I’ve been one of the few stalwart defenders of Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom since the beginning, but the man doesn’t always make it easy. Besides being a giant prick who fires his entire writing staff, calls a reporter “Internet girl,” and recycles dialogue, sometimes Sorkin seems like he’s using Newsroom to intentionally bait the critics. Last night’s episode was just such an instance.
There were some great sequences in last night’s episode, in particular an exchange between Jeff Daniel’s Will McAvoy and a gay, black aide to Rick Santorum, which exposed McAvoy as the stubborn bully he often is. It also felt like a Sorkin mea culpa, a brief moment of self awareness in which Sorkin essentially acknowledged that he is a berating asshole. Olivia Munn, who has been a incredible surprise all season long, also provided a strong performance after her character was suspended for crossing some ethical boundaries. Sam Waterston was brilliant as always, too, although the way he and Daniels’ character kept calling Munn’s character “Girl,” almost felt like Sorkin was doubling down against accusations of sexism, like a giant “F–k you” to critics, as if to say, “I’m going to steamroll over your accusations of sexism by BEING MORE SEXIST.”
But the biggest problem with last night’s episode was that Sorkin moved from recycling dialogue to recycling entire plots. It’s not that uncommon in television for a television writer to borrow plotlines from previous shows. For instance, if you’ve watched more than two David E. Kelly shows, you’ve seen a lot of the same legal cases and issues argued by different characters on different shows (a few may remember John Laroquette’s brilliant turn on The Practice as a witness who talked the prosecution into granting him full immunity, after which he confessed to the murder he supposedly witnesses. Kelly has done that episode in five different shows, at least). But that’s a legal procedural; it’s a little different. In this case, Sorkin stole from the memorable West Wing. You just can’t steal sequences from a very popular and beloved show without anyone recognizing it.
For those who didn’t watch last night’s episode, Sorkin used a familiar framing device: Will McAvoy was telling a story about a death threat he received from an Internet commenter to his therapist and most of the episode was told in flashbacks from that therapy session. He was visiting the therapist because he couldn’t sleep. During his session, the therapist also surmised that Will’s Dad had beaten him.
I don’t have a clear memory of West Wing (it’s been a few years), but there were at least two instances in that show where a therapist, Stanley Keyworth (Adam Arkin), played a significant role. The first was in a therapy session with Josh Lyman after a death threat against the President turned into a reality, and Josh was shot. The second was when President Bartlet — who like McAvoy, was having problems with insomnia — met with the same therapist and revealed that his father also beat him. (Sorkin clearly has some Daddy issues himself.)
I don’t have an embed of last night’s Newsroom episode, but for those that saw it, you’ll recognize a lot of eerie similarities between McAvoy’s therapy session and this one from season three of the West Wing.
Dude. I dig Newsroom, but Sorkin has got to stop moving words and scenes and calling it a new show. Sports Night only made it two seasons; he only wrote four seasons of the West Wing, and Studio 60 only made it one season, so he should have a few more ideas rattling around in his brain. At least wait until the third season before you start recycling storylines.
It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who noticed the similarities. A quick Google search reveals that Glynis MacNicol also spotted them and noted that both episodes the same way: With the therapist saying, “Time’s up.” She also highlights the fact that West Wing stole a similar plotline from Sorkin’s first show, Sports Night.
Here’s a promo of last night’s episode, and if this plays out like the West Wing, poor Terry Crews’ bodyguard character is going to get two in the chest in the season finale, a la Mark Harmon.