On ‘The Newsroom,’ ‘Louie’ and ‘Hit & Miss’


Debate over HBO’s The Newsroom which premieres Sunday, has unfortunately splintered in some pockets online into a referendum on the show’s creator Aaron Sorkin — as if you must have problems with Sorkin himself if you have problems with the show.

My audience relationship with Sorkin dates back to seeing A Few Good Men performed on stage with Michael O’Keefe in Los Angeles two decades ago, a memorable night. I was a diehard fan of Sports Night and an admirer of The West Wing, The Social Network and Moneyball. On the other hand, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a mess, highlighted by its completely unconvincing portrayal of what it kept assuring us was the greatest latenight show in the history of man. (The genius of the other latenight-themed program that premiered at the same time, 30 Rock, was that it took the opposite tack of making its show-within-a-show an embarrassing near-failure.) But you can’t win ‘em all — I certainly didn’t lose respect for Sorkin because he couldn’t pull this one off.

In the first episode of The Newsroom, there are two traits that stick out. One is that there is dialogue, even by Sorkin standards, that is just preposterous. I’m not talking about the style of speech — I’m talking about the substance. Just as an example, right in the main opening scene, Jeff Daniels’ anchorman character, Will McAvoy paints a picture of America that would seem to deny that Sorkin ever heard of Joe McCarthy.  Turns out, there’s a McCarthy reference later in the episode, so there goes that theory. Straw men are not in short supply on this show.

Secondly, while the characters in Sorkin’s best work, however confident or even arrogant they might be, feel truly human, McAvoy just feels plain arrogant. Unlike some of my work colleagues, I’ve only seen the premiere, so I can’t speak to what future episodes hold. But the first episode makes McAvoy into someone whom we’re supposed to root for despite his personality flaws. That would be all well and good if he truly seemed heroic, but since the deck is stacked so heavily in his favor (and I say this as someone sympathetic to the cause), it doesn’t feel like real heroism.

All that being said, I didn’t think the premiere of The Newsroom was bad. It moves quickly despite its 75-minute length, and its aims are certainly honorable. But I thought it was flawed, and not only that, the nature of the flaws made me pretty nervous about future episodes. That’s not a referendum on Sorkin, just on the show.

* * *

You might say that Louie, in contrast to The Newsroom, is a show that works even when it’s not working. The parts that meander have their own particular fascination because of how honest they feel. The rest of the show, which premieres its third season Thursday, will blow you away.

In particular, the second episode of the upcoming season, featuring guest star Melissa Leo, will be one of the most memorable half-hours of the year — amazing to the level of last year’s “Palestinian Chicken” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The funny thing is that my favorite part of the episode isn’t the provocative second half, but rather a joke by his daughter that Louis CK shares early on.  Nevertheless, I can’t wait for people to see the whole thing.

Episodes four and five form a two-parter that is also spellbinding. The mind of Louis CK simply astounds me. The guy is flat-out funny, but he’s also, in my book, one of the deepest thinkers around.

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Finally, for those of you with DirecTV, keep an eye out for Hit & Miss, which will premiere on DirecTV’s audience network July 11. The premise is ordinary enough: Chloe Sevigny plays a transgender hit person. But rather than sensationalize it, the drama does the opposite — it’s brooding, and although slowly paced, engrossing. (The teaser above jazzes things up a bit and doesn’t quite convey the show’s mood.)

The first episode has the feel of a good U.K. independent film, only rather than wrapping up the story tidily, it’s just getting started.

  • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

    Thanks, Jon. Love Louie and can’t wait for the premiere to air along with Wilfred… 

    Were you a fan of The Killing? I seem to remember some discussion about it at the end of Season 1, but can’t recall the specifics. 

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    “The Killing” for me was a disappointment, though season two was an improvement over season one.  Some of the supporting performances and characters were great, but it took forever for them to bring real dimensionality to Linden. The red herrings in season one were annoying, and I never once cared about the political story.

  • Anonymous

    Jon, if you could pick (not predict) the Emmy nominations in the best drama category, what would your choices be for this year? And if you care to make predictions for what the nominations WILL be, you can give that a shot too, if you please.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      My drama preferences:
      Breaking Bad
      Downton Abbey
      Homeland
      Justified
      Mad Men
      Treme (close call over Boardwalk Empire).

      Predictions:
      Breaking Bad
      Downton Abbey
      Game of Thrones
      Homeland
      Mad Men
      Boardwalk Empire (close call over The Good Wife)

  • Anonymous

    So politics won’t triumph and see to it that at least one one the Big Four networks gets a show nominated in the category? What did you think of Mad Men’s latest season compared to the previous four? A friend of mine insists it was the weakest season to date and he says it will be a crime if it wins Best Drama for a fifth time (and he was a big fan in its first four seasons). 

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Trying to pick out the weakest season of Mad Men seems like a pretty meaningless exercise – the show is so good that its worst season is better than almost everything else on TV. I thought season five was excellent, though I do think its time as Emmy champ might be passing. Homeland has a lot of momentum. Downton has tons of fans and appeals to the demographic of the voters. And Breaking Bad is certainly due.

      I might be wrong about Good Wife – in fact, you could see I’m hedging my bet against it.

  • Anonymous

    I suspect Downton Abbey is a slam dunk. Nothing else, not even Mad Men, approached its level of buzz.  And it was very good, though not the best. 

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    I would say Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey and Homeland are locks.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terry-Pruett/1707390003 Terry Pruett

    I stayed with The Killing for two entire years (which I think will be the only two years). While the show was better in the second year (more tension; more narrative momentum), it was still preposterous, particularly the narrative that had the Mayoral candidate getting his spine severed by a bullet…and then shooting baskets from his wheelchair 7 show days later. The ending was less than satisfying, and the characters, except for Detective Holder, were just not that interesting.

    To me, Breaking Bad and Mad Men were a cut above the other serious dramas this year.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

      I agree. The Killing grabbed my attention initially in the first few episodes and then fizzled out in season one. Season two was better as a whole but they seemed to just sloppily wrap it up in the finale. I don’t see them doing another season, unless they move on to another story completely. 

      Also, Breaking Bad and Mad Men are two of my favorites as well. I just finally got into Game of Thrones which I have to say is pretty wonderful. I’m not usually a fantasy or medieval genre fan but after hearing so much good praise I had to watch for myself and I was not disappointed.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terry-Pruett/1707390003 Terry Pruett

        I really like Game of Thrones. I just have trouble thinking of it as a serious drama. But…it’s exciting and fun, for sure.

    • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

      I missed the whole first season of The Killing and then went back and watched it via Netflix while DVRing the second season. Once I got over the horror of the girl being killed (a father of a daughter here), I was pretty intrigued. That said, they sure did find and drop story lines awfully conveniently for me… her son, her social worker, Holder’s backstory as a speed addict, his sponsor…. And, yeah, the Mayor with the Indian tribe was probably an authentic story line, but the way they showed him meeting with the Chief at the end felt a little contrived. All in all, I thought there were some interesting story “lines” but not enough time (which is saying something for such a slow moving show) to develop all the backstory. 

      I, too, see no way for them to come back with anything as convincing or interesting in season three… Unless they do one of those flashback things to the first murder that got Linden all loopy in the first place. Now that I think about it…. Call my agent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gobias-Bluth/100001890059228 Gobias Bluth

    I have no desire to watch The Newsroom. Nothing about it seems appealing to me. I’ll take Murphy Brown any day.
    I’m hoping that the new season of Louie is as strong as, or as close to as strong as the first season. Last season was a huge disappointment for me. I had such high hopes for it after a genius first season that I was roundly disappointed. It had its moments, don’t get me wrong, but in the end I had to force myself to watch the last few episodes.
    I have Directv so I’ll probably check out Hit and Miss. Sounds like an interesting premise…

    As for Mad Men, I agree with Mr. Weisman. They couldn’t make a bad season if they tried. That show and Breaking Bad are as good as it gets. Simply fantastic. And for me, Game of Thrones is approaching that staus. Not a huge fan of that genre either, but just about everything on that show, most importantly the story, is completely captivating and constantly leaves you wanting more.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       You’re the first person I’ve heard of disliking season 2 of Louie after liking season 1.  Season 2 had so many good episodes. 

      • http://farinella.com/ David Farinella

        Agree. Season 2 was just as strong, to me, as Season 1.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Hitchcock/1676059435 Jim Hitchcock

    I’ll need to watch `Newsroom’ just to get the smell of `Veep’ out of my brain.

    I think the second season of Justified topped the third, but still a great show. Can’t wait for Homeland. And it’ll take some doing to top Breaking Bad’s season finale.
     

  • Anonymous

    Just out of curiosity Jon how did you rank season 2 of Boardwalk Empire compared to the first. If there was a write up could you point me to the link. Thanks.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       I didn’t do a writeup but I’d say it was easily as strong. Possibly a bit better.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Hitchcock/1676059435 Jim Hitchcock

         Gonna miss Damody.

  • Anonymous

    Looking forward to The Newsroom. I’m a huge fan of Sorkin. Though not my political leanings, The West Wing might have been television’s best show ever.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    The broad Academy support for ‘Boardwalk Empire’

    http://weblogs.variety.com/thevote/2012/06/boardwalk-empire.html
     

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • http://twitter.com/dodger1k Carl Beury

    I enjoyed The Killing.  While it had its weaknesses, it was better than just about anything on broadcast television (other than The Good Wife) and the suspense kept me watching.