Aaron Sorkin and HBO seemed like an unbeatable match. Sorkin is the Emmy- and Oscar-winning scribe behind The West Wing and The Social Network. HBO is the renowned network that aired The Sopranos and The Wire. The mere fact of the pairing sent expectations skyrocketing for The Newsroom, Sorkin's new HBO drama about behind-the-scenes tensions at a cable news program, which premieres Sunday night. Dismayed critics, however, have lambasted the series as "obvious and self-congratulatory… manipulative and shrieky" — a rare miss for the lauded writer who's also behind the heralded Sports Night and polarizing-but-still-admired Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Here, six reasons The Newsroom fails to measure up to Sorkin's best work:
1. Sorkin's once charming dialogue has become self-important
When characters bantered at a breakneck pace on The West Wing, it seemed somehow melodious, says Hank Stuever at The Washington Post. On The Newsroom, similarly speedy interplay "has the effect of tinnitus." The characters "never stop speechifying to one another," with Sorkin eschewing believable dialogue for a "logorrhea of righteous self-importance." Everyone speaks the same — the men, the women, the young characters, the old characters — and it's just too much.
2. The show is too preachy
All this speechifying leaves the viewer with "that nagging feeling that you're listening to a lecture," says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter. Sorkin often makes good points, but his "condescending need to educate the masses" quickly wears out its welcome, says Maureen Ryan at The Huffington Post.
3. It panders
Because of the subject matter Sorkin's shows tackle — politics, media bias, ideals — they're always touted as important television, says Emily Nussbaum at The New Yorker. But Newsroom's "air of defiant intellectual superiority is rarely backed up by [actual substance]." Worse, it too often treats the audience as if it were stupid. Characters recount events the audience has just seen. A character's shtick — say, a Bigfoot obsession — is hammered home over and over. Sorkin may speak patronizingly about police procedural dramas, "but his Socratic flirtations are frequently just as formulaic."
4. The characters are too familiar
Newsroom's characters align with tired "Sorkinian archetypes," says Nussbaum. Jeff Daniels' Will is "the Great Man," who inspires a legion of followers despite his cantankerous flaws. The women are all brilliant and accomplished — and also "high-strung lunatics." The suit-clad young men are all too cynical or too idealistic, and, as is the Sorkin way, think nothing of uttering pretentious statements like, "This right here is always the swan song of the obsolete when they're staring the future paradigm in the face."
5. The women are poorly drawn
"Either Sorkin is no longer able to write credible women characters, or he no longer wants to," says James Poniewozik at TIME. After crafting captivating, intelligent, intriguingly flawed female characters like The West Wing's C.J. or Sports Night's Dana, on The Newsroom, he gives us "a series of women as ninnies who need men to set them straight." The show's strongest female character is Emily Mortimer's MacKenzie, the show's producer, but she spends as much time fumbling about in flustered, skittish ways as she does making assertive decisions.
6. It borders on self-parody
The unmistakable Sorkin-isms that appear in all of the writer's works are so egregious and blatant here that Newsroom reads "as a long-form Saturday Night Live skit parodying Sorkin's worst instincts," says Ryan. The show is littered with his trademarks: Walk-and-talks, the male lead cast as a "noble" savior, the monologuing, the lecturing. "Everything about it is overblown or undercooked to the point of being laughable."