Earlier tonight, Keith Phipps, writer and editor for The A.V. Club, tweeted, “I haven’t seen THE NEWSROOM yet so why does it feel like I have?” I’m going to go ahead and take that as a backhanded swipe at the show and creator Aaron Sorkin, but even so there’s a lot of truth in the statement. The Newsroom marks Sorkin’s return to television six years after the magnificent trainwreck that was Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. And love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Sorkin’s voice is a unique one in the television landscape. So coming back to it, even after a number of years, feels like sitting on a couch, with nice, comfortable ass grooves worn into its cushions after years of use.
Why was Studio 60 such a spectacular failure? Well, Sorkin’s always been very preachy. Politics, gender issues, who we are and where we’re going as a country, THE VERY FATE OF HUMANITY, are the issues his characters pontificate on from week to week. And with a show like The West Wing, this worked really well. Sure, it could come off as a little too idealistic, overly sentimental, but these were the people who ran the country, people who loved their jobs and did them out of a genuine desire to serve. So if they couldn’t be idealistic, then who could, really? Studio 60 was a different story. There you had fictionalized Andy Sambergs and Kristin Wiigs talking about things like hostage negotiations. And after watching a few episodes we realized we didn’t give a shit what any of these people thought about the big issues. Add to that the fact that Studio 60, the SNL that all these people were working on, just wasn’t funny, and the show died after its first season.
I can’t imagine Sorkin ever doing a show that wasn’t set behind the scenes somewhere**, and setting The Newsroom at a fictionalized cable news show allows his characters to deal with big issues without turning around and playing in “Fart Doctor” or sing Gilbert and Sullivan or whatever the hell they were doing on Studio 60. It’s still a little idealistic. And there’s a part of me that says that that much idealism doesn’t play as well with audiences today as it did ten years ago, but I feel like it works here. It’s believable. Say 85%.
(**Even the film scripts Sorkin’s written: A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball all have that behind the scenes feel to them. One a Marine trial, the next about the creation of Facebook, and the last about the Oakland A’s 2002 baseball season. They all have the feel of something being put together, if that makes any sense.)
Even if you’re not watching the show, even if you’ve only seen commercials, you probably have a pretty good idea of what happens in this first episode. Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, is kind of like Keith Olberman minus everything distasteful about Keith Olberman. He’s described as the Jay Leno of new (and isn’t it funny how we all just kind of know what that means?). There’s nothing he’ll take a solid position on. But eventually the dam breaks and when asked at a roundtable discussion to explain why he thinks America is the greatest country in world, he surprises the entire country (apparently) by saying that it isn’t, the reasons for which he gives in typical Sorkin fashion. So while McAvoy goes on vacation to cool off, Charlie Skinner (played by Sam Donaldson, who you can tell is just having a hell of a time), the president of Will’s network goes off and hired Will’s ex-girlfriend Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) to executive produce his show, in an attempt to “take back the fourth estate,” as she puts it in one of the show’s many Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moments.
Now, does it all work? Yes and no. Sorkin’s dialogue has a very specific rhythm to it. And to be honest, much of the cast, most notably Daniels, feels like he’s rehearsing it for much of the episode. This was to the point that it actually kind of surprised me. Scenes in which Will’s fired up and yelling are a different story. It all goes away. But when he’s just talking, it felt a lot like Don and Peggy trying to be the Cool Whip couple on Mad Men, failing miserably where Don had done so well with Megan. This seems like a problem that might crop up in any pilot. Actors need some time to get into their characters, and Sorkin’s cadence seems like something that has to be learned. I enjoyed the rest of the cast, especially Donaldson, who like I said, looks like he’s having the time of his life. Honestly, these are all great actors (Can we call Olivia Munn great? Give us a few weeks to see how she does), and whether or not they’re going to be able to pull off the material isn’t really a concern that I’ve got.
The biggest problem I see this show having is whether or not it’s going to be a good enough vehicle for Sorkin to pull off his smartest man in the room act. And that might sound like an insult, but it’s really not. Sorkin’s a smart guy, and yes, he sets up arguments that he can win. I don’t really understand the backlash against that. It’s not as if he’s the first writer to do it. And it’s not like Sorkin’s just sprung all this on us. This is the same style he’s always been writing in (and ultimately, whether or not you like The Newsroom will depend upon whether or not you like that style of writing). People liked Sports Night and The West Wing, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what made those shows so different from The Newsroom. The only thing I can think of is that people didn’t like Studio 60, and that wiped out any goodwill Sorkin had built up with the TV critic intelligentsia out there. A lot of this goes back to what I mentioned earlier about idealism playing as well with audiences as it used to, or at least idealism that’s laid on as thickly as it is here. I think this might be written off by a lot of people, but audiences do change over time. You couldn’t do The Andy Griffith Show or Dragnet today and expect them to work like they did back then. We’ve moved past those shows. They make us feel good when we catch them on Nick and Nite, but only because they remind us of that bygone era. Add that to the fact that people generally don’t like being told they’re not as smart as the person talking to them, and I think we’re beginning to decode some of the negative reviews the show’s gotten.
But let’s see where things go. Maybe the show will be preachy to the point that not I can defend it. Maybe Daniels will never get the hang of Sorkin’s dialogue. Maybe it won’t find good enough ways to make use of its supporting cast (just about all of the pilot is spent establishing McAvoy’s meltdown, the aftermath, and his relationship with Mackenzie). Or maybe it’ll fix those things and turn into a really solid hour of television. It’ll never be as complex as Mad Men. And I don’t see that as good or bad, just different. It’s Sorkin. And I’m glad to have a Sorkin show (that I’m enjoying (the writing was on the wall for Studio 60 right from the start)) back on the air.
CALLED IT – Steve Newlin is the new Nan. We started off this episode with the conclusion of the boardroom debate among the Authority chancellors – I’m still not convinced they’ve built up enough of a case to justify their decision to let Bill and Eric go, but I’ll roll with it for now. I actually think the chancellors are an interesting bunch – hopefully, we’ll get to see more of them. Speaking of which, there have been instances in the past of children playing adult roles (I can only think of the Twilight Volturi right now, but I know there are others), but the pint-sized chancellor isn’t doing it for me, which is a shame, because I think it would be really novel and cool to see a convincing performance from a kid acting like a jaded, world-weary, century-old vampire.
I’m still not sure how we’re supposed to feel about the Guardian and the Authority. Intuitively, you’d think the audience would be opposed to the force that’s oppressing Bill and Eric, but they’re doing a hell of a job of setting up Roman’s Guardian character as both respectful of humanity and an advocate for peaceful coexistence, which kind of puts us, as the audience, on the same “side.” I suspect that Roman’s political stance doesn’t bode well for his long-term chances of survival, but a girl (who loves Christopher Meloni) can dream.
I still couldn’t care less for Tara’s storyline except insofar as it intersects with Pam’s, which is a pretty deft move on the writers’ part. Intertwining the lives of one of the show’s favorite characters with one of the show’s least favorite? Not a bad strategy. And it’s given us some insight into the depth of the relationship between Pam and Eric specifically and the maker-makee(?) relationship in general. At times, some of the True Blood themes can get a little heavy handed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining. It’s funny, though, because we’re getting the message about the maker’s responsibility to a new vampire drilled into us, but I think the same kind of thematic messaging could help clarify the Authority’s approach to delivering the true death as punishment, but it’s not happening, or at least, I’m not getting it. Maybe because it’s just not as entertaining as Pam and Eric and Bill and Lorena in a brothel. Can we pause for a moment and talk about how great it was to see Lorena back?
It was great. I love that crazy bitch.
Speaking of crazy bitches – is it just me or are all these exotic brunettes starting to look and feel the same? Salome. Nora. Lorena. Honestly, I had a little trouble following this episode… and not just because of all the pretty ladies. I fear we’re descending into a world of political maneuvering, and quite frankly, that’s not why I tune into True Blood. I don’t know if it’s intentionally being set up this way, but I find the Authority’s interrogation and political rhetoric really unconvincing – either because it’s not truly being fleshed out or because it’s being set up as some kind of red herring for a larger, more developed conspiracy. I mean, come on, with Detective Stabler on set, there’s no excuse for not nailing an interrogation scene.
Anyway, the interrogation was successful in one way – uncovering Nora as a Sanguinista (and introducing me to a whole new world of using the “c” word as a verb!) Does that mean that Eric is Sanguinista too? Is Nora dead after just three episodes?
And what was Salome trying to get out of her “interrogations” with Eric and Bill? I enjoyed her astute observations about their personalities – Bill is still looking for something to believe in and Eric only believes in Eric. Her interaction with Roman made me think that she may not be 100 percent sold on the mainstreaming movement, either, especially considering she recruited Nora into the chancellor fold. It was also a fun little device to weave her story into its historical origins.
Several stories were backburnered this week like Emma’s canine disposition and Terry’s issue (whatever that is) and several stories were given little more than perfunctory movement like Sheriff Bellefleur’s relationship with Holly, Hoyt’s post-Jessica recovery, Lafayette’s demonic tendencies, and the relationship between Sookie and Alcide. Although now that Alcide knows what Sookie did, perhaps we’ll see some real movement on that front next week. All in all, it feels like these threads were rushed and forced into the episode just to remind us that yes, these balls are still up in the air, and at some point, we’ll see them again. I’m ready to see those… ummm… balls. I’m ready for some real action instead of exposition and plot set-up.
The only real development this week was that, to the shock of no one, Jason was seduced by one of his teachers (oh, Anna Draper!), paving the way for his sex-crazed ways. He’s actually coming to a realization about why he is the way he is and taking positive steps to grow, even becoming friends with Jessica, who is on a parallel path of discovering that short-term indulgences don’t create long-term fulfillment.
In the same way, a few funny lines and sight gags don’t make a great episode.
- Pam fast-texting
- “You’re too cute to be goo…”
- “A good merchant doesn’t compete with her merchandise.” “And a good customer knows that everything has its price.”
- “She wanted to marry you and have your cubs!”
- “These beans is colder than titties in a brass bra.”
Despite a few brief moments of satisfaction, overall this episode didn’t cut it for me.
I’m suffering from severe television-induced cognitive dissonance. Like CB, TVCD is a serious and growing epidemic that can no longer be ignored. How can I go on rolling my eyes and scoffing at those who waste hours watching The Bachelor and Lizard Lick Dynasty of Extreme Couponers or whatever the hell is on these days and claiming that I… I watch quality television. Scripted, artistic, contributing-to-society television. Downton Abbey! Girls! Breaking Bad!
And then the summer rolls around and I am squealing like a fangirl when former anti-vampire league evangelist Reverend Steve Newlin proclaims to Jason Stackhouse that he is now “a gay vampire-American.” Complete with *adorable head tilt*
I simply cannot reconcile the part of me that loves this trashy, ridiculous show with the part of me that is JUDGING. YOU. when you watch Toddlers and Tiaras. But here’s my attempt at making peace with myself, and no, this is not a revelation, but it is a good reminder as we begin season five.
There may be no other show on television that is as self-aware as True Blood, and I have to respect that.
The writers know what will make the characters cringe and what will make the viewers applaud, and they dish it out in heaping spoonfuls every episode. No measured, palate-teasing pacing like on Breaking Bad. The French Laundry, this is not. True Blood is the late-night drunken binge at Golden Corral that you feel guilty for enjoying so much but you don’t quite regret it.
So what did they dish out in the season premiere? Eric subservient to Bill, which is always entertaining. Badass Pam in a yellow bedazzled kitten sweatsuit from WalMart. Vampire-hater Tara turned… and turned against her best friend Sookie. A new sexual more pierced by the not-so-mildly incestuous relationship between Eric and Nora – “We fight like siblings, but we f*ck like champions.”
Tell me that didn’t raise your eyebrows and get your attention. Sidenote: Do you think Stephen Moyer is jealous that Lucy Griffiths (Nora) gets to speak in her natural British accent and he doesn’t?
Okay, okay… on to the actual show. I felt the opening was a little jerky, but it was effective at getting us right back into the action. We were introduced to a few new characters… Nora, Martha, Salome, Patrick (to whom we had a brief introduction at the end of Season Four) and a few new mysteries, too. What is the history between Terry and Patrick? What happened in Iraq and what is the mysterious fire they’re worried about? Why did The Authority attack their own people but leave Eric, Bill and Nora alive? Why does The Authority need them? And most importantly, when will Russell Edgington make his appearance and generally f*ck sh*t up!?!?
Character-wise, there’s been some slight movement with a few of the principals (Jason admitting his player ways and rejecting the sorority girl), and honestly, the overall lack of character development would be a bigger issue if their inherent, consistent flaws weren’t so damn entertaining. Lafayette continues to verbally reject his supernatural surroundings – “all werewolves do is piss off vampires; no more supernatural bullshit” but damn if he doesn’t let himself get dragged right back into the fray when Tara’s “life” is at stake. And Sookie may have dismissed her vampire love interests, but my prediction is that all this means is that this season’s angst will be courtesy of Alcide. Hopefully Sookie’s admission that she wanted to kill Debbie will actually lead to some interesting conflict and possible growth, but I’m not holding my breath.
Jessica is still acting out and exploring the boundaries of her new power – as a perpetually beautiful woman, as a vampire and as the progeny of the King of Louisiana.
Pam is still desperate for Eric’s approval, even leveraging an agreement with Sookie’s “super snatch” in order to repair her relationship with him. “What’s to say she won’t rise out of the ground tomorrow night completely and utterly f*cktarded?” Man, I have missed Pam.
Speaking of Pam’s devotion to Eric, I wonder if she and Nora will be pitted against one another for Eric’s affection and loyalty at some point this season. Seeing as how it would fulfill both standard True Blood writer requirements: make characters squirm, make audience rub hands with glee, I’m guessing it’s inevitable.
Oh, and the gore is inevitable too. This week it was the packmaster’s mother eating her decaying son’s entrails…. to…. gain his… power as some kind of ritual? Maybe there will be broader implications to the “ritual,” but mostly, I think it was just to fulfill the writers’ viscera quota for the week.
Great lines from the season premiere:
- “Don’t call people names, you dumbass redneck!” Zing!
- “I wish there was somewhere else to eat in this town.” Zing! Zing! It’s self-awareness within self-awareness. It’s META-AWARE!
As a long-time SVU fan, I am so stoked about Detective Stabler’s role as The Authority next week, but in the meantime, I’m going to see Dr. Leo Spaceman for treatment of my TVCD.
After each episode of Game of Thrones, I take a few hours to sit in my dark living room and ruminate on what I’ve just watched. And each week I can’t help but think of all the Dungeons & Dragons players out there, sitting in the parents’ basements, rubbing their hands together and saying, “Good. Gooood.” I think once everything is said and done, once the final episode has aired, this show’s greatest accomplishment will have been to turn all of its fans — all of us — into complete and total dorks. Hear me out.
The way the show’s going about this is pretty smart. As a book series, the audience Game of Thrones was going to reach was always going to be pretty small. It’d be popular in certain circles, win some awards, but that’s about it. As a TV series on HBO, everyone hears about it. Now, there are nerds out there, living among us, who look just like normal, everyday people. I know. It’s disturbing, but true. These people have read the books, so when they hear news that the show is on its way, they can go to their unsuspecting friends and say things like, “Oh yeah. I heard about that. A friend of mine (remember, “friend of mine” is a lie) read it. She said they were pretty cool. We should check them out. Together.” They’ll calm any skeptical attitudes by saying, “Well, yeah. It’s fantasy, but, like, realistic. There are no wizards or dragons or anything. And there are tons of boobs, so it’s like, historical.” Now their friends are interested. They’re fears have been calmed, and it’s time to close the deal.
The show looks amazing. It’s full of hot people. And it’s really good. Also, the very first scene’s got zombies in it. It’s a slam dunk, and by the time the first season wraps up and we see those dragons crawling over Dany’s (naked!) body, we’re hooked, and there’s no going back. Now, in its second season, the show is free to have crazy smoke people running around killing people, warlocks and Houses of the Undying. We’ll forgive all these trespasses. And by the time that final shot comes around, which I’ll refrain from spoiling here, we’re confidant that we’ve made the right decision. What’s more, we don’t even consider these things nerdy anymore. We take those kids we made fun of in high school, with their greasy hair and their eczema, hoist them on our shoulders and worship them as our new gods. What a strange new world we live in.
“Valar Morghulis” ended an epic, if a little unwieldy, season. If I’m being completely objective, I’d have to say that the show started losing its way somewhere around the midpoint of the season. There was just so much to keep track of. That in and of itself is fine. There was a lot to keep track of in the first season, and the show seemed to handle it alright. But I think there’s a critical mass the show can’t go past. When it tries it starts collapsing in on itself. Losing track of Stannis and Melisandre for as long as we did didn’t do things any favors. And there at the end I was still trying to make sense of what was going on with Jon Snow. So, keeping certain characters out of the spotlight for weeks at a time, or trying to stretch a small arc over ten episodes can really hurt things.
Buuut, if the season was going off the rails just a little bit, tonight’s finale — coming on the heels of “Blackwater” — capped things off very nicely. Very nicely INDEED. Last year’s finale was more of a prologue for season two. Tonight’s episode reminded me more of something we might have seen on Lost, showing most of our characters marching off toward the next big thing. So we’ll go around the table and check in on a few of them.
Tyrion: Did anyone else shed a tear at Tyrion and Shae’s reunion? It turns out her appraisal of what kind of man Tyrion is is pretty spot on. He’s got the heart, but he’s an imp so he feels like the only way he can get people to like him is to pay them. Shae’s feelings toward him, especially now that he’s got that giant gash down the middle of his face, throw him a little off his game. Now that Tywin’s back and drinking his milkshake, things are going to get very lonely for Tyrion in King’s Landing. He’s been relieved as the Hand. Varys tells him it’s going to be a while before they talk again. All of his power and influence have pretty much been taken away for him. And with Shae being assigned as one of Sansa’s handmaidens, how much are they going to be able to see each other really? So, thus begins the long, dark night of Tyrion’s soul.
Dany: I’ve already heard people complaining that the show such short shrift to Dany’s time inside the House of the Undying. Such are the constraints of television, I guess. HBO can do only so much. Anyway. Dany, you’ve come a long way, baby. From everything she saw in her vision quest through the House of the Undying, the sight of Khal Drogo and her unborn daughter seem to be the things that could have kept her there, those objects of personal desire and happiness. But the defining characteristic of her journey over the past two seasons is her realization that she has a destiny, and how that has come to singularly dominate her focus. So, despite the touching reunion, she walked away from her family to reclaim her dragons (in an EXPLOSIVE sequence (nailed it)) and finally get the hell out of Qarth.
Joffrey/Sansa: So the Lannisters have won, so they’re taking a little bit of time to bask in the glow of how awesome they are. Joffrey, who’s a complete asshole, threw Sansa to the curb and pledged to marry Margaery Tyrell. So that should change the balance of power in the South some come next season (I’m talking out my ass, but poor Sansa, right?). Speaking of Sansa, was anyone else surprised to see her still in King’s Landing? I thought she had taken off with the Hound.
Robb/Theon/Arya/Jon Snow/everyone else: What kind of separated Tyrion and Dany’s storylines from these others was that where we’re leaving them feels like a definitive end to a chapter. They will be in different circumstances when we find them again in season 3. For Robb and Theon and everyone else, it felt like we were saying goodbye to them on the road, in the middle of their journey. Theon’s being taken back to the Iron Islands. Jon Snow’s being taken to meet Mance Rayder. Robb just married his hot new wife. Who knows where it’ll all end?
Going back to my original point, it seems like the show’s getting ready to cream us all in the face with magic this next season. I say that for a few reasons. 1. We found out that Melisandre’s smoke monster is actually living inside Stannis. 2. Pyat Pree tells Dany that with the birth of her dragons, magic had returned to Westeros once more. And 3. That little bit of business with Jaqen H’ghar and his changing face. So it seems like the most powerful armies aren’t necessarily going to be the deciding factor in who’s left standing once all this is over. So, in other words, the GAME is afoot (don’t worry I’m going to kill myself as soon as I’m done with this).
And now we wait. Waiting almost a year until the next season is never an easy thing. Food loses some of its taste. Women aren’t as beautiful. The sun doesn’t shine as brightly. But then we remember that Breaking Bad is back in July, and we know that we’re watched over by a caring and just God.