Crashing Pilots: The Newsroom Part II
By David Mumpower
August 2, 2012
The “twist” with News Night is that the story is set roughly two years ago and has quickly accelerated to a point in the first quarter of 2011. This has allowed Sorkin to provide his viewpoint on the news coverage that actual news organizations lacked at the time. In the process, the character of Reese represents all of the money-grubbing soulless corporate bastards who could care less about the truth. All that matters to them is that ratings, particularly in the demographic, impact revenue.
Ergo, Reese is the most one-dimensional character possible. He shows up, he complains about ratings and money, and then he leaves. While Don has demonstrated at least a modicum of potential, particularly in the most recent episode when he comes to terms with the fact that Maggie may be falling for someone else, Reese has provided no value whatsoever other than conflict. Frankly, I expect more from Aaron Sorkin than that.
This frustration caused me to research old episodes of Sports Night in order to determine whether the previous iteration of Reese, J.J., offered similar depth. Given that Sports Night is sacrosanct to me, I was surprised to discover that J.J. was similarly devoid of personality. I liked Robert Mailhouse, the actor who portrayed J.J., a great deal. This caused me to wonder if his talent was such that I minded less. Instead, I have since discovered that Mailhouse is a drummer by trade who acts to pay the bills. So, I must conclude that one dimensional conflict used to bother me less than it does now. Sorkin has spoiled me to the point that I no longer ignore his flaws.
In having this debate about Reese and J.J., I ascertained the tangible issue I have with The Newsroom thus far. Every aspect of the show smacks of familiarity. Perhaps this was unavoidable for someone who has watched every episode of Sports Night as many times as I have. Character studies involving the reporting of sports and the reporting of news are too similar to differentiate the subject matter a great deal. At least, this had been the surface level evaluation I possessed prior to watching the show.
The reality is somewhat different. Experiencing a first viewing of an episode of The Newsroom is an exhilarating but confusing process for me. All of the jokes about Sorkin’s dedication to cribbing off the prior works of Sorkin are apt. As I watch Dev Patel as Neal Sampat, the comparisons to Joshua Malina’s Jeremy Goodwin are unmistakable. A recent episode wherein Neal fixated upon Bigfoot easily could have had the name Jeremy crossed out in the margin because the diatribe was so clearly written in that voice.
Similarly, Sorkin has always cast venerable actors in key roles on his programs. Martin Sheen played this role on The West Wing while Ed Asner was similarly cast for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The analog for Sam Waterston’s Charlie Skinner is Sports Night’s Robert Guillaume as Isaac Jaffe. The character of Jaffe was a proven newsman who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of NASA. Skinner is that same character, only as a mannered drunk. While Waterston has forced a laugh out of me on several occasions, he feels like an inferior copy of Jaffe, and this is sacrilege to me.