Monday, June 25, 2012

The Newsroom

I'm having a lot of trouble writing this review; I've thought about how to frame it all day yesterday. I think my big mistake was reading critic's reviews of The Newsroom before I actually watched it. Most of them were not kind, and so I went into the show expecting another debacle like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. You know what I mean: Sorkin basically using the show as a soap box on which to impress us all with his cleverness and instruct us on how to think like the benevolent god that he is.

Ok, that might be a little harsh, but it turns out that I actually enjoyed The Newsroom. It's definitely more The West Wing (and Sports Night) than Studio 60, which is to say that it's essentially about a small group of dedicated people who are out to change the world. Well, change America. Well, change Americans who watch late night news.

From the mind of Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and screenwriter of The Social Network and Moneyball, comes The Newsroom, a behind-the-scenes look at the people who make a nightly cable-news program. Focusing on a network anchor (played by Jeff Daniels), his new executive producer (Emily Mortimer), the newsroom staff (John Gallagher, Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel) and their boss (Sam Waterston), the series tracks their quixotic mission to do the news well in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles-not to mention their own personal entanglements.
Unfortunately, the show is loaded with plot points and characters that are obviously derivative of past Sorkin shows. But if you can get past the parallels to past programs, The Newsroom is an interesting and insanely well-acted show.

Jeff Daniels' news anchor, Will McAvoy, is known for being the "Jay Leno" of late night news, essentially because he is entirely unoffensive because he doesn't share his personal political views. Turns out he's actually a giant jerk though, which I don't know, I found kind of refreshing? I wouldn't say he is particularly likable, but for some reason I didn't mind that he yells, is disrespectful, and is ruled by his ego. Maybe because there is a strange sort of egalitarianism to his behavior; he may not be a nice guy but he treats everyone like shit so what do you think makes you so special? He is also, as it turns out, remarkably good at his job. But then so is everyone in this workplace. Just once in a Sorkin show I want there to be a character who shows up to work 2 hours late, naps at his desk, and spends the day surfing the internet. It would be like The Office meets every Frank Capra movie ever.

Sorkin's dialogue is, as ever, brilliant, whip-smart and whip-fast, and it's clear The Newsroom is a response to Americans' tendency to engage in discourse by yelling in each other faces. The characters in The Newsroom want to CHANGE THINGS and MAKE US BETTER. Remember the whole, "let Barlet be Bartlet" plot from The West Wing? It's like that except instead of working towards political goals, these folks are going to educate America and change the way they think. 

I think the best way to enjoy The Newsroom is to take it as optimistic theater; don't fool yourself into thinking this is a realistic look at the behind-the-scenes of a news show and try to check your cynicism at the door. I found myself engaging in some major eye-rolling (usually following some broad pronouncement about how they were like Don Quixote) but then I felt kind of bad about it. After all, what's so wrong about wanting to make a show about people who want to improve America? Am I really so jaded? And how much introspection can I cram into this review?

Long story short (too late), The Newsroom is clever, but it knows it. Still, at the end of the day, I was glued to the seat of my couch, I am excited about where the show is going, and there were some genuine surprises in the pilot. Oh, and the news show within a show? Is actually good. So already it's got one up on Studio 60.

The Newsroom airs Sunday nights at 10:00 on HBO. The first episode is available for viewing at


Clovis said...

I'm really nervous about this show, because from the clips I've seen it seems like it's Sorkin at his Sorkiniest. Every single one of his tropes is there, lending to the feeling that he can't write anything other than the standard stock characters with the standard speechifying. But then he goes and writes Moneyball and The Social Network and you remember how good of an author he can be.

I know I'm going to roll my eyes at this, like you did. And, like you did, I know I'm still going to watch it. Sucker?

Also, EPIC YES to your proposal that just once why can't Sorkin write a character that is just sort of mediocre at their job. Just for a change.

RigbyMel said...

I've quite enjoyed The Newsroom thus far. As you say, it isn't perfect, but it is worth watching without a doubt! :-)

What have you thought about subsequent episodes?