Unsurprisingly the third season of The Newsroom ends up in exactly the same category as the first two – should’ve been better. I guess at least it’s consistent. I’m not sure whether there was ever any chance of it seeing a dramatic improvement, not when it’s so very much Aaron Sorkin’s production and he has never shown any interest in changing what he does based on critical or popular response. Maybe the reason he doesn’t change is because he can’t without losing the magic that he can create in other ways. Maybe that’s the price that has to be paid.
When it comes to cutting through complex issues to find the emotion and the power, he’s still second to none. His speeches and debates are passionate, challenging and hugely entertaining to watch; cutting through to the heart of issues and raising the intelligence level. But far, far too often the shots he’s taking are cheapened by being taken at undefended targets. There’s a reason that Jane Fonda as Leona was one of the best things about the show, she stood up for the other side and offered a sensible argument. If you don’t have a strong opposition the ranting just turns into bullying. It’s the debate that is powerful, not standing on a soapbox shouting.
Compounding the problem this season was the fact that most of the season was taken up with a single issue, the debate around leaking classified documents and a journalists responsibilities to their source. It’s a very hot topic, and it was for exactly that reason that I didn’t engage with it. It’s been debated endlessly already and I just didn’t think Sorkin’s take on it did anything new. I was bored by it. Even when Sorkin is just shouting from his soapbox, if it’s on a under-reported issue, or has an unusual direction, then it’s still interesting. But when he’s shouting on a soapbox that everyone’s been surrounded by for months it’s just dull and unoriginal.
The only original thing Sorkin can bring to the party is in his characters, but those had never worked for me. Too many of the characters were fatally wounded through compromises, incompetences and poor choices way back in season 1. The West Wing pulled off the magic trick of appearing to not be about the characters at all and by stealth making them the best ensemble on television. The Newsroom was too focussed on the characters and they didn’t hold up under the spotlight. I didn’t care about Maggie’s rise from new PA through to seasoned journalist because it wasn’t realistic, I didn’t care about Will and Mac finally getting together because they just went on and on about it. I didn’t care about Will’s journalistic principles because it had all got bogged down in the psychobabble about his father.
The only glimmer of hope were the characters of Sloane and Don, both separately and together, they are the characters that have had the most organic development. Each has actually grown, learnt and matured without sacrificing their essence. Their relationship grew in the background quietly, not forced or manipulated, but just occasional flashes of their connection gradually building. It had everything that the Will and Mac or Maggie and Jim pairings never had – a sense that these people are good for each other.
There were plenty of moments of great power, both emotional and intellectual in The Newsroom. I want Sorkin to be on television, even when he’s mucking things up, I still want to watch him. But I wish he would learn that he is so phenomenal at certain things that he doesn’t need to struggle with the things that he’s not. Just write around the gaps, or bring someone in to help fill them. It’s ironic that Sorkin’s shows are all about the power of a group of people, and then he forgets to fill his writers room with them. Come on Sorkin, what’s next?