You might think Aaron Sorkin’s passion is politics: The American President, West Wing, that whole part on Studio 60 with the Christian Right and someone in Afghanistan. Maybe his passion is Misunderstood Jerks, like with A Few Good Men, or Toby on WW, or his version of Mark Zuckerberg. These both seem like compelling passions. But in truth, Aaron Sorkin’s major passion is dad rock. The guy loves him some dad rock. And it’s coming out in full force on The Newsroom.
What is dad rock? Picture your dad, in the car driving somewhere, loudly singing along to something and banging his hand on the steering wheel for extra emphasis. Whatever song he’s listening to is dad rock.
It’s one thing to think that Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) listens to dad rock, like at the beginning of this season when he sat relaxed with a smoke and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” He probably would listen to that! But on last night’s episode, the throng of Romney reporters sat around in a bar while Mr. Mister’s “These Broken Wings” played in the background. We’ve seen Will wax on about the Who’s “You Better You Bet,” but we’ve also been subjected to Toto’s “Hold the Line.” And REO Speedwagon’s “Take It on the Run.” These are all on this season’s three episodes.
This dad-rock love is not a new passion, and it’s not even a bad passion: Sometimes it’s great. Sports Night has a whole episode called “Eli’s Coming,” framed around the idea that Dan initially misunderstood the meaning of the Three Dog Night song and thought it was about bad omens, and not “an inveterate womanizer,” as Casey corrects him. “Crimson and Clover” is used to wonderful effect at the end of season one’s “Sally,” and if you can hear “Boogie Shoes” without thinking of Dana drunkenly dancing in the Sports Night offices, I feel a little sad for you.
West Wing, too, has plenty of dad rock. We see a dejected Sam sleeping at the office, set to Don Henley’s “New York Minute.” Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” wails over the end of “Two Cathedrals,” and Aimee Mann covers quintessential dad-rock god James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” in “College Kids.” (I’m not including “The Jackal,” because that was written into the show when Sorkin found out this was already in Allison Janney’s personal arsenal.)
But things start to go a little haywire with Studio 60, most notably with the Sting debacle. Sting is not inherently dad-pleasing, and “Fields of Gold” isn’t rock, but Sting’s lute version of his 1993 song sort of summed up the schmaltziness and overadulation endemic to Studio 60. “Isn’t this so wonderful?” all the characters marveled. Uh, I guess?
I’m alone on this, but I actually prefer the dad rock to other options. I’ll take ten poignant montages set to Willie Nelson before I take one set to Coldplay’s “Fix You.” I’m not sure why everyone hangs out at a bar that plays a lot of Foreigner and is also a karaoke bar, but if the other choice is “Fix You” again, I pick Foreigner. But it would be okay to branch out, just a little.
Lots of shows use music supervisors to pick appropriate songs for their soundtracks. And certainly Sorkin shows do the same. (They also all have original scores, of course.) But Sorkin has spoken often about how particular he is about the music that goes in his shows — if you listen to the DVD commentary for The West Wing, he mentions it more than once. The guy is very particular — and consistent: Sports Night debuted in 1998. Fifteen years later, it’s like Sorkin is working off the same playlist.