TV Series: The Newsroom

Can one alternately really like a TV series while also finding things about it that sometimes almost make you groan? I can. This new HBO show created by Aaron Sorkin, the man behind The West Wing, has many similar qualities to that earlier series. It was the White House and President we truly progressive and humanist sorts would love to have in reality… or more fittingly, what we wish to have in our dreams. And The Newsroom is what we’d also love to see in the current 24-hour cable TV/Internet news cycle. Both shows share the principle of speaking truth, not just to power but also from a place of power. Of course, when Sorkin has his characters speak, as I realized after watching The Social Network, which he wrote, it’s in ways in which real people rarely if ever speak: clever, profound and eloquent. In fact, while watching The Newsroom, I came to the conclusion that the dialogue he writes is like those things one wishes you had said when thinking back on conversations. But his characters speak with aplomb, which does sometimes rob his works of that connection to real life. Nonetheless, I also can’t help but be awed by Sorkin’s skill at crafting dialogue of exceptional intelligence. He creates TV milieus, situations and characters that appeal in an almost knee-jerk way to the leftist sensibility. And as a journalist who is a card-carrying member of the truly liberal media – such as this publication – I can’t help but like this show. If reality was only even close to what’s portrayed on The Newsroom, I’d be a lot happier and feel more positive about the future of this fractured nation.

TV Series: Bunheads

Women from their teens through maturity should give this show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, a hearty thumbs-up for coming up with female characters with smarts and spirit. She also created the wonderful Gilmore Girls which shares a few qualities with Bunheads, most notably one it also shares with Aaron Sorkin’s creations – dialogue that is almost too good to be real. Sherman-Palladino cites Dorothy Parker as an influence and named her production company for her, and sharp wit is her métier indeed. Like the Gilmore Girls, Bunheads is set in a small town filled with lovable eccentrics, this time on the West Coast rather than East, and its primary dramatic thread is the relationship between mature and younger women. Its title refers to ballet dancers whose hair is kept up in buns. Former trained ballerina turned Las Vegas showgirl Michelle Simms, weary of where her career has ended up, spontaneously accepts the proposal of a longtime admirer, marries him, and moves to the small California town of Paradise, where he lives with his mother in a large old house. Just after the party celebrating the union, her husband dies in a car accident, and she inherits the house with a dance studio his mother runs on the property. Sutton Foster’s Michelle achieves the challenging triumph of even being sharper than Lauren Graham’s Lorelei Gilmore (perhaps my favorite female TV character of recent years), and Gilmore Girls co-star Kelly Bishop is back as again an older mother. The two have to come to terms and work together teaching young aspiring dancers. The show debuted this summer on ABC Family, and as I said of the Gilmore Girls, it’s a TV “chick flick” that guys can also enjoy with its quick banter, real life drama and charming characters. And as Tony Award-winning Broadway veteran Foster says of Sherman-Palldino’s work, “The writing is so good it’s almost a character of its own.” I’m hoping for a long run for this delightful series that raises the bar of intelligence on network TV fare.

CD: Election Special by Ry Cooder

For years I’ve been commenting on the paucity of “topical songs,” but now roots music veteran Cooder has delivered a whole album full of sly wit and canny protest on the eve of the presidential election. The GOP and its presidential candidate are skillfully skewered throughout in numbers like “Mitt Romney Blues,” “The Wall Street Part of Town,” “Going To Tampa,” “Kool-Aid” and “Take Your Hands Off It.” As pointed and political as the songs are, they never fall prey to polemics and work as songs as much as they do as commentary on contemporary issues. His career-long feel for the soul of Depression era country-blues provides a perfect gut-bucket style to frame his catchy collection of protest songs for the Great Recession, lit up by his wondrous skills as a guitar and mandolin player. And without overstating his case, Cooder sings each word like he means it to the bottom of his populist heart. If Woody Guthrie were alive today, this is the music he’d be making. Alas, the album will likely only be heard by the already converted, but it certainly provides succor and comfort to music-loving Leftists in these troubling times.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2012



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