This series – the first one of West Wing creator’s Aaron Sorkin’s latest offering, The Newsroom – should probably have a post of its own. That will still happen when we’ve finished watching. But one episode I’ve just seen really set me thinking.
The show is set in and around the production of a nightly news show on American TV station, a show priding itself on its high news values and quest for the truth. It’s set in the recent past, against the backdrop of recent events – Tahir Square, for instance, and in this episode, the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
Two things surprised me about this episode. The first is that it received a largely negative reaction on airing in the USA. The mixed tone, of light comedy alongside the sober seriousness of the news event did not go down well. I thought it worked brilliantly – with all Sorkin’s trademark wit and drama. It was captivating and unforgettable television.
The other thing which surprised me was the extent to which the show didn’t get under the skin of American jubilation at the news of Bin Laden’s death. It was presented almost unquestioningly; one character was less than warm in her reaction, due in part to an unconvincing family connection to 9/11 itself. The rest was all celebration and national pride – which seems at odds with the tone of Sorkin’s other work – in love with his country, but not without awareness of its faults. Not least, also, an implication of anti-death penalty stance.
It’s not that I can’t empathise with the release of emotion that accompanied the news of Bin Laden’s death – it’s just that I’m surprised and confused as to why Sorkin didn’t interrogate this more. I remember in the days following the event, the almost universal outpouring of joy from a spectrum of American political opinion – conservative and liberal agenda seemed to be forgotten in a rush to celebrate. The occasional voice of concern was there – but it was hard to hear in the din. I’m not sure there’s much else to say – I’m noting, really, what for me was an odd and strangely incomplete emotion for such a good piece of drama. Maybe I expected too much – especially when Sorkin’s characters tend to prize being right at the expense of grace and forgiveness. Or maybe I’m missing the point. More when the series ends.