June 4, 2012

Newsroom pilot

Just watched the pilot episode of The Newsroom (which is available on youtube.com, but don't get too attached unless you have HBO). I watched it after reading various critiques of the episode scattered across the internet. Aaron Sorkin and the internet love to hate each other, so it makes for some really good sleazy navel-gazing reading. The exact kind of reading Aaron Sorkin so fiercely hates. Though, if he wants us to not read the sleaze, he really needs to stop trying to make the gossipy articles so irresistible by demanding a newspaper reporter "pick up a newspaper once in a while." (After condescendingly calling her "internet girl" and teaching her how to high-five because he's "sick of girls who don’t know how to high-five." Seriously.)

The show is about a news team that is trying to bring integrity back to the news, like the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Kronkite. Which makes me roll my eyes the same way I do when people decry modern life and long for the "good old days" of stay-at-home moms and nuclear families. (And segregated schools and the public shunning of divorced women.) The eye-rolling was abetted a bit by the reviews I spent my lunch hour reading, which for the most part felt that the show "chokes on its own sanctimony." I found out the pilot is available online, so I could watch it for myself tonight. Or I could watch The Bachelorette. It was tough call. (Just kidding, I'll watch them both. This is the week Emily finds out Arie had a relationship with a production assistant! Drama!)

So I watched it, and I liked it. I'm sad I don't have HBO. (I did not head my own warning.) Like Sports Night, The West Wing, and the first episode of Studio 60, Sorkin is really great at showcasing smart people who do Important Jobs for Important Reasons. What's most satisfying is they are successful at it, at least in these fictional universes where clumsiness is enough of a flaw to make a character "realistic." (SHUT UP BELLA SWAN YOU ARE NOT JUST LIKE ME.)  And of course, intelligent viewers (the kind of viewers that read the newspaper and not gawker.com because no EVER reads both) are supposed to ask themselves is, how can I make my world like that world? This is really the heart of this (and any Sorkin) show. It's fictional, yes, but a fiction to which we are meant to aspire. In case anyone was unsure of The Lesson, the pilot episode is helpfully titled, "We just decided to." We just do it! Awesome! No sneaky disappearing magic train platforms required. Even Muggles can make this fictional world real! Except. It felt like the show used phrases like "great men" and "men were Men" an awful lot. It kept saying we had it right once (Back Then) and we somehow made it all worse. (Hmm. What are some things have have changed in the past 50 years that might be at fault? One moment while I refer to my Mad Men dvds and play "spot the differences.")

This show made me wonder this thing I've been wondering lately. What if things really were better back then? I mean, of course they weren't. Of course!  All the bad -isms lived there. And we have a tendency to romanticize the good parts of history. And I'm sure every generation feels like theirs is where everything is falling apart. And lots of other reasons that assure me of course things weren't better.  But, why do we keep looking back and saying we used to be great? Why do our scriptures and Declarations seem to say things were better and now they're worse? To create powerful people who can change the world (for good, usually!), does one group need to give up their power? We're supposed to be aspiring to Godhood, yet a requirement for that is a marriage with one Presider and one (or many) not-presider(s).

Back to earth. As usual, I like to take my theological extrapolation a bit too far. This is a tv show, after all. It'll be interesting to watch how The Newsroom tries to reclaim the greatness of Back Then while still embracing what's good about Right Now, and hopefully even better about The Future. Unfortunately, I know already that Aaron Sorkin shows have serious issues with women, and if the interview I linked to above is any indication, this one will too. (Maybe it's a good thing I don't have HBO.) And it's not Aaron Sorkin's job to navigate society back to greatness (though I have a feeling he'd beg to differ). And it's certainly not his job to reconcile Mormon theology with all of that. It's my job, and your job. So I liked the show, for reminding me of that.

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