Nothing beats great writing. It’s what makes watching TV so fantastic in recent years. LOST, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, 24, Homeland, Dexter – the list could go on and on. Sure, not every episode, or every season for that matter was a homerun, but overall, terrific stuff. This era of TV shows have brought that new element to television: exceptionally well crafted dramas. No longer is the world of TV the place for hacks. Hacks still exist, as there are more channels than ever before needing endless content, but great writing is more prominent in television today. It’s as if writers suddenly realized writing films wasn’t the only way to go. There is another avenue where they can do excellent work too. Aaron Sorkin is one of those writers.
The Newsroom’s more recent episode, “Red Team III,” begins with terrifically written dialogue. It’s thoughtful and provocative, quick paced but never feeling false. It’s always authentic – not trying to be quick witted for quick witted sake. Don is now on the hot seat, interviewed by ACN lawyer Rebecca Halliday and her legal team regarding Operation Genoa. The dialogue is filled with plot, subtlety, intelligence, humor, and focus. No screen time is wasted. The audience gets what they showed up for – sheer artistry.
From there, the episode is unrelenting, never prolonging our curiosity to solving the botched news story. Other series may have milked this, but not one written by Sorkin. At least with this reviewer, just when a story-line runs the risk of being over-done, it’s completed in The Newsroom. In “Red Team III,” we are given far more than we bargained for on how Genoa fell apart. Jerry was revealed last week splicing the video from General Stomtonovich but that was only the beginning. A major piece for Charlie to feel comfortable green lighting the story has betrayed him. It’s all shocking, emotional, heart wrenching and of course, terrifically written. Charlie is easily one of the most likeable characters on The Newsroom. It’s not too often a character comes along that I enjoy so much I want to protect him. When horrible things happen to Charlie, my guts churn as if on red alert. That’s great storytelling, creating an emotion inside me to protect a fictional character. Well, it’s either great writing or irrational thinking on my part. Come to think of it, I’m not sure which. Let’s go with the former, for my sake.
Yet perhaps the best written part of “Red Team III” comes with Will and Halliday’s team. He recants a history lesson, but not a stories we are typically told. In a terrific monologue, Will talks about the months before Rosa Parks’ arrest in Alabama, a shaky chair preventing the assassination of FDR and the failure of O-Rings on the Challenger causing it to explode. How does all of this connect to Operation Genoa? It’s all about one small thing changing the course of history and many times that thing is just plain luck, good or bad. If certain events don’t conspire together in just the right way, an outcome can’t prevail. Timing is everything they say, but so too is luck. While things go badly for our favorite news team, events had to conspire against them in such a way it could only be chalked up to luck; bad luck in the case of The Newsroom.
The Newsroom and the proliferation of great TV writing is a fantastic thing that’s happened to those of us who love watching television. Decades ago, TV was a graveyard, filled with actors and writers who couldn’t make the jump to the big time or had and couldn’t sustain life on the silver screen. Sure there were well written shows, Cheers and Barney Miller come to mind, but not in the numbers there are today. Independent stations like HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX, and most recently Netflix have changed the game. TV has become an inventive showcase for talent. But most importantly, it is finally a superior form of entertainment. More and more TV shows are filled with quality writers, superb actors, and worthwhile productions (heck, even computer graphics aren’t as horrid as they once were). Terrific actors such as Bryan Cranston, Claire Danes, and Jeff Daniels are reaping the benefits of such a writing shift in entertainment with numerous Emmy nominations and a few wins. As well, many significant filmmakers today, bankable at the box office, first had huge success in TV. J.J. Abrams’s began writing and producing Alias, LOST and Fringe. Now he’s reinvigorated Star Trek and slated to do the same for Star Wars. Joss Whedon gained cult status writing and producing Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. Now, he’s helmed the ridiculously successful Marvel’s The Avengers. Not only that, veterans like Stephen Spielberg have become more and more involved in TV. Spielberg is the Executive Producer of one of my new favorites, Under the Dome. When talented people get involved, whatever the medium, great things can happen, and those of us who love TV are reaping the rewards.