 [39 favorites]


Wow, what timing. I just finished reading this and then checked MeFi.

I actually feel bad for Sorkin right now. Like many, I didn't think the first episode of The Newsroom was that great. But I feel like there's this weird dynamic going on where it and Sorkin are getting trashed because the young writers/reviewers/interviewers are overprotective of their "new media" and defensive in the face of his series' attack on their generation. But I'm part of that generation and agree with Sorkin's take, even if his show is heavy-handed and not all that entertaining as a drama. Journalism has real value. Gawker isn't journalism. Why don't people get this?
posted by palidor at 7:42 PM on June 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


You know what? I don't care; love his work. I look forward to hearing all of these lines again in his next series.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:44 PM on June 25, 2012 [17 favorites]


I got kind of depressed watching that. It's disconcerting to see exactly how manipulative that stuff is. And lazy.
posted by awfurby at 7:44 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think that's fair. Fiction is manipulative by definition; that is all it is. If it wasn't manipulative it would be non-fiction. And I don't consider Sorkin lazy either; I would say "rabidly frenetic".
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:51 PM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
posted by gwint at 7:54 PM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's great dialogue. Once.

Repeated like this, yeah, it's incredibly lazy writing.
posted by darkstar at 7:58 PM on June 25, 2012


Seems like the same archetypes in the same situations, just the scenery is different. I loved The West Wing, but I think Sorkin's formula really only worked there, and not, say, on the Sunset Strip.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:59 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan or hater, but ahahaha: Aaron Sorkin writes a show about punk rock
posted by furiousthought at 8:08 PM on June 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Repeated like this, yeah, it's incredibly lazy writing.

Sam Seaborn's line needs only slight adaptation here, I think: "Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them[selves] outright."
posted by zeugitai_guy at 8:09 PM on June 25, 2012


Some of this video feels a little forced. Yes, there are plenty of Sorkin shows where someone says "Really?" or "This will get worse before it gets better," but those are rather generic examples that feel kinda unfair to call out, as other writers repeat themselves in such broad ways. It feels a little lazy when there is so much more of A Proportional Response that was practically directly lifted from The American President.

However, a considerable amount of very Sorkin-specific language choices are well-highlighted here. And ending on Sorkin himself is a nice touch.

I'm curious about his upcoming musical about Houdini with Wicked-creator Stephen Schwartz staring Hugh Jackman. That is an interesting combination of factors. And a lack of places for easy recycling.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:15 PM on June 25, 2012


Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip was awesome and great, and unfortunately underwent a lot of tuning mid-run as a last-ditch attempt to gain viewer share, which resulted in the second half of its truncated run being this horrible mishmash of plot lines and sudden character changes which made no sense at all.

I do agree that Sorkin seems to have a limited palette which he draws from to paint his television series. There's always the former relationship partner which the main character is forced now to work with which is "a complication"... etc. I won't outline them here, they are familiar to all who watch his stuff.

But Studio 60 had so much going for it, and exactly one thing going against it: another weekly series about doing a SNL-type series debuting in the same season, one which was a half-hour sitcom instead of an hour-long dramedy.

I remain convinced, if 30 Rock had never happened, Studio 60 would have found the needed eyeballs and would be on the air still.
posted by hippybear at 8:15 PM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Sorkin is lazy. His laziness extends through his worldview, through his conception of what screenwriting ought to be, through his vision of what "the American public" must be like, and absolutely through his dialogue. In Sorkin's world, not only is there a good and evil, but the good is exceptionally smart and wise and the evil is so obviously foolish or stupid (though not always both) that it's very difficult to think there's anything worthwhile about the "bad guys", unless David Fincher's available to turn every line into a fetish object, at which point it's difficult to see the point at all.

I've tried to do The West Wing four or five times now, and for all I love fast-paced dialogue and sharp retorts, the lazy smugness of the writing makes it impossible for me to get past episode 3 or 4. It plays like a right-wing parody of a liberal elitist, but for the over-polished writing that makes it clear somebody believes this. Sorkin's got a knack for wringing writing dry that few TV writers have, but the other writers who're his match for snappy writing tend to understand that that sort of dialogue works best in satire, not drama.

Take Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci, for whom the over-polished over-snappiness is not an end unto itself but rather a critique of the polish. Their The Day Today, which if I'm not mistaken aired around the time The West Wing did, attacked the way mainstream media works, but there was a willingness to understand why the media worked that way which wasn't just "the viewing public are idiots". The snappiness was still great, the political worldviews were probably even somewhat close, but the one show critiques the gloss whereas the other is largely content with just spewing out more glossiness.

Iannucci's Veep, which just finished a good (not great) first season, is an interesting foil to both The West Wing and to Sorkin's new show. It's an utterly cynical take on the walk-and-talk political machinations, just as fast as a Sorkin piece, but with all the melodrama replaced with cynicism and cunning. Weirdly, it strikes me as a much less cynical piece of TV than The West Wing, because its efforts to portray the bleak reality of a political office seems more revealing to me than a show which imagines a lazy liberal fantasy of successful politics.

I get more out of cynical satire than out of wishful thinking, and it also makes me less uncomfortable, like maybe it's a bad thing that this wishful near-parody nearly reflects my own worldview, because that kind of media encourages shallow thinking among people who agree with me and stereotypes and bias among people who disagree. My problem with Sorkin's lazy approach to writing isn't that I disagree with him, or even dislike that style of TV, but that the combination of "glib entertainment" and "political invective" is going to end up worse than either of the two isolated.

Also his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg was an incorrect and much less interesting take on Facebook's origins than the actual person and his story. Watching the story of Facebook (which I'm personally fascinated by) reduced to a shallow Sorkinist meditation on media and power did much to sour me on the man. Though Sorkin/Fincher is a marvelously flawed duo that's endlessly fun to overanalyze.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:17 PM on June 25, 2012 [33 favorites]


Also:

"Lyle's cussing!"
"He's cussing?"
"He's cussing!"
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:19 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remain convinced, if 30 Rock had never happened, Studio 60 would have found the needed eyeballs and would be on the air still.

Absolutely not. The two shows appeal to entirely different audiences.

Exhibit A
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:23 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I never understood Sorkin's appeal. The only remarkable thing about his writing is that it is able to make even the greatest actors boring as fuck.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:26 PM on June 25, 2012


The Day Today, which if I'm not mistaken aired around the time The West Wing did

Only in the broadest sense. The Day Today went out in 1994 (and On The Hour, its radio predecessor, in 1991). The West Wing started in 1999. Morris's Brass Eye went out in 1997 (with a special in 2001).
posted by dumbland at 8:27 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm actually fine with this.

In the context of internet snark: yeah, sure it seems lazy and shitty. "he repeats himself and uses cliched phrases lol" and all that.

But given the volume of his work, and the rate at which he's done it, this might just be the equivalent of seeing a standup comic on the road in a bunch of different cities, where he's saying the same thing in slightly different ways, sharpening his tools as it were.

That's not to say I didn't find this pretty damned funny
posted by graphnerd at 8:31 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not for nothing, but I'm pretty sure he got the "YOU THINK?!?" and "I'm pretty drunk" from watching my family.
posted by elmer benson at 8:33 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now somebody do Mamet.
posted by The World Famous at 8:35 PM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


that'd just be a lot of "fuck"s
posted by silby at 8:43 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeahhhhh, all that did was make me want to pop West Wing in the DVD player.

His patter may be well-worn, but damn it works for me.
posted by dry white toast at 8:45 PM on June 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


All the Sorkinophobes should be watching Sports Night instead of Studio 60 or West Wing.
posted by kyleg at 8:46 PM on June 25, 2012 [13 favorites]


Journalism has real value. Gawker isn't journalism. Why don't people get this?
Because Journalism isn't Journalism.
posted by fullerine at 8:50 PM on June 25, 2012


Coffee is for closers.
Coffee is for cleared cadets.
Coffee is for Canadian border guards.
Coffee is for Clarice and a crazed cannibal.
Coffee is for Marty on the coast.
Coffee is for confidence games.
posted by argonauta at 8:51 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Newsroom's intro really needs a few frames from "Network", for kicks.
posted by hellojed at 8:56 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm so sad that I disliked the pilot of The Newsroom so much. I really was looking forward to it.
posted by tzikeh at 9:04 PM on June 25, 2012


In a perfect world, Sorkin would have written the Prometheus screenplay
posted by Bwithh at 9:05 PM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's possible that he's repeating favorite quotes and lines because they're favorites, so they stay in his head, and he may not remember where or when he's used them before. If you've ever read a collection of essays by a single writer, that were written over a period of years, you'll hear the same stories a few times and some of the same lines. I know I do it; I have a few stories (and a few favorite quotes, too) that really resonate in my life and they show up in my writing over and over. I'm not lazy. I'm not plagiarizing myself. I just have these touchstone snippets that are always readily accessible. So I can't get too worked up over a writer using the same line, or roughly the same four lines of dialogue, twice in a career spanning decades.
posted by not that girl at 9:06 PM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


MetaFilter: that'd just be a lot of "fuck"s
posted by hippybear at 9:06 PM on June 25, 2012


Sam Waterton really loses his shit too much in the pilot. It's like watching a 1950's Cadillac doing a burnout.
posted by hellojed at 9:10 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, given the many hundreds of hours of dialogue they were able to pull from, it doesn't seem particularly damning. Not to mention there's plenty of gimmes in there (like "you bet" – might as well add all the times someone picks up a phone and says "hello").

But a fun video. Doesn't diminish his stuff for me, personally (not that it was intended to). I like how my shoes are the same snuggy shape whenever I put them on, and I like when Sorkin is Sorkin.

Now do Joss Whedon.
posted by churl at 9:14 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm fine with him repeating phrases in his shows- he should have snapped out of it for that collegE commencement speech though
posted by Bwithh at 9:18 PM on June 25, 2012


This may be the beer talking, but The Newsroom should have every character solve conflicts with a massive application of fully-automatic weapons.
posted by hellojed at 9:20 PM on June 25, 2012


All the Sorkinophobes should be watching Sports Night instead of Studio 60 or West Wing.

Ew, no. That's why I don't really watch Sorkin stuff. The dialogue was too robotic and impossibly "witty". I didn't know who he was at the time, but it always rubbed me the wrong way.

One of the problems I have with Tarantino movies, is that the characters all talk like Quentin Tarantino (the out-of-place "superman" monologue at the end of kill bill comes to mind).

Sports Night was even worse, it just seemed like it was one guy writing idealized dialogue. Like he was setting up a perfect conversation so everybody was just as smart and witty as he was, and wouldn't that be nice?
posted by lkc at 9:32 PM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd never seen West Wing, but since I have HBO and a massive black monolith in my living room I have affectionately dubbed "teleminjaro" (credit to rcade of sportsfilter for that one), my friend convinced me to host a premiere party.

I liked it okay enough, but man, as I think my first ever Sorkin show (unless- are you guys saying he did Sports Night? Because I HATED that show's ridiculous rat-a-tat-tat dialogue), I can already see things I'll loathe if I keep watching and they don't improve.

The rapid fire dialogue that is more didactic screed than remotely realistic- he's like the anti-Kevin Smith. The "every guy is a hyper confident and smooth alpha male", and "every woman is doe-eyed waif" (and with one apparent exception, blonde?) templates. The female lead is described as hyper competent- yet when we meet her, she spends the whole second half of the show tripping over herself to be subservient to our Top Dog lead- the hell?!? The characters are cardboard and one dimensional- the previous EP, Don I think, is ticking off a checklist of reasons to hate and disregard him, from his douchy treatment and sexism towards his girlfriend, to his pathological blindness to a good story to his simian posturing for dominance in a room he was itching to leave at the start of the episode. And the thing is, I probably agree with Sorkin's politics- although again, as shocking as longtime MeFites will find it to see me saying this, he seems really sexist and misogynistic- if this show is any indication, but the description of him above as a conservative parody of a strident liberal seems acutely on point.

I'll give it a couple more chances, since "Girls" hit it's stride in episode 3, but my impression so far is that he's kind of a hack writer.
posted by hincandenza at 9:39 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just stopped watching Newsroom about halfway in because there was too much monologuing and not enough Ed Asner jokes.

Can't wait to find out about what happens with the Deepwater Horizon. Does everyone bury their differences, come together as a team during a crisis and report the news?
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:41 PM on June 25, 2012


Ta-Nehisi Coates has a blog post linking to two reviews of Newsroom
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:43 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a contemporary of Sorkin, i.e.,can remember a different time in journalism. And my reaction to hearing about Newsroom was,"Who cares about network news in 2012?" It just seems irrelevant. And covering actual news events from 1-2 years ago? Eh. Again, just an awful decision.

As for his other work, I luv American President, tho it's an impossible liberal dream. I wss made that he let Sports Nite slip away while focusing on TWW, but then I grew to like the latter. Now watching clips from Spts Nite, it seems overwrought. (I just liked the actors do much, I think.)

Oh, and "Walk with me"TinaFey.
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uqXdG0bPeYA
posted by NorthernLite at 9:46 PM on June 25, 2012


There were occasions when I felt like The West Wing should have been called The Best of Wikipedia.
posted by smithsmith at 9:53 PM on June 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


graphnerd: “But given the volume of his work, and the rate at which he's done it, this might just be the equivalent of seeing a standup comic on the road in a bunch of different cities, where he's saying the same thing in slightly different ways, sharpening his tools as it were.”

Yeah, but if this is the stuff that gets repeated, this is apparently the stuff he thinks is important, the stuff he thinks is choice. And it's kind of terrible. It's overwrought, it's horribly canned ("really quite something"?) and most of all it's pretentious.
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 PM on June 25, 2012


There were occasions when I felt like The West Wing should have been called The Best of Wikipedia.
posted by smithsmith at 9:53 PM on June 25 [1 favorite +] [!]

how dare you, sir!!
Sorkin would never access Wikipedia - it stands for everything he's committed his life to fighting against!!

Though on the other hand there are probably quite a lot of nearly-free interns for that
posted by Bwithh at 10:15 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who the hell are these other people?
posted by The Whelk at 10:16 PM on June 25, 2012


I quite enjoyed that.
posted by Anitanola at 10:24 PM on June 25, 2012


But Studio 60 had so much going for it, and exactly one thing going against it: another weekly series about doing a SNL-type series debuting in the same season, one which was a half-hour sitcom instead of an hour-long dramedy.

posted by hippybear at 8:15 PM on June 25 [2 favorites +] [!]


but Studio 60 was fatally flawed: it took itself waaaaaaay too seriously for a show about comedy. Sorkin couldn't write funny skits and kept thinking the SNL-type show ( although oddly, SNL exists as a major show in Studio 60's universe) was a White House bully pulpit in disguise
posted by Bwithh at 10:24 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


There were occasions when I felt like The West Wing should have been called The Best of Wikipedia.

I'm pretty sure that Wikipedia gets the facts about the US-Canada border right. OTOH I could totally see Sorkin getting into an edit war.
posted by asterix at 10:24 PM on June 25, 2012


There's nothing particularly damning about Sorkin repeating himself, aside from the fact that it underscores how he's kind of rotating the same half-dozen characters through a variety of professional settings rather than actually trying, for example, to figure out what kind of character types are drawn to the unique pressure cooker of daily news production. No, what's really damning about that Newsroom debut was how he introduced a discombobulated producer character by having him literally pratfall into the frame. That is some lazy-ass writing.
posted by gompa at 10:31 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Many years ago I watched through most of Sports Night (and not just because I have a crush on Sabrina Lloyd) and thought it was pretty good.

More recently some friends of mine started watching West Wing on a DVD and tried to get me into it. I watched three episodes and then told them "I'm sorry but I've already heard everything this writer has to say."

About a month back they finished watching West Wing were casting around for something new, so I suggested Sports Night. Three days later they got in touch: "You know, I think we've already heard everything that Sorkin has to say."

Basically he has an excellent but strictly bounded oeuvre.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:37 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Newsroom? I afraid we've already got a show called The Newsroom. Why would we want another one?
posted by RobotHero at 10:39 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The best studio 60 episode was an episode of 30 rock " just two men...celebrating thier bodies."

" who is Conan O'Brian and why is she so sad?"
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love the show Law & Order, but I realize that every episode is utterly formulaic. However, it is a formula that I really enjoy and one that really works for me. I enjoy the beats and patterns of the pacings. Whenever I get snooty about the people who drool over The West Wing or any one of Sorkin's other trite excretions, I realize that they simply have found a formula that works for them that they enjoy, and they stick with that, just like I have my own forms of entertainment that work for me.
posted by deanc at 10:47 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, while watching The West Wing, I am consciously aware of there being something wrong about the writing; real people aren't that quick. Real people don't just rattle off facts like a machine gun. Real people take time to think. Real people don't have so many witty replies on the tip of their tongue.

But damn, I love it.
posted by Jimbob at 10:55 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


he's kind of rotating the same half-dozen characters through a variety of professional settings

I think this touches on the thing that bugs the hell out of me about his writing: he doesn't seem to have any means of expressing characterization, which is why I always get the strong sense that the actors' faces are about to melt away and reveal five versions of Sorkin talking to himself (I agree with lck that Quentin Tarantino, whose dialog I also think is incredibly one-note, is probably Sorkin's closest analogue in feature films).

Worse, it seems like when Sorkin does attempt character development it's always the same way, he runs the "smart-alecky whiz kid gets something wrong and is corrected by avuncular older male colleague" scene, much like the Kurdistan / Kazakhstan Rob Lowe correction in the supercut.
posted by whir at 11:05 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've tried to do The West Wing four or five times now, and for all I love fast-paced dialogue and sharp retorts, the lazy smugness of the writing makes it impossible for me to get past episode 3 or 4.

See, I think that it actually works for Sports Night because the characters in that are sort of lazy smug assholes. They aren't real journalists. They aren't running the country—hell, they can't even win their own time slot. So Sorkin's writing is a pretty good fit.

For example: the secular/non-secular vs. Kyrgyzstan/Kazahkstan flub. In Sports Night it's illustrating a major tension of the show. Dan is always in Casey's shadow, and whenever he tries to stick his neck out into the real world he is never quite smart or charismatic enough and in this case makes a pretty stupid mistake. Casey calls him on it because they peck at each other mercilessly and that's how they like it because they are smug, preening cockatiels who crave attention and glory. The line from West Wing is mere fluff, a slow pitch to the Josh Lyman character with nothing really at stake or to be shown.

I don't think Sorkin wrote Sports Night as a study of people who aren't as talented or clever as they think they are, toiling away self-destructively at jobs they want SO MUCH to mean something while they subconsciously know it's all pointless, empty entertainment. It mostly works that way, though, except for when it's being too sickeningly sincere. And, actually, Dana is awful, ugh, nevermind.
posted by fleacircus at 11:19 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, it's late at night and I'm not tired and I just finished watching the Newsroom pilot before coming over here, so it's about time for another one of my patented long-winded thingamajigs.

Aaron Sorkin is, to me, like an ex who I was deeply in love with, who I ended things with amicably for reasons lost to time. I see him from time to time again, and while it's easy for me to remember my emotional investment, it gets easier and easier still to pin-point all of his annoying habits and flaws.

1. He has trouble writing women well.

Well, knowing him as I do, this is only half-fair. He has trouble writing most of his characters well at the start, and that's natural. In Sports Night he only really had Casey down in the pilot, and lucked out a bit with Robert Guillaume being awesome enough to transform any material given to him. The West Wing pilot was a tour-de-force, for the most part (more later) but in retrospect, only Toby and to a lesser extent Josh feel truly recognizable. So it goes. He needs to get into the shoes of a character before he can flesh it out. That makes sense.

But he doesn't step into the shoes of the women he writes nearly as easily, and so there are always a few episodes at least of any of his shows in which the women are given groan-worthy dialogue. Mandy (in The West Wing) is the worst example, of course - a character written as a foil for Josh, which didn't play well, while Donna, who wasn't fleshed-out in the pilot but was given perfunctory dialogue which Janel Moloney had enough room within to create a proper character, supplanted by seeming more natural and real than the super-stylized, hyper-irritating Mandy. But Donna was originally written as a minor character and exposition-engine for Josh.

In early Sports Night episodes, Dana is scatterbrained everywhere but in the control room, and Natalie is flighty and love-struck, both of them in ways that seem offensive to how their characters later develop. In Studio 60, Harriet Hayes is written as a clear analogue to Kristen Chenowith, but apparently the only attributes Sorkin remembered at first were Blonde, Christian, and Willing to Fuck a Writer.

In The Newsroom, he gives us MacKenzie - the pedestal idealist former flame, and Maggie, the loyal naif. These are both, truly, somewhat better than what we've gotten from him before as far as women in pilots go, but they still fall into his broad-line archetypes.

As does everyone in the show. MacKenzie is Not-Dana. Maggie is Not-Natalie. Jim is Not-Jeremy. Charlie is Not-Isaac. Sorkin lets his dialogue skills cvover his limited understanding of his characters until he feels comfortable inside them, but while he has at least an insider's understanding of men, he seems to debut every lead woman he writes for by consulting a 1950s field-guide to women until he gets on his feet.


2. He uses strawman arguments like crazy.

Do you remember the West Wing episode where Sam says something to Ainsley about her dress, and the staffer we never see again complains that it was inappropriate, and then we get a scene of all of the women in the bullpen (with Ainsley leading them) saying that, no, it's fine, it's "lipstick feminism" and get over it?

Do you remember the godawful response-to-9/11 episode "Isaac and Ishmael," where a group of schoolchildren ask bizarrely set-up questions designed solely to illicit quippy answers about the truth of the world? (Example: "What do you call a place that has to live in fear of terrorism every day?" "You call it Israel.")

Do you remember the pilot of The West Wing, where the Christian religious leaders didn't know what the first commandment was? Specifically so that President Bartlett could make his first entrance with the words "I am the Lord thy God"?

Well he does that shit all the time. I've gotten into the habit of now, whenever I hear a clever Sorkin line, flashing back to whatever prompted it, and imagining whether it is something any human would actually say. To be fair, most of the time it passes the test, but when it doesn't, it raises my hackles like crazy. It's one thing to use esprit de l'escalier in one's writing. It's another thing to set it up nonsensically.

In the Newsroom pilot, we get perhaps the most damning example of this outside of the WW episode "Game On," with the Northwestern sophomore asking "In one sentence or less, oops, you know what I mean, what makes America the best country in the world?" As if any college student would ask this. As if she's an idiot for messing up what she meant to say. And the Jeff Daniels character just lays into her about it, with things like, "sorority girl" and "if you ever find yourself inside a voting booth."

That shit is irritating as hell, because he often - even most of the time - engages with real arguments. But when he shouts at the wind is when he acts the most self-righteous, and we don't need any of that.


3. He hates youth culture for no real reason.

I mean, he has a reason - his kerfuffle when he went on the Television Without Pity forums like ten years ago - it's just not a good one. As he gets older, he treats the internet as more and more of a joke to be laughed off in the presence of real men who do things the old way, and it gets more and more precious and wrong.

In Sports Night, he actually made fun of Casey for not understanding how the internet worked. In The West Wing, he had Josh re-create his TWoP fiasco and had C.J. Cregg pronounce netizens as "the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!" In Studio 60 he bitched a lot about it but who can remember particulars, and in The Newsroom he implicitly blames it for the decline in journalism while making jokes about blogs and Twitter which, considering the show is set currently in 2010, might have been slightly fresher then.

I think it's informative to look at what we can understand to be his musical tastes, which aren't so much "bad" as "ridiculously square." Off the top of my head, the pop songs that he's used in his shows have been:

"My Boogie Shoes"
"Sloop John B"
"Eli's Coming"
"The Weight"
"Crimson and Clover"
"Brothers in Arms"
"Hallelujia"
"Angel"

That last one is a bit of an odd duck there, and I have to imagine Sorkin didn't come up with it, though it is of course possible that he heard a Massive Attack song and was suddenly struck by the idea that trip-hop could work for one scene. There are also instances of Aimee Mann playing an obscure song that references MLK and C.J. saying that she understands "modern music" to mean "Jackson Browne," but the point is that Sorkin's knowledge of music stops precisely at what his parents listened to in the '70s.

The most jarring part of the opening monologue in The Newsroom has him (again) dismissing the student asking him the question by calling her "a member of absolutely the worst-period-generation-period-ever-period." He doesn't explain why he has come to this conclusion, but rather just goes into some of the most rose-tinted nostalgia you've ever heard. In his time, you see, laws were written for moral reasons, and struck down for moral reasons (presumably not the same laws) and we reached for the stars (though presumably not because of the defense budget he bitches about a moment beforehand.

It is ugly, and silly, and inaccurate, but also well-written in a way and well-shot. But it is frustrating in a way that only Sorkin-fans can move past.


4. He's authoritarian and meritocratic in bizarre ways.

For such a liberal writer, he almost always has a character in his shows who is the benign dictator, whose word is law because they are the boss and are the mouthpiece of what is right.

He also holds to an idea that the people at the top got there because they were the best, even while showing that they had the best opportunities and best connections.

And while I'm at it, he's got a weird, battling theme throughout all of his shows that 1. people should not assume that the Common Man™ is stupid, and that anyone who is not a lead character is stupid.

It is frustrating.

But all of that said, there's a lot I still like about him. And in the end, I didn't hate the pilot for The Newsroom. By the end, a lot of it crackled and worked like it should. The ON AIR segment was gangbusters, and gives an idea of what the show could become. The characters could potentially develop into something deeper. And there's the very real possibility that the Jeff Daniels character, in particular, is meant to be something of an asshole right now (seeing as they're telling us as much every two seconds) but that we're so well-trained in Sorkin by now that we assume that his dickishness is supposed to be admirable.

We shall see. I will remain perhaps foolishly optimistic. Sorkin would want it no other way.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:21 PM on June 25, 2012 [37 favorites]


Now do Joss Whedon.

I would love to see a similar supercut for him.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:55 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fabulous observation, from the article palidor linked:

With one look into the steel arrogance behind Sorkin’s eyes, I am sure he considers his life’s tragedy that, in 50 years, there will be no Sorkin to write about him.

Beautifully succinct characterization, that.

Speaking of which, I loved the video but also found the Sorkinisms depressing, because, unrealistic as I know it to be, I enjoy the lively banter of Sorkin's smart, savvy paragons, who can cite convoluted statistics from memory and always have the perfect retort ready in every conversation.

It's just, as ya'll have said, I've seen them all before. Sorkin's characters are the same people, just in different settings. His writing is limited to specific tropes.

The video doesn't even go into them all. For instance, in Sorkin's world, everyone is obsessed with G&S, so much so that they parodied I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General for the SNL clone in Studio 60. That was only semi-believable for the TV show writers, but when he had political pundits in the White House arguing over Pirates of Penzance and Pinafore it was really over the top.

I expected more of the same in Newsroom, but he went off on a Don Quixote tangent instead. I'm caught between relief that he didn't go the G&S route yet again and disappointment that he didn't opt for Wodehouse over Cervantes.
posted by misha at 11:56 PM on June 25, 2012


So in another universe, Aaron Sorkin is a Starfleet captain? I can see him being a cross between Janeway and Picard, with the worse parts of each.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:02 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


he treats the internet as more and more of a joke
to be completely fair, it kind of is
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:03 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


misha, I'll give you how over-the-top ridiculous the Modern Major General's song was in Studio 60 (and in fact it was probably the choice that tanked the show), but...

Sorry, I've got a bias. I'm a former board member and currently active member of the Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society, which isn't a huge deal at all but is still known in Washington and is attended by DC VIPs (Ben Bernanke, for instance, has regularly shown up to all shows over the past several years.) The group is forty years old this year and has spawned other Washington theater groups like the Victorian Lyric Opera Company. Point I'm making is that G&S are perhaps more well-known in DC than they are elsewhere.

Plus, the ending of "And It's Surely To Their Credit" paid off a lot better than the end of "The Cold Open." That's all.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:11 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


The one for Joss Whedon would be an endless montage of hot young women kicking people's asses.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:15 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


to be completely fair, it kind of is

I think there's probably a genuine opportunity in the context of the show to illustrate what a joke my generation's perception of the Internet is.

In the "interview" I linked, there's the following exchange:

REPORTER: (Laughing.) No, I couldn’t have. I did like it. I found it good, not as a show about media, but as a show about America. It’s not the media that I find is most important now, television. … For me, it would have more personally fascinating to watch a show about Internet news.

SORKIN: There should be a show about the Internet.

REPORTER: There should be a show about Gawker.

SORKIN: (Pausing, while appearing to conceive the perfect murder.) Really?


If you set aside the dubious decision for the show to cover events that have already occurred and "rewriting" the history by replacing real journalists' scoops with those of the show's characters, the first episode of The Newsroom actually dealt with real journalism (briefly). Research, working sources, asking tough questions. Journalism is a process, and a valuable one. But it seems like so many of my generation, with their extreme reverence for the Internet and its supposed power to topple any and all dinosaur media institutions, don't understand this. They say "Internet news" like that's a real thing, like what Gawker does is somehow in the same league as what, say, an investigative reporter at a newspaper does. The joke is that they have no idea what's being lost by placing value in this Internet navel-gazing at the expense of journalism as a process. "Internet news" is inconsequential shit that gets the most clicks, just like cable news has developed to cater to specific ideologies in its desire for ratings, and so on.

I don't know if Sorkin understands this, though, or if he can manage to make a compelling drama out of it that isn't just grandstanding.
posted by palidor at 1:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Really, Navelgazer? I had no idea G&S was so popular in D.C.!

I'm actually a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan (saw an excellent rendition of the Mikado recently), but I just thought Sorkin was indulging his own tastes with all the references.
posted by misha at 1:49 AM on June 26, 2012


I actually quite enjoyed the pilot of Newsroom. Admittedly, I went in with low expectations - I had heard that reviews were bad, but aside from it becoming somewhat tedious in the middle, I liked what it had to say and how it said it. It actually seemed legitimate that they would take themselves so seriously, compared to the characters in Studio 60.
posted by liquorice at 2:04 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


So ep1 of Newsroom picked up a bit in the second half where everyone rallied together to put the show on right here (quelle surprise) but there was industrial strength bad writing at the beginning... the first conversation between ditzy intern/whatever and jump-ship producer boyfriend was so filled with As You Know Bobs that I thought at first they were deliberately spoofing a bad conversation

Still good to see Dev Patel getting work as token non-white person.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:12 AM on June 26, 2012


Sorkin repeating himself is not a bug, it's a feature.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:23 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Now do Joss Whedon.

I know Whedon is known for his snappy dialogue, but it's not like he repeats himself. He says in a Buffy commentary about hating to crib from himself, referring to a moment in an episode he stole from an unused draft of the original Buffy film. And if he'd never mentioned that, who would ever have known?

The difference between Whedon and Sorkin is that Whedon knows how to delegate and knows how to run a writers' room. There's no repetition in Whedon's lines because he lets other people write scripts for his TV shows. Sorkin wants to write every episode himself, which is why he steals lines, plots and re-uses character names all the time, because it's much easier to rely on things that have worked than try to be original every episode for 22 episodes a year.

I'd hope that a HBO sized season might allow him to forego stealing these lines of dialogue for further recycling on The Newsroom, but I can already see him using the same characters he's used before.

I will note that even though the first pratfall in The Newsroom went to a woman, but the biggest pratfall went to a guy. Maybe that's progress?
posted by crossoverman at 4:24 AM on June 26, 2012


I think The Newsroom works as a fine sequel to Dumb and Dumber. (A million dollar pay cut? Really?)
posted by Catblack at 5:00 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"[T]he good [in Sorkin's shows] is exceptionally smart and wise and the evil is so obviously foolish or stupid (though not always both) that it's very difficult to think there's anything worthwhile about the 'bad guys'."

Arnold Vinick (the Republican Presidential candidate from the last season of The West Wing) was smarter and more likeable than 99% of actual Republicans. And as for the true "bad guys" on The West Wing, name the one you think is the biggest caricature and I bet I could identify the RL person on whom he or she is modeled, and the real life person will be as bad or worse. Conservatives on the West Wing are assholes because most modern conservatives in RL are assholes.
posted by Eyebeams at 5:03 AM on June 26, 2012


I had heard that reviews were bad, but aside from it becoming somewhat tedious in the middle, I liked what it had to say and how it said it.

Keep in mind, those bad reviews are based on the first four episodes, of which the pilot is the best. If they'd only sent out the pilot, the reviews would have been much better.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:09 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Sorkin's world, not only is there a good and evil, but the good is exceptionally smart and wise and the evil is so obviously foolish or stupid (though not always both) that it's very difficult to think there's anything worthwhile about the "bad guys", unless David Fincher's available to turn every line into a fetish object, at which point it's difficult to see the point at all.

You should really watch the rest of the Sorkin West Wing seasons; the Bartlett administration are constantly being outsmarted and constantly beaten up for how arrogant they are. They show that book smart and political smart are inherently two different things. They spend most of their administration chasing their own tails. I ended up with that same feeling I get towards the real Democrats (always chasing their party around, never with the same resolve on key issues that Republicans have), which is a lot of blustering and not a lot of actual work being done.

Plus, there's a huge dichotomy in characters like Jed, Leo, Josh and Toby, all of who at some point or another in the series act in reprehensible fashion. They lied, cheated, sold out people and stole what they wanted at times. They mess around with the 25th amendment a number of times and show how easy it is to justify that kind of thing. It's this kind of realistic, slow drip, ethical slide that befalls real-life politicians.

If you watch the show twice, for me at least, it became really apparent that the group is a lot less likeable when you're not dealing with the individual episode dramas. Jed has a superiority complex over the entire American public and what he does to the constitution at times is revolting. Leo is a moral relativist. Josh is an absolute asshole to virtually everyone, including his friends. Toby is a self-absorbed egotist.

The show does have a certain us vs. them, right vs. wrong feel to it. But you know what? 10 years later, that's where our actual political arena is. Both sides feel this way. It's really quite remarkable.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:32 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love fast-paced banter. I love stylized speech patterns not found in nature. And repetition can come across great, as in a good pop song.

But I hate Sorkin's writing, and always have. It's always so fucking smug. The smug emanates from the TV, rapidly fills the room, and suffocates. It gets all over everything and is hard to clean off.
posted by fikri at 5:46 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's pat, trite, smug, sloppy and lazy; just as bereft of emotional impact as a sodden sponge landing in the sink, and not just any sponge, a filthy sponge with that odd bit of firmness to it that suggests if you left it damp for a day you'd be able to harvest mushrooms; each line a discrete smegmatic blob of classist paternalism that oozed from some greying, tired penis then flick wiped onto crisp sheets of linen foolscap under a too large, too ornate, too bold letterhead and undersigned with his grandfather's smeary, blotchy fountain pen.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:11 AM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


^^That's even better when you imagine it being said while a camera follows people walking down a hallway.
posted by hippybear at 6:27 AM on June 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


Watching it now. Fascinated.

And Don Quijote was on a horse, a skinny steed if you will. Sancho was on a Donkey.

If it matters so much, let's get it right. Will could have looked it up on wikipedia. Or Sorkin could.
posted by kandinski at 6:28 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no repetition in Whedon's lines because he lets other people write scripts for his TV shows. Sorkin wants to write every episode himself, which is why he steals lines,

Umm, I swear I am not trying to be pedantic, but if other people are writing them, they are not Whedon's lines. I also do not believe you can "steal lines" from yourself. Stealing is when you life lines *from other people.* And I think it's less that Sorkin doesn't know how to run a writers room; I think it's that he thinks the writers room is TV camp.

Speaking of smug, I think it's hilarious how many people are like "Lo, I have discovered Sorkin recycles himself; HERE LET ME SHOW YOU THE REPEATS!" Do people think Sorkin doesn't know he's recycling his own lines? Do any of you think Sorkin thinks we're not going to notice? There are those of us who genuinely cheer every time a Sorkinism is repeated.

I repeat, it is not a bug: it is a feature. It doesn't need to be fixed. As I often point out in this conversation, John Irving has written the same book twelve times. I wouldn't change a single one, but you don't have to read them.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:33 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


. . . he's like the anti-Kevin Smith.

Wait, that's a bad thing now?
posted by The Bellman at 6:56 AM on June 26, 2012


Ooo! Ooo! What if Sorkin shows all take place in an alternate universe that only they inhabit, and the movies are movies *in* that universe, and everyone just likes quoting their favorite shows/movies in the universe?

I've been thinking too much about the Tarantino thing, obviously.
posted by frecklefaerie at 6:59 AM on June 26, 2012


MetaFilter: Repeated like this, yeah, it's incredibly lazy writing.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:00 AM on June 26, 2012


While it is not a secret to anyone who pays attention that Sorkin reuses ideas and bon mots, a lot of this supercut is really reaching. I could have done without Sam's father long-form infidelity perfectly matching Jeremy's father's long-form infidelity, but for every snappy line repeated a couple of times here, there are a couple that hardly bear mentioning.

Honestly, the guy is credited with six feature screenplays and 231 episodes of four different TV series and he used the lines "Bring it!" and "How's it going so far?" twice each? Quite a scoop you got there, Skippy.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:01 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Ya think?"

"You bet."
posted by zuhl at 7:10 AM on June 26, 2012


The thing about The Newsroom that threw me off the most was the score. It seemed so out-of-place and hokey for an HBO show in 2012.
posted by Pope Xanax IV at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2012


there's a huge dichotomy in characters like Jed, Leo, Josh and Toby, all of who at some point or another in the series act in reprehensible fashion. They lied, cheated, sold out people and stole what they wanted at times. They mess around with the 25th amendment a number of times and show how easy it is to justify that kind of thing. It's this kind of realistic, slow drip, ethical slide that befalls real-life politicians.

Okay, so I got to an episode with Jed doing this, or being tempted to almost do this. Something about bombing a country out of vengeance? And, I'm not saying the characters aren't "well-rounded" and "complex" with massive huge scare quotes – there's "moral complexity" even in the pilot with what's-his-name's hooker-hookup – but as far as I got, the character complexity was accompanied by obvious musical foreshadowing and little writing hooks that said "I am doing a bad thing, this is my bad character moment".

The Social Network does the same thing – David Fincher's ADD/OCD means a lot of the script's signaling is lost to scene-by-scene tinkering, but if you look at the script alone every single moment screams THIS IS SETTING UP REPERCUSSIONS DOWN THE ROAD, all the way to the opening scene's setting up the hilariously trite ending where Zuckerberg is refreshing his browser hoping his now-ex has accepted his friend request.

It's not realistic and it's not believable. And simply showing "good guys doing bad things" does not a well-balanced show make, when with the good guys you see all the circumstances leading to their bad behavior whereas with the bad guys they're just evil or stupid. Navelgazer cited the scene with the religious leaders in the pilot, where they're just laughably idiotic and mean. I'll add to that Sorkin's portrayal of the Winklevoss twins, who are so obviously obsessed with tradition and wealth and handsomeness that of course they'd have this shallow business idea that's ripe for the improving. And of course this serves as an obvious foil for Mark Zuckerberg's "complexity", because on the one hand he's so smart! he's a genuine American thinker! and on the other hand he's gonna trap us all on the internet! he's a victim of self-importance!

Leaving aside how inaccurate the portrayal is, you get maybe at best a two-dimensional portrayal of the good guys (dimension 1 "I'm so good", dimension 2 "but boo life is complex") and a one-dimensional portrayal of the bad guys ("these are my values rah rah rah fuck you"). I mean, the discussion w/r/t The Newsroom right now is over whether the protagonist is one- or two-dimensional, and if it turns out his obvious flaws were meant to be flaws then we've got two dimensions and therefore something bordering on watchable.

This has nothing to do with Sorkin's being an entertaining writer. He does entertainment-by-rhetoric quite well. But the things I've seen by him don't go past that shallow "entertainment" bar. It's interesting, a lot of people are throwing Joss Whedon's name around in this thread, and I can't stand the way Whedon writes. But at least there it's obvious the guy cares about his characters and thinks about who they are and where they're going. I find Sorkin more watchable, but he's the worse of the two writers by far.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:33 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I grant you all those points Rory, except the Winklevii do seem to be cartoonishly evil.
posted by The Whelk at 7:48 AM on June 26, 2012


Rory your reading of The Social Network is super different from mine. I never thought Zuckerberg was being portrayed as a Good Guy.

Re: Whedon, the thing that I get annoyed about is his constant Chosen One narrativing, which is why Dr. Horrible is his best thing.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:51 AM on June 26, 2012


Conservatives on the West Wing are assholes because most modern conservatives in RL are assholes.

Oh come on now. I'm not disputing that the real life conservatives upon whom West Wing characters are based are, in many cases, actually assholes. But Josh Lyman is based on effing Rahm Emmanuel, man. Most of the characters on The West Wing, as much as I love them as characters, are colossal assholes. Liberals on The West Wing are more than merely assholes only because Sorkin decided that they, unlike their conservative counterparts, deserved to have more than "asshole" written into their parts.

For The West Wing, Sorkin literally took everything he likes in American politics, regardless of the party that came up with it, and attributed it to Democrats. My wife and I were living in DC and working in politics at the time, both working for Republicans and being the only people in our offices who watched The West Wing. The only thing that we genuinely hated about the show was when the fictional Democrats were advancing measures that were, at that very moment, at issue on the Hill as Republican proposals. The straw that nearly convinced us to stop watching was when Bartlett's administration was shown introducing - and the asshole fictional Republicans opposing - legislation identical to a bill that my wife was instrumental in drafting and pushing for in a Republican office.

On the one hand, that sort of thing has a meta-realism that underscores the idiocy of our political system, where legislation and policies are almost never advanced out of genuine guiding principles, but merely shift with the tides of political exigency (see, e.g., the individual mandate). On the other hand, that's only true for the very small subset of viewers who recognize the actual legislation referenced by the fiction, whereas the vast majority of viewers watch the Bartlett campaign championing what, in real life, are actually Republican initiatives, and they are merely reinforced in their belief that the Democrats are always the good guys instead of just being the good guys on the days when they manage to see through the fog of political posturing and strategy.

So are conservatives on The West Wing assholes because most modern conservatives in real life are assholes? Not at all. They're assholes because Aaron Sorkin writes shows about good guy assholes who always say just the right thing to make the bad guy assholes look stupid. They're all assholes, but the conservative assholes just aren't given many of the good lines.
posted by The World Famous at 7:54 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


He doesn't explain why he has come to this conclusion, but rather just goes into some of the most rose-tinted nostalgia you've ever heard. In his time, you see, laws were written for moral reasons, and struck down for moral reasons (presumably not the same laws) and we reached for the stars (though presumably not because of the defense budget he bitches about a moment beforehand.

If Aaron Sorkin were a better (or at least less predictable) writer, I would hope that the absurd nostalgia for the days when America truly was the liberal paradise that he wants it to be was a parody of the kind of liberal nostalgia you do sometimes see in certain circles. Sadly, I think Aaron Sorkin actually believes the things his characters say.

Although, given his love of rehashing current events in an idealized fashion (i.e. all of The West Wing) maybe his characters are just nostalgic for how Aaron Sorkin believes the 60s should have happened.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:08 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


And as for the true "bad guys" on The West Wing, name the one you think is the biggest caricature and I bet I could identify the RL person on whom he or she is modeled, and the real life person will be as bad or worse. Conservatives on the West Wing are assholes because most modern conservatives in RL are assholes.

Respectfully, this line of thought is deeply flawed. The separation between internal belief and observable action, between what we consider ideal and what we consider pragmatic, is a blurry and confusing one. It defines every human dilemma that is and ever was. Consequently, the best writers are those who understand the complexity of this disconnect, and who can portray characters who themselves struggle with and are formed by this disconnect.

Politics sees this enacted on a far grander and more confusing scale. Pragmatism makes room for the ideal, but requires perpetual sacrifice and compromise, and that's just the beginning. Because every politician has different ideals, and these ideals clash, and trying to find nuance and common ground between worldviews is very much a non-pragmatic process so the most successful politicians are also the shallowest and most dangerous. At the same time, being pragmatic is the only way to move towards a given ideal, so many of these dangerous, shallow politicians are simultaneously the most sincerely committed to making the world a "better" place for whichever instance of "better" they happen to believe in.

Again, I've only made it through a third of a season of West Wing, but the bad people so far seem to have none of this nuance. They have different intentions, yeah, but that's not nuance, that's conflict; nuance would be Sorkin understanding why they think what they think, even what exactly they think (his religious characters are pure dumb liberal caricature), and showing how conflict arises not from two people butting heads and hating each other but rather a really complicated series of interactions that lead to way harder-to-resolve tensions.

Iannucci's fantastic political film In The Loop, though it's a comedy, manages to give us this sort of well-rounded politician. Its portrayal of the patriotic conservative "nutjob" politician is maybe my favorite, because it shows how his beliefs are a mixture of genuine and pragmatic: some of his behaviors are calculated and manipulative, but others are utterly sincere, and the calculation is always to support his sincerity. He has some enemies who he's friends with, some allies he despises, and pretty much nobody he's thoroughly thumbs-up or -down with.

The bleakness of In The Loop comes from how, despite its cynicism, it's warm and pretty fond of all its characters. There's no one person you can "side" with, though you recognize bits of yourself in all of them. Which is far more scary than "bad guys", because it means you can never be sure of your own rightness. Even if you think and believe the "right" things, your actions might undermine your intent, because the system is so complex and muddled that you've got to play five strategy games at once. But nobody can do that, so it comes down to dumb luck and idiocy, which is why despite being bleak In The Loop is also hilarious.

Armchair politics is frustrating for just this reason. It's easy to ascribe simple motivations and behaviors when you've already decided who the bad guys are. But the causes of political failure and evil are always nested and complex, and the solutions are going to be necessarily even more complex in nature. Oversimplification actively prevents people from seeing solutions, because it prevents them from understanding the problem. Which is why great writing, writing that can give its audience a taste of that nuance and complexity, is so vital, and why writing which claims to be insightful while reducing everything to simplistic morality makes me so uncomfortable.

I've met plenty of conservatives who believe vile things and act on those beliefs. Very few of them are actually bad people, or even unlikable. Some of them are extremely admirable in every way other than those vile beliefs. And I know vastly more liberals who I dislike than I know conservatives, though that's only because I know more liberals than conservatives.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:10 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Rory your reading of The Social Network is super different from mine. I never thought Zuckerberg was being portrayed as a Good Guy.

He's not a Good Guy, but he's Admirable and Sympathetic because he's brilliant and insightful and while his hatred of the system perverts his intentions, he's right to dislike the system because it props up stripper parties and the Winklevii. It's two-dimensional: we like him because he is right about X, but he is wrong about Y so ultimately he is bad. "Wrong about Y" in this case is, what, he's an asshole?, which is why he has girl issues, fires his best friend, obsesses over ensnaring people in a network, etc., but he's right about being smarter than people, which is a character trait for Sorkin.

Also the problem with Whedon is he writes good snappy dialogue and absolutely shitty action-drama. The Avengers was two-thirds of the best superhero movie I ever saw and one-third of action sequences so bad I wanted to walk out. My ideal Whedon project would be a Friends-style sitcom and it would be the best Friends-style sitcom of all time.

I grant you all those points Rory, except the Winklevii do seem to be cartoonishly evil.

The Winklevii have horrid publicists. You've seen their pistachio commercial, I hope? Wretched. But in the movie they're portrayed as a lot savvier and entrenched than the actual Winklevii, who come across more like they've so bought into the American Dream that when they have a business idea they hire a hacker and just assume things are gonna go their way, and then they get super sulky when they get betrayed. Their naiveté is what's hilarious about them, and the movie didn't have that.

Meanwhile, the movie got Zuckerberg entirely wrong (which I resent because 18yo Mark and 18yo Rory had a lot in common). Zuckerberg wasn't status-hungry and he wasn't hell-bent on revenge. He was a Jobs-style idealist and an enormous troll. The "I'm CEO, bitch" business card, the infamous "people trust me… dumb fucks" email, weren't megalomania, as the movie portrays them to be. These were a troll taking a break from his grandiose dreams to have fun at the expense of people who tried to take him seriously. The interesting dilemma of Facebook simultaneously connecting the world while diminishing the nature of those connections could make for a fascinating movie, but that's entirely passed over for Sorkin's reductionist view of Facebook as a tool for status climbing.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay, so I got to an episode with Jed doing this, or being tempted to almost do this. Something about bombing a country out of vengeance? And, I'm not saying the characters aren't "well-rounded" and "complex" with massive huge scare quotes – there's "moral complexity" even in the pilot with what's-his-name's hooker-hookup – but as far as I got, the character complexity was accompanied by obvious musical foreshadowing and little writing hooks that said "I am doing a bad thing, this is my bad character moment".

I really do think you need to go deeper in the series to judge this work; I found some of the things you are seeing (and I agree they're there) are not as prominent as the characters' development begins.

The first half of the first season in particular is very plot-oriented and is trying very hard to impress you with the wit of the writing and the complexity of life in the White House. That could certainly be a lot better than it is, and I know in reading Rob Lowe's autobiography that Sorkin was still unsure whether or not the characters were right for the show. He basically writes Rob Lowe out, despite his popularity with the fans, because he's way too doe-eyed and one-dimensional.

As you get a little deeper into the series (in particular, the episode 18th and Potomac in season two, although you'd be served to watch the rest of the season to understand the back stories), you start to see sides of the characters internally struggling to deal with a president they are in awe of and are blindingly angry with. The right/wrong lines are blurred quite nicely.

I'm not sure if I can convince you to put the time into another season of Sorkin, but I do think the series gets better than the first few episodes are. It falls off once Sorkin stops writing, but for a little while there, you have a number of really strong sub-plots adding layers to each character.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2012


The World Famous — Don't be so coy! ;-) WHICH initiatives were Democrats' on WW but Republicans' in real life?
posted by Eyebeams at 8:54 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Aaron Sorkin writes shows about good guy assholes who always say just the right thing to make the bad guy assholes look stupid.”

i think it's safe to say that this is one of the more famous scenes from WW — I certainly remember it well — and it's far from the only example that disproves your claim. And again, Vinick was smart, articulate and more than a match for Bartlett and won the popular vote against him.
posted by Eyebeams at 9:05 AM on June 26, 2012


Sorry — this is the link to the scene where Ainsley pwns Sam.
posted by Eyebeams at 9:07 AM on June 26, 2012


i think it's safe to say that this is one of the more famous scenes from WW — I certainly remember it well — and it's far from the only example that disproves your claim.

And James Bond gets the crap kicked out of him and gets rejected by a girl at least a few times in every movie. But James Bond movies are still about a British secret agent who kicks the crap out of people and gets the girl.
posted by The World Famous at 9:09 AM on June 26, 2012


the first episode of The Newsroom actually dealt with real journalism (briefly). Research, working sources, asking tough questions. Journalism is a process, and a valuable one. But it seems like so many of my generation, with their extreme reverence for the Internet and its supposed power to topple any and all dinosaur media institutions, don't understand this.

Really? I thought it dealt with the amazing phenomenon of Having A Sister. I'm so excited to watch the rest of the season to find out which characters Have or Don't Have A Sister. Maybe even one of them will Have A Brother! *EMMY*
posted by acidic at 9:21 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, the movie got Zuckerberg entirely wrong

I'm fine with that, because it's a work of fiction. Which I thought was pretty great.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:24 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would also add, Eyebeams, that the White House goes on after that episode to hire Ainsley, thereby making her part of the team of Good Guys. Hmm.
posted by The World Famous at 9:25 AM on June 26, 2012


OK, I am an enormous West Wing fan (haven't really liked his other TV shows, but I love most of the movies he's written the screenplay for), and this just made me want to call in sick and spend the day watching the whole first season.

I used to work in politics (I still peripherally do), and it's hard to understate how much liberals who work in politics love the West Wing. Of course we all know it's unrealistic. Whether or not it's realistic is kind of besides the point. I just love watching a show about smart but flawed people who really care trying to do the best they can to make the world a better place. And the factoid-laden dialogue can get ridiculous but this nerd-who-constantly-has-her-head-full-of-trivia eats it up.

The thing that's great about Sorkin, in my view, is that when you watch something like the West Wing, you feel like you are seeing the world through his eyes. I think that's what makes really great art - that you temporarily get to experience another person's perspective on the world.

I had no idea he wrote Malice, although I should have known. I loved that when I was 15!

However, he is a total jerk.
posted by lunasol at 9:34 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't care, he gave me the phrase "tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


AFAIK, Vinick entered the story long after Sorkin had left the show, so that character can't really be used to judge the man's writing.
posted by cardboard at 10:09 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


...I know in reading Rob Lowe's autobiography that Sorkin was still unsure whether or not the characters were right for the show. He basically writes Rob Lowe out, despite his popularity with the fans, because he's way too doe-eyed and one-dimensional.

Learning that Rob Lowe has an autobiography may be the best thing I've learned from this thread.

I thought Sam was written out because Sorkin didn't much care for Lowe personally. Also, Josh Malina (who was to play the Sam character originally?) had joined the show (as Will Bailey) and Sorkin preferred to write for him?
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:25 AM on June 26, 2012


The World Famous — You're still being coy. I'm genuinely interested.
posted by Eyebeams at 10:44 AM on June 26, 2012


Yep, Arnold Vinick was from the post-Sorkin West Wing, when the show decided to jettison a lot of Sorkin's leftward leanings and drifted centrist.

Under Sorkin, President Bartlett's re-election campaign was against Robert Ritchie, a caricature modelled after Bush, and he crushed him in the election largely due to the debate where Bartlett mopped the floor with him on the strength of his clear intellectual superiority (after much hand-wringing over whether a display like that would play well with voters).

The big election in the 6th and 7th season was between Vinick, a pro-choice, not very religious, moderate Republican from California, and Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits)--a military veteran from Texas with a few less than liberal ideas of his own. Both of their campaigns were built towards gaining the middle at the expense of marginalizing those on both sides as the fringes (though, albeit, with somewhat more sympathy towards progressives than the hard right). Their big debate (a Very Special Live Episode) was much more evenly matched--more of a dialogue between the two sides. The nuclear incident in California ended up being the primary reason Vinick lost in the end--and Santos ended up appointing him his Secretary of State, anyway.

Honestly, while Sorkin's writing can irritate me, I strongly preferred the idealism of the show under his watch even when it did veer into fantasy territory. If the show had continued, I think an 8th season with Santos as president would have been unwatchable (though if Vinick had won, seeing Alan Alda as president might have been less awful...but the show wouldn't even be remotely identifiable as the same one at that point).
posted by Pryde at 10:45 AM on June 26, 2012


I thought Sam was written out because Sorkin didn't much care for Lowe personally. Also, Josh Malina (who was to play the Sam character originally?) had joined the show (as Will Bailey) and Sorkin preferred to write for him?

Sorkin originally wanted the cast to be entirely filled with nobodies and had a problem with both Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen in their roles because they came in with a fair amount of popularity on their own.

As they started to film, Sheen became larger than life and was irreplaceable (and subsequently got paid handsomely.) It wasn't supposed to be a president-centred show, but he made it that way with his performance.

Lowe doesn't describe it as much as a personal issue as he does a battle he fought with the network over whether his character was a lead or secondary character. Sam Seaborn, and Rob Lowe in general, was immensely popular but Sorkin didn't really think his character fit as well with the direction of the show. He subsequently drove Lowe out by advocating for lower pay for him than his cast mates.

I've read that the battle over the roles of Jed Bartlett and Sam Seaborn were the first in a series of straws that saw Sorkin leave the show.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I'll probably keep on being coy to avoid too much personal detail. We'll see.)
posted by The World Famous at 10:50 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't have to tell the specific initiative that your wife advanced; you said there were others and I for one am interested what they were.

Fair points about Vinick coming post-Sorkin and that he beat Santos in the popular vote, not Bartlett.
posted by Eyebeams at 11:00 AM on June 26, 2012


Also, I loved West Wing and I thought the first episode of Newsroom was excellent. Obviously a lot of people disagree with the latter.
posted by Eyebeams at 11:05 AM on June 26, 2012


Thanks, Rodrigo Lamaitre! I'd always thought if West Wing anything by way of a lead character, it was Josh Lyman.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:18 AM on June 26, 2012


You don't have to tell the specific initiative that your wife advanced; you said there were others and I for one am interested what they were.

It's been a long time - I'll have to watch a few and ask if she remembers, as well. It was a recurring frustration, though.
posted by The World Famous at 11:39 AM on June 26, 2012


It goes for snark, and yet ... having spent most of my adolescence watching Sorkin, having had it take me right through college, having the same sort of ex-type experience that Navelgazer had ... it feels so oddly comforting. I can't help but watch that video and smile.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:49 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've read that the battle over the roles of Jed Bartlett and Sam Seaborn were the first in a series of straws that saw Sorkin leave the show.

Let's not forget that part of the reason Sorkin left (or was pushed) was his public battle with drug abuse and the fact that production on episodes ran late almost all the time, which blew out the budget on an already expensive show - stemming mostly from his insistence on writing every episode.

Also, if the battles over Jed and Sam were the first straw, I'm not sure I even understand Sorkin. He might not originally have wanted the President to be central, but boy, once he was, Sorkin ran with that. Why else write the MS storyline? And if Rob Lowe was forced upon him, I never got the sense that Lowe took focus away from Josh or CJ. Not ever.
posted by crossoverman at 2:44 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the new show Carl Zimmer seemed to hate it. I watched the bit he linked to (44 minutes in, when they are discussing the deep-water horizon thing) and it seemed totally absurd to me. In fact it almost seemed like a parody of Sorkin's typical banter stuff. Now, obviously that was only one 'high energy' segment, so maybe the pacing of the show, over the whole episode is a little better.

The show Veep is kind of like the same thing as except as farce rather then drama. The characters aren't meant to seem heroic, but rather petty and ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on June 26, 2012


He's not a Good Guy, but he's Admirable and Sympathetic because he's brilliant and insightful and while his hatred of the system perverts his intentions, he's right to dislike the system because it props up stripper parties and the Winklevii ... Meanwhile, the movie got Zuckerberg entirely wrong (which I resent because 18yo Mark and 18yo Rory had a lot in common). Zuckerberg wasn't status-hungry and he wasn't hell-bent on revenge. He was a Jobs-style idealist and an enormous troll.
I think the movie did mean to portray zuck negatively, but I think for hacker types he ended up resonating anyway because we identified more with him. The Winklevii seemed insufferable in the movie, and we were supposed to feel bad for Saverin but he just seemed like a ridiculous whiner who didn't even pull his own weight. It's hilarious now that everyone in the US hates his guts for abandoning the country to save money on taxes now.

And, obviously, the movie was just completely fraudulent when it came to Zuck's lovelife, as he did have a girlfriend throughout the whole period shown in the movie (who he just married)
posted by delmoi at 3:53 PM on June 26, 2012


I think film Zuckerberg was portrayed pretty well as a bright misanthrope nerd, regardless of reality. And I never really interpreted the movie as representing reality, whether that's what they intended or not. I always thought there was supposed to be this huge irony to this unlikeable guy with no friends creating a massive social network that's intended to connect people. Like he does all this shitty stuff but in spite of that is continually validated by his success. That's why the movie has to end with him refreshing the page, because otherwise the film itself would kind of validate his behavior. He's not a hero or an anti-hero, he's a well-constructed unlikeable protagonist. It's kind of great, and also both times I've watched the movie it's left me quite depressed!
posted by palidor at 4:33 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Iannucci's Veep, which just finished a good (not great) first season, is an interesting foil to both The West Wing and to Sorkin's new show. It's an utterly cynical take on the walk-and-talk political machinations, just as fast as a Sorkin piece, but with all the melodrama replaced with cynicism and cunning. Weirdly, it strikes me as a much less cynical piece of TV than The West Wing, because its efforts to portray the bleak reality of a political office seems more revealing to me than a show which imagines a lazy liberal fantasy of successful politics.

Rory, I've been thinking about this comment all day and trying to figure out what about it rubbed me the wrong way. I haven't seen Veep, so maybe I'm misinterpreting what you mean by "cynicism and cunning." But I actually think that, in a show about public service, having it be all about "cynicism and cunning" is no more "realistic" than having it be about people being perfectly pure and good (which the West Wing characters certainly were not).

Having worked in and around politics for over a decade, I actually really hate it when a piece of pop culture makes it seem like people in politics and high-level government are universally cynical and twisted. It's just not true. Competitive and sometimes brutal, sure. But most people I know who got into politics did so because they really believe in social/political change, and because they love the work. Most* of the people who have been successful in these fields could have made a lot more money and had a lot fewer grey hairs by going into another field, but they chose politics/government for a reason. And yes, many like power and influence. But you have to bring something else to the table to do well and to last. It's not a meritocracy, but it's also not really a world where anybody coasts for a long time.

I think that this is why I like the West Wing so much. Sure it's stylized and a bit fantastical, but like Buffy the Vampire slayer used fantasy to communicate truths about adolescence, the West Wing really gets at the heart of what makes people who work in politics tick. That bizarre, often unhealthy mix of personal drive, over-achievement and desire to change the world. The love/hate relationships you develop with the people you've been "in the trenches" with. The way people pour themselves into the work but still love it so much they want to talk about it over beers after an 11-hour day.

So, yeah, I think there's a lot that's unrealistic about Sorkin, but there's also a lot he gets right.

* There's a subset of people who perpetually work on campaigns who would probably be unemployable outside of that world, but thrive within the very strange world of professional campaigns.
posted by lunasol at 6:39 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen Veep, so maybe I'm misinterpreting what you mean by "cynicism and cunning."

I think actually that it would be better to substitute "junior high level insults and antics which those doing them think are cynical and cunning" is a better way to describe what goes on in a typical episode of Veep.

That doesn't mean I didn't like the first season... Not at all.
posted by hippybear at 6:43 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rory, I've been thinking about this comment all day and trying to figure out what about it rubbed me the wrong way. I haven't seen Veep, so maybe I'm misinterpreting what you mean by "cynicism and cunning." But I actually think that, in a show about public service, having it be all about "cynicism and cunning" is no more "realistic" than having it be about people being perfectly pure and good (which the West Wing characters certainly were not).
Well, like Rory I like Veep and don't really like Sorkin's stuff.

At least for me personally I think part of the problem isn't that All public figures are cynical manipulators, but rather the fact that Sorkin glorifies that kind of behavior as being how the sausage really gets made. It's like "Okay, these guys are crass manipulators, but they get things done"

Veep was actually made some of the people who made the British show The Thick of It which is a British show about politics -- kind of like The Office but in the high levels British government. There was a movie version In the Loop which was pretty brilliant and probably a good introduction to the series.

Anyway, part of the problem is the Zeitgeist these days. Most people don't feel like the government is getting much done at all. Veep is a show about a bunch of people sitting around scheming about how to get a little higher position then the next guy, and not actually accomplishing anything.

Both Veep and TWW posit that the government is run by these cynical types, and WW says that it works, Veep says it's ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


In The Loop is a brilliant movie. Mr hippybear and I were left stunned by how awesome it was when we watched it. It's smart and subtle in every way that normal comedies are not, and it left me craving more.

I haven't watched The Thick Of It, but I've heard that it doesn't work nearly as well as that movies does. I will catch it someday.

I've also heard that Veep isn't half as good as its source might imply, and is a very different animal all around. Only knowing In The Loop, I'd have to say that Veep doesn't seem to have sprung from the same soil at all.
posted by hippybear at 7:15 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually watched In the Loop later on the night of The Newsroom premiere (what a contrast) and I'm definitely eager to watch The Thick of It now. And I only knew what In the Loop was when browsing through free movies on demand because of Veep.

I've also heard that Veep isn't half as good as its source might imply, and is a very different animal all around. Only knowing In The Loop, I'd have to say that Veep doesn't seem to have sprung from the same soil at all.

Really? The resemblance was pretty apparent to me, like 10 minutes into watching the movie. I don't know if that was because of my expectations, having wikipedia'd Armando Ianucci's work previously because of Veep. I don't know, It's kind of a dumb and simplified way to say it, but it seems like Veep is just more American. Which I guess some might take to mean it's dumb and simplified itself. I did find In the Loop to be somewhat smarter and subtler than Veep, though.
posted by palidor at 7:56 PM on June 26, 2012


At least for me personally I think part of the problem isn't that All public figures are cynical manipulators, but rather the fact that Sorkin glorifies that kind of behavior as being how the sausage really gets made. It's like "Okay, these guys are crass manipulators, but they get things done"

Huh, different takes, I guess. For all I'ved said about Sorkin above I sitll believe The West Wing to be one of the all-time towering achievements in television, and I see the main thematic interplay to be between the idealism that got these people into the work in the first place and the pragmatism they have to adopt now that they're there.

Everybody in the show has principles, but they are centered on different issues, and everyone is willing to play the game more with the chips they don't care about as much. We see C.J. get up in arms about the U.S> selling arms to a fictional Middle Eastern nation with a terrible women's rights record, while the pragmatists just want to keep relations open and build a landing strip there. We see Toby trying to push issues like school prayer to the forefront in ways which everybody else knows will cause more trouble than they are worth. The President agonizes over the morality and legality of taking out a terror kingpin while everybody else knows that it's got to be done one way or another.

Sam idealizes almost every issue, of course, which is part of the reason he was a weaker character then the rest, but he is still in charge of selling those issues to an electorate who might not agree with him. Josh, on the other hand, is perhaps the most crassly political, but that comes from a competitive drive more than anything, and he can still be won over onto the idealistic side of things. And more than anything else he cares about his friends and co-workers.

Leo of course is the most pragmatic. He's spent a very successful lifetime in politics and business and the military and mostly knows how to authoritatively get stuff done. But he's still got his dewy-eyed side, and that is for The President. He truly believes that if he can help this one man rule, then he will be willing to eat whatever shit comes his way in return, and it will be worth it.

And in this regard it is interesting how the show eventually came to be centered around Josh Lyman. This occurred most dramatically in the seasons after Sorkin was pushed off, but was there in the first four seasons anyway as Josh-Donna-Amy became the most compelling romantic element on the show, and his inside-baseball maneuvering became the fascinating thing for junkies of the program. In a sense, he was a proto-Tyrion Lannister, never going to be king, but the smartest strategist around and not yet completely cynical.

And in the end his arc is one of metamorphosis into Leo, finding the guys he wants to believe in, so that he can do the dirty work for them while they maintain their ideals.

On another note, about Vinnick, yes, Sorkin didn't create that character, but he was a more rounded Republican character than any we had seen before. He was actually supposed to win the election in Season 7, and I'm curious what that would have done to Josh, but when John Spencer (Leo) died unexpectedly, the showrunners decided that it would be too much, hence the nuclear catastrophe and the too-close-to-call results winding up with Santos in an upset. The More You Know!
posted by Navelgazer at 7:58 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've also heard that Veep isn't half as good as its source might imply, and is a very different animal all around. Only knowing In The Loop, I'd have to say that Veep doesn't seem to have sprung from the same soil at all.
It definitely doesn't seem as funny In the Loop was. But I think that's intentional. In In the Loop/Thick of It the characters were funny on their own. Malcolm Tucker's crazy ranting was humorous on it's own, and some of the other characters seemed more likable. With Veep so far, none of the characters seem like they're meant to be likable, you're really just supposed to be laughing at them, I think. It's definitely got a meaner vibe.

And rather then genuinely funny lines, the characters spout 'one liners' that aren't always funny, it's more like you're supposed to cringe at the fact that they think they're being funny.

It's an entertaining show, though.
posted by delmoi at 8:14 PM on June 26, 2012


Oh, certainly. I watched every episode of Veep, some of them twice, and was sorry to see the season end so quickly. I didn't dislike it, in fact quite the opposite. I just didn't feel it was as smart or subtle as In The Loop.

And yes, as you point out, it's obviously meant for us to be laughing at the characters and is much more mean at its heart.
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on June 26, 2012


In The Loop is like concentrated The Thick Of It, everything boiled down tithe most Most, the series has more of a drumbeat oh god this is daily life with a million petty, pointless battles that just keeps going thing.
posted by The Whelk at 8:48 PM on June 26, 2012


I haven't watched The Thick Of It, but I've heard that it doesn't work nearly as well as that movies does. I will catch it someday.
posted by hippybear at 7:15 PM on June 26 [1 favorite +] [!]


You have been shockingly misinformed.
the Thick of It is a masterpiece. In the Loop is watered down and less inventive by comparison.
posted by Bwithh at 9:45 PM on June 26, 2012


Ugh, how awful. Loathsome cardboard Mamet knockoffs playing for faux-valor. Call me when pop culture learns a new tune.
posted by ead at 11:33 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Iannucci's Veep, which just finished a good (not great) first season, is an interesting foil to both The West Wing and to Sorkin's new show. It's an utterly cynical take on the walk-and-talk political machinations, just as fast as a Sorkin piece, but with all the melodrama replaced with cynicism and cunning.

I actively dislike; I think it's cheap comedy. It just pales in comparison to The Thick of It which I know is absolutely brilliant even though I have to watch it with my face hidden under a pillow because it's so cringe inducing.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:18 AM on June 27, 2012


Aaron Sorkin is like when you find a new band and their first record is awesome. And then a year later they come out with another record and it's great too. And then a year after that they release a third album and you buy it because hey you love that band, and it's fine but when you listen to it you realize that that they're doing the same thing every record and although it's a great thing you only really need to hear one album's worth. And so you don't bother with the fourth album.
posted by dfan at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2012


I've seen only the first episode of The Thick of It now, in addition to In the Loop, and in the spirit of the thread I'm going to suggest that Iannucci repeats himself as well. Not that it's a bad thing, but for Veep he's recycled the "useless as a marzipan/croissant dildo" line, the driver/secret service agent getting fired for his smirk, and the meeting at a crazy metal show. That's just off the top of my head. Maybe Veep really is supposed to be the American flavor?
posted by palidor at 12:46 PM on June 27, 2012


Oh holy crap, how did I miss that Sorkin is writing the Steve Jobs biopic?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:50 PM on June 27, 2012


Aaron Sorkin is like when you find a new band and their first record is awesome. And then a year later they come out with another record and it's great too. And then a year after that they release a third album and you buy it because hey you love that band, and it's fine but when you listen to it you realize that that they're doing the same thing every record and although it's a great thing you only really need to hear one album's worth. And so you don't bother with the fourth album.

You've basically described the band Boston.
posted by hippybear at 6:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm of kind of two minds about Sorkin, and find some of the common criticisms in this thread... Misguided isn't the right word, and I understand not finding something to your taste no matter what, but I feel like they're rooted in some strange ideas about

1) The artificiality of Sorkin's particular dialog. The complaint that all the Sorkin characters talk like Sorkin is totally valid, and very real. You either dig it or you don't, but that's not the same complaint as "real people don't talk like this." And what I don't understand there is the preference for naturalistic dialogue. Certainly that sort of thing has its place, but I think insisting on everything being like that is bizarre. It's long been acknowledged about how the tempo and rhythms are borrowed from old timey screwball comedies, and given how much artifice is already going on in a typical play/tv/movie... Complaining that real people wouldn't talk like the characters feels off base to me. They're characters in a made up thing. How they talk is a stylistic tic, if you don't dig it, cool, but these aren't real people so why do they have to talk like real people.

2) I find the whole thing about Social Network being inaccurate funny. The general story is adapted (which is already problematic!) from a highly sensationalized book about Facebook's founding. While the names haven't been changed, the movie does not purport to represent actual history. Or actual anything. No one involved in the creation of the movie's pretended otherwise. I think the movie does interesting things with the interplay of real/fake there, and also manages to tell an interesting story about the characters it's dealing with besides, but that's just me.

All that said... I didn't like the Newsroom pilot that much. It didn't take the road to solving Studio 60's problems that I hoped Sorkin would take. I hoped he'd lighten up, and get less preachy since his previous show's tone was so out of line with its setting (on top of him not being able to write sketch comedy at all). Instead he just moved things to a place that ... enables the worst instincts of his previous show. So one tension is removed, but having seen just the one episode, I'm now just watching to see how long it takes to descend into hilarious, terrible self-parody. Like even farther than it already has. This show is HURTLING towards its "YOUR BROTHER IS STANDING IN A FIELD IN AFGHANISTAN" moment, and watching the descent into madness should be its own kind of fun.

That said, I really did love Social Network and other parts of Sorkin's work, even if he's a huge prick in real life (by many many many accounts) and there are problematic aspects of his work. Pity that Newsroom is aiming (as of episode 1) to end up on the wrong side of the line between good Sorkin and bad.
posted by sparkletone at 9:46 PM on June 27, 2012


Complaining that real people wouldn't talk like the characters feels off base to me.

It's totally off base, and not a legitimate criticism for anything. All dialogue in fiction is affectation, so saying Sorkin's or whoever's dialogue is not realistic enough is silly. If someone happens to prefer more naturalistic dialogue, they can say that, but I always find it weird when someone criticizes fiction for not representing reality (I guess this applies to The Social Network too. It just wouldn't be as compelling a story if it stuck to just the facts).

I'm not even really a Sorkin fan, but with the premiere of The Newsroom it kind of seems like the knives are out for him, like half the Internet media clusterfuck is eager to see him go down in flames. I'm just here to say that liking things is more interesting than not liking things!
posted by palidor at 10:01 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't watched The Thick Of It, but I've heard that it doesn't work nearly as well as that movies does. I will catch it someday.

The movie (In The Loop) is excellent; the series is sublime. You should watch it soon.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:07 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorkin was on Colbert last night. He comes across pretty well, but the best part is Colbert ragging on him for the stylized dialogue he writes.
posted by sparkletone at 11:57 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]




homunculus, great link!

Sorkin definitely has this White Knight Syndrome going on with his women, too, and the way he addresses that makes it even more maddening. Take this scenario from last night's Newsoom:

A drunk Maggie--who has just royally screwed up professionally (because she never had the ovarian fortitude to tell her cheating boyfriend off in a previous relationship)--is arguing with Jim, who offers to drive her home. Drunk Maggie insists that she doesn't need Jim to rescue her because she is a modern, capable woman who takes the subway!

Of course, she is not only drunk as she says this, she is also still letting her current boyfriend walk over her, and, in the next breath, tells Jim she plans to go apologize to said boyfriend. Why? Because liquid courage made her rightfully call him out for NOT meeting her emotional needs. Needs which, naturally, the eternally supportive, understanding and somewhat smitten Jim (who I am quite sure Sorkin views as his younger self), could meet standing on his head.

If you stayed with me for all of that, can you see why that is maddening? Maggie is a stereotypical woman in distress, being taken advantage of by her douchey boyfriend, while the long-suffering, misunderstood genius she should be with is ignored. It's the classic, "Nice guys finish last" scenario, with an extra helping of, "Aren't women adorable when they claim they don't need men to take care of them, when they so obviously do?!"

In case anyone in the audience missed the subtext there, Maggie continuously picks fight with Jim (women are so bitchy!) and then tells him, more than once, that she has no idea why she is doing it, when he is clearly being so nice and has her best interests at heart (women just don't know what's best for them, amirite?). But Jim remains smitten. Apparently, Sorkin's men, geniuses though they are, find this helplessness endearing.

And then there's MacKenzie and McCoy, and our developing understanding of their past relationship. Turns out, MacKenzie cheated with another man because, even though McCoy was wonderful--in fact, he was the perfect boyfriend, and she even tells him so--she was too naive or stupid to realize it. It was only after she cheated that she realized she had loved him all along.

My immediate reaction to the MacKenzie/McCoy scenes was to turn to my husband and reflect that obviously Sorkin had a serious relationship that went bad, and the only way he could reconcile its ending (because clearly he was the perfect boyfriend himself) was that the poor, deluded woman just did not know how great she had it when they were together. In my worst-case scenario, Sorkin continues to badger the woman to tell him what went wrong until finally she just snaps and tells him, "Nothing! You were perfect, okay? It was all my fault." And then he believed her.

Ugh

I don't feel that criticism of Sorkin's dialogue is "totally off base, and not a legitimate criticism for anything", either. Sure, he's writing fiction with fictional characters. But there is a line from "naturalistic" to "pedantic" and somewhere in between comes the place where characterization approaches realism to me. A show set in our world, in our time, needs to reflect that realism.

It would be welcome if, just occasionally, one of Sorkin's characters came a bit closer to that golden mean where everyone isn't either a moronic sorority girl/beauty queen/militant white supremacist or a genius at the top of his field, and his dialogue accurately reflected that.

I'm still a Sorkin fan. Even with its faults, his work is better than 99% of the usual offerings. I sincerely enjoy Newsroom, too--last night's trainwreck-on-air was both familiar and hilarious. I just wish Sorkin would get his head on straight when it comes to men and women and adult relationships already, so this new series doesn't devolve into a soap opera.
posted by misha at 1:52 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


You forgot to preface that with "walk with me," misha. (But seriously, I couldn't agree more.)

I found this article on NPR's pop culture blog (which, somewhat surprisingly, exists and is pretty good) to be an excellent bit of analysis: Sorkin's 'Newsroom' Is No Place For Optimism. Its author, Linda Holmes, contrasts the worldview implicit in Newsroom with that of The Wire, finding that both Sorkin and David Simon are angry at the state of the world, but they have quite different views of what the causes of the problems they address are, and moreover what can be done to fix them (Sorkin doesn't come out better for the comparison, though in fairness Simon set the bar pretty high). She also spends some time talking about the gender issues misha brought up. Recommended reading.
posted by whir at 10:43 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


My immediate reaction to the MacKenzie/McCoy scenes was to turn to my husband and reflect that obviously Sorkin had a serious relationship that went bad, and the only way he could reconcile its ending (because clearly he was the perfect boyfriend himself) was that the poor, deluded woman just did not know how great she had it when they were together.

See: the Matt/Harriett relationship on Studio 60 - and, what the hell, read Kristin Chenoweth's biography, the real-life relationship Sorkin based the Matt/Harriett relationship on.
posted by crossoverman at 3:22 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]




This clip finally convinced me to go back and watch Sports Night and it's fantastic. All the smart banter, none of the "great white men save the world" that was mostly tolerable in the West Wing and less so in the Newsroom. Also, the women are presented as competent and smart equals to the men in the show. Why, oh why can't we have more of that Sorkin?
posted by peppermind at 5:43 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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