Sorkin, The Newsroom and the Price of Perfection

the-newsroom-season-2-promoWhen you talk about great modern TV series, the conversation will always include a mention of Aaron Sorkin. The man was the driving force behind not one but two modern classics, Sports Night and The West Wing.

However, Sorkin’s current series, The Newsroom, isn’t considered a classic by most TV critics. It’s not because it’s a bad show. Anyone that has watched network TV over the last few years will know that most series on TV now are pretty poor. Critics don’t like The Newsroom because it doesn’t live up to Sports Night and The West Wing.

That’s the problem when you set the standard too high.

Sorkin’s Sports Night and The West Wing were absolute gems. They were well written with characters you loved. The dialogue was quick. The story moved at a brisk pace that occasionally challenged you to keep up. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was my second Sorkin series (after Sports Night which I loved). It wasn’t a great show but it was still enjoyable and entertaining.

the-newsroom-01The Newsroom isn’t far off of Sorkin’s other efforts. Its subject matter marries up Sorkin’s love of politics and media. As such, it often comes off as a love letter to the great newsmen of generations past. Sure, Sorkin can’t write women (never really could) and often writes derogatorily about technology (Wouldn’t you if you wrote the Facebook movie? I don’t trust Facebook.). While The Newsroom isn’t Sorkin’s greatest effort, it’s certainly a very good show.

The problem that the critics seem to have with the show isn’t the show but Sorkin. Any review seems to compare Sorkin to Sorkin past. Saying that The Newsroom is bad because it’s not as good as The West Wing is like saying Michael Bay deserves an Oscar because Transformers 4 is marginally better than his first Transformers movie or Chuck Lorre’s next sitcom should sweep the Primetime Emmys because it’s has a couple of laughs which makes it funnier than either 2.5 Men or Big Bang Theory

Benchmarking someone against themselves doesn’t work. Something is good or bad in comparison against everything else on TV or maybe just every drama on HBO. Saying it’s bad for a Sorkin show or underwhelming for HBO is one thing. Saying it’s bad outright is a flat-out trolling exaggeration when The Newsroom is compared to CBS and NBC scripted program and the whole of TLC.

the-newsroom-will-mcavoyThe first season of The Newsroom was roundly criticized for being sanctimonious, biased against the Republicans / Tea Party and being swallowed up by hindsight bias. The first and last criticisms are ones that I’ll concede. Sorkin’s characters did get holier-than-thou and News Night’s journalistic perfection was a bit too perfect. I’ll get to the bias crack in a bit.

The first episode of The Newsroom’s second season seems to set up the show to directly address the sanctimonious characters and hindsight bias. The season premiere started a story arc about a story that News Night got completely wrong. If the first season was about doing news right, this season is poised to be about how news goes wrong.

The characters are going to be fallible. ACN and News Night are going to start catering to financial and political interests to keep themselves afloat. In the first episode, we saw a few examples of “sanctimonious” News Night moments biting everyone in the arse. There were no consequences to telling the truth in the first season. This season, there are. So far, I find it more interesting than the technically and journalistically sound news coverage of the 2012 Presidential Campaign that I expected to dominate this season. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

While I’ll grant the criticisms of The Newsroom, you have to admit that this approach that Sorkin took was for the best. We, as a news consuming public, are more aware of the importance of fact checking, probably the single biggest area of growth in election coverage last year, and the importance of fact checking.

the-newsroom-season-2-posterWith The Newsroom’s emphasis on the press being perfectionists about being right, we learned what a good journalist and news team should do when it comes to reporting the news. Sure, there was hindsight bias all over that but it was still how news should be done. The sanctimony of the show shouldn’t obscure that, from a purely objective perspective when it comes to the news, Sorkin is right about how the news should be done.

As I mentioned earlier, Sorkin is changing his approach to the news that The Newsroom takes. Rather than this almost unrealistically perfect approach, The Newsroom season two is more grounded in reality. Corporate interests and imperfections in news coverage were already noticeable in the first episode. (Heck, they took shots at Obama’s drone strike policies. Sorkin sure hates the GOP.)

Yet these changes aren’t enough for one prominent critic to consider it a change.

Yeah, James, no change at all. I’m double facepalming that tweet.

The Newsroom may not be perfect but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t tell that to the critics though. They expect it to be as good as Sorkin ever was at his best. I guess that’s the price of perfection.

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