The Importance Of Being Honest
|Mindy Riggins just wants to be your Shih Tzu.|
I hate The Newsroom. People ask me why I watch it if I hate it so much. The answer is simple: It's the summer and there's not much else on. If The Newsroom aired this fall, there is no way I'd be watching it. I probably still would have watched the pilot, out of curiosity. But that would've been it. Sunday night's normally a crowded night for television and this fall will be no different with The Good Wife, Revenge and other popular shows (like The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire and Dexter) all airing at 9pm, then Homeland and Treme airing at 10pm. Granted, The Newsroom would take the timeslot of Treme or Boardwalk Empire on HBO, but, in either case, there are shows airing at 9 and 10 I'd watch twice before even thinking about watching The Newsroom instead.
But, it is the summer and even though Breaking Bad airs at the same time The Newsroom does, there's not much else showing on television the rest of the week. I think the only other shows I watch during the week now are Louie, Futurama and the new ABC Family show, Bunheads. So, given the dearth of programming during these summer months, I'm not exactly forcing myself to watch The Newsroom. It's just that it happens to be a train wreck fascinating enough to watch when there's not much else going on. In fact, I'd say it was a brilliant move on HBO's part, airing it at this time of the year. I'm sure it would have gotten trounced if it aired in the fall or spring. It certainly wouldn't be getting the amount of attention that it does now. I know I certainly wouldn't be writing about it as I am now.
In fact, I'd much rather write about Bunheads. Much like The Newsroom, Bunheads was created and mostly written by a TV creator known for writing verbose and witty dialogue designed to be delivered at a fast pace. Amy Sherman-Palladino's most beloved TV show aired for six years way back at the turn of the century. Much like Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin, her attempts to get other shows off the ground, after she left her most beloved creation behind, were not well recieved. With Bunheads, Sherman-Palladino has decided to err on the side of caution and go with what worked before: an unconventional outsider of a protagonist finds herself living in a quaint and quirky small town filled with charming oddballs. (Sorkin also stuck with what he's familiar with on television: a behind-the-scenes workplace dramedy filled with office romances and big issue sermonizing.)
Bunheads has turned into a delightful show, even though Sherman-Palladino's first few episodes were awkward, what with her machinations to get the main character, Michelle (played by Sutton Foster) into the small town of "Paradise"(*sigh*...I know, right?) and concocting a semi-believable reason for her to stay (the man she drunkenly married who wisked her away to Paradise dies in a car crash and inherits all his possessions, including the house his mother lives in and the dance studio wherein she teaches). Once that mess of a premise has been mostly dealt with, and even in the midst of all that cleaning up, that old familiar fast-talking, hilarious dialogue and charm reminiscent of Gilmore Girls shined through brilliantly.
While other shows have tried to capture the whimsical and light-hearted tone of Gilmore Girls (the recent CW show Hart Of Dixie springs to mind) none of them have been able to duplicate whatever magic Sherman-Palladino seems to have pouring out of her fingers. All the characters in the town of Paradise are almost instantly fascinating and/or endearing. From the laidback surf-doggy of a bar-owner to the tightly wound dress shop owner, Truly, who was in love with Michelle's now deceased husband. Bunheads is so expertly cast, written and performed that it's been six whole episodes for me to realize that Truly is played by Stacey Oristano who portrayed the vastly different character "Mindy Collette/Riggins," the sometimes stripper that married Billy Riggins on Friday Night Lights!
Anyways, it's hard to relate just what makes this show so special and wonderful, so here's some dialogue of the desperately lonely, yet adorable Truly trying to convince Michelle to let her tagalong on Michelle's birthday adventure with her best friend from Las Vegas:
"You know, sometimes, when you're going out, the two of you, it's nice to have another person along, to watch your bag if you get up to dance or watch the bathroom door if you need to use the Men's Room? A third person, LIKE IN CHARLIE'S ANGELS! There were three of them."
"Yeah, but only two stayed on the show for the entire run, so, really there were only two."
"There were three in the pictures?"
"Yeah, but only two in loyalty and spirit."
"But three in reality and number, I was thinking if you need a third-"
"I could come along-"
"And watch the Men's Room door for you."
Then Michelle's friend says to bring Truly along, "She's cute, like a purse dog. It'll be like having a Shih Tzu."
"Oh, please! Please let me be your Shih Tzu!" Then, Truly covers her face with the head of a teddy bear because she's so excited.
The happiness and joy of the characters on Bunheads is infectious. It gives me a warm feeling inside and puts a genuine smile upon my face. It's become one of the most enjoyable shows I've seen this year.
Now, there's an earnestness to the characters on Bunheads that I find easy to believe. Mostly because there are at least one or two characters at any given time looking at these other characters like they're from another planet. There's a lot of sarcasm on the show and it's well-placed and timed to keep the show from becoming over-saccharine or too fantastical. Sherman-Palladino knows how to look at this world through slightly disbelieving eyes, like it's too good to be true. That viewpoint never wavers in the face of all the wackiness and it makes Bunheads easy and enjoyable to watch without rolling one's eyes constantly.
Rolling my eyes has become a constant reaction to the things characters say and do on The Newsroom. Much like Sherman-Palladino, Sorkin likes to construct fantasy worlds wherein his characters are earnest, hard-working, super-great at their jobs and are always, always right in the face of so many others who are always wrong and bad and evil. This wasn't really a problem with shows like The West Wing or Sports Night because the worlds of those shows existed in their own little fictional bubble. The issues they dealt with were similar to things that occur in real life, but they weren't so close to home as to make dealing with those issues come across as unseemly. The Newsroom, however, is supposed to exist in our world.
The reason this doesn't work is because it makes "News Night"(*groan*...I know, right? It's literally the title of the show within the show of "Sports Night" but with "News" instead of "Sports!" Come on, Sorkin!) a time machine for Sorkin to use at will to concoct narratives that somehow flow into certain news events and make the protagonists of this show seem righteous and trailblazing. Take the episode from two weeks ago. The lead character, Will McAvoy has been attacking Republicans and the NRA about their stance on gun control. And, lo and behold, at the end of the episode, Congresswoman Gifford gets shot! Will was right! And then, all the other news shows are saying she's been killed, but "News Night" wants to wait until they have confirmation. The network ratings guy (who is somehow present ON THE STUDIO FLOOR DURING A LIVE BROADCAST?!) tells Will to say she's dead. Will says no. Seconds later, a medical technician tells them she's not dead. Will's right! AGAIN! Coldplay plays! The Newsroom wins!
Aside from how distasteful that whole thing is (and, rest assured, scenes like that happen at the end of every episode of The Newsroom), it might be forgivable if the characters seem grounded in reality or if even just one normal-seeming character that wasn't a caricature or a cartoon villain, would walk up to Will McAvoy and tell him, and even the rest of his coworkers, how much of an asshole he is and that the rest of them are unprofessional lunatics. Somehow, even though it's set in an almost magical town that seems untouched by the outside world, Bunheads feels more honest than The Newsroom simply because Bunheads isn't afraid to laugh at itself and its characters and all their faults. Characters on Bunheads realize that the outside world is pretty cruel and not everything is pristine and perfect. So the lighthearted moments make the more serious moments ring truer than they ever do on The Newsroom. (And I don't even want to begin to get into how terribly The Newsroom portrays women on the show. This already lengthy entry would then test the limits of this website.)
I can't help but wonder what it would be like if the cast and crew of Bunheads and The Newsroom switched places. Would The Newsroom become an enjoyable place to visit? Would "News Night" be run by spectacularly professional, but charmingly quirky, and largely female, ensemble? In Paradise, would Will MacAvoy learn to lighten up having drinks with his new father-in-law, the former DA from Law & Order? Would Allison Pill and Emily Mortimer get to show off some ballet skills to the sounds of They Might Be Giants instead of Coldplay? Oh, the possibilities!
In summation, while the characters of The Newsroom wish everyone in their world could be as honest as they are, the way they themselves are written makes them come across as false and fake. Meanwhile, the humor and general respect with which the characters on Bunheads are portrayed makes the world they inhabit feel more realistic than the world in which The Newsroom takes place. It also makes Paradise a more desirable place to visit each week.