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Jeff Daniels gearing up for another tizzy fit

Jeff Daniels gearing up for another tizzy fit

Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom is back in the UK for a third series – like a boat without a rudder. Although that’s maybe not an accurate simile, because it’s still making a heck of a noise, like it’s fitted with a very big engine, and yet where’s it going… and who cares?

The first and second series had story spines which gave the show, consisting of many characters, some real shape and urgency. Characters’ actions would affect the lives of their colleagues, lovers, husbands, and the company. We cared. If only a little. And the quickfire patter of the dialogue was a lot of fun.

But like a lot of people who come to the table talking at speed, maybe fidgeting with their nose rather often, the alluded to excitement soon starts to bore you. It sort of sucks the oxygen out of the air. You begin to feel your existence being displaced by sheer chatter…

The opening episode of season three could have been episode 4. Yes we had the big event of the Boston Marathon bomb, but the real world aspect of this event swallowed up the bickering world of the Newsroom. There was no sense of a fresh set of problems for our main characters that urgently needed fixing, the way they did, say, in the new Homeland series. The real jostled with the fictional without giving us any real drama – just angst.

And when the chief anchor McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) had a tizzy fit over ratings and stormed off declaring he was gone, only to come back like an overgrown three-year-old and admit that maybe he’d bee a bit rash and he’d stay, you felt he was probably just venting some frustration that he’d got to the end of the opener and there was no discernible dramatic tension to be found anywhere. Truly ridiculous stuff that was so close to Ianucci’s superior VEEP it tipped the whole show overboard for me. Not even bad comedy, just self indulgent arm-flappingly preposterous and vain.

The second episode limped along with the Snowden-like conundrum of what to do with leaked files – hand over to the FBI so their agents wouldn’t be executed in the field, or become a hero for the newsroom and leak it on air? Drum roll. And yet we just couldn’t care less, because everyone is bickering so loudly, we’re chopping from one peripheral scene to the next and this bigger issue is tangled up in it all and it’s getting just too tedious to put our minds back in there and unwrap it to get a better look at it.

The overacting in Newsroom

Now that Jeff Daniels has no discernible storyline to march to he has to resort, on the evidence, to fits of temper and just sheer noisy bickering with his team in just about every scene he’s in. And now that the team’s producer, Mac (Emily Mortimer) is no longer playing courting games with Daniels, it seems she too has to resort to overacting as she exercises her feminist credentials reigning in the excesses of overgrown boys like McAvoy and their boss, the increasingly eccentric Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). She’s almost invariably given the smarter answer than the men and sounds both whiny and smug even when she’s being nice, which is seldom.

Come to think of it, smug pretty much sums up the whole feel of the show. OK, it was probably smug from the beginning but now it’s smug with many fewer redeeming features. Even when up against it, there’s something smug about the Newsroom team; even their moments of vulnerability have about them the seed of some new expression of smugness.

Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue no longer engages

So to the often celebrated dialogue of Sorkin… In this third series it’s more like ping pong than real dialogue. Perhaps that’s because it’s not being written by Sorkin but his disciples? Anyway, it goes back and forth at such speed we only register anything vaguely resembling emotion or understanding when the words either hit the net or fly off the table. It must be the first TV drama in ages when I actually wanted a commercial break!

Then it starts again. You don’t even listen to the words half the time because you’re so distracted by the rhythm.

Define a 'couple' and other semantics

Define a ‘couple’ and other semantics

Everyone seems to be pontificating, about to pontificate or tired of pontificating or looking tired of being pontificated at. Lovers sit at tables and talk loudly about the semantics of being a couple, each trying to outwit the other, like judo wrestlers trying to floor their opponent. It’s almost scary.

Characters repeat back words to each other as if they were all masters of some kind of verbalization technique for brainwashing consumers into buying your product – in this case the Sorkin brand, presumably.

The entire Newsroom all look super self-aware – chewing away at the inner doubt that they might not be up to the heroics expected of them – as if their entire raison d’etre was secretly all about exercising high brow irony. It must be exhausting being any of these people – coke snorting marathon kind of exhausting.

And almost invariably these people are so brilliantly rehearsed. When asked a question, every character has an answer, delivered with such fluency it’s robotic. What this kind of dialogue reminds me of is Mamet, not Mamet big screen, but rather Mamet on the stage, especially his play about the sales team in Glengarry Glenross. Dah dah dah dah da-da-da-da-dah! Sales pitching that is meant to grind your audience into submission, till they roll over and buy.

No one listens to anyone else for more than a second in Newsroom before they have to spout off again. You can’t possibly be listening to the other person if you’re firing back an immediate reply, not at this speed anyway. It’s not believable as communication. Well of course it’s not communication, it’s all just a game, a sport, a venting of angst among white collar, self-aware city-smart Americans.

The writers seems to be trying so hard to show the rest of us and themselves that Americans can be smart, can be ironic and oh so snappy with it all, they are not all stoopid overweight baseball caps… Sadly, what it reveals – or reminds us of – is America’s perceived tendency to elbow people in the face as they mount the steps to take a Gold medal and beam at the cameras.


4 Responses to “Newsroom – News Flash: Series 3 kinda sucks”

  1. Phil Taylor says:

    Quite a critical review but I think on this season it is valid , the first two were a lot better . Too much American rubbish on TV these days let’s hope this doesn’t go further down that route !

  2. Bill Taub says:

    We are oceans apart. Couldn’t disagree more. I thought the second episode of Newsroom this season was mind bogging,y brilliant. The plot twists of the various story lines were terrific. And the ending left me in a “can’t wait until the third episode” excitement.

    Aaron Sorkins style and voice are so unique and entertaining. I love even bad Aaron Sorkin. To dismiss it in the same category as you do Glengarry Glen Ross only confirms the distance between your perception and mine.
    Of course I only speak for myself, I’ll let you speak for the editorial “we” and everybody else.
    Of course Newsroom is not as scintillating as the BBC, but that’s a given.
    As to the “rubbish” on American television I will assume you haven’t seen much of it. The choice of quality programs has never been better. It truly is a golden age. And great to be a writer during this Renaissance.

    Bill Taub

    • Nic Penrake says:

      Bill, hi, thanks for your comment. Sorkin’s style is unique, for sure, and I enjoyed seasons 1 & 2 – just not this one. Obviously. At no time, however, have I described US TV as ‘rubbish’, quite the contrary, there’s a lot of fantastic stuff coming out of the US.

      • Bill Taub says:

        I combined your post and Pil Taylor’s reply to you into one response. I agree, you never called American television “rubbish”, he did. Glad you disagree with his assessment. You and I can agree with that, if not the Newsroom.

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