It’s no secret to people who know me, but I have long considered The West Wing to be the best show in the history of television. (The first four seasons, anyway.) My knee-jerk reaction has always been to credit everything that made the show amazing to Aaron Sorkin, but that notion buckles under the weight of even casual scrutiny. That show wouldn’t have been the same without the incredible cast, the beautiful music (whether original or licensed…closing Season Two with “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits is one of my most abiding memories of television OR music), and the sheer production value all combined to create something that will likely never come again, at least not for me. That doesn’t change the fact that every time Aaron Sorkin tries something new on television, I can’t help but get excited.
When I saw the first trailer for The Newsroom, courtesy of a tweet posted by Brian Michael Bendis, I was BLOWN AWAY. Next thing you know, I was filled with hope and expectation…and then I remembered Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I know some people who really enjoyed that show, but I was not among their number. I thought it mediocre, and the only thing it really had in common with The West Wing was that incredible production value. The cast was good but not great, Steven Weber is the only person who really stood out to me, and the desire to explore the American psyche through the lives of the cast of a faux Saturday Night Live just never rang true to me. Anyway, memories of Studio 60 brought me back down to earth. (I’m trying not to have high expectations for The Dark Knight Rises, either.)
Then I read a mini-review of the premiere for The Newsroom by Warren Ellis. While it wasn’t exactly a negative review, it wasn’t sparkling either. My misgivings grew.
Let me just tell you, I am grateful for Warren Ellis and my memories of Studio 60. I think that they helped me to enjoy the show.
First of all, a lot of the reasons why I liked The West Wing so much are in evidence here. When I discovered The West Wing, I didn’t know who most of the cast were. I mean, Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe, sure. But Richard Schiff and Bradley Whitford and the incomparable Allison Janney were all but unknowns as far as I was concerned, and now I am a worshipper at their collective altar. I don’t know who Dev Patel or Thomas Sadoski or Allison Pill are, but I can see in them characters that I can learn to enjoy. Also, I buy the location; I don’t expect The Oval Office here, I expect a corporate building, which means that nothing has to look TOO great, because corporations don’t like to spend money on anything. So the production values worked for me.
Aaron Sorkin is certainly up on his soapbox here, and he has his polemic pencil grasped firmly in hand. If you don’t like that sort of thing, I can see this how getting pretty tiresome pretty quickly, unless you like this sort of thing…which I do, but I’m an elitist snob (or so people tell me). That led to the death of Studio 60, as far as I’m concerned. If I don’t care what Eddie Murphy’s politics are, why would I care about a fictional Eddie Murphy’s politics? Here, though…we have a cast of characters that can be opinionated on THE MATTERS THAT MATTER, because they’re in charge of telling us about them. That conceit gives Mr. Sorkin all the wiggle room he needs to preach. So I was able to like it…even as I’m not sure that it’ll last.
Still, the first episode of The West Wing will always be fixed in my brain, even if it wasn’t the best episode of the show. I’ve never gotten chills over the intro of a character like I still do over the first time we see Jed Bartlett. This wasn’t that.
I’ll definitely be watching this show, no question. It certainly helps make up for the absence of Supernatural and The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones and all the other genre goodness I love. But it ain’t no West Wing, and likely never will be.