By Vegor Pedersen
We have all been in arguments where the perfect foil to our opponent’s line of reasoning comes precisely ten seconds after the other party leaves. You know the feeling, that absolutely delicious turn of phrase that would certainly decimate your adversary inevitably comes to you mere moments after it would do any good.
The French, who seemed to have a different word for everything, call this unfortunate phenomenon l’esprit de l’escalier, or staircase wit. L’esprit de l’escalier can drive you insane. Like George Costanza in the “The Jerk Store” episode, you can attempt to recreate a situation where your comeback can be deployed with maximum effect. But it will never work, the moment can only happen once and it has passed you by, sorry to say.
Now if you are Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar and Emmy Award-winning writer of The Social Network and The West Wing, you don’t let a little thing like the space-time continuum get in your way. If you are Mr. Sorkin, you convince HBO to give you a show for the sole purpose of turning back the political clock and letting you deliver all the clever zingers you have been dreaming up for the past two years.
It has been said that journalism is the first rough draft of history, and that is precisely why Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom is so awful. The Newsroom doesn’t have the rough edges that are characteristic of real journalism or even real life for that matter. Each character seems to have x-ray vision when it comes to contextualizing the pressing issues of the day. You can almost hear Sorkin whispering the wisdom of his 20/20 hindsight into their ears.
If I wanted to hear a pitch-perfect liberal take on politics and world events, with a little humor thrown in to boot, I can watch Rachel Maddow. I don’t need a fantasy re-telling of the news. And I certainly don’t need a show that preaches the lie that journalism could and should be the polished final draft of history.
If Sorkin’s attempt to stave off l’esprit de l’escalier was the show’s only problem, I could probably let The Newsroom off with a warning. But on top of the misplaced sanctimony, the show is devoid of any believable characters. You can actually watch the internal gears grind as actors, even good ones like Jeff Daniels, attempt to flesh out the tiniest bit of humanity from a script that would much rather be right than good.
Many of Sorkin’s previous works are famous for injecting fast, jargon-heavy dialog that imitates reality so closely that we sometimes forget we are watching actors. Shows like The West Wing and Sports Night evoked tangible feelings that bordered on tactility. On The Newsroom we are consigned to clumsy exchanges that almost seem like they were originally written as Sorkin parodies.
What truly frustrates me about The Newsroom is the missed opportunity. Television is in a golden age right now, and no one does it better than our friends at Home Box Office. This year, shows like Game of Thrones and Girls pushed the boundaries of the medium. In a month we will see what David Simon, arguably TV’s greatest genius, has in store for us as he rolls out the third season of Tremè. And in the midst of this gilded era of televised goodness along comes the immensely talented Aaron Sorkin, and he brings with him a cast and a budget that seems to ooze promise. And what do we get instead? A tired, hacky program that “tackles” big issues in the smallest way.
If the newsroom at the fictional ACN ever caught on fire, I would cheer for the fire.