bestof2014-19

Every day between now and Christmas morning, we’ll share the twenty-five stories that engaged, enchanted, amused and amazed us the most in 2014. If you missed them, now’s your chance to catch up; if you’re looking for a gift for the wonk in your life, then these are our most enthusiastic recommendations!

Today, The Newsroom.

No-one writes television like Aaron Sorkin. Sure, you can pick out a Joss Whedon script from a thousand yards away, and no-one’s going to mistake Shonda Rimes for anyone else, nor Bryan Fuller, or Amy Sherman-Palladino, or the astonishing Jane Espenson. But Aaron Sorkin does something very specific, and when it works, it’s the best that there is.

Unfortunately, The Newsroom didn’t deliver that high-grade Sorkin for much of its run. After a blistering opening — and if you know Sorkin, you know that he writes astonishing pilots — the show settled into an uncomfortable, stiff-limbed version of its best self, even as it told stories about a production team trying to undo exactly that condition. There are fair criticisms — the narrative sometimes lacked focus and discipline, the tonal shifts were abrupt, the plots were too often constructed to allow for a heart-warming montage or stirring speech, and Jim Harper was the absolute worst. The show also faced criticisms which were less well founded, or which chided it for failing at something it had never attempted. The decision to set the show in the recent past, for example, was not so Sorkin would have the benefit of perfect hindsight — he could have made up news and kept the show contemporary, after all — but rather to de-emphasize the specific stories and keep our focus where it should be. None of The Newsroom‘s problems were caused by the fact that we already knew about Deepwater Horizon.

So it didn’t always work. The first two seasons are patchy at best; moments of brilliance rise from the choppy surface like the tips of icebergs. In the third season, though, something changed. The show exhibited something that we’ve seen precious little of in Sorkin’s output over the last few years: humility. It worked to keep our interest. It was self-deprecating. It undercut its own pomposity. And in so doing, it became at least a version of its best self.

Sure, there are still problems: Sorkin’s inability to appreciate the internet and digital culture is a gong that’s hit over and over, there’s still almost no chemistry between Will and Mac, and Jim Harper remains, as previously mentioned, the worst. But this was the season that Chris Messina rocked every single scene that he was in, Maggie came back from the brink at turned into a real human being again, and Charlie — well, Charlie, as is said in the finale, was a great big man. This was the season when the mission to civilize, the desire to build the city on the hill, seemed its most real, its more vibrant, and its most necessary.

Nobody writes television like Aaron Sorkin, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to do it any more either. While The Newsroom isn’t the the best Sorkin we’ve seen, it may well be the most Sorkin, and that’s not an inappropriate note upon which to end.

Get it now: The Newsroom.