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.

Harry Styles. Photo: Getty
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How podcasts are reviving the excitement of listening to the pop charts

Unbreak My Chart and Song Exploder are two music programmes that provide nostalgia and innovation in equal measure.

“The world as we know it is over. The apo­calypse is nigh, and he is risen.” Although these words came through my headphones over the Easter weekend, they had very little to do with Jesus Christ. Fraser McAlpine, who with Laura Snapes hosts the new pop music podcast Unbreak My Chart, was talking about a very different kind of messiah: Harry Styles, formerly of the boy band One Direction, who has arrived with his debut solo single just in time to save the British charts from becoming an eternal playlist of Ed Sheeran’s back-catalogue.

Unbreak My Chart is based on a somewhat nostalgic premise. It claims to be “the podcast that tapes the Top Ten and then talks about it at school the next day”. For those of us who used to do just that, this show takes us straight back to Sunday afternoons, squatting on the floor with a cassette player, finger hovering over the Record button as that tell-tale jingle teased the announcement of a new number one.

As pop critics, Snapes and McAlpine have plenty of background information and anecdotes to augment their rundown of the week’s chart. If only all playground debates about music had been so well informed. They also move the show beyond a mere list, debating the merits of including figures for music streamed online as well as physical and digital sales in the chart (this innovation is partly responsible for what they call “the Sheeran singularity” of recent weeks). The hosts also discuss charts from other countries such as Australia and Brazil.

Podcasts are injecting much-needed innovation into music broadcasting. Away from the scheduled airwaves of old-style radio, new formats are emerging. In the US, for instance, Song Exploder, which has just passed its hundredth episode, invites artists to “explode” a single piece of their own music, taking apart the layers of vocal soundtrack, instrumentation and beats to show the creative process behind it all. The calm tones of the show’s host, Hrishikesh Hirway, and its high production values help to make it a very intimate listening experience. For a few minutes, it is possible to believe that the guests – Solange, Norah Jones, U2, Iggy Pop, Carly Rae Jepsen et al – are talking and singing only for you. 

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

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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