The Clare Spark Blog

September 22, 2013

“The Newsroom” season two

Newsroom-cast-season-two[Update: Jeff Daniels won an Emmy award for best actor in a drama, 9-22-13] I have already written about the opening episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom (season one) here: I have now watched all nine episodes of season two, and have also read various reviews blasting the second season as “preachy” and overly mushy in the romantic love department. This blog is about cable news networks and Sorkin’s ending most of the episodes with an explanation about what we have just seen, sometimes referring to his own biography, in the season finale of season two stating outright that all the characters are based on his father, who has “one foot in the past.” (I surmise from this confession that he has probably undergone psychoanalysis and sees himself as a visionary Romantic.)

According to Wikipedia, Sorkin (born 1961) grew up in the posh Westchester suburb of Scarsdale. His father was a lawyer, his mother a school teacher. His paternal grandfather was a founder of the ILGWU, one of the most successful and militant of the early trade unions. Sorkin attended Syracuse University, known for its theater and cinema program. It should not surprise us that Sorkin is widely known as a left-liberal, and a progressive. Or that his own love life has been unstable, perhaps complicated by drug use. I watch his shows because he writes about the change in the workplace where powerful women are now present; they are sometimes smarter than the men who supervise them, and the males accept this revolutionary change apparently devoid of sexist angst. Moreover all his characters wield great power, as US heads of state with their staffs, or, as in this case, an outspoken cable news anchor whose memory bank and ability to think encyclopedically on his feet, in the anchor chair, and under the klieg lights, is simply astounding.

Sorkin’s main character in The Newsroom  is a moderate Republican, ostentatiously centrist, who is equally critical of the Occupy Wall Street ‘mob’ as he is of the ‘Taliban’-like far Right.  I don’t know if Sorkin’s father was a progressive Republican, or whether “Will McAvoy” is positioned simply to draw in the maximum numbers of eyeballs. But the carping criticism from the media regarding the “preachiness” of season two is bizarre. As I have tried to demonstrate, “the moderate men” are amoral, and must be so, in order to buttress the notion of the neutral state.  (See, especially the bold-face type that quotes from Melville’s The Confidence-Man (1857).

The season two finale is also blasted because of the corny engagement of the Jeff Daniels character and the Emily Mortimer character (“Mac” is so smart that she was president of the famed Cambridge Union in the U.K.). Are the reviewers steeped in Brechtian theories of communist drama that avoid the clichés of “bourgeois” theater? (These Brechtian adjurations consist of the unresolved ending that throws the problem into the lap of the viewer who is to make the red revolution, and desisting from the climbing arc of suspense that is resolved through the happy ending—all accomplished through “the alienation effect” that banishes histrionics from the stage.)

But more interesting than that (and ignored by the reviews I have read), is that startling season finale  where Sorkin makes it clear that it is necessary to move on in the journalism business, and to overcome the traumas of the day. “Maggie” (played by Alison Pill) will not make in the biz, for she does not have the required short memory and thick skin of her colleagues. (An abandoned, hysterical Magdalene?) she clicks her mouse and the rest is darkness.

Crazy MaggieAlisonPill

None of the reviews I read noticed the improbability of the GENOA theme that threaded its way through the nine episodes. It is highly unlikely that a cable news network would broadcast a taped interview conducted by a visiting young producer, obviously an America-hater, without examining the unedited interview with the retired general who blows the whistle on US use of chemical weapons on a Pakistani  village. This troupe of geniuses, fretting over the credibility of the war crime accusation for eleven months, would be incapable of such carelessness. (For the real life 1998 CNN incident that suggested the GENOA theme of season two see]

In one of his more interesting post-episode summaries, Aaron Sorkin tells the viewer that he has been thinking about his own relation to the audience.  (Will’s father has just died as he learns through a phone call to his ailing father, but his sister conveys the unexpected news via cell phone. Live on the air Will is tongue-tied, then says “It’s just us now.” A nice Oedipal moment, as Will will later win the heart of his “executive producer”, i.e., the reconnection with the didactic, perhaps debating Mother, now that Father has left the scene.

As with most other television offerings, that is the correct question: what designs do fiction writers have on the audience? And how do they envision their audiences? Do the better writers even know how to think about such a question? How much poking around all the relevant families of origin would able reviewers have to accomplish before writing their analyses of successful writers like Aaron Sorkin?

But more, is red-haired Maggie his Doppelgänger? If Sorkin is a Romantic (as he insinuates), then he has the problem of every Romantic artist: how to equal the last tour de force. Has he emptied himself out to such an extent that he will never produce another ‘masterpiece’? There is one reason for ‘post-partum’ depression of the creative artist, for whom praise and reputation are almost toxic. Whereas the neoclassicist is following a recipe that is time tested and will never go out of fashion. (See the classically pornographic painting by a Duke:

AaronSorkinOr is Sorkin caught in that no-man’s land where he is cannot be sure where his artistic independence ends and pleasing the corporations that support him begins? If the latter, then Sorkin might be identified with the desolate and deserted Mark Zuckerberg in the final scene of the ironically titled, The Social Network.

June 26, 2012

Aaron Sorkin’s [Scottish blood],

Aaron Sorkin

I watched Sorkin’s latest, The Newsroom during its debut on HBO, June 24, 2012. It was among his most improbable scripts, and a triumph in progressive chutzpah. For its mission statement is no less than the setting of America on a course that would have pleased the most significant ultra-liberal theologians of the last three centuries.

Among its implausibilities is the phenomenal memory of its lead character, “Will McAvoy” played by Jeff Daniels, who slightly resembles the author himself. “Will” is on a panel at Northwestern University, flanked by a Republican on one side, and a Democrat on the other. He is allegedly the moderate Republican who wants to please everybody. But when queried by a blonde co-ed, who hopes he will ratify her notion that America is the “greatest country in the world”, Will, at first mumbling something about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as revolutionary, switches his rap and goes off on a tirade quoting the low ranking of the US in achievements, a ratatat of rankings displaying a memory like a computer. He was coached by an unidentified woman in the audience who holds up signs indicating that we could be the greatest country in history, if we [repent ] and recognize our deficiencies. Obviously, Sorkin has designs on the HBO audience, who, sadly, probably will eat this stuff up.

Jeff Daniels

Turns out that Will McAvoy is the anchor of a nightly news show on a fictional cable network named for Atlantis (ACN). He returns to the newsroom only to discover that his staff has decamped with his co-anchor, leaving a saving remnant. Sam Waterston plays the head of the News division, and lingers on the greatness of Murrow and Cronkite, hoping to resuscitate their integrity as fearless purveyors of the truth. The rest of the episode is devoted to the astonishing feat, aided by his new, at first unwanted, “E.P.” (executive producer, “MacKenzie McHale” played by Emily Mortimer), in delivering the kind of exemplary investigative reporting that will make us proud to be liberal Americans.

We suddenly find ourselves back in summer, 2010 at the moment of the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A very young producer, of Ivy League background, turns out to have contacts with both BP and Halliburton, the latter are manufacturers of the ostensibly defective concrete that allowed the catastrophe. Through the swiftly achieved cooperation of the mostly young people in the newsroom, ACN scoops the rest of the media with not only authoritative interviews with honchos, but, thanks to Will’s almost magical ability to do arithmetic in his head, gets an inspector of the oil platforms to admit that the inspection team assembled by the [evil] oil company could not possibly do its job. Competing networks, devoid of these fast-thinking, high-minded, adrenalin-hyped news gatherers, must do with limp reportage of “search and rescue” operations.

Aaron Sorkin has created two new superheroes, both with Scottish clan names. Thus Will and MacKenzie are doubles, and ex-lovers. Braveheart anyone? Not to worry about the 2012 election: America is back on the path to Freedom from Big Oil, at least on HBO at 10pm, Sunday nights. For the agenda being served by Sorkin and his affinity group, see . [Added, 7-24-12: in episode 5, Sorkin glorified the uprising  in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, as well as the uprising of the teachers union in Wisconsin. In HBO “Buzz”, Sorkin reaffirmed his belief in a pre-Bush America [that now has lost its way, with the rise of Fox News and the Tea Party]. Read this blog along with

Emily Mortimer

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