Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Newsroom” Pilot

Dear Frank,

I think I’ve been doing it all wrong. See, I have been having this one-sided fight with Aaron Sorkin for almost — oh, god, it might be ten years at this point — largely through the medium that he, ironically, takes less seriously than any other in the world: internet blogging.

Maybe, instead of writing lengthy posts about how much I loved Sorkin as a yute and then later felt betrayed by his piggish attitudes towards women, I should be writing complex post-modern two-act theater works about how much I loved Sorkin as a yute and then later felt betrayed by his piggish attitudes towards women. Maybe THEN he’d– Okay, I have no idea what he would do. Change? Unlikely. But an internet girl can dream.

Sorkin’s new “I am awesome, hear me roar” series, as has been frequently discussed already, is The Newsroom, which combines Sorkin’s love of writing about live television (Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunday Strip) with his love of being really self-important about The Issues That Matter Today (The West Wing) with his love of swears (thanks, HBO!).

And Frank, here is what happens in it! The show opens with a very dramatic panel appearance by Our Hero, Great White Man Will McAvoy, who bears absolutely no resemblance to James McAvoy and honestly that makes me sad every time someone says his last name.

Hey! James McAvoy! Hi, James McAvoy. Hi.

After giving softball answers to a bunch of questions about politics, McAvoy thinks he sees Emily Mortimer in the crowd (who seems to have recovered from avian bone syndrome quite nicely) and while it might be an illusion, even her specter goads him into tearing into a college sophomore who asks what makes America the best country in the world. His position is that it’s not, but “it can be.”

McAvoy’s tirade about not knowing what makes America great ends on the punchline “I don’t know what you’re talking about — Yosemite?” Frank, this might seem like a joke to Sorkin, but you and I actually just got back from Yosemite and it’s GREAT, right? I mean, gorgeous! I would easily rank it amongst the ten best things about America. SO PRETTY. Just look at it!


Part of McAvoy’s opening rant includes how America used to be a great country in the 50s and 60s and 70s, in part because TV journalists — “Great Men” — would just tell you the truth about what was happening in the world. I am trying to get through this relatively quickly, but let me just observe: When the only human beings you consider worthy of value are heterosexual white men, then yeah, it’s hella easy to get nostalgic for the 1950s. The rest of us sometimes struggle with that perspective.

Anyhoo, cut to a few weeks later and McAvoy’s coming back to vacation to find out that his executive producer at his daily 8 PM cable news show, a guy I’m just gonna call Ugly Mark Ruffalo because I couldn’t get that out of my head while watching it, is moving to a different show and taking most of the staff with him.

McAvoy doesn’t give a shit about his staff — that’s text, not subtext. But he does care about the fact that Drunk Sam Waterston has decided to replace Ugly Ruffalo with McAvoy’s ex-ladyfriend who’s now a bit of a delicate flower because war reporting is hard for girls.

She is however pretty feisty, and after the two of them rant at each other about the current state of journalism and Don Quixote and whether it’s possible to make a good news show that people will also watch for LITERALLY 20 or 30 minutes, McAvoy agrees to work with her on a very tentative basis (ie — he can fire her pretty much at will). She then proceeds to produce the hell out of some BREAKING NEWS: A BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and crude sludge is gushing out towards the shores of Louisiana.

Yeah, Frank, that’s the big conceit of the show — it takes place in 2010, so that Sorkin can use magical hindsight powers to ensure that his reporters cover every story RIGHT. Thus, while in reality the national media took a pretty long time to figure out how fucking bad the BP oil spill was gonna be for everyone involved, in the Sorkinverse it only takes our intrepid news room team a few hours after the initial explosion to not only focus on the environmental issues, but also uncover the government incompetence that contributed to one of the biggest environmental disasters in recent memory.

Here is McAvoy EXPLAINING THINGS to the Halliburton representative. Because he is A GREAT MAN.

Oh, Frank, by the way there’s this whole love triangle bullshit thing with Ugly Ruffalo, twee blond bunny rabbit girl and some other guy who magically has a sister and a college roommate to call him with secrets from deep within Halliburton and BP, but I don’t care about it so whatever. I like Dev Patel, but talking about him means taking about the part where McAvoy refers to him as an “Indian IT stereotype,” and also McAvoy’s thoughts about blogs, so I’m not going to get into it.

I do care about Emily Mortimer’s character a lot, even after it’s revealed at the end that she totally WAS at that panel discussion at the beginning, secretly, because she Believes In McAvoy even though she was very clearly the reason why they are no longer lady-and-dude-friends. Articles I have read indicate that they are ex-fiancees, but that’s TK, as they say in the news biz, until future episodes.

Here’s my point: I thought Emily Mortimer was great — totally pulling off the toughness and vulnerability of her character. The part where she yells at McAvoy from the studio is really really fun.

Other things I liked about the first episode: Drunk Sam Waterston shouting drunkenly is a treat, even when what he’s shouting is a weird story about a Vietnamese prostitute. Also, it technically does pass the Bechdel Test! Way to go, Sorkin. Been a long time since you pulled that off.

Also, if you’ve ever worked in live TV, you’ll love the ever-present BEEP-BEEPS of iNews letting you know there’s a news update! Not to mention actual screenshots of iNews! Oh, iNews. I’ve grown accustomed to your face.

Here is a real-life example of iNews in action! It is a for-real program used in making live television. In this instance, it is being used to tell the world about Spider-Woman.

Here is what’s really really really important to know about The Newsroom, Frank — this pilot was okay. Not bad, even. But every critic who has screened the first four episodes agrees that the show goes downhill fast. And this does not surprise me in the slightest, because Aaron Sorkin is a great writer — but he is also a very, very lazy writer, as the High Definite showcased yesterday:

And while the lady characters were…okay in this episode, reviewers again indicate that things get much worse down the line. And as our good friend Aimee just pointed out in chat, when the bunny rabbit girl tracks down a key source, Emily Mortimer promises to take her shopping. “That’s how you always reward girls,” Aimee says, because Aimee is wise.

There are Sorkin lines from Sports Night that are so deliciously complex I’m still unpacking them a decade later; almost every episode from the first two seasons of The West Wing makes me cry like a schoolgirl.

And what that means is that even after so many disappointments, part of me still believes in Sorkin, and that part of me will never stop hoping that he’ll write something amazing again, something that doesn’t reconfirm his image as a condescending misogynist who’s a lot more interested in telling people what to think than actually having a conversation.

That part of me is pretty dumb. And yet. And yet.



About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on June 26, 2012, in All the Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I watched this last night!

    Drunk Sam Waterston
    Some funny lines
    Great cast

    “Everything was better in the old days!” attitude, which is my LEAST FAVORITE ATTITUDE.
    Dumb period piece angle that you mentioned.
    Will probably get way worse

    So in conclusion, I basically agree with your assessment.

    And that blond rabbit girl is Allison Pill, who played Kim Pine in SCOTT PILGRIM! It’s important for you to know that!

  2. But, but, but… I want this to be good! I loved West Wing. And wait: Sorkin is a misogynist??? I’m feeling like I’ve just been told my favorite vegetarian soup is actually made with chicken stock. Nooooo!

  3. well, as one obviously always does when told not to do something, I googled “sorkin misogynist.” But all I could find were criticisms of The Social Network. Which, frankly, (no offense to Frank), is ridiculous. The Social Network is a truth-y version of actual history, and let’s face it (pun intended), Facebook was incredibly sexist in its infancy. It has since evolved into a useful social tool, but when it was first invented, it was the epitome of misogyny, and it was created by a bunch of sexists assholes (I was going to say “dicks,” but that would be sexist, too… whereas we all have assholes, so it’s OK to use that term, right?). Anyway, I don’t think The Social Network was misogynist because Sorkin is a misogynist, i think it was misogynist because the assholes he was writing about were misogynist. So unless there is more evidence of his misogyny besides The Social Network, I remain unconvinced. (PS – in writing this response, I now thoroughly know how to spell the word misogyny.)

  4. Did you ever hear of ‘themes’? These repetitive phrases are themes. Powerful phrases which exemplify, epitomise, modern propaganda. They are highlighting ways that the mainstream media often leads the population towards delusion rather than enlightenedness.imho

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