Aaron Sorkin loves righteous indignation. His characters embrace an unusual level of echolalia. His shows contain blonde, straight female characters who engage in often antagonistic screwball flirting with their bosses or employees. The only thing these characters deplore more than mediocrity is not getting to talk about how much they deplore mediocrity. They like theater (especially musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan); they enjoy sports analogies; and they are frequently in search of ethical debates. The characters on The Newsroom are no exception! The show fits right in with Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 — these stories of high-minded individuals committed to rescuing television, or politics, or journalism from its sad gasps and restoring its luster, its promise, its romance, and reminding us all of the American dream, the inherent dignity of fatherhood, and that We Can Be Better. If we’re making it sound repetitive, it’s because it is. Sorkin’s grinding the same axes, repeating the same banter formulas, and sometimes even the same exact lines. Here are the most striking examples from last night’s Newsroom pilot.
The Conservative Straw Man Who Hates the N.E.A.
The Newsroom: Says Will’s right-wing co-panelist at the beginning of the pilot, “I am not happy to pay for a painting I don’t want to look at, poetry I don’t want to read … “
The West Wing: Says Republican congressman fighting with Toby Ziegler in “He Shall From Time to Time,” ” I don’t know what to say to people who argue that the N.E.A. is there to support art that nobody wants to pay for in the first place.”
Beware of Code Words for Jews
Newsroom: Will’s other, liberal co-panelist calls out a conservative panelist for using language that she says is “code for New York, Jewish, perverted, and gay.”
West Wing: In the pilot, Toby calls out a leader from the religious right for saying “New York sense of humor.” “She means ‘Jewish,’” he says.
Stupid People Believe in Angels
Newsroom: Will complains that America leads the world in “the number of adults who believe angels are real.”
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Matt Albie complains (in “The 4 a.m. Slaughter”) that “68 percent of Americans believe in angels.” He harps on this point forever.
America Used to Be Better
Newsroom: Will wistfully conjures the greatness of bygone American ingenuity, saying, “We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars.”
West Wing: Sam Seaborn (in “10,000 Airplanes”) wistfully conjures the greatness of bygone American ingenuity, “Over the past half-century, we’ve split the atom, we’ve spliced the gene, and we’ve roamed Tranquility Base. We’ve reached for the stars.” Sam wanted to cure cancer; Will wants to not have strong opinions on television.
And Yet, Government Can Still Be an Instrument of Good
Newsroom: Mackenzie asks, “Is government an instrument of good, or is it every man for himself? Is there something bigger we want to reach for, or is self-interest our basic resting pulse?
West Wing: Toby (in “He Shall From Time to Time”) says, “That government, no matter what, its failures are in the past, and in times to come, for that matter, the government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one gets left behind, an instrument of good.”
Gruff Men Are Often Too Busy to Remember Women’s Names
Will: You’re Ellen?
Maggie: Maggie — Margaret …
Will: Where’s Karen?
Maggie: Who’s Karen?
Will: My assistant.
Maggie: I’m your assistant.
Will: You’re Ellen.
West Wing’s “The Black Vera Wang”:
Campaign strategist Bruno Gianelli: Hey, Stacey.
Bruno: I thought Margaret was the girl who worked here before.
Margaret: I’m the girl who worked here before. I’m Margaret.
Bruno: You changed your hair.
Single Bosses Possess Sherlock Holmes–like Powers of Deduction Regarding Co-worker Relationships
Newsroom: Mackenzie guesses the details of producer Don and assistant Maggie’s relationship right off the bat based on one conversational scrap and a photo on Maggie’s desk, saying, “Why won’t Don go to dinner? He thinks it’s too early?”
West Wing: Josh Lyman guesses details of Donna’s relationship based on her impromptu appearance as his assistant (in “The Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part II”). “Your boyfriend was older? … Law student? … And the idea was that you’d drop out and pay the bills till he was done with [school].”
Fish Are Scary
Newsroom: Mackenzie is afraid of jellyfish.
Sports Night: Dana is afraid of all fish.
Who Needs a Flirting Lesson? Is It You?
Newsroom: Mackenzie tries to give senior producer Jim a flirting lesson, much to his discomfort.
Sports Night: Dana gives Casey a flirting lesson (in “Smokey”), much to Casey’s delight.
Man of La Mancha References Are the Best Way to Wins Hearts and Minds
Newsroom: Mackenzie tries to inspire Will by citing Don Quixote and accidentally quoting Man of La Mancha.
Sports Night: Dana tries to comfort Jeremy by explaining that Don Quixote was a hero of her father’s and that Jeremy’s behavior is charmingly Quixotic. She also drops her own Man of La Mancha reference by saying his “love has been pure and chaste from afar.”
Punklike Behavior and Bitchiness Are Interrelated Sins
Newsroom: Mackenzie shouts at Will, “It’s not all the same to me, you punk!” and dreams of a broadcast that’s “the death of bitchiness, the death of gossip.”
Studio 60: In the pilot, disgruntled executive producer Wes says that commerce’s triumph over art is “making us mean, and it’s making us bitchy. It’s making us cheap punks.”
Family Members’ Jobs Are Convenient
Newsroom: Jim’s sister conveniently works for Haliburton, and he’s reporting the BP oil spill.
Sports Night: Dana’s brother conveniently plays in the NFL, and she’s reporting a story about players (including him) using steroids.
The West Wing: Toby’s brother is one of the astronauts trapped aboard a space shuttle, so the president is even more committed to saving the crew members’ lives.
Studio 60: Tom’s brother is a soldier captured in Afghanistan, just as the series is forgetting that it’s supposed to be about a comedy show.
Newsroom: Maggie accidentally leaves her headset on and it yanks her head back as she flees from the desk.
Sports Night: Dana Whitaker accidentally leaves her headset on and it yanks her head back as she flees from her desk.
Some Love Is Past Understanding
Newsroom: Will recalls that Mackenzie’s dad said to him, ” … for reasons passing understanding, my Mackenzie seems to be in love with you.”
Studio 60: Matt reminds Tom that his crush, Lucy, “[is] a lovely young woman, who’s a guest in our country, and who also just got clonked by a guy who, for reasons passing understanding, she was in love with.”