Creator: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, Sam Waterston
Genre: Political Drama
Premiere: June 24th, 2012
Best part: Sorkin’s dialogue
Worst part: Some mildly uninteresting/distracting sub-plots
In a time of Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, and everything shoddy and manipulative in between, there no longer seems to be a place for serious journalism. I may be a little biased, but I feel this concern is of grave importance to everyone on Earth. Thankfully, smart people still exist in L.A. and are trying to get this issue out to the masses. One of these rare few is Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin, Oscar-winning writer known for such TV shows/movies as The Social Network and The West Wing, is a bitingly harsh writer/creator and one of Hollywood’s most controversial people. Having covered political and social issues in other works, The Newsroom Season 1 is yet another Sorkin rant transformed into a polarising HBO series.
In the last few years, HBO has transformed itself from a friendly network into the hub of nail-biting and thought-provoking TV (confirmed with the shift from shows like Sex and The City to shows like Game of Thrones). This bold and unflinching network has stood its ground over the past four years to raise the quality of TV above film. On the same level of quality as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Girls, The Newsroom is an edgy and life affirming show that is unafraid to stand up for good ol’ fashioned values/principles/ethics. In true Sorkin fashion, it starts off with a hilarious, mean-spirited yet truthful rant.The first episode’s prologue depicts its lead character, self-confessed wildcard and popular Atlantic Cable News (ACN) anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), sitting in on a University seminar bored out of his skull. It’s at this point that Sorkin’s agenda becomes startlingly obvious, and McAvoy becomes his well-dressed avatar. After a sorority girl’s rather naive, and Independence Day-level jingoistic, question rings throughout the theatre, McAvoy snaps at the girl, the other panelists, and the people of America for turning the United States into a backward and lazy nation. This tirade may seem harsh, but the show, and the viewer’s understanding of it, is aided by McAvoy truthful words. His listing of embarrassing statistics, and advice for how the US can return to prosperity, is nothing short of awesome. After this stunt, McAvoy’s nemesis, Mckenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), is hired by ACN news division president and McAvoy’s best friend Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). What follows, in the season’s 10 episodes, is a gruelling set of events stemming from returning McAvoy’s show ‘News Night’ to its glory days.
From the opening scene, you can tell that the show’s goals and messages are in good faith. By giving News Night some room to breathe, the hurriedly established team of journalists can find reasons for changing the show. Sorkin is a blunt and witty screenwriter. By taking the reins of this topical premise, Sorkin can throw his intelligent views into each episode. His views are relevant and relatable, but it can be a bit overbearing at times. His pro-liberal and anti-tea party movement agenda suggests that Sorkin is someone who is brashly subjective and condescending. Despite this, there are many intuitive morals that come out of each episode (“I’m a registered Republican, I only seem Liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.”) Generation Y is targeted and supported in The Newsroom. Despite Sorkin’s rough yet honest stance on tabloid media and law-breaking (News of the World’s actions, in particular), he gives the younger characters a chance to speak for themselves. Sorkin’s other media-based shows – Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – are very similar to The Newsroom. All three series’ strip away the fat and any sense of ‘Hollywood’ style to deliver one stirring and pacy episode after another. However, unlike the two aforementioned series’, The Newsroom stays on point and contains convincing situations/messages. The first episode ‘We Just Decided to’ is punchy and breezy right up until the final line. The episode follows McAvoy from one issue, whether they’re deeply personal or professional, to the next. Here, he’s described as a wavering spirit unable to control anything around him.
“…when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the f*uck you’re talking about! Yosemite?” (Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), The Newsroom).
Despite the second episode’s slight decline in quality and reverence, it still contains important issues that would be left well enough alone by any other writer/creator. Sorkin’s ‘coverage’ of factual news stories is engaging but slightly ham-fisted. His research and attention to detail is fulfilling, but he seems to be pulling a middle finger when it isn’t required. I’m sure journalists went to as much, if not more, trouble to cover the 2010 BP oil disaster than Sorkin claims. What does work, however, is the crackling dialogue. Despite using the 1930s rat-a-tat dialogue in everything he writes, there are many laugh-out-loud lines that some up every vital conflict occurring this season. His dialogue leaves no stone unturned as many lines tear down our reliance on social media and pop-culture (“Was she really not ashamed to say she had ‘Bieber fever’?”) McAvoy’s bafflement over the world’s love of reality TV is hysterical and references to Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa are top notch. However, Sorkin’s snazzy dialogue establishes every character as being a little too smart for their own good. The shouting matches are pacy and enjoyable, but are a tad unrealistic. The character actor driven cast does an amazing job with the many tongue tying lines and problem-filled characters. Daniels delivers an astonishing performance as the damaged and intelligent McAvoy. His rapport with Mortimer sends sparks, and occasionally inanimate objects, flying. Pill, Waterston, Dev Patel, and Olivia Munn are solid in supporting roles that hopefully will be developed to a much greater extent in season 2.
With a smart sense of humour and passionate characters, The Newsroom is an underrated and enthralling political-drama. Continuing HBO’s stellar run of earnest, well-crafted TV, it’s the only news-related show that isn’t afraid to say: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (only fitting seeing as it’s similar to Network).