The Newsroom – A Review

I have developed something of a penchant.

No, not a paunch, a penchant.


I seem to be drawn to only review things that divide opinion. If everybody loves it, I’m happy for them but don’t want to add to the clamour. If everybody hates it, well, why add to all that pain?  But split an audience up - sorry -  down the middle and I’m in. I’m ‘so’ in. 

I’ve done this a few times before and I’m always on the lookout to do it again. Then along came The Newsroom, which I’ve just finished watching (Series One, if you’re reading this in the future).  An audience divided, some loved it, some hated it.  Ken wades in.

I have another part to this penchant of mine.

Whenever I review one of these movies/books/TV Series’ which seem to divide the world, I always come down on the same side.  I always seem to love ‘em. This time will be no different.

Lots of people don’t like The Newsroom. I get that. I get it mostly from Social Media and a little from reviews as well. Some people who I respect don’t like it. I respect their views and their views often make me look at my own views a little harder. Sometimes they even change my mind, it’s not that hard to do.  Having just finished Series One, I’m going to stick with liking this one though. 

My main reason for this is one which it has taken me many years to formulate and decide upon. It is simply this; I like it because I do. There is a tendency to like things for odd reasons - because we are told to like them, because we expect to like them, because we think it might be cool to like them, to endear ourselves to someone you know who already likes them. It’s all tosh. Look into your own mind when you’re watching something. Are you liking it? If the answer is ‘yes’ then that’s good enough. 

But of course that’s not good enough for me, not in this instance. I mean, I’m setting out to write a little review of The Newsroom so for me to say ‘I like it ‘cos I like it’ well… it’s not going to live up to the billing, is it?

So here’s the science.

The Newsroom was right up my street from the start. It was fast and clever, funny and sweet, it wasn’t afraid to have a moral compass and the actors in it were convincing and attractive and good. Each week, it was one of the few things I looked forward to on telly. In episode one, there was one particular moment when it completely won me over. Up until half-way through, the drama and wit and fun all existed in some TV drama non-space, the kind of thing we are sub-consciously accustomed to, but then, out of the blue, something different happened. The drama suddenly got ‘placed’ firmly in space and time as a real life news story unfolded before the character’s – and our own – eyes. This was a ‘goosebump moment’ for me and telly drama doesn’t manage that too often anymore. 

I was hooked and the series could largely do no wrong for me after that.

I do have my reservations. Nothing gets liked 100% or hated 100%. The Emily Mortimer character is one of my reservations. Not Emily herself, I hasten to add, I love her as an actor and have done since she starred in Andrea Gibb’s ‘Dear Frankie’ and also in ‘Lars and the Real Girl’. It’s just that her character was introduced to us as a dynamite news person who reported from the world’s hottest zones and who never compromised but yet she has shaped up more as a slightly dizzy romantic foil for the Jeff Daniels character and she seems defined mostly by neediness and slight hysteria.

Perhaps Sorkin is better with guys that with gals, I don’t know, perhaps that explains some of the people who didn’t like ‘The Newsroom’.

It’s also easy enough to explain another section of the viewing populace who didn’t like the show. Sorkin has pulled another whammy on the Republican Party and I could see how they might not be too happy about it. Back in the day, The West Wing was a Democratic Wet Dream extended over seven series. This time, by making the central character a moderate Republican, some might have felt that the new series might start to redress the balance. Not really. Will McAvoy doesn’t take long to reveal his disillusionment with his party and this opens the door to some fine, old-fashioned, Sorkin diatribes on the subject.  Being from Ireland and blissfully removed from the United States Political System, I can sit back and enjoy this stuff and I do. However I could see how people more deeply embedded in that world may see Sorkin’s set-up of a room full of bright intelligent people all busily dismantling the Republican (and most particularly the ‘Tea Party’) agenda as something of a whitewash. 

I can have sympathy with these groups of people and why they may not like The Newsroom so very much. 

But there is one group of people who I simply have to disagree with. It’s those people who don’t like the show because it defies belief, because it is not convincing, because it’s not real.

To those people I have to say this. 

Of course it’s not real.

It’s a Fantasy.

To my mind, Aaron Sorkin has always written Fantasies. Always. He hides it well, he dresses them up in solid contemporary characters and situations but, the fact remains, they are still fantasies. Go back as far as ‘A Few Good Men’. Even I, as a Sorkin fan boy, could never buy into the underlying fantasy of that one. That a youthful lawyer could bring the edifice of Jack Nicholson down simply by making him lose his temper. Jack Nicholson would have chewed him up, spat him out, and gone to his sister’s for dinner. It was fantasy, pure fantasy.

And, quite often, these fantasies are recognisable. The West Wing was Kennedy’s vision of Camelot brought back to life.  The Newsroom, as it admits to itself over and over, is Don Quixote with the heroes on a mission to revive journalistic integrity instead of chivalry and tilting at every windmill that they meet along the way.

Any doubt that The Newsroom is Sorkin’s purest fantasy to date can be swept away by that scene in the final episode involving a certain bus on the streets of New York City. No spoilers here but the million-to-one co-incidence that lies in the heart of that scene is the final proof that Sorkin is not looking to play any realism game here. In fact he is delighting in a heady brew of tragic real-life all mixed-up with utter fairytale schmaltz. 

It’s a cocktail that I, for one, couldn’t get enough of it and I’m glad to hear there’s more to come in 2013.

Bring it on.

My Own 'Skyfall' Lyric Attempt

It's important for Doodlers to doodle.  So, many months ago, I doodled out my own lyrics for the new James Bond movie 'Skyfall', just for fun.

Now that Adele's theme song is coming out into the world, albeit bit-by-bit, I think it's okay to show mine.

As a lifelong Bond fan, it was just a little bit of fun for me. Writing needs to be fun sometimes. 


I made a promise I will keep
No one can reach you while I stand
Close your eyes and fly away to sleep
I will keep you safe until you land

I will fly to you the moment you call
I will stand with you until Skyfall

You’ll be safe while I can still draw breath
There is nothing I will not do in your defence
There are limits but I haven’t found them yet
You are protected from this moment hence.

I will fly to you the moment you call
I will stand with you until Skyfall

My times not being there are no more
I know what my strength is really for
I know that you are finally all
And I will stand with you until Skyfall

You’ll be safe while I can still draw breath
There is nothing I will not do in your defence
There are limits but I haven’t found them yet
You are covered from this moment hence.

I will fly to you the instant you call
And I will stand with you until Skyfall

(c) Ken Armstrong 2012

Why I Haven’t Ever Gone Back

Over the years, I’ve written quite a few posts rhapsodising about my time in London. How I had a great fourteen years there, how I left in 1997, and how I’ve never ever been back since.  Posts like this one here or this one over here.

The most recent of these posts, just a few weeks ago, sparked a question which has been repeated to me quite a few times. In a word, the question was ‘Why?’ If I loved it so much, why have I never gone back to London in all this time?

It’s a good question. Particularly when I tell you that my wife has been over and back to London every year since we left. A good question and I should try to answer it but, I have to confess, as I set out to type this post, I don’t really know what that answer will be.

One thing is for sure, when I drove up the M1 in February ’97, with my car jammed full of stuff, I never dreamed that I wouldn’t be seeing London again in the next fifteen years. As it turned out, it was a somewhat unseemly departure from UK shores as my engine threw its big end somewhere up around Colwyn Bay and I had to enlist the AA to tow me to the ferry at Holyhead and then off again on the other side. Not at all what I had expected. Anyway, I made it back to Ireland and, as I’ve said, I’ve never ever gone back.

But why?

Okay, let’s think. Here’s a few possible reasons. 

I don’t tend to do things for myself. I mean, I don’t tend to treat myself. Going to London would involve organising a treat for myself and I’m slow to do that kind of thing. It’s something that has grown in my mentality over the years and it’s a trend I find quite hard to buck. Someone, in recent, years, actually paid for a ticket for me to go to London (if you’re reading, you know who you are and thanks again for the lovely thought) but there was still too much ‘self-treating’ involved so it all fell by the wayside.

So that’s one possible theory, or maybe more likely a contributing factor.

Here’s another one.

I get very set in my ways. I get wrapped up in what I have to get done and how I’m going to do it. I never really stop and say, “I know, I’ll do something different in three week’s time and I will plan it now.” I just go on and on and on. That’s why I particularly love Christmas, I think. It’s an allowable ‘stop’. Everybody else stops so I can stop too. It’s hard for me to just say, “I’m going to do London next month.” It just doesn’t come natural to me.

So that’s two reason, right there.

But, having thought about it quite a bit now, here’s what I think is the actual crux of the matter. Going back… it would be like… what? What would if be like, Ken? Okay, it would be like this. Imagine you had a job, imagine you worked in an office for fourteen years and you lived and breathed that office and the people in it became like your family and your friends all rolled into one. The highs, the lows; they were all yours. Every twitch of that office was like it belonged to you. Now, imagine you left that office and, fifteen years later you decided to call back to see everybody. How would that be? People would have changed. It would no longer be your place. You would sit and have a coffee and the overriding impression, behind the politeness of the few people who still faintly remembered you, would be that you are just holding up the show, that you no longer belong here and why on earth did you even come back?

It’s like that, I think. The Big City lives on for me, right here in my head. If I ever go back to London, I fear I may finally lose it. 

I realise that I don’t want go back as a tourist or any kind of a casual visitor. I need to go back for a reason, a really good reason. But the years are slipping away now and that good reason is not materialising. I may need to start thinking things out in a different way.

Luckily some things are changing. 

There is now a growing imperative in me to go back to London. This imperative tells me to go only for a few days and only as the dreaded ‘casual visitor’ and it is beginning to weigh ever heavier on me. The scales are being re-balanced away from the ‘stay away’ side and noticeably towards ‘go, you fool, while you still can’ side. 

This new imperative relates mainly to some of my online friends.

There are some people who I only know through my computer and who I would just like to meet, if only just once, in person.  I don’t want anything serious or earth-shattering from them, I just want to see them for real, shake their hands, and perhaps chat for a little while.  It sounds like nothing terribly important but it actually is. I met one of my online friends for a few hours a few years ago and those were a very fine few hours indeed.

So don’t give up on me yet, London, and don’t send me any offers or vouchers or encouragement to help me on my way. I’ll get there soon enough now, I think, and in my own time.

I’ll get back there.

And it’ll be okay…

… right?

One Guy Two Checkouts

I have derived quite a bit of blogging material over the years from my visits to the supermarkets. There’s one post here and, oh look, there’s another one. Well, here’s a new one for you.

Every weekday lunchtime, give or take, I nip across to the supermarket to get the makings of a sandwich. Nothing fancy, a roll perhaps and something to stuff inside it. Yes I’m frugal. On Tuesdays I splash out and buy the next week’s Radio Times. That’s it, now there’s nothing you don’t know about me, nothing at all.

Except perhaps this thing with the two checkouts.

There are two checkouts, you see, in the supermarket. Side by side, they are. Of course there are lots of checkouts, bigger ones with conveyor belts and plastic-grocery-separating-thingies but it’s hard to use those when you’ve only got a brown roll and a smear of tuna in a tub. It’s easier to go to the two side-by-side checkouts which are the counter-type-ones that purvey all the ciggies and discreet little bottles of booze and lottery tickets and such.

These two side-by-side checkouts are great, the ladies who man them are familiar faces and are always good for a painless exchange about the weather or a well worn joke whenever The Queen appears on the cover of the Radio Times (“Do you want a Playboy to wrap that up in?”)

The only problem with this two side-by-side checkouts – and, come on, I know you’ve got there already - yes it’s the queuing system or, more accurately, the lack thereof. 

There are two checkouts, you see, and only one of me.

This isn’t such a problem when there’s only me there. Which of the two nice ladies should I patronise with my egg salad? It’s a pleasant little conundrum, easily solved and, as you might guess, the ladies don’t seem to give a continental feck either way. 

But there’s hardly ever only me there. It’s lunchtime. Half the town is out in search of sustenance and none of us are too keen to be hanging around.  There's usually some measure of queuing going on. So, which queue do I join? 

“Wait,” I hear you cry, “wait, wait, wait, is that going to be ‘it’? The substance of this post? “Which queue should I join?” This subject is like the ‘Airline Food’ of stand up comedy. Bank queues, airplane check in queues, movie ticket queues, it’s been Done to Death mate.”

I hear you.

This is ever-so-slightly different.

Here’s why.

The queues morph. You heard me, they morph. They change, fluidly and often, from two separate queues into one and then back again, sometimes in the blinking of an eye. 

The trouble often starts with the formation of one common queue. Whereas a ‘separate queue for each till’ system may have operated perfectly well for hours, some far-seeing person, momentarily alone in queuing at two occupied tills will realise that the most egalitarian solution will be to position oneself equidistant between said  two tills and wait for whichever one comes free first. Then any person behind also gets first dibs at the first available till. It’s wonderful and fair. We see it in our banks all the time, a little cordoned off single queue with a series of tellers at the end. Go to the next available window. No more getting held up behind some greasy shopkeeper and his wads of pennies.

But therein lies the rub. 

The Cordon. 

There is no Cordon in the supermarket. The far seeing person who introduces the single queue system has no physical authority but his own unwavering sense of moral rectitude… you’ve guessed this too haven’t you? Yup, that ‘single queue former’… it’s often me. 

So, yeah, I stand boldly, equidistant between the tills and I expect everyone to fall in behind me and generally they do. It makes sense. The quickest way to get out of here with your Swiss Roll (not my choice) is to fall in behind. So, yes, Rich Men, Poor Men, Beggar Men… they all fall in with this slightly Socialist plan of mine.

As with most things in life, it’s the Little Old Ladies who scupper the deal.

I’m waiting. I’ve instituted a single queue solely by my positioning and the telling clench of my buttocks and a small cohort of citizens have duly fallen in behind. The person at each till is taking their own sweet time but they’re getting there. We’ll all be served, in strict order…

From out of left field, a little old lady appears with a newspaper and an unfeasibly small loaf of bread.  Just as she arrives, the till nearest her comes free and she ducks straight into it.

“Excuse me,” the leader of the newly-formed single queue party (me) might say, “we’re queuing here.”

The little old lady is deaf. She goes about her business. She wants the full show, lottery tickets, ciggies and one of those discreet bottles of alcohol. And the checkout lady remains studiously out of the equation. They don't pay her enough to get involved in all this.

The queue behind the leader of the_ all right behind me becomes rumbly and faintly mutinous. I can feel them wonder why they have formed themselves behind this unassertive and frankly impotent queue-meister. A faction breaks off and moves to queue behind the Granny, some stay with me on what is now the reformed second till queue.

It has all fallen to dust in my hands.

It was all for naught.

Until tomorrow, when I will probably try it all again.

Tomorrow is another day. 

This is What I Wanted

This post has its origins in a mini-epiphany I had while driving up the main street of the town yesterday evening. To explain it requires a little background, not too much, bear with me.

I lived in London for fourteen years. Great years. I was never one of those archetypal Paddies who cried into their inferior Guinness and pined for home. Naw-haw. Not me, I bloody loved the place.

So why leave? Why come back here, to Ireland? 

Well, it was family, mostly, my new family. John had just been born and suddenly there was a desire, on both our parts, for him to have a shot at what we had – an Irish childhood, friendships, family, education. So we sold up and moved back to the West of Ireland. Not ‘home’ home, a new town, new people, but somewhat familiar territory nonetheless. Home Ground.

Except it wasn’t. London had wreaked its changes on me and, although I had never lost my accent or my inherent Irishness, I had, I think, become somewhat detached from the place. For a long time, I felt an alien in my own country and I missed the things that I missed.

This has very much faded over the years. John is sixteen now and he was only a baby when we all came back. I’ve settled back in very well. I have never been back to London since I motored off up the M1 in 1997 although my wife goes back every year. All is good.

But a wee part of me misses London. I really lived it up for those fourteen years that I was there. I don’t mean in an extravagant ‘Champagne and Caviar’ style. I just mean that life was ‘Big’, you know? Some of it was brilliant and some of it was indisputably quite awful but it was all ‘Big’. And life outside London is smaller than life inside ‘London’ is. This isn’t a fact obviously, it’s just my own take on things, but that’s what I think and life has definitely become smaller.

So, yes, I miss London.

But then, when I think about it a little more, I start to realise that it isn’t London that I miss at all. I spent much of my Twenties and the first half of my Thirties in London and that’s the key to it all. It’s not London that I miss, it’s being in my Twenties and in my Thirties. It wasn’t really London that was ‘Big’ at all, it was those decades of my life. I think most-everybody’s Twenties and Thirties are Big and most everybody’s Forties, with the advent of kids and responsibility and such, is invariably that much smaller. 

So that’s quite the mini-epiphany, isn’t it?

Except that isn’t the one I had last night while driving up the town. This one just ‘came out of the typing’, as sometimes happens.

Here’s what happened last night. 

As I said at the start, I was driving up the town and it was about seven thirty and there were people out on the main street, many of them who I knew and who knew me, and they were all up to something. They were hanging bunting across the street. Green and red triangles in support and praise of our county team who will do battle in the football final in a few weeks.  And I waved at them and they waved back and I drove on and it was a pleasant evening and I realised how well I know this place now, its many little moods, who sits behind almost every shop door, the very bumps in the footpath and, suddenly, there it was - my‘mini-epiphany’. And it was this:

“This is what you wanted.”

Back in 1987, Trish and I had gone to see a film in London (where we lived). It was ‘Roxanne’. You know the one – Steve Martin does Cyrano De Bergerac, with the big nose and all. It was great fun and we enjoyed it. But, more pertinently, we had a chat after it and I only recalled this chat as I drove up the town yesterday evening, under all that half-hung red-and-green bunting.

After seeing ‘Roxanne’, I remember saying this, “I love London, I do, but sometime, years from now maybe, I’d like to have what Steve Martin’s character had in that film. The small town, the community, a place where everybody knows your name.” I’m not kidding you or mis-remembering, I really said that.

And last evening, it dawned on me that I’ve only gone and got exactly what I wished for on that evening twenty-five years ago. I got the dream. I now live in a nice tight little community who know me. Hell some of them even seem to like me. Visitors who walk with me through my town are often astonished at the level of interaction and greeting and fun that goes on, just with random people in the street.

Yet again, my wishes seem to have come true.

How bloody lucky am I?

The Girl with the Dragon – Take Two

It’s my new hobby, I think, watching different adaptations of the same source material. Oh yes, I do like to live dangerously, of this there can be no doubt.

I’ve done it previously with The Killing (you can read about that here) and I’ve also tried it with ‘Let The Right One In' (try clicking here and here for that stuff). 

This time, it’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I read the book back when it first came out, just before it became something of a publishing phenomenon.  I wrote about that reading way back here. Jees this is getting like some kind of a half-arsed infomercial. I’m all-done with the links now. I promise. 

With regard to the books, I really liked the first one, I was a bit ‘iffy’ about the second one and I simply hated the third one. It was the ‘Law of Diminishing Returns’ in all its glory. That first book, though, I really did like that. For all the talk and debate about it, I felt that it was really just a classic ‘locked room’ murder mystery with various bells and whistles hung on to it. 

I like that kind of thing so it was ideally suited for me.

And then, yeah, as most-everybody knows, there was two films made of the first novel of the trilogy. Firstly there was the 2009 Swedish version and then, with much hype and expectation, the 2011 David Fincher version.

There has been much discussion about which of these versions is the better one. When I announced on Twitter that I was treating myself to the Fincher one first on Bluray, it evoked a small storm of equally meted-out support and derision. This level of debate interested me so I resolved to see both films and try to dispassionately decide for myself which one I liked better.

So I did.

If I was any good, I would now string you along for another five hundred words before I pronounce on which one of these two versions I liked the best. But, sod it, it’s my blog and I don’t feel the need to be any good today.

So here it is.

I liked the Fincher one better.

Cheers, boos, hisses, celebratory high-fives – I hear them all (but only in my head, of course. I’m not a fool, I know that nobody cares). So, now that I’ve answered the question, allow me to talk around it a bit. It’s kind-of what I do.

The main reason I like Fincher’s one is very easily summed up. It’s more Cinematic. It looks great, it has great big starry actors in it, it’s highly produced, very well written and it has a title sequence to die-trapped-on-an-island for. It’s like James Bond with loads of black motor oil, you really should see it. 

The original version is considerably less cinematic. It looks and feels more like one of those Saturday night BBC4 Nordic murder dramas…

But wait…

I really like those BBC4 Nordic Murder Dramas, The Killing, The Bridge, Wallender, and, surprise surprise, I found that I really liked this version of ‘Dragon Tattoo’ too. 

One of the great things that it has going for it is the fact the cast are largely unknown to us. I wasn’t looking at it saying ‘There’s James Bond’ or ‘Oh look, it’s that 'Sound of Music guy'’. The characters were all there, without any baggage. It helped. Now, I say that and I know that the leading guy, Michael Nyqvist, went on to be the main baddie on 'Mission Impossible 4 – Ghost Protoco'l and, of course, Noomi Rapace went on to ‘Prometheus’.  I know, I know but, still, in this film they don’t reek of star quality. I liked that.

My recommendation is that you see both of these adaptations but that’s probably silly, you can’t all be as nerdy about these things as me. If you have to go for one of them, I think it depends on what you like. If you love your BBC4 Nordic Drama, I think you could do very well with the Nordic version of this, with the added advantage that you have two more movies to look forward to.  If you like what Fincher does, which is big and dark and very cool, then I would treat yourself to the big Hollywood show.  Me, I’m glad I saw both, I enjoyed them.


I can’t write about 'Dragon Tattoo' again without paying at least nodding reference to a plot hole as large as China that I see in the whole thing. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of this bleak, isolated, violent, misogynistic tale but it’s still an elephant in the room that I can’t ignore.

It’s when they finally find out that- 

- ack, I can’t do it.  Maybe I’ll go into the spoiler in the comments section, if anyone’s bothered.  That might be for the best.

For what it’s worth I think the original Swedish version highlights the ‘flaw in reasoning’ quite a bit more than the Fincher version does. I think this is down to the original film retaining a ‘trip to Australia’ sequence from the book while Fincher just ventures to London instead.

I think it teaches me that, if you’re going to go off in search of a plot hole, it’s probably best not to travel too far.

And, oh look, for a few days at least, here's that title sequence: