I’m a huge fan of guilty pleasures. Whether it’s the horrors of eighties hair bands or watching cartoons from my childhood just for the pure nostalgic value of them (“…and knowing is half the battle!”), I feel neither guilt nor shame for indulging myself in these decadent delights. What I do regret however is when I delve into what should be a guilty pleasure and find that it doesn’t live up to my expectations of it. Such is the case for two pleasures I have tried recently, only one of which I will go back for again and can recommend to others.
The first is Burger King’s Bacon Sundae. You heard me right. I actually tried that monstrosity, and damn proud to say it. Why shouldn’t I? It’s everything I should love in a desert: bacon, vanilla soft serve, bacon, chocolate fudge, bacon, caramel, and best of all it’s got bacon. Nothing that has bacon can be all bad, right? And that’s the worst part: it wasn’t all bad. It was meh. I’ve had better, I’ve had worse. I should not be able to walk away from any sundae and think “sure, it was okay, but I could have had a vanilla cone”, let alone one with bacon.
To be fair, I didn’t eat it right as the guy handed it to me because I got it from the drive-thru, but seriously, who’s gonna eat this monstrosity in the restaurant with everybody watching? I will say this for it, though: that first bite was a special kind of magic. I may just have to get some bacon powder and sprinkle it on my next bowl of vanilla ice cream, or maybe even bacon bits. Or both. Mmmmm, bacon. All things considered, I would give this one a pass.
The other recent disappointment for me is Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. I had high hopes for this one at the outset. The writing seemed sharp, witty, and vibrant, the characters seemed fully realized, and the idea of challenging the status quo of both right and left Big Media™ by Taking a Stand and Speaking Truth to Power actually appealed to me. Sure, I was aware going in that Sorkin was the brainchild behind The West Wing, arguable the most lefty show on the airwaves in the past twenty years that didn’t star Jon Stewart or Bill Maher, but a guy can dream. Then I actually watched the show. I won’t criticize the politics of the show, but you can read an interesting piece I mostly agree with here that does. I will however address its other shortcomings.
Despite all the desperate defenses and protestations to the contrary, the show is one-sided. Balance in news coverage is not (or does not have to be) equivalency, despite Sorkin’s assertions in this show; it is simply the admission that not everyone believes the same thing and giving reasonable people a chance to air their opinions. There is no balance here, and I’m not suggesting there should be, although when you say things like (and I’m paraphrasing) “we’ll include intelligent opposing views” in your very first episode but you never do, the implication is that either (a) you don’t believe there is such a thing as an intelligent opposing view, or (b) you are unable to even acknowledge opposing views. Both are common flaws in major media today, but I was really hoping for something more. That same lack of balance makes all the characters horrible caricatures. The good guys are shining good, the bad guys might as well be twirling their mustaches. It borders on being clown shoes.
Which is a damn shame, because despite all of that, it’s still a damn good show. The actors rise above the source material to deliver powerful, compelling performances. I actually care about their characters, and I want to see them grow. When they aren’t busy lecturing me (although I do love to hear them lecture each other) they manage to be witty, or tragic, or just fun. There are more moments that make me laugh, cry, and cheer in one hour than a whole night of network television. Most of all, there is sex and violence and foul language, but it is tasteful, meaningful, and drives the plot rather than being driven by it. There is nothing gratuitous here; I am shocked, not by the simple fact that Sam Waterston’s character dropped the F-bomb, but by the fact he would have the gall to stand up to his boss in that manner. And that is compelling television.
My advice to Aaron Sorkin is set your politics aside and do what you do best: write witty, adult television. Until he does, my advice to everyone else is to set your politics aside, just like I do, and watch The Network so you can get a dose of witty, adult television. Best case scenario, everybody else gets the message and it raises the bar. Worst case scenario, you see some good TV.
Oh, and get me some vanilla ice cream with bacon sprinkles while you’re at it.
UPDATE: SInce I mentioned 80s cartoons, this seemed like the best place for this, even if it is a bit of a downer. I just found out that Roger Slifer, a major creative force in a lot of 80s cartoons including “The Transformers”, is in a bad way. If you are interested in helping, they are accepting donations here.