Monday, July 9, 2012

Aaron Sorkin, Deconstructed, Oh, and the Newsroom Pilot

I never saw the West Wing, which is probably the Sorkin drama that everybody will remember him for. Well that and the Social Network. But I did see A Few Good Men after watching the HL2 rendition of the famous court scene "A Few Good G-Men". I also saw Charlie Wilson's War and, more recently, Moneyball. And they were all entertaining movies.

Of course, this is the part where I then criticize his writing style, and more specifically, his dialogue. And lack thereof. It's crazy how Aaron Sorking makes his characters speak because they're either firing away talking a mile a minute or they're in the middle of some grandiloquent dramatic monologue.

First off, the rapid fire dialogue. Very rarely do I actually see people talk as fast as his characters talk. Now, it's not always a "natural" scene. In Moneyball's talking-trades-over-the-phone scene, there are a lot of cuts in the scene. But the intent is clear. Billy Beane is wheeling and dealing and he knows something that the other GMs don't. But when you actually get down to a dialogue scene, where each character is talking in quick succession and snapping off semi-clever quips that none of us in real life can improvise on the fly that many times in a row, they're talking completely unnaturally.

I get that there are a limited number of minutes you can show on the screen and that Sorkin probably believes in giving viewers more dialogue for their money, but nobody actually talks like that. Sometimes when you are talking that fast to a person, they'll nod and say "uh huh" and "right" and "yeah". But they don't talk back to you with similar cadence and frenetic-ness. Or you're talking that fast and they'll interrupt and say "wait, can you repeat that?" Both people speaking that fast never happens. Some people will dismiss it and say "that's just signature Sorkin" but it can completely ruin some scenes.

The audience (or at the very least, the non-mouth-breathing portion of the audience) should not have to stop and say "wait, what did they just say?" unless the director crafts a scene like that on purpose, usually for comedic effect, a la Jack Sparrow. I know that Sorkin's subject material is a lot more highbrow and exciting in comparison to most people's mundane work lives, but the fast talking is just a distraction.

Secondly, the monologues are ridiculous. Again, nobody ever talks like that. Colonel Jessup would have never gone in a tirade like that (and the court wouldn't have let him). Boston's owner would have never spelled out Beane's feat to him to convince him how awesome he was. And, in The Newsroom, McAvoy wouldn't have gone on his self-important speech about how America was so much better in the era where the government ordered US soldiers to march through nuclear test sites to study the effects of radiation or deceived people into believing they didn't have syphilis just so they could study the untreated prognosis of the disease.

The main character in The Newsroom is Will McAvoy, who I initially thought was British because the actor reminded me of Jeremy Clarkson in the opening scene before he actually speaks. And he's an asshole. Not only that, but it's like he just discovered he was an asshole. I can't buy that for a second. I don't have a problem with unlikable protagonists, but can we also not let them have a gigantic blind spot when it comes to their main personality fault?

I know a lot of TV shows often start with the main characters in a state of flux, but most handle it poorly. It's almost a wink to the audience that "hey, this show just started!" The actions of the characters don't feel natural. There's either too much exposition or too little. When the old division head informs McAvoy that he's hired his old flame Mackenzie as the new showrunner, both of them skate around the fact that she is his ex. And not in a "let's not talk about it" kind of way, but in a way where they don't even acknowledge the fact that she's his ex.

Yes it's heavily implied and they later reveal that they were together at one point, but conversations like that don't happen without at least one party acknowledging point blank that there are emotional entanglements.

Mackenzie, the love interest, has a few Sorkinian (if that hasn't already been coined, I claim any and all rights to it, although it probably has been, I mean, let's get real) moments and speeches. Nothing out of the ordinary with her. Although she is playing a British-American. Fitting, considering that she is British. But I wonder why they went with an English actress. I wonder what goes through the minds of the casting directors when they decide who should play what. I remember her primarily as Phoebe, the fake art director with "Avian bone syndrome" from 30 Rock, a show which has gone drastically downhill the past two seasons.

Alison Pill plays McAvoy's assistant. I loved her in season 2 of In Treatment and I like her in this show. She's the standard ingenue character but she pulls it off well and it's nice to see her not playing a girl who doesn't know she's depressed and angry. That's just a side note, mainly because I like Alison Pill.

The rest of it is standard Sorkin. You have the love interest, the busy-body young gun, and they all fit in nicely within The Newsroom. You get this thing about the BP oil spill 2 years ago and they go into a flurry about that. It's convenient how one of the characters had two personal relationships with two people at BP and Halliburton. Apparently acknowledging on screen how unlikely that was is supposed to negate the convenience, but whatever. I get that TV is about the dramatic, exciting, and interesting, otherwise we'd just watch ourselves on camera every day instead.

Most of the stuff I've written comes off fairly negative, but I like the show. It's entertaining even as it fails to be fluid and natural. In that respect it's kind of like a CBS drama for higher socioeconomic status viewers. I'll keep watching and tolerating Sorkin's preachiness and self-satisfied writing only because it's not like there's another American show like it. Now that's a left handed compliment even Sorkin would be proud of.

1 comment:

  1. Accurate deconstruction of Sorkin's style. Its fun, entertaining, ocassionally though-provoking but hardly natural or "realistic" (in the way the characters talk and project their brilliance that is) But I like it, anyway!