Here it is at last, the debut of Aaron Sorkin’s new show! I’ve been looking forward to this for months, having very recently finished watching Sports Night and The West Wing for the first time and loved them both. I haven’t read many of the reviews of the show ahead of time because I wanted to form my own opinion. I’ll be letting you know that at the end of this recap.
We open on a panel discussion in a university lecture hall. There’s a woman named Sharon, a liberal, our guy Will McAvoy, and a man named Lewis, a Republican. He’s played by the guy who’s responsible for downing the plane in the pilot episode of Fringe, by the way. Actually the discussion/argument is between Sharon and Lewis, because Will’s just watching them go back and forth without saying anything. You can see him getting frustrated at what they’re saying. But he stays silent.
As his frustration builds, he looks out into the audience and sees – Emily Mortimer! He smiles a bit, which is interesting considering later events. But then he looks again and it’s not Emily Mortimer, just some woman with similar hair wearing the same outfit. Okay, now I wonder how that’s going to be explained later. I hope it’s explained later.
The moderator breaks into an argument about the National Endowment for the Arts to ask if Will has anything to add. Will gives a flippant response. The next question from the audience is addressed to Will, asking if Will considers himself a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, to which Will says, “I consider myself a New York Jets fan, Steven.” Very droll. The moderator points out that Will has almost religiously avoided hinting at his political views on his show, and inquires if that’s because Will feels like the integrity of his news show would be compromised if he did. Will says that sounds like a good answer. The moderator presses on, mentioning a Vanity Fair piece that calls him “the Jay Leno of news anchors,” that he’s popular because he doesn’t bother anyone. You can tell this does actually bother Will, but he just takes it.
The next question is from a sophomore named Jenny, who asks all three panelists if they can say in one sentence why America is the greatest country in the world. The question makes me cringe, but Sharon and Lewis give it a go: diversity, opportunity, freedom, etc. Will repeats, “The New York Jets.” Dude, it just gets funnier every time. Or not. But the moderator isn’t satisfied, pressing him for a real answer. Will looks out into the audience again, and Emily Mortimer is there again, holding up a handwritten sign that says, “IT’S NOT”, and then, “BUT IT CAN BE.” Will stares. The moderator says Will isn’t leaving until he answers the question. Finally, as Will sees Phantom Emily Mortimer and her sign again, he snaps out, “It’s not the greatest country in the world, Professor, and that’s my answer.” Thus begins the show’s first Sorkin Rant in all its idealistic, cutting, quote-worthy glory. I’m not going to type it all out here because this recap is already way too long, but you should watch and listen.
He continues, pointing out that there’s no real evidence to suggest America is the greatest country in the world. People in the audience pull out their smart phones to record and take pictures of this craziness. The poor girl who asked the question looks more and more crushed. According to Will/Sorkin, there are only three categories in which the US leads the world: “number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending”. If that’s true, it is fairly sobering. When Will finishes by announcing that he has no idea “what the fuck you’re talking about” when you ask what makes America the greatest, there are more gasps and murmurs from the audience. (By the way, so far it seems that what Sorkin does to take advantage of being on a cable network is to use a little bit more and harsher profanity. But since he’s Sorkin, he doesn’t overuse it; he has a better vocabulary than that. For me, I’d rather have a few F-bombs than a lot of sex, so we’ll see how that trend continues.) And now, Emily Mortimer appears to have vanished from the audience. Will looks disconcerted for a second before he launches into a description of what used to make America great. I like it, and I agree with the swelling patriotic soundtrack, except that at the end he says, “We were able to do all these things because we were informed – by great men”, leaving out any of the great women of history. But that’s Sorkin for you.