Tag Archives: Aaron Sorkin

A TV blog: Why “Weeds” is limping toward the finish line, and I’m giving up on “The Newsroom.” And an interesting study about who gives to charity

Time for one of my occasional TV rants as I wait for the return of the best show currently on TV, “Homeland” on Showtime on Sept. 30. (Seriously folks, this show is worth the price of Showtime alone. It’s fantastic and I keep trying to convert people; my latest conquest is my mother and stepfather, who are halfway through Season 1 and are totally riveted.)

So I’ve been hot and cold on “Weeds” for a few seasons now. The first four seasons of the show were fantastic, dark and hilarious. Then it drifted for two years, getting silly and even more implausible then ever before. Last year the writers brought it back to brilliance, and I had high hopes for the final season, season 8, currently airing.
But man, after a strong first few episodes, “Weeds” has stunk lately. The Jennifer Jason Leigh character, Nancy’s sister, is so unlikeable and stupid you just don’t feel bad when things happen to her. They’ve totally tried to have it both ways with Nancy; after her shooting, she supposedly wants to “change her ways,” and live better and not sell drugs anymore and be a good person.

Only two episodes later, she’s sleeping with a doctor so he’ll buy the pills she’s hawking as a pharmaceutical rep. Totally inconsistent with any human behavior.
Plus, they’ve made Andy an even more aimless fool than before, and Kevin Nealon’s Doug, well, he’s been an awful character for years.

Just frustrating to see “Weeds” go out like this, when it was once so irreverent and brilliant.

And now a few words about “The Newsroom.”

I’ve officially given up. Aaron Sorkin, I don’t know who has inhabited your body and made you write this drivel, where people in your shows do and act and say such incredibly stupid things, and we’re supposed to like them anyway. I know I sound like a broken record, but I’ve never met a woman, anywhere, who would act like your female characters do.

And I dislike Jeff Daniels’ character, Will, more each week. Picking MacKenzie’s ex-boyfriend to write a story about him in last week’s episode was the last straw; he’s just an ass.

I know the season’s not over yet, but I’m done. What an incredible waste of time and talent “The Newsroom” has become. Just sad.

**Finally today, I thought this story I heard on NPR was illuminating. A new study in the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that on the whole, people with lower incomes donate to charity a much bigger share of their income than those in the upper income class.

Households with incomes of $50,000-$75,000 donate on average 7.6 percent of their discretionary income. That’s compared with about four percent for those with incomes of $200,000 or more.
The people who ran the study said that religious giving is a big part of the discrepancy; every gives at church, and all that.

But they also found high-income people who live in economically diverse neighborhoods give more on average than high-income people who live in wealthier neighborhoods.
I’d like to think the reasons for the discrepancy is deeper than that. I don’t think wealthy people are a bunch of greedy bastards who don’t care about the underprivileged; not at all. There are tons of millionaires and billionaires who give generously.

No, I think the disparity may come from this, and this is just my five-cent spitballing opinion:Maybe people with lower incomes know how much a little charity can help, and know the difference a few dollars can make. Maybe they were once in that situation and were helped, and maybe they feel the tug of obligation just a little bit more.

Who knows. Either way, it’s a very interesting story.

“The Newsroom” was a train wreck; but “Episodes” comes back strong. Lochte and Phelps kick ass again. And the woman suing a Little Leaguer for a bad throw.

Good news and bad news from my TV watching Sunday night.
First, the bad: Man, that was one sorry, confusing, ridiculous mess of an episode of “The Newsroom” last night. The few parts of the premiere that were problematic blew up big-time in Episode 2, and so many new problems developed.
SPOILER ALERT: STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, AND SKIP DOWN TO THE SWIMMING PHOTO.

First of all, even for me, a veteran of Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue, those scenes moved way too fast last night. Second, and a major problem, is the completely idiotic storyline of McKenzie and the emailing issues. Who the hell, first of all, uses an asterisk in email anymore?
And could that have been any more predictable, that she would soon write something awful and send it to the entire company?  And then Will’s reaction to it was over the top and public.
Third, they have made both Will and McKenzie, the two leads, very unsympathetic characters, and Maggie, Sorkin’s cute, plucky heroine (think Donna in “The West Wing”) is too ditsy and crazy to be likable by the audience (and come on, Sorkin, she dated the governor’s press aide in college? You can do better than that.)

I’m worried for this show. The premise is great and the cast’s terrific, but that was pretty awful. I hope the next show gets back on track.

Happily, though, Sunday night also brought back the return of “Episodes” and “Weeds,” both on Showtime. Can’t discuss “Weeds” yet because I haven’t watched it, but “Episodes”  is a show I have repeatedly touted and will continue to tout until all you people watch it.

Matt LeBlanc plays a version of himself, starring in an awful sitcom translated from England by two hilarious British writers. Season 1 was terrific, with the season finale last year being laugh-out-loud hilarious in several parts. Season 2 got started off strong as well, with a lot of different plot developments resulting from the season finale.

I really hope they don’t keep Beverly and Shawn apart for long, because so much of the first season’s greatness was their comic timing. But sadly it looks like they won’t be a couple for much longer.
Watch this show, please. You won’t regret it.

**Now on to the swimming. If you didn’t watch any of the U.S. Olympic Trials over the past few nights, you missed some great stuff. The two greatest swimmers in the world, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, went head-to-head four times in finals. Phelps won three of ‘em, but all were close. These two are so far ahead of every other American swimmer it’s not even funny; can’t wait to see them battle in London.
Also, 17-year-old Missy Franklin is so fast and seems so sweet outside the pool; I love that a guaranteed Olympian swam for her high school team this year.
And Dara Torres, age 45, is competing tonight to make her 6th Olympic team. No words to describe how inspirational that woman is.

**Finally today, proof that America may not have the craziest citizens in the world, but we’re in the top 5: A woman in New Jersey is suing a Little Leaguer for $150,000 for accidentally hitting her with an overthrow during a game two years ago.
As the kid’s father said, incredulously: “They’re little kids. A lot of them don’t know how to throw.”

I hope the judge throws the suit out, then throws her in jail for wasting the court’s time. Disgusting.

Despite what you’ve heard, “The Newsroom” is damn good. Colbert on immigration. Ryan Lochte fires the first salvo.

I can’t remember the last TV show debut I was as excited about as “The Newsroom.”
For one thing, I couldn’t avoid hearing about it; HBO promoted the holy hell out of the new one-hour drama, on commercials, on billboards around New York City, on social media, everywhere.
But really, the biggest reason I was pumped? Aaron Sorkin, the brilliant if a little crazy creator/writer. He made one of the greatest shows of all time with “The West Wing,” two other pretty damn good shows in “Sports Night” and “Studio 60″ (which I know a lot of people hated but I loved), and has written the brilliant “The Social Network” and “A Few Good Men.”

I would watch anything Aaron Sorkin has written. He has a gift for words and speaking patterns like few others ever have, and he always shoots for the highest of heights.

Before I watched Sunday’s premiere, I read several negative reviews of the new show. It’s too preachy, they said. It doesn’t get cable news close to accurately. The characters aren’t likeable. Yada, yada, yada.

Then I watched it. It was terrific. (SPOILER ALERT COMING HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, SKIP TO THE VIDEO BELOW).
Yes, the first half-hour was a bit sanctimonious and smug. Jeff Daniels’ Will is eminently obnoxious, and Sorkin’s writing was quite a bit over the top here in setting the scene.
But about halfway through the episode, the show started to cook. Sam Waterston is fabulous as a “I don’t give a damn anymore” network news head. Emily Mortimer is a worthy foil for Daniels as his new producer (and, since it’s a Sorkin show, his former love interest. The man loves nothing more than workplace romance).
And yeah, it’s very easy in hindsight to see the way this newsroom decided to cover the Deepwater Horizon spill as a serious event immediately as the correct way.
But as I continually said to myself as I read reviews that said “this isn’t what really happens:” It’s a TV show, people! It’s entertainment. If Sorkin showed what digging and gathering on a story like this really looks like, 90 percent of the audience would be bored.

Anyway, it’s not as good as his other work yet. But “The Newsroom” has definite potential, and cracklingly good writing. Can’t wait to see it again next Sunday.

(And for Sorkin zealots like me, check out this amazing video of how often he re-uses certain dialogue with his characters.

**The major Supreme Court ruling Monday on Arizona’s wildly overreaching anti-immigration law was a good thing; most of the law was struck down as being way too stringent and unenforceable (though I loved Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer still trying to claim her side won here).

After reading about the ruling for a while, I got tired and went looking for something much more enjoyable: This Stephen Colbert take on immigration. Much funnier.

**Finally, since I used to cover Ryan Lochte for a living (I worked for his hometown paper in Daytona Beach, Fla.), I still am very interested in the incredible upward arc of his career.
He’s been beating the greatest swimmer of all-time, Michael Phelps, for about two years now, and Monday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials he did it again, besting Phelps in the 400 IM.
No, it doesn’t mean as much as the Olympics. But this is the first step in what will be an awesome duel in the pool in London in about a month.

Mike Tyson picks the Oscars. Another scary Rolling Stone expose. And a great live TV interview with a drunk guy

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The Oscars are Sunday, and as usual I’m excited. I’m very bad about picking the winners, though I did see 5 of the 10 Best Picture Nominees this year (saw “The Social Network” Friday. Excellent. Aaron Sorkin is one of my writing heroes, and he did not disappoint. Still hoping “True Grit” wins, though I know it’s a longshot).
Really, though, every year at this time I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking: Who did former heavyweight champion and all-time lunatic Mike Tyson like this year at the cinema?
Well, wonder no more. We have our answer. Iron Mike, you’re the new Roger Ebert, my friend (this clip definitely NSFW):

**I’ve become somewhat immune to some of the sleazy tactics employed by our government since this “War on Terror that will never, ever end” started.
But this pissed the hell out of me. Rolling Stone, which still does some sensational journalism, has an incredible story up describing how one U.S. Lt. General, William Caldwell, manipulated his “psychological operations” team to scare visiting politicians and dignitaries into increasing funding for the war.
Michael Hastings, who wrote this story, has a sterling reputation, and Gen. David Petraeus says he’s looking into it.
How disgusting.  That U.S. commanders would order soldiers to use tactics used previously only on the enemy against Americans, all to scare up more support and funding, is horrendous.
Then again, we’re a country that still tortures people, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
How’s that “closing Guantanamo” thing going, Mr. President? Remember that 2008 promise?

**I don’t think I need to say anything more about this video, found on SI.com’s Extra Mustard, than this:  Man’s house burns down. So he gets interviewed on live TV. Also, the man is wildly drunk:

That “inglorious basterd” Tarantino made a great flick

 inglourious-basterds1

OK, first things first. The U.S. Open has started; I’m blogging it daily for my newspaper; here’s the link for my thoughts on Day 1: Pretty routine day, Venus Williams nearly went down, and Andre Agassi gave a great speech.

Also very psyched for the “Rescue Me” season finale Tuesday night; I have no idea what will happen except that I’m sure some characters will almost die, Tommy will survive, and there’ll be lots of sex and violence. How could anyone not love this show?

And could someone please explain to me what the hell is going on with the Kansas City Chiefs? New coach Todd Haley fires the offensive coordinator in the preseason.  He can’t be that stupid as to panic over a team’s preseason results, can he?

Well, it is the Chiefs. Boy it stinks to be a Kansas City sports fan these days.

And oh yeah, last month you may remember I was bellyaching that there were no creative basebell nicknames left. “The Splendid Splinter,” “Joltin’ Joe,” “The Human Rain Delay,” all those were fabulous.

Well, thanks to my sportswriting god Joe Posnanski, I have found a new great one. Royals soft-tossing minor leaguer pitcher Chris Hayes has acquired the nickname “Disco.”

Why? Because he throws in the 70s.

Perfect. I so hope he makes The Show.

OK, now on to the “Siskel and Ebert” portion of our blog; saw two really good movies over the weekend; will save the other one for tomorrow because quite frankly, I’m not sure you all have time to read 1,500 word blog posts.

Quentin Tarantino, to me, has been like that long-lost friend you see every once in a while, have an awesome time with, and then when they leave you’re like “Why don’t we spend more time together?” Only time goes by and you forget about the friend for a while.

When I actually take the time to watch a Tarantino movie, I’m wildly entertained. “True Romance?” Brilliant. “Pulp Fiction,” well, if you don’t think it was great, than we’re probably not going to get along. “Jackie Brown” was also solid.

But I don’t know why, but I tend to miss a lot of Tarantino’s movies. Still haven’t seen “Kill Bill” in either of his volumes, and I’ve missed some of Tarantino’s other flicks, too.

But I am extraordinarily pleased I wandered to the cinema (I always loved that word, “cinema,” sounds so old-fashioned) Saturday to see “Inglorious Basterds.”

You know how there are some movies where at the end you’re like “I spent 9 bucks for that?” Well, let me tell you, you get your money’s worth here. The story, which I’m sure you know by now, is about a group of ass-kicking Jews in World War II, led by, of course, Brad Pitt, who try to kill as many Nazis as they can.

(Let’s pause for a moment. You know, you just don’t get to write the phrase “ass-kicking Jews” very often. Reminds me of that great scene in “The West Wing” where after Toby and Sam are in a bar fight, Toby calls back to Washington and talks to Will Bailey, who already knows about the brawl.

“It’s big news in Washington?” Toby asks.

“Are you kidding?” Will replies. “A Jew won a bar fight. It’s big news everywhere.”

(God, I love Aaron Sorkin. But I digress.)

 Along the way in Tarantino’s film, we meet some superbly drawn characters; Tarantino is fabulous at giving his characters dimension. There’s Pitt, who I only love in his comedic performances, as the non-Jew leader looking to scalp Nazis. There’s a beautiful Jewish woman, Shoshanna,  who escaped and now plots revenge.

Every actor is fabulous in this movie, but the absolute standout is the German SS Colonel Landa, who mesmerizes you every time he’s on screen. If this guy (Christoph Waltz) doesn’t get an Oscar nomination out of this, I’ll be pissed.

Now of course the movie is totally fiction, and the ending is truly mind-bending in its improbability. But that’s the point of movies, isn’t it, to show us a world we can’t imagine?

Four stars for this movie from me. It’s not as good as “Pulp Fiction,” but to me this is Quentin’s second-best film.

Again, it’s a movie with Jews kicking ass for two hours. When do you ever get to see that?

Certainly not at my high school when I was growing up, that I can assure you.