[Very minor spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen last night's episode of The Newsroom]
Sorkin repeats himself. The supercut hammered that point home. In itself, not a deal breaker. Strong voices tend to have recognizable tics, especially verbal ones, and some strong sense of authorship brings us back.
But last night's episode of The Newsroom lifted an entire dramatic scenario in a way that felt like a glitch in the Matrix.
Mackenzie asks Jim if he knows the poem that begins "gather ye rosebuds, while ye may" as a gentle nudge that he should admit to Maggie that he has a big crush on her.
In The West Wing episode "20 Hours in L.A.", Donna says to Josh:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Josh. Do you know what that means? It means you should take this time to gather rosebuds, because later on you might not be able to.
She says it to push Josh to make a move on Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin).
In The Newsroom, Jim finally summons the courage to tell Maggie how he feels. He rushes over to her apartment, ready to deliver his "You complete me" speech (or perhaps to tell Maggie that he intercepted flowers that some other woman sent Don at work). The door opens, and he sees Maggie with her current boyfriend Don. He switches gears midstream and is whisked away by Maggie's roommate Lisa, who mistakenly thinks he's there in a continued effort to woo her.
In "20 Hours in L.A." (here's an old recap from Television Without Pity so you can play along at home), Josh takes Donna's counsel to heart and rushes up to Joey's hotel room. The door opens, and it's Lisa from The Newsroom. No, I jest, it's Joey's boyfriend, Al Kiefer. Like Don, Al has a character flaw, he's a pollster who we've seen urge President Bartlet to support an amendment to ban flag burning (wherever you stand on said issue, what matters here is that in Sorkin's moral calculus, such an amendment would be a travesty).
Al is in a bathrobe, and Joey pops out of the bathroom in a bathrobe also. Like Jim, Josh quickly improvises an excuse for why he came by, then wanders off.
This is just one example. Fellow Sorkinites, feel free to submit your own in the comments. Thanks to my fellow West Wing junkie Ken for helping me spot these every week to torture myself with them. Could someone write a program to cross reference each week's script from The Newsroom with the West Wing Transcripts and just save us the trouble? Or instead of just a soundboard, could someone build an Aaron Sorkin dramatic beat board? It would contain a grab bag of scenes you could transpose to a variety of show concepts and settings (the White House, cable news show, Sportscenter-like show, Saturday-Night-LIve-like show, etc.).
Sometimes you want to listen to pop music, sometimes you want to listen to jazz. Pop music is low entropy: you know what's coming, and the music delivers. That's gratifying and comforting in some deep human way. But sometimes you want jazz, which is high entropy. Who knows where Miles Davis is taking this riff, and when it will end.
The Newsroom is low entropy Sorkin, and it drives me batty week after week. Even the news stories in the show are a year old. If you haven't seen enough Sorkin to recognize the recycling, the show may be high entropy for you. Its weekly dosage of self-righteous indignation (it reminds me of my Twitter feed many weeks), the absurd coincidences that fuel ACN's lucky breaks ("Wait, my college roommate's girlfriend's cousin was Osama Bin Laden's pilates instructor." "Why didn't you say something earlier?!"), the scripts that make the lovable Emily Mortimer into a screeching wreck (this past episode was a new low for Mackenzie) and Sam Waterson into a drunken...no wait, I'm not complaining about Waterson, his alcoholic Charlie Skinner is an asset, he seems to have just wandered in to the Newsroom set from another, much funnier show.
Thankfully for Sorkin, this is just television, not the ideas circuit. Before Jonah Lehrer was caught for making up Bob Dylan quotes, he was caught recycling himself, and he had to issue a public apology. I don't think Sorkin will be apologizing anytime soon.
And yet, as you can tell, I've watched up through the penultimate episode of this season, and I won't lie, I will watch the season finale when I probably should be out gathering me rosebuds. What draws me back every week to this ritual of televisual self-flagellation? It's not hate-watching, I couldn't do that for more than an episode or two, for any show.
It's the cadence of the dialogue, the ping-pong patter of so many characters speaking Sorkinese vivacissimamente. Sorkin's written voice is more recognizable for me than anyone's in TV and film except perhaps Mamet's, and the pace is old school movie fast, just a hair's breath behind His Girl Friday. It's invigorating. Sorkin's tempo seems suited to the needs of my modern brain, which is constantly seeking more more more input (excuse me while I pull to refresh...beep...5 new tweets!). When I watch most television shows, I'm on my iPhone every few minutes, but with The Newsroom, when I check my phone I tend to rewind and listen to the dialogue I missed. There's no breathing room, and being breathless is its own rush (I imagine it must be as fun for actors, like a verbal spin class).
If only that firehose of language delivered more intellectual calories. If the characters from The Newsroom were as smart as Sorkin wants us to believe they are, they'd find themselves as silly as I do.