Much has been made lately on the Interwebs about The Newsroom and Aaron Sorkin’s abilities as a writer. Personally, I think his writing is brilliant and, regardless of how he is as a person, the man knows how to craft a TV show. A few weeks ago, reports spread that, even though HBO has already ordered a second season of The Newsroom, Sorkin fired the entire writing staff save one person. This was confusing because every script has been credited only to Sorkin (except for “The 112th Congress” which was co-credited with Gideon Yago). Apparently, according to blogger speculation, Sorkin is an ego maniacal control freak who can’t stand anyone else getting credit. In my opinion, that’s between him and the WGA. For my money, Sorkin’s scripts are some of the best on the air right now.
Sorkin has also gotten a lot of flak for his depiction/approach to female characters. Apparently, through his entire television oeuvre (Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and now The Newsroom), the women on his show are emotionally damaged and always reliant on men to save them. I can’t comment because I haven’t seen any of Sorkin’s other TV work (his film scripts for A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War and The Social Network are enough proof of his talent for me). What I do know is writers like David Mamet and Neil Labute as well as director David Fincher have all suffered similar criticism and, frankly, I don’t think it makes their contributions to television and/or film any less significant.
So, on to the recap.
We missed the summation of last week’s episode of The Newsroom (entitled “Amen”) which is unfortunate because it was a very good installment of what is becoming the highlight of this summer’s television offerings. In terms of the series’ overall storylines, not much was missed. Maggie and Jim continued to flirt; Neal got to come front and center (which is great news for Dev Patel who is terrific every week); and Will continued to be the least Republican Republican of all time.
This week’s episode, “Bullies,” was another excellent show with a greater than usual sprinkling of Sorkinesque dialogue. There were at least two conversations (one between Sloan and Charlie and one between Maggie, Jim and MacKenzie that I rewound more than once) that more than prove Sorkin’s shrew ear for human speech. We also get another flashback episode, as told by Will to his therapist, Dr. Jake Habib (David Krumholtz). Facing a mean bout with insomnia, Will has no choice but to visit his therapist with whom he has had a standing appointment every week but hasn’t attended in four years. His previous therapist died two years ago and his son has taken over.
There are several story lines going on in this episode and the action happens (as per usual) very quickly. We learn that Will now has a bodyguard named Lonny (Terry Crews) as a result of a death threat being posted on the “News Night” website after Will tongue-lashes a woman who claims a Muslim mosque being built near ground zero is akin to another attack on American soil. Will points out that it is not a mosque but a community center and that Christians have been responsible for more attacks on American citizens than any Muslim group. That is enough for a viewer to post a threatening message which gets AWN’s insurance division up-in-arms.
The majority of the episode is dedicated to Sloan who is wrangled into covering Elliot’s 10:00 show at the last minute. After some not so great advice from Will, she attacks a Japanese guest on her show, putting words in his mouth that neither he nor his translator said but which were instead shared off the record during the pre-interview. Olivia Munn is a very talented comedic actress, but here she is given a lot more to work with and she definitely delivers. Plus, Munn is clearly fluent in Japanese. As if she already couldn’t get any more attractive.
Finally, we come to the issue which has actually been keeping Will up at night. An advisor to Rick Santorum, who is both black and gay, comes on “News Night” to talk about the former Senator possibly running for president in 2012 (this episode of “News Night” takes place in early 2011). Will pounces on the advisor, essentially accusing him of being a traitor to his race and to other gay people by working for someone like Santorum. The aid loses his cool and fires right back at Will, telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he does not need to be protected. Whether or not he agrees with everything Santorum says, he is not defined by his skin or sexual orientation. It is one of the most powerful moments so far on The Newsroom.
“Bullies” is a little more heavy-handed in terms of its message than previous episodes, but at least Sorkin has kept the political grandstanding to a tolerable minimum. Despite whatever his shortcomings as a boss/writer/collaborator may be, Aaron Sorkin can deliver one hell of an hour of television.