Say what you want about “The Newsroom,” but Aaron Sorkin’s new drama has brought out the best in parts of the TV critic community.
If that seems like a small point, it really isn’t. Critics are presented so many trifles to consider, having the chance to really sink your teeth into a show that invites detailed analysis can feel like someone has thrown you a curveball. The temptation is to swing too hard, and risk whiffing entirely.
There’s also the little matter of news outlets seeing a big juicy target like “The Newsroom” as a way to make noise, which explains why the New Yorker blasted out Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show early, trolling for links. (The result: Conservative website Breitbart.com crowed about how the “liberal New Yorker” had panned Sorkin’s “insufferable” show. Or, loosely translated, “Neener neener neener.”)
A few critics, I’d argue, did get a bit carried away, engaging in hyperbole and hints of self-righteousness similar to what they’ve accused Sorkin of doing. Such excess somewhat ironically underscores his point about where the media (his main focus is television, but no one’s immune) has lost its way in the modern age. After all, trashing shows is sort of the direct opposite of press-junket whores who’ll pass out approving quotes for pretty much anything — and has its own attention-getting rewards, with features like the Huffington Post’s “The Week in Ouch.”
Closely reading these reviews also highlights just how subjective criticism can be. Nussbaum and the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley, for example, both come to roughly the same conclusion about the series. But while Nussbaum accuses it of going off the rails in the third and fourth episodes, Stanley writes the show’s best stuff “doesn’t come into full view” until those hours. As they say, different strokes.
Viewed in their totality, the reviews have been inordinately thoughtful (you can find a full complement of them on Metacritic.com), recognizing a series whose flaws are offset, at least in part, by its willingness to explore serious ideas.
From that perspective, I think USA Today’s Robert Bianco liked the show better than I did, but concisely summed up some of the points I was trying to make. (In hindsight, it’s notable my own review ran considerably longer than usual, indicating I had a lot to say about “The Newsroom,” even if it didn’t necessarily work for me.)
“It’s wonderful to have a series that discusses current affairs and the way they’re covered, even if ‘Newsroom’ can be a bit self-righteous about it,” Bianco wrote, “and Sorkin does have a gift for amusing chatter, even if he does overindulge it.”
It’s wonderful to see critics, too, get a chance to actually explore material that challenges them intellectually, as opposed to grasping for the cultural significance of “Hollywood Exes” or “Snooki & JWOWW.” Such series are great for laugh lines, but they’re designed to withstand — indeed, preempt — the slings and arrows of criticism.
In short, at a time when the critical community has taken its lumps along with the rest of print journalism, a small doff of the cap to Sorkin for bringing out the best in us, even if “The Newsroom” doesn’t represent the best of him.