Emily Nussbaum’s instant-classic review of The Newsroom said something really terrifying: it claimed the show got worse in its 3rd and 4th episodes. Sadly, she was right. The third episode, in particular, was everything the least optimistic Sorkin critic could have imagined — consisting almost entirely of Jeff Daniels following up yet another Network-style rant by lecturing conservative guests who can never come up with a decent response to the rejected drafts of Frank Rich columns the allegedly brilliant host reads them. In fairness, this is occasionally broken up by pro forma romantic subplots that are if anything more boring than listening to Daniels tell you things that you either already know or are transparently silly (Sorkin seems to think that the Tea Party consisting of conservative Republicans expressing conservative Republican ideas is a recent development.) Sorkin has fired most of the writers, although it’s not clear that they have anything to do.
One good thing about the show being so bad that Sorkin has made Pareene’s hack list. Parenne is particularly good on perhaps the biggest underlying problem with the show — Sorkin’s windy pontificating about the Real News that Will Save America is followed up by his dramatization of what he thinks this should consist of. And it turns out that he doesn’t even mean deep reporting or reporting stories that aren’t getting enough attention, but…moderate commentary about the most over-discussed issues of the day that’s similar to, but not as good as, the evening MSNBC shows:
The thing with “The West Wing” is that the fantasy was legitimately better than the reality — these were smarter, better people than their real-life counterparts, working together at a better White House than the one we had. The problem with “The Newsroom” — and it was also the problem with “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Sorkin’s truly bizarre show about brilliant heroic men creating an epically unfunny and preachy version of “Saturday Night Live” — is that the supposed better alternative it presents is patently inferior to the real thing. The revamped “News Night” is a mess, hosted by a man who combines an exaggerated version of Olbermann’s self-importance with Scarborough’s smugness. And he spends a lot of time shouting at Republican candidates and, for some reason, talking about Sarah Palin. (So I guess it’s “Hardball”?)
Even worse, the fourth episode leans particularly heavily on the fact that our newsman hero is a nominal Republican. It’s like Fox News announcing that it was going to have a Democrat Party Hour and then making Zell Miller and Pat Caddell the hosts, only I don’t think Fox would be oblivious to the derision this would provoke from actual Democrats. He also attacks other people’s hobbies in a manner that also doubles down on the rank misogyny of the first episodes as our hero rails against “bitches” and “old ladies with hair driers on our heads.” (Sorkin can’t even get his masculinist snobbery right — his date’s cosmo is substantially more defensible than the vodka martini [sic] Daniels assures his boss that he ordered.)
As I said last time, if you’re going to have a show that consists mostly of (excellent) actors reading speeches, they really need to be a lot smarter.