Review: Okay, Newsroom, you had your chance (spoilers, if that’s possible)

When I heard about Newsroom, I was as excited as I was disappointed when I learned that Studio 60 had been cancelled. That is to say, plenty. And journalism! If Sorkin could turn sports into The Most Important Thing Ever on Sports Night, and sketch comedy into The Most Important Thing Ever on Studio 60, he was bound to turn journalism into… You get the point.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’ve become inured to Sorkin’s style, because every damned episode of Newsroom feels like it’s just colour-by-numbers plot and dialogue with a cookie-cutter Stirring Moment at the end. I don’t care about the alleged lack of strong female characters and I don’t care about the stereotypes of “insensitive guy” and “fumbling romantic interest guy” and “misunderstood hero guy”.

What I care about is that I know exactly what every one of them is going to do because it’s so boringly obvious. And when you’re setting everything against the backdrop of very recent history, there’s already quite a lot of knowing-what’s-about-to-happen going on.

And to add insult to inury (thank you), there’s this untempered patriotic bullshit. If the romantic plots have me expecting someone to yell “WE WERE ON A BREAK!”, the dramatic plots have me waiting for the cast to start stamping their feet and chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”

Now, no Sorkin fan can be too sensitive to patriotic bullshit. We sat through the West Wing, didn’t we? That had its fair share of handwringing over whether the US was God’s perfect gift to the planet or maybe just God’s almost perfect gift to the planet. But this is untempered patriotic bullshit.

You promised so much, Sorkin! “It’s not, but it could be.” Fair enough. Great.

But that Bin Laden episode. For fuck’s sake. We have the United States military assassinating a man on foreign soil. Yes, allegedly the mastermind behind the World Trade Center crimes, but even Nazi war criminals got trials. Right or wrong, wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to show some of that Sorkin brilliance and get a little debate going? Get some viewers thinking?

Our principled heroine tells us something like: “Right now the American people think that Bin Laden is alive, and if I can make him dead one minute sooner, it will have justified my entire career as a journalist.” Are you fucking KIDDING ME?!

And then I see it. After the announcement in the newsroom, everyone cheers (stopping short of “USA! USA!”) at the assassination. Almost everyone. A few people aren’t applauding. They look uncomfortable. Is this it? Is this where we hear another view on a government’s military popping into another country and shooting alleged criminals dead without trial?

Nope! It’s just that one of the characters didn’t feel quite as happy as they expected. The lesson is that vengeance, while awesome, is not a panacea for grief. Presumably.

So maybe I could sit through the obvious romantic plots culminating in hints of future love and the obvious dramatic plots culminating in Stirring Moments where we Reflect On The Day. Maybe I could, if I wasn’t used to Sorkin at least trying to show us real things the way they’re supposed to be. With the West Wing, we saw a President and his staff at least trying to do things the right way. With Studio 60, we saw people trying to use comedy as a vehicle to both make people laugh and think. Here we see American journalists doing increasingly exactly what American journalists already do, and we have actual journalists for that if we want it.

So I’m done.  I’m out. I’ve bit my fist through enough of Tall Floppy and Wet Indecisive making eyes at each other while Not That Bad gets sad about it. I’m done with Slurred Speechy telling Misunderstood Hero that he’s got responsibilities, and I’m well over Misunderstood Hero being misunderstood by everyone but Too Well Understood Heroine.

Not even a proper damned walk-and-talk. I leave you with this.

Videos: Bondi Hipsters

In case you’re not familiar with them, Dom and Adrian are Bondi Hipsters. Their funny little YouTube show became popular enough that they figured they’d do a show about the Olympics and started looking for a sponsor. Google, owner of YouTube, got on board and now they’re over there. You can follow them on their YouTube show, but here are a few to kick you off.

Goodreads: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Today’s review.
The Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fucking great fantasy. Set after the facts (but with a hint of trouble on the horizon), Kvothe (pronounced “quoth”) tells his story in his own words. Which means we’re progressively introduced to his world both as he discovers it growing up and as a reader of a memoir who might not know what he’s talking about. So that’s one usual clumsiness in fantasy sorted.

There’s no denying some similarities to other stories, like Harry Potter Ender’s Game – orphan goes to magic school, pisses off a teacher, makes an enemy of a rich classmate, makes some nice friends, turns out to be absurdly talented, becomes awesome.

But who cares. It’s a nice recognisable fun story framework for Rothfuss to develop all of the other cool shit: the confused history of the world, the mysterious circumstances of this and that, the hints at the future in the telling. And despite our hero suffering slightly from Jimmy the Hand Syndrome (is there nothing this kid isn’t brilliant at? WHO ROLLED THE STATS ON THIS GUY?!), he’s flawed enough to be a realistic character.

There’s much, much more to it than I’ve made it sound, but I’m not going to spoil this for you.

If you like good fantasy, read this book.

Star Wars Uncut

So it’s May the 4th, Star Wars Day or something. And I remembered that a few years ago, I posted about a cool crowd-sourced content project called Star Wars Uncut. People from around the world, with wildly varying degrees of sophistication, re-enacted 15-second slots from Star Wars: A New Hope. They were to be edited together to make the whole feature-length film.

Aaaand then I forgot about it.

Aaaand today I remembered about it.

So, here it is, in all its sometimes-earnest, sometimes-clever, sometimes-ridiculous glory. Star Wars Uncut.

Goodreads: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Assassin’s Apprentice immediately after I finally gave up on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, so perhaps my delight in finding Robin Hobb has something to do with the bad taste in my brain left by Goodkind’s tripe. So it’s getting five stars, but I’m quite sure that I would have given it five stars anyway. As a fantasy book, it’s brilliant.

In some ways, it follows a lot of typical tropes. Young boy with royal blood and troublesome parentage forced to find his way in an unfamiliar world, finds he possesses rare talents, is taught by a mentor/father-figure and proves himself in the end. Sort of. Court intrigues, anonymous enemies threatening the kingdom, mysteriously knowledgeable lunatic to push the plot along occasionally. Sort of.

Even the whole first-person autobiographical style isn’t particularly original. So why the hell did I enjoy it so much?

Firstly, Hobb executes all of those usual patterns perfectly. The hero’s bastardy, his apprenticeship, the court intrigue – none of it is presented clumsily. Unlike so many authors using these devices, you get the strong impression that if you quizzed her on any of the characters or their situations, she would be able to tell you a million things, all internally consistent and interesting, that will never make it into the story.

Secondly, Hobb doesn’t rush. She deftly hints at things to come without waving them around as the sole thing to keep you interested. There’s no, “Ooh! Elderlings! Bet you want to know more about that shit, eh?!” Just little mentions, usually around times you’re too interested in what’s going on to wonder too much about what will be revealed later.

Finally, the characters are nice and flawed. Not token flaws, like Raymond E Feist’s “Jimmy’s amazing, but on the other hand he thinks he’s slightly better than amazing”. The characters are proper fucked up, for the most part.

I started reading fantasy again because I wanted something to fill the gap left by coming to the end of the published Song of Ice and Fire books. I forced myself through Terry Goodkind’s bollocks just to satisfy the craving. But Assassin’s Apprentice has sent me straight into the second book of the series, with A Dance with Dragons lying half-finished by my bed.

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