At his The Loom blog get a kick out of uber-science journo Carl Zimmer's opinion of TV uber-producer and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series The Newsroom. He aims at its first episode, devoted to an outbreak of serious journalism at a previously schlocky TV news operation. I suppose I ought to watch the program too. As he says, it's easy even for cheapskates like me (no HBO around here) via YouTube. But I'll take his word for it that these camera-toting newshounds figure out what went wrong during the gulf oil spill in, maybe, 15 minutes while channeling memories of a high school science fair entry. The show is awful, he concludes, "managing to be exquisitely sanctimonious and clueless at the same time." Lots of serious and civil comments run with it. They offer both tributes to and denunciations of what Sorkin imagines of journalism and in this case science journalism on the screen.
For a moment I harrumphed and got fussy about the show too, even without seeing it. Carl is a thoughtful man. His opinions are to be respected. But I'd be hypocritical to join for long the chorus of snorters looking down-nostril in Sorkin's direction. It's television. Around here, we for years watched CSI shows till they got to seem formulaic, but never much minded the weird velocity of its forensic science and tools. Now we get similar diversion from the preposterous show Bones, set in a mythical forensic anthropology lab at the Jeffersonian (read Smithsonian) with an autistic woman its hero. Ditto NCIS. Is anybody else in this readership a bit drawn to Person of Interest on CBS (which we watch entirely via DVR skimming through ads, forgive me oh trembling business model of network entertainment)? It is so wonderfully dark, so noir, so ambiguous, so paranoid. Never mind that no imaginable software could pick up signals from the nation's growing infestation of video camera sentinels to sense the congealing signs of upcoming murder or other awful crime and to finger a specific likely victim or perpetrator. Never mind that the fugitive special forces character Reese is impossibly intuitive while also absurdly able to beat up any bad guy in his way in, like, one second. Who cares if nobody could build all by himself this CIA-NSA-whatever machine that ropes together a cloud of video and other data to spot terrorist plots but in which character and computer genius Finch, Reese's boss, left a little backdoor tap so he can use it to fight civilian crime? Fact is, there is a creeping suffusion of modern civilization by a cyber-neural multinet of ever-increasing sensory interconnection. It is watching us. It will change us. This show just ramps up reality by a few notches.
None of this is new to TV of course. Most viewers, one hopes, don't mistake it for documentary or even fictionalized slice-of-life. 25 years ago the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker that turned me on to Darren McGavin's skills provided a wonderful caricature of a big newspaper's late-shift crime beat. Wonderful, even if the criminals tended to be supernatural. Anybody else watch the BBC's Foyle's War? A neighbor loaned us the collected DVDs. Wow. It presents a rich if stereotyped depiction of the UK during the Luftwaffe's Blitz. It's just fine that the murders solved - while bombs drop - by uncanny, deeply-damaged detective Foyle are so baroque in both motive and execution as to make the ghost of Agatha Christie blush. Not actually having read Agatha Christie I can only hope that works. I have seen a movie of Murder on the Orient Express.
- Charlie Petit