Aaron Sorkin: gifted, but repetitive, wordsmith

“Well, that was predictable.”

The Newsroom, the latest Sorkin offering, premiered on HBO the other night, and the reviews haven’t been good. “Disappointing” and “preachy” are two words that have been bandied around a fair bit - the Radio Times says the Oscar-winning screenwriter has “forgotten to show rather than tell”, while the Guardian’s Michael Wolff lambasts Sorkin for dramatising a version of journalism that doesn’t even exist anymore.

However, if you’re a sucker for a Sorkin soliloquy, it’ll probably still push your buttons. That’s mainly because, as an excellent compilation video by one Kevin Porter (see below), shows, Sorkin is extremely repetitive when it comes to dialogue and plot arcs. A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Studio 60 and The Social Network, to name just a few, provide ample fodder for mashing together:

Will the fact that Sorkin seems to have about 10 favourite phrases that he uses to death make any difference to his latest show’s ratings? Probably not – a respectable 2.1m tuned in for the first episode of The Newsroom. Even the “critical spanking” (Daily Mail's phrase) it received hasn’t turned people off. Turns out, being repetitive is no bad thing, if you’ve got clever words to repeat in the first place.

And the poor reviews? As Sorkin might say, that’s the cost of doing business.

 

Aaron Sorkin speaks at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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