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.

I’ve Got To Break Free

(Guest post by Nick Withers.)

September 13, in little over a month, is affectionately known by some cult sci-fi geeks as “Breakaway Day”. Its the anniversary of the date (in 1999) when the moon broke from orbit and took the crew of Moonbase Alpha on two seasons of kitsche 1970s science fiction action adventures. Space 1999 was Gerry Anderson, a man more known for his wood work. It was cancelled in 1977 after two seasons with no conclusion to the story. However in 1999 fans produced the above mini-episode starring series regular Zienia Mertion from a script by Space 1999 script writer Johnny Byrne. Message from Moonbase Alpha (edited version above) is wonderful little coda to the series, and something most cancelled sci-fi shows just dont get.

It should be noted, however, that travelling by moon is not particularly safe.

Dollhouse

I’ve finally gotten around…

Is gotten even a word?

I finally got around…

It must be. I’ve finally gotten around to watching Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. I was told it was a bit average until the sixth episode, and then it got kind of awesome. I actually thought the first five episodes were just fine. Compare them to the first five episodes of any show that ended up great in terms of overarching narrative – Whedon’s specialty, along with dialogue – and they’re just fine. It takes time to weave something pretty.

A quick Google search shows I’m not the first to note that Dollhouse is Joe 90, though not as much as Firefly was Blake’s 7. Gerry Anderson really was pretty visionary with his ideas.

Anyway, thoughts on Dollhouse. You forget that Eliza Dushku is acting, so I’m calling “good acting” on that one. Something that always impressed me about season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the way they created a recognisable character with no actor – just different actors playing the same character. So, the inverse here, and that’s cool.

“The Dollhouse deals in fantasies. That is their business, but it is not their purpose.”

So, yes, I’m hooked.

Sensing Ratings


Sensing Murder is a presumably popular television show here in New Zealand. That means that people watch it, so advertisers pay TVNZ, so TVNZ pays the production company, so the production company pays its employees and the ‘psychics’ featured. The idea is fairly simple – take an unsolved murder, list the known evidence, bring in psychics to tell us the known evidence again, and then make a few suggestions as to what might have happened.

Now, the show does serve one good function – one mentioned recently on Shortland Street (come on, you all watch it). By bringing the public’s attention to these unsolved murders, it’s possible to jog viewers’ memories and they might contact the police with useful information. The fact that the same function can be fulfilled without encouraging ignorance and stupidity – such as with The Investigator – removes this justification.

The show claims that, having tested almost 200 psychics with a little-known solved murder case, a select few are found to participate. We are then assured that the psychics are told nothing of the unsolved case, don’t know what they’re working on till they arrive at the production office, aren’t given any cues by the crew, and that therefore their melodramatic conversations with dead victims are real.

As my good friend James says, “He either walked up the stairs or teleported to the top of the building, and he didn’t walk up the stairs.” Which is more likely? That the creators of the show are lying to you, or that these people are actually communicating with dead people.

The victims’ families are often understandably eager to believe, with many tears and such. Whether such false hopes are further victimisation or compassionate white lies, I’m not decided.

Knowing how many sceptics there are out there, one recent episode included self-promoting author Nigel Latta, claiming to be a sceptic himself, then being totally amazed by how totally real the show that’s paying him to appear on television is.

Alan Charman of Immortality.co.nz has made a very compassionate offer to the show and its four featured psychics. The Immortality Challenge makes a small demand for a big payout. All any of the psychics must do is exactly what they do on the show, except under controlled conditions: prove they are communicating with dead people. Once they’ve done so, they will receive far more than Sensing Murder pays them – $1,000,000 for themselves and $1,000,000 for their chosen charity. The offer to the Sensing Murder psychics is being discussed on racechat.co.nz.

Me: Hi, Alan speaking.

DB: Who am I talking to?

Me: Alan

DB; Hi, it’s David Baldock here from Ninox Television, you just rang me.

Me: It’s Alan Charman from the two million dollar paranormal challenge.

DB: [sounding distinctly less happy than 3 seconds previously] Ah. Good morning.

Me: [keeping it friendly] You don’t sound all that pleased to hear from me?

DB: [poise quickly recovered] Quite happy to talk, but I’m rushing off to a meeting. Can I call you back in an hour?

Me: [not asking why the hell you’d ring someone if you couldn’t talk to them] No problem, look forward to hearing from you.

This television show is making people stupider, but unlike productions from, say, Touchdown, they are making people stupider in a way that could be easily removed with a little honest experiment – like the Immortality Challenge. It’s much harder to prove that Mitre 10 Dream Home is a scam.

Sensing Murder can be contacted through their website, or by phoning Ninox Films Ltd in Wellington, if you feel like asking them why they’re not giving $1,000,000 to child cancer or something.