In Defense of Assholes

In Aaron Sorkin’s creative middle age, his new work has garnered a bad reputation. It’s pretentious and condescending. It romanticizes White Men with Ideals. Every woman is engineered to be a female, fuckable version of Sorkin himself. And, re: his latest venture The Newsroom: a cable news show is a less-than-inspiring setting to explore Big Ideas. As much as I love Keith Olbermann (and by love I mean, I’ve watched a couple videos posted around the ole FB, and he seems cool), I don’t really care about what went into making his MSNBC show. Twenty-four hour news networks exhaust me and are, ultimately, unnecessary. If there was actual, worthwhile analysis happening, that would be one thing.

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But I’m pretty sure a re-run of Revenge would do more good than this breaking story.

Oh, did I mention that I love The Newsroom? Because I really do.

I see its flaws. Aside from the typical Sorkin bullshit highlighted above, it has the serious problem of tackling the news with the benefit of hindsight. How could the characters not come out on top after their coverage of the Boston bombing? The writers had over a year to tackle the issue. And last Sunday’s episode had a stodgy plotline about old vs. new news that sounded as if it came straight from the mouth of your grandfather at Thanksgiving. (You know, “All these kids and their tweets.” That sort of thing.)

Whatever, I’m still into it.

The Newsroom plays on my emotions, and I 100% let it. Everyone makes paragraph-long speeches about justice and love and America. The music swells at all the right moments. Everyone is good at their jobs, and it’s sexy.

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This is true of Sorkin’s other work too. The West Wing, The Social Network, A Few Good Men: They all feature single-minded, stubborn assholes. But these assholes are on the noble side of complicated issues. They’re on the side of truth and equality, where weaker people might founder. And everyone is so fucking well-spoken. I eat it all up with a spoon, gladly.

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It’s unlikely Sorkin will ever make another West Wing, and we’re all worse off for that. In the White House, people “doing the honorable thing” actually deserves the warm fuzzies of hope that flutter through my heart. America! But I’m not ashamed that I buy into the same cheesiness when I watch The Newsroom, despite its weaknesses. It makes me feel GOOD, ok?! It inspires me to work harder at what I love, and reminds me what passion in the workplace looks like. It makes me want to take big risks, in life and love and work. It moves me to read the actual news. Frankly, for me, it does everything that Sorkin sets out to do with his writing.

But no way would I ever say that to his face. Wouldn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

– Alison

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Allison Janney Is My Hero

Recently, I have been mainlining The West Wing. This sometimes happens.

I watched it first, from start to finish, with Alison. Our roommate Elizabeth jumped in about halfway through. Once we finished the series, Elizabeth started again from the beginning, and we watched with her. Elizabeth’s then-boyfriend, later-fiancé, now-husband Joe got into it. We all watched it again. These days, Elizabeth watches random episodes to unwind after work and texts me about it (claiming that she’s trolling for clips to show in her US Government class. She does not need to justify herself to the lady who grabs at any and all Harry Potter books to calm herself during moments of distress).

But these past few weeks, in a fever leading up to Election Day (DID YOU VOTE. DON’T LIE TO ME, I WILL KNOW.), The West Wing’s idealistic, quick-fire, smarty-pants back-and-forth has been particularly comforting—and one character, in particular.

C.J. Cregg.

Pause. I know, everybody: Aaron Sorkin isn’t known for writing well-rounded women. I sometimes wonder if he has actually met a human female. But C.J. is smart, funny, incredibly sexy (knows it), and is just—cool. Nerdy, weird, powerful and very cool.

She also has the incredible advantage of being played by Allison Janney.

Guys. Have you noticed how Allison Janney is taking over the world, and being amazing at it? She is everywhere, and she is good at everything. We are talking about one of the most intelligent, sensitive and beautifully hilarious actors in this world right now. In most places—like in The Help (ugh, The Help) or The Object of My Affection—you don’t even realize she’s there until she suddenly is, killing it. Because every character she plays is so specific, and so wonderfully nuanced, we forget about the actress—it’s not Janney we see, it’s Loretta or Bonnie or C.J.

Most of Janney’s characters are a touch kooky, and larger-than-life—but when they are in danger of veering into insanity or bitchiness, Janney grounds them with a kind of vulnerability that makes you go—that person is a real person. Even though they’re on TV. And fictional. If you’ve seen even forty seconds of Margaret Scully in Masters of Sex, you know what I’m talking about.

So, just for fun—because it’s late, and I’m tired, and I wish I could talk to Allison right now and tell her how much I like her (with my eyes, not with my words—because I don’t want to freak her out): Important Role Models In My Life, As Played By A Fabulous Amazonian Actor I Love.

Mom: Bren, from Juno.

I have an awesome mom. But should I ever become teen pregnant (time travel!), I would want Bren by my side, ready to tear into anyone who glanced at me sideways. The way she did to that mean sonogram lady.

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Cool Aunt: Bonnie Plunkett, from CBS’s Mom.

Are you watching this show? Please do, if only to admire all the ways a tall woman can rock ballet flats. Bonnie is a hysterically funny, unbelievably irresponsible mother figure who really knows how to have fun—while maintaining her (very necessary) sobriety. She’s self-centered and egotistical, but she tells it like it is and has the best stories. I wouldn’t trust her to house-sit, or take care of my dog, though.

Eccentric Neighbor: Betty, from The Way, Way Back.

She’s loud, crude, drinks all day and gets way too familiar with you and with your stuff. But she would never judge, and is by your side, cocktail in hand, when you fall to pieces. Cause she has been there.

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Psychiatrist slash High School Guidance Counselor: Obviously—Ms. Perky, from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Doesn’t everybody need a person who’ll say, Get over yourself, you are not the center of this universe—and then distract you with all the adjectives she’s found for “throbbing?”

BFF: C.J. Cregg. See above—and see this.

—Elise