I admire Aaron Sorkin, but he gives me a headache. By the time his characters finish a monologue, I’m ready for a nap.
Sorkin’s latest work, “The Newsroom,” which debuts Sunday on HBO, is no exception. In the pilot’s opening scene, set at a J-school panel, cable newsman Will McAvoy delivers a breathless tirade that, while eloquent, lasts longer than most network sitcoms.
In an homage to Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network,” McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, explodes when the moderator goads him into answering a student question about why America is the greatest country on earth. It’s not, he says, and here’s why.
Citing reams of statistics that someone in his line of work could not possibly know – another Sorkin trademark — McAvoy ends on a hopeful note. The speech will change the direction of his career from a bland ‘Jay Leno’ to a take-no-prisoners anchor of the Old School, like Murrow, Cronkite and Brinkley.
Images of those very men are in “Newsroom’s” opening montage, along with those of Dan Rather and legendary producer Don Hewitt. They are Sorkin’s heroes, he says. To that end, the underlying message of “Newsroom” is that it’s not too late to create a civil, intelligent newscast they would have been proud of.
News junkies will not be able to resist this show, despite the fact that some of the plotlines are ridiculous and that Sorkin writes like he’s getting paid by the word. Programs about the TV news business are rare. The last good one, Sorkin’s “Sports Night,” ended 12 years ago.
Sorkin reportedly based “Sports Night” on Keith Olbermann, but he’s denied that Olbermann was his muse for McAvoy.
Please. McAvoy is wicked smart, totally self-involved, highly temperamental and loathed by his staff. “I’m not the easiest guy to work for,” he tells his boss, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), news division president at fictional network ACN. Skinner has a short fuse and drinks a lot.
It pains me to say this, but Waterston, one of my favorite actors, is a tad old for the role. He punches out his lines like every breath will be his last. Daniels, on the other hand, is in his element,