A recent issue of Architectural Digest detailed the home office of Aaron Sorkin, a chic abode decorated in calming earth tones, ripped straight out of the pages of an Ethan Allen catalog. If you look closely, though, the office also doubles as a shrine to the man himself. Framed posters of Sorkin’s film and television accomplishments — “The West Wing,” “A Few Good Men,” among others — litter the walls, while a bevy of awards, including six Emmys and an Oscar, encircle the television, which coincidently is tuned into CNN. Dressed in a steel-blue shirt tucked into relaxed khakis, the showrunner casually leans back on a foyer table adorned with family photos and a large fern. The article and accompanying pictorial spread offer us an inside look into the nauseating Temple of Sorkin.
This self-seriousness pervades “The Newsroom,” Sorkin’s breathless and dramatic lecture on modern media ethics, whose second season premieres this Sunday on HBO. Jeff Daniels stars as Will McAvoy, the bullheaded lead anchor of ACN’s “News Night,” who, along with his ex-girlfriend, executive producer MacKenzie “Mac” McHale (Emily Mortimer), must push against dwindling ratings and panicky executives in a quest to produce a quality and accurate news program. Sam Waterston, Olivia Munn, and Jane Fonda round out the cast. Sorkin writes every episode (sharing co-writing credit on one episode with former MTV VJ Gideon Yago), his trademark rope-a-dope dialogue providing its rhythmic backbone.
To get it out of the way quickly: “The Newsroom” is not a good show. At its best, it’s a fast paced romantic comedy; at its worst, it’s sanctimonious dribble. More often than not, it leans heavily toward the latter. The first season, stretched over 10 episodes, is a confused mess, following multiple paths at once, each one more directionless than the next. Sorkin seems lost in a web of ideas about the current state of cable news and the death of traditional journalism, and unsure about how to intelligently dramatize those ideas into something worth watching.
He also seems to understand these problems, shifting around the writer’s room (though his reported firing of the entire writing staff proved more wishful thinking than actual truth) during the offseason. In a recent Hollywood Reporter profile, Sorkin admits to taking some of the criticism of season one to heart. “There are a great many people who weren’t just disappointed with The Newsroom but really maddened by it,” Sorkin said. “It was impossible to avoid hearing that.” After writing the first few episodes of the second season, and shooting the first two, Sorkin realized he needed to take a new approach, and started from scratch. More focus will be placed on events outside the newsroom, and one of the big changes, according to reports, is a retooling of the mawkish opening credits (no word on if he plans to drop the ridiculous dad-rock soundtrack).
But will that change anything? The biggest problem with “The Newsroom” is that Sorkin’s ripped-from-the-headlines approach to each episode forces him to tackle big themes surrounding current events, leaving his talented ensemble cast to wither in the background. All that talent shouldn’t go to waste. There needs to be less focus on the big topics and more attention paid to the small details, the nuances of the swarm of reporters and producers who make up the staff of “News Night.” But with the new season focusing on hot button topics such as Occupy Wall Street, SOPA, and the Trayvon Martin case, character seems to be the last thing on Sorkin’s mind. By the third season, don’t be surprised if “The Newsroom” just consists of Sorkin, behind a desk, delivering a speech about the failure of the media. It’s the soapbox his ego needs.