How HBO Made It Look Like Critics Liked ‘The Newsroom’ (Forbes)
It’s been a long time since HBO has had a series so critically villified as The Newsroom. Though Aaron Sorkin’s show sits in the ‘comfortably mediocre’ range on rating aggregators like Metacritic, many critics have savaged the show. Yet you wouldn’t know it from the two-page ad HBO ran for the show recently, full of laudatory phrases from TV criticism’s elite. But there’s a catch:

Time’s James Poniewozik, summarizing his views on “The Newsroom” for non-subscribers, flatly declared, “I was not a fan.” Yet the ad makes it sound like he was, burbling, “The pacing is electric…captures the excitement.” 
Salon’s Willa Paskin is quoted in the ad calling “The Newsroom” “captivating, riveting, rousing.” Here’s what she actually wrote: “The results are a captivating, riveting, rousing, condescending, smug, infuriating mixture, a potent potion that advertises itself as intelligence-enhancing but is actually just crazy-making.”

As the article accurately points out, movie studios have been practicing this kind of marketing deception for years — Sony went so far as to invent a completely fake critic to plant positive reviews for A Knight’s Tale. But HBO’s shows are usually so well-received that they wouldn’t need to stoop to these lows.
Hopefully the show will stick around for a few more seasons so Jeff Daniels can address the scandal himself in The Newsroom’s trademark “ripped from the headlines from two years ago” style. 

How HBO Made It Look Like Critics Liked ‘The Newsroom’ (Forbes)

It’s been a long time since HBO has had a series so critically villified as The Newsroom. Though Aaron Sorkin’s show sits in the ‘comfortably mediocre’ range on rating aggregators like Metacritic, many critics have savaged the show. Yet you wouldn’t know it from the two-page ad HBO ran for the show recently, full of laudatory phrases from TV criticism’s elite. But there’s a catch:

Time’s James Poniewozik, summarizing his views on “The Newsroom” for non-subscribers, flatly declared, “I was not a fan.” Yet the ad makes it sound like he was, burbling, “The pacing is electric…captures the excitement.” 

Salon’s Willa Paskin is quoted in the ad calling “The Newsroom” “captivating, riveting, rousing.” Here’s what she actually wrote: “The results are a captivating, riveting, rousing, condescending, smug, infuriating mixture, a potent potion that advertises itself as intelligence-enhancing but is actually just crazy-making.”

As the article accurately points out, movie studios have been practicing this kind of marketing deception for years — Sony went so far as to invent a completely fake critic to plant positive reviews for A Knight’s Tale. But HBO’s shows are usually so well-received that they wouldn’t need to stoop to these lows.

Hopefully the show will stick around for a few more seasons so Jeff Daniels can address the scandal himself in The Newsroom’s trademark “ripped from the headlines from two years ago” style. 

The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin at His Most Comfortable - And Complacent
A couple months back, after the release of the trailer for HBO’s The Newsroom, I said the following about Aaron Sorkin’s latest television project about fictional cable news anchor Will McAvoy:

The character of Will McAvoy needs to be emotionally filthy, covered in the slime that cable news personalities like Olbermann constantly spew. He needs to be an anti-hero with a particularly strong emphasis on the part before the hyphen.

At its core, I wanted this because it would lead Sorkin to explore something besides the well-worn stories he had explored in Sports Night, The West Wing and Studio 60. I wanted The Social Network Sorkin who didn’t make excuses for his characters, because lately that’s been by far the most interesting Sorkin. Now that the show’s first episode has aired, I can offer a preliminary (read: too early) verdict: We didn’t get the right Sorkin.
Kevin already presented a detailed look at Internet backlash using The Newsroom as a case study, and I’m honestly surprised at just how many people consider this some new low for Sorkin. I could understand criticism calling it repetitive or redundant. But Sorkin didn’t suddenly forget how to write. There’s nothing laughably bad about this show, the structure and presentation are competently done. In fact, this is almost EXACTLY the same Sorkin we got on every poli sci major’s favorite show ever, The West Wing. And that’s what I find disappointing.
It’s not that The West Wing was a bad show. It was a good show, which regularly showed flashes of being a very good show (just regularly enough that they stayed mere flashes though, which got regularly frustrating). But it came to existence in a completely different era of television. The West Wing premiered before the modern conceit of television as an art form was remolded by The Sopranos, which had debuted just nine months earlier. Since then, we have seen The Shield, The Wire, Deadwood, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified, Game of Thrones, Homeland and other shows that were not only considerably more ambitious than The West Wing and the other shows of its era, but realized their ambitions far better. They created a whole new level of achievement above The West Wing for shows to aspire to.
Basically, with The West Wing Sorkin could talk a big game but play small and he would still get credit for a grand display because so few people even dared to imagine television being more than a mere evening diversion. He does not have that excuse anymore. The Newsroom was made in a creative environment that encourages creativity and daring and airs on a network that gives its creators ample room to spread their wings. Sorkin doesn’t take advantage of that at all here. Instead, he’s still covering the same topics and approaching the same themes in the same way with the same characters. Which can work if you’re Werner Herzog or Woody Allen, but despite the countless times he has been assigned the label of “genius” Sorkin has never worked at that level. The only time he even came close was when he diverged from his typical schtick in the aforementioned The Social Network.
I would love to see what Sorkin could do by turning McAvoy into a true hack journalist. Or even better, it would be great to see him actually focus on the negative consequences of his main character’s ferocious integrity. And in subsequent episodes or seasons, that might very well happen. But in the first episode, McAvoy is such a gigantic asshole that nearly his entire staff of dozens deserts him, yet they’re still able to break the entire 2010 BP oil spill story without a hitch. On a side note, is every event The Newsroom tackles going to be like this? Because the ACN crew broke 6 weeks worth of BP stories in the span of an afternoon. I’ll accept occasional ridiculousness in a grounded reality, but not constant ridiculousness.
Of course, like The West Wing I would still consider The Newsroom to be a good show. It’s a more than suitable Sunday night time waster, and the characters are all enjoyable, save perhaps Thomas Sadoski’s news team coup leader Don who seemingly exists just to be the guy who says “no” even when you have a clear home run story to pitch (These are pretty much the same characters Sorkin has been using for years after all. Emily Mortimer is effectively playing the same role as Felicity Huffman in Sports Night, Alison Pill pretty much has Janel Maloney’s part on The West Wing, etc.) Jeff Daniels and Mortimer are both great in the lead roles. And if nothing else, the patented Sorkin Dialogue (TM) is still incredibly entertaining. It’s at least enough to make me forgive Sorkin’s old man style dismissal of blogs & Twitter or his genuinely stupid view of American history, or even the already tired love triangle between Pill, Sadoski and John Gallagher Jr.’s characters.
But my issues with The Newsroom still come down to the question I asked at the end of my previous post, which at the time was just a lazy way to conclude my mini-essay but was, and is, still a worthwhile question. Will the freedom granted by HBO (and, for that matter, the post-Sopranos television landscape) lead Sorkin to embrace his characters’ darkness or will it just mean they can say “fuck” from time to time? So far after one episode, the answer has pretty resoundingly been the latter. But he has a full season to craft a do-over.

The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin at His Most Comfortable - And Complacent

A couple months back, after the release of the trailer for HBO’s The Newsroom, I said the following about Aaron Sorkin’s latest television project about fictional cable news anchor Will McAvoy:

The character of Will McAvoy needs to be emotionally filthy, covered in the slime that cable news personalities like Olbermann constantly spew. He needs to be an anti-hero with a particularly strong emphasis on the part before the hyphen.

At its core, I wanted this because it would lead Sorkin to explore something besides the well-worn stories he had explored in Sports Night, The West Wing and Studio 60. I wanted The Social Network Sorkin who didn’t make excuses for his characters, because lately that’s been by far the most interesting Sorkin. Now that the show’s first episode has aired, I can offer a preliminary (read: too early) verdict: We didn’t get the right Sorkin.

Kevin already presented a detailed look at Internet backlash using The Newsroom as a case study, and I’m honestly surprised at just how many people consider this some new low for Sorkin. I could understand criticism calling it repetitive or redundant. But Sorkin didn’t suddenly forget how to write. There’s nothing laughably bad about this show, the structure and presentation are competently done. In fact, this is almost EXACTLY the same Sorkin we got on every poli sci major’s favorite show ever, The West Wing. And that’s what I find disappointing.

It’s not that The West Wing was a bad show. It was a good show, which regularly showed flashes of being a very good show (just regularly enough that they stayed mere flashes though, which got regularly frustrating). But it came to existence in a completely different era of television. The West Wing premiered before the modern conceit of television as an art form was remolded by The Sopranos, which had debuted just nine months earlier. Since then, we have seen The Shield, The Wire, Deadwood, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified, Game of ThronesHomeland and other shows that were not only considerably more ambitious than The West Wing and the other shows of its era, but realized their ambitions far better. They created a whole new level of achievement above The West Wing for shows to aspire to.

Basically, with The West Wing Sorkin could talk a big game but play small and he would still get credit for a grand display because so few people even dared to imagine television being more than a mere evening diversion. He does not have that excuse anymore. The Newsroom was made in a creative environment that encourages creativity and daring and airs on a network that gives its creators ample room to spread their wings. Sorkin doesn’t take advantage of that at all here. Instead, he’s still covering the same topics and approaching the same themes in the same way with the same characters. Which can work if you’re Werner Herzog or Woody Allen, but despite the countless times he has been assigned the label of “genius” Sorkin has never worked at that level. The only time he even came close was when he diverged from his typical schtick in the aforementioned The Social Network.

I would love to see what Sorkin could do by turning McAvoy into a true hack journalist. Or even better, it would be great to see him actually focus on the negative consequences of his main character’s ferocious integrity. And in subsequent episodes or seasons, that might very well happen. But in the first episode, McAvoy is such a gigantic asshole that nearly his entire staff of dozens deserts him, yet they’re still able to break the entire 2010 BP oil spill story without a hitch. On a side note, is every event The Newsroom tackles going to be like this? Because the ACN crew broke 6 weeks worth of BP stories in the span of an afternoon. I’ll accept occasional ridiculousness in a grounded reality, but not constant ridiculousness.

Of course, like The West Wing I would still consider The Newsroom to be a good show. It’s a more than suitable Sunday night time waster, and the characters are all enjoyable, save perhaps Thomas Sadoski’s news team coup leader Don who seemingly exists just to be the guy who says “no” even when you have a clear home run story to pitch (These are pretty much the same characters Sorkin has been using for years after all. Emily Mortimer is effectively playing the same role as Felicity Huffman in Sports Night, Alison Pill pretty much has Janel Maloney’s part on The West Wing, etc.) Jeff Daniels and Mortimer are both great in the lead roles. And if nothing else, the patented Sorkin Dialogue (TM) is still incredibly entertaining. It’s at least enough to make me forgive Sorkin’s old man style dismissal of blogs & Twitter or his genuinely stupid view of American history, or even the already tired love triangle between Pill, Sadoski and John Gallagher Jr.’s characters.

But my issues with The Newsroom still come down to the question I asked at the end of my previous post, which at the time was just a lazy way to conclude my mini-essay but was, and is, still a worthwhile question. Will the freedom granted by HBO (and, for that matter, the post-Sopranos television landscape) lead Sorkin to embrace his characters’ darkness or will it just mean they can say “fuck” from time to time? So far after one episode, the answer has pretty resoundingly been the latter. But he has a full season to craft a do-over.

The Corrections is dead. Long live The Corrections.
The HBO adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s magnum opus has been rejected by network execs, apparently amid concerns that its non-linear narrative wouldn’t translate to television. That seems like something they should have considered before they hired Noah Baumbach as showrunner and assembled a ridiculously amazing cast that included Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans, and thus made this possibly the thing I’ve been most excited about EVER (beating out even my 9th birthday party), but hey, television isn’t a science I guess.
I’m sure the pilot will leak online at some point, and we can at least get a taste of what could have been. But with HBO’s development process likely making it impossible for Baumbach and producer Scott Rudin to ship the series off to Showtime or AMC or any other potential suitors, it looks like Franzen’s novels are destined to stay in print form for now.
As a substitute, just stare constantly at these photos of Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper and Ewan McGregor looking sad. That’s pretty much what the show would’ve been anyway.
(above image via Indiewire)

The Corrections is dead. Long live The Corrections.

The HBO adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s magnum opus has been rejected by network execs, apparently amid concerns that its non-linear narrative wouldn’t translate to television. That seems like something they should have considered before they hired Noah Baumbach as showrunner and assembled a ridiculously amazing cast that included Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans, and thus made this possibly the thing I’ve been most excited about EVER (beating out even my 9th birthday party), but hey, television isn’t a science I guess.

I’m sure the pilot will leak online at some point, and we can at least get a taste of what could have been. But with HBO’s development process likely making it impossible for Baumbach and producer Scott Rudin to ship the series off to Showtime or AMC or any other potential suitors, it looks like Franzen’s novels are destined to stay in print form for now.

As a substitute, just stare constantly at these photos of Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper and Ewan McGregor looking sad. That’s pretty much what the show would’ve been anyway.

(above image via Indiewire)

tommphilip:

The Thick of It is maybe the perfect show with regard to how entertaining you might imagine a naturalistic comedy about British politics could be. It’s available in its entirety on youtube, and the first five minutes of this episode have to be enough to convince anyone/everyone.

Bonus: Armando Iannucci’s new show, Veep, an American version of The Thick of It, is also available on youtube, but it’s not as funny.

Bonus bonus: In The Loop, a spin-off movie of The Thick of It, is on Netflix instant.

Bonus bonus bonus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8VFb2wxolM

Listen to what Tom Philip says, and watch everything you can that involves Armando Iannucci. Tom is a real-life British person who also writes comedy, so he’s kind of an expert in matters of Britcoms. Trust him (and us, since we both love Iannucci as well) and stream this shit pronto.

synecdoche:

I rewrote Girls so I could relate to it more.

synecdoche:

I rewrote Girls so I could relate to it more.

Game, set, match.

Game, set, match.

All the Real Girls
So HBO’s Girls premiered less than 48 hours ago, and already I feel like the conversation has progressed to the double reverse backlash stage. So goes the water cooler talk for a show where writers are legally obligated to use the word “zeitgeist” in every recap (see, I just used it there!). Instant reactions to TV aren’t exactly rare - they’re the norm, really. But the response to Girls is particularly strange because everybody seems to already have a concrete opinion of the show. And what’s stranger yet is that really isn’t a problem.
You can thank or blame director/writer/star Lena Dunham for that, because she’s just so goddamn competent. It’s hard to find any filmmaker, let alone one barely old enough to rent a car, who can clearly articulate a vision for an entire television series in one half-hour episode, but Dunham did. If you didn’t like the series’ first thirty minutes, it’s hard for me to see Dunham & Crew winning you over. The central premise of the show is that these characters are in a sort of early life stasis, and growth just for growth’s sake doesn’t seem to be something Dunham is interested in. Nor do I think HBO will force it on her - this is the network that was built by The Sopranos, a show that centered itself around the idea that people never truly change.
But if you did like the first episode of Girls, chances are you aren’t just interested in basic character arcs. You like ideas, you like creativity, you like pushing boundaries. Louie is probably your favorite show (For the record, I am probably the 800,000th person to compare this show to Louie). And those are all things that Dunham really does seem interested in and that she is very capable of expressing.
However, as if to negate the entire theory I just espoused, I’m really not sure what I think of Girls (insert juvenile joke referencing homosexuality here). So far, the show seems to replicate all the responses I had to Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture. On the one hand, Dunham strikes me as a genius. She has an unnatural mastery of her craft and instills her work with a sense of authenticity I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. But at the same time, the message of Girls really bothers me.
Dunham seems almost hell bent on confirming every steretype media commentators and Ye Olde Members of the Baby Boomer Age have about the “Millenial” (gah, I hate typing that word) generation - the whole generation, not just its female half. And to a large extent I realize that critique is unfair. More than anything else, Dunham’s work seems to be a reflection on her personal life, and the idea that her personal life represents all twentysomethings of this decade is patently ridiculous, as Dunham herself points out (“I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least, a voice. Of a generation.”)
But regardless of Dunham’s intentions, the moderate ratings success and incredible Internet success of Girls makes her one of the most prominent voices of her, and my, generation. And for a generation that has already become a lightning rod for a disproportionate amount of criticism, Dunham’s voice isn’t helping. My guess is that every 7 seconds, somebody accuses a recent college grad of being entitled. Now that Girls is around, the anti-Millenial lobby has a perfect reference point. If only the show just weren’t so damn well done.
So laud Dunham for her talent. Laud Dunham for her voice. She really does deserve a tremendous amount of praise. But frankly, I’m already getting a bit sick of the idea that her voice is supposed to speak for me. 

All the Real Girls

So HBO’s Girls premiered less than 48 hours ago, and already I feel like the conversation has progressed to the double reverse backlash stage. So goes the water cooler talk for a show where writers are legally obligated to use the word “zeitgeist” in every recap (see, I just used it there!). Instant reactions to TV aren’t exactly rare - they’re the norm, really. But the response to Girls is particularly strange because everybody seems to already have a concrete opinion of the show. And what’s stranger yet is that really isn’t a problem.

You can thank or blame director/writer/star Lena Dunham for that, because she’s just so goddamn competent. It’s hard to find any filmmaker, let alone one barely old enough to rent a car, who can clearly articulate a vision for an entire television series in one half-hour episode, but Dunham did. If you didn’t like the series’ first thirty minutes, it’s hard for me to see Dunham & Crew winning you over. The central premise of the show is that these characters are in a sort of early life stasis, and growth just for growth’s sake doesn’t seem to be something Dunham is interested in. Nor do I think HBO will force it on her - this is the network that was built by The Sopranos, a show that centered itself around the idea that people never truly change.

But if you did like the first episode of Girls, chances are you aren’t just interested in basic character arcs. You like ideas, you like creativity, you like pushing boundaries. Louie is probably your favorite show (For the record, I am probably the 800,000th person to compare this show to Louie). And those are all things that Dunham really does seem interested in and that she is very capable of expressing.

However, as if to negate the entire theory I just espoused, I’m really not sure what I think of Girls (insert juvenile joke referencing homosexuality here). So far, the show seems to replicate all the responses I had to Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture. On the one hand, Dunham strikes me as a genius. She has an unnatural mastery of her craft and instills her work with a sense of authenticity I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. But at the same time, the message of Girls really bothers me.

Dunham seems almost hell bent on confirming every steretype media commentators and Ye Olde Members of the Baby Boomer Age have about the “Millenial” (gah, I hate typing that word) generation - the whole generation, not just its female half. And to a large extent I realize that critique is unfair. More than anything else, Dunham’s work seems to be a reflection on her personal life, and the idea that her personal life represents all twentysomethings of this decade is patently ridiculous, as Dunham herself points out (“I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least, a voice. Of a generation.”)

But regardless of Dunham’s intentions, the moderate ratings success and incredible Internet success of Girls makes her one of the most prominent voices of her, and my, generation. And for a generation that has already become a lightning rod for a disproportionate amount of criticism, Dunham’s voice isn’t helping. My guess is that every 7 seconds, somebody accuses a recent college grad of being entitled. Now that Girls is around, the anti-Millenial lobby has a perfect reference point. If only the show just weren’t so damn well done.

So laud Dunham for her talent. Laud Dunham for her voice. She really does deserve a tremendous amount of praise. But frankly, I’m already getting a bit sick of the idea that her voice is supposed to speak for me. 

So in case you haven’t read any of the 600 thought pieces on it, a little show called Girls debuted last night on HBO. Despite the zeitgeist-like hype, several astute people sarcastically noted on Twitter that Girls was aimed at and about a group of people who don’t have cable, much less HBO. So, did you guys find a way to watch it last night? If so, do you have any thoughts?
(image via Slaughterhouse 90210)

So in case you haven’t read any of the 600 thought pieces on it, a little show called Girls debuted last night on HBO. Despite the zeitgeist-like hype, several astute people sarcastically noted on Twitter that Girls was aimed at and about a group of people who don’t have cable, much less HBO. So, did you guys find a way to watch it last night? If so, do you have any thoughts?

(image via Slaughterhouse 90210)

Tags: HBO Girls

Why Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ Is Like Nothing Else on TV
Forget the return of Game of Thrones in a week, this is the show that’s got me giddy with anticipation.

Why Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ Is Like Nothing Else on TV

Forget the return of Game of Thrones in a week, this is the show that’s got me giddy with anticipation.

HBO’s Luck to shut down for good following latest horse death (via Deadline)
In sad news for both lovers of horses and lovers of well-done television drama, a third horse recently died during the production of the second season of Luck, which has now led to the show’s cancellation.
Previously, HBO had said it would just suspend any shooting that involves horses - presumably, a network exec then rewatched the first season and exclaimed “Gee, pretty much the ENTIRE show involves horses,” then pulled the plug all together. Main takeaway: Taking into account the premature demises of both Deadwood and John from Cincinnati,  David Milch is now officially the most cursed showrunner in all of television.

HBO’s Luck to shut down for good following latest horse death (via Deadline)

In sad news for both lovers of horses and lovers of well-done television drama, a third horse recently died during the production of the second season of Luck, which has now led to the show’s cancellation.

Previously, HBO had said it would just suspend any shooting that involves horses - presumably, a network exec then rewatched the first season and exclaimed “Gee, pretty much the ENTIRE show involves horses,” then pulled the plug all together. Main takeaway: Taking into account the premature demises of both Deadwood and John from Cincinnati,  David Milch is now officially the most cursed showrunner in all of television.