Sunday, July 8, 2012

Writers Revisted: Bunheads and The Newsroom

 I love words.  I am particularly invested in pop culture writing and have some favorite writers.  Aaron Sorkin is by far my favorite TV/Movie/Play writer.  BY FAR.  He writes a lot of words, a lot of conversation - all of it with a certain rhythm that is identifiable solely to him.  Sports Night, in my mind, is the best show that has ever been on television.  West Wing is in the top few.  And I don't know what everyone was complaining about, I loved Studio 60 on the Sunset StripThe American President stands as one of my all time favorite movies - and I usually cry at the end.  A Few Good Men, Social Network and Moneyball are also favorites.  All Sorkin.  All Beloved.  Amy Sherman-Palladino also writes a lot of words - with her own, different rhythm.  And while I do not have a Sorkin-sized love for her (The Return of Jezebel James - just didn't work) - Gilmore Girls is probably in my top 15 series ever on TV.  I have watched the entire series multiple times - and I still DVR it every day on ABC Family and rewatch  - I like to put these shows wth a lot of words on to listen to in the background whilst I'm doing anything mundane - cleaning, paying bills, organizing - etc.  The rhythm of all the conversation keeps my mind occupied - and I enjoy this.  So, I know all of these TV programs well.  Really well.  I could probably quote entire monologues of both Gilmore Girls and Sports Night if I tried.

All of this said - Aaron Sorkin(AS) and Amy Sherman-Palladino(ASP) introduced new series this month.  I was excited to watch both. 


 Set in a (another?) small town called Paradise, the premise has Sutton Fosters Michelle, a classically trained dancer, wasting away as a Vegas showgirl.  She marries a man on a whim just to change up her life.  She arrives in 'Paradise' only to find that the man she married still lives with  his mother (the amazing Kelly Bishop) and runs and owns a dance studio.  Spoiler Alert - in the first episode - Michelles husband dies in car crash - and she inherits  the home, dance studio, frustrated mother-in-law and the on looking ballet students.  These ballet students are  not fully formed characters,  They are being revealed slowly - but I honestly couldn't tell you one of their names. 

 In many ways Paradise is very akin to Stars Hollow.  Both small towns with lots of quirky residents and a place where everyone knows everything about each other.    I really can't watch Mr. Mitchum Huntzberger (Gregg Henry) as a hippie bar owner.  Weird.  I understand that Sean Gunn is soon to guest star - who played the quirkiest and weirdest of the Stars Hollow residences on Gilmore Girls and hasn't done anything since - so I feel a worry about what they will do with him. And while I would really watch Kelly Bishop do ANYTHING - her character on this show is VERY similar to Emily Gilmore.  Its like running into Emily's cousin, Fanny Flowers and being entertained by how like my good friend Emily she is.  Sutton Foster is one of my all time favorite broadway stars and voices - and she just won a Tony for her amazing dancing and singing in Anything Goes in 2011.  In my mind - this is perfect casting for this role.  Perhaps it was the story - but initially I wasn't in love with her.  In fact, for a moment, I just wondered if only Lauren Graham could achieve the expert level in ASP dialogue delivery.  But, after three episodes - I have been charmed.  She is much, much drier in her delivery than the GGs - but it works - especially now in the series - where the whole town (and us viewers) are watching her to find out what she will do next with her new found inheritance.  She is the odd man out in this small town - and she, with us, is taking in all the nuances of Paradise.  She isn't quite sure what to think.  Well, the viewers aren't sure what to make of it either.  I'm sticking it out for awhile with this one.  It is really like the whole show is GGs long lost cousin and I really am entertained by continually noting how akin to my dear Stars Hollow friends they are. Here's the thing, I really, really, really want to love this show, but as of yet I really don't. Because of my sheer love for ASP, Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop - I'm still watching, but the jury is still out.  I say if you liked Gilmore Girls, you will like this.

The Newsroom

If Bunheads and Gilmore Girls are cousins, The Newsroom and Sports Night are siblings...fraternal twins maybe...or perhaps if The West Wing and Sports Night had a love child, it would be The Newsroom.    What I like about the AS world is- his characters are noble and are giving angrily righteous speeches right and left about how things are and how they need to be better. His shows are always about a team of smart people - who are flawed but who are united in trying to do their best and champion the causes. I'm not always personally in favor of said causes or the politics - but I really like the idealistic notion of coming together and working it out and trying to do better.  There just isn't enough of that kind of carry through and support these days. Idealistic of me - yes, I know. Because at the end of the day in Sorkinland - everybody does make it better, makes the right choice and nobility and honor reign.   The Newsroom fits succinctly in this Aaron Sorkin world. 

The show is set in the newsroom (go figure!) of News Night, a cable newshow.  The series starts with an uprising and exit of most of the crew of News Night as its anchor, Will McAvoy (the perfectly cast Jeff Daniels) is understood to have 'sold out' to ratings - and is considered arrogant, unappreciative and an all around tool.  The head of the news division, Charlie Skinner (the amazing Sam Waterson) decides to fix whats broken and calls in Wills Ex MacKenzie MacHale (standout and amazing Emily Mortimer) to rebuild his show  (and Wills idealism) after the mass exodus of the unhappy crew.

Aaron Sorkins world has always been an idealistic one and a hyper - articulate one - both of which I enjoy and enjoy here...even if the critical masses tend to frown on both.  Emily Mortimer's British accent brings a different rhythm to the very specific and rhythmic Aaron Sorkin writing - it took me a minute - but I really like it and her.   Some of the references are dated - 'Punjab?' Really?  It may have been believable in 1998 (When Sports Night was on) that the brilliant producer MacKenzie would be confused by how to work e-mail - but its just not today.  Even their background 'newsroom talk' is filled with old references (I understand they are mispronouncing one of the acronyms for sound editing?) - All of these things present an air of regergitation.  Its as if AS did not update his research for this show and just pull out his old Sports Night file and said "I know how a news room works!"

This show is Sports Night...with an edge and a more serious tone - speckled with the politics and general feel  (and almost identical opening credits and main title/music) of The West Wing .  There are so many similarities I can not count.  Charlie Skinner is Isaac Jaffe.  MacKenzie MacHale is Dana Whitaker.  Maggie is Natalie and Jim is Jeremy with a hint of Leo McGarry.   Will is a grumpy combination of both Dan Rydell and Casey McCall with a dash of Toby Ziegler.  Neal is Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn all wrapped up together (Isaac, Dana, Natalie, Jeremy, Dan and Casey = Sports Night Toby, Leo, Josh, Sam = West Wing).  Is Sorkin only capable of writing this mix of characters for TV, only these specific voices?  How many times can these characters be reincarnated?  This should bug me, but it doesn't. The only thing negative about this for me - who is sooo familiar with AS work that every familiar/rehashed plot point, character and line is that it  has caused me to directly compare the actors in the similar roles.  I am loving Emily Mortimer - but Felicity Huffman really did a pitch-perfect job playing the brilliant-professionally -  yet flighty, daffy and not-quite-together personally EP.  Robert Guillaume versus Sam Waterson?  Yikes!  Its hard not to compare.  Nevertheless, I'm not complaining.  While I understand the critics - and I do see that there is probably a better - more updated - more researched  - less preachy show lurking beneath, it feels like the best kind of familiar - an old friend got a face lift - is a little more life worn - but is back and regularly stopping by to visit.  Aside from the fact that HBO clearly told them to amp up the edgy factor...and I'd like them to clean up their language - I'm happy to have them all over.

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