* * *The reason this review's been in my head, I think--other than its sheer excellence and perspicuity--is because of Aaron Sorkin's new show, The Newsroom. As many reviews have attested, it's an appallingly bad show (bad in a way that recalls the 5th season of The Wire; its badness not only offends in the moment, it casts a retrospective pall on all the writer's done before). A long thoughtful explanation of all that's wrong with The Newsroom is beyond my ambition at this moment. In part though, what makes it so frustrating is the quality that Baxter finds in Irving, and that Virgil Thomson found in the Young Man with a Horn--the excellence of the craftsman in contrast with the mediocrity of the artist.
And as a craftsman Sorkin is undoubtedly a master. He knows every trick, and he conjures up supremely affecting and moving moments seemingly without effort. Unfortunately, they're wasted in service of what increasingly seems a puerile and uninteresting mind. He's like a musician who can sight-read any score but can't compose anything but banalities. If he weren't such a master of his craft--if he were just a hack writer on True Blood--no one would care about the quality of his imagination. Or at least, I wouldn't. He's frustrating because he does so much so well, but his skills are unbalanced. He's like Paul McCartney, in Wings, a great musician but not a great artist. So I watch the show to pick up tricks of the craft, but I have to pause and fast-forward through at least 1/3 of it. I hate it, but I watch it and am affected.