Aaron Sorkin’s highly anticipated series “The Newsroom” premieres this Sunday on HBO with plenty of TV critics already calling it a game changer for television. Sorkin, an Academy and Emmy award winning screenwriter and producer, has an impressive repertoire that includes “A Few Good Men,” “The West Wing,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and “The Social Network.”
HBO’s “Girls” has received a mountain of criticism for the lack of diversity and how actors of color are portrayed on the show. “The Newsroom” has three regular actors of color but after reading Emily Nussbaum’s critique of the show’s first episode I’m left wondering if the show is doing any better in terms of how the actors are portrayed.
The show features three people of color. The most prominent is an Indian staffer named Neal Sampat, played by Dev Patel. The dialogue makes fun of McAvoy for calling him Punjab and referring to him as “the Indian stereotype of an I.T. guy,” but the show treats Neal with precisely that type of condescension. Neal is a WikiLeaks fan who writes the show’s blog, but he’s a cheerful cipher, a nerd who speaks nerd talk. There are also two African-American producers, who are introduced to the audience when McAvoy—who is publicly memorizing the names of his staff, having been accused of not remembering them—says, “Gary. Kendra. Gary’s a smart black guy who is not afraid to criticize Obama. Kendra got double 800s on her S.A.T.s, makes Gary crazy. I studied.”
Nobody reacts, and I suspect we’re supposed to find his behavior charmingly blunt or un-P.C. But, again, neither Gary nor Kendra is at all developed, or given any role in the show’s wince-worthy set of love triangles. It gave me flashbacks to one of the worst plots on “Studio 60,” in which the comic played by D. L. Hughley—the “smart black guy” who was always reading the newspaper—went to a comedy club to anoint the one true young black comic among the hacks and mediocrities. Sorkin’s shows overflow with liberal verities about diversity, but they reproduce a universe in which the Great Man is the natural object of worship, as martyred by gossips as any Philip Roth protagonist.