The Newsroom: Season 1 Review by Jesse Schaffer

The concept that serves as the basis for “The Newsroom” often plays out so much like a parody that I sometimes forget that I’m watching HBO and not a skit on Comedy Central. Atlantic Cable News, a broadcast team led by narcissistic anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and quirky executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), is determined to fight the good fight by concentrating their focus on stories that are strictly newsworthy while ignoring the more glamorous headlines and avoiding any party affiliation whatsoever. Their goal is to get their facts right every time and report on what they know regardless of whether or not that puts them at odds with other networks. Obviously, this noble strategy is bound to insult the party-biased sponsors who have lent their support to ACN, which in turn puts an enormous amount of pressure on the show’s owners to straighten out McAvoy and get him back to being an entertainer rather than a judge. Oh, and he and McHale have a romantic past and spend a lot of time dancing around their true feelings with veiled insults and frantic conversations.

Aaron Sorkin is the puppet master pulling all the strings, and you may have heard of him before. He struck gold back in the 90’s with “The West Wing” and scripted 2010 best picture contender “The Social Network”, which everyone but Kevin and I seemed to love (if you twist his arm enough, I’m sure Kevin could be convinced to deliver an angry little tirade on why that movie sucked). When I heard that Sorkin would be writing a new show that would air on HBO, I was intrigued for two reasons: 1) Working on a critically-acclaimed film is almost always a gateway to doing anything you want for the rest of your career, so I was surprised he decided to return to television so soon, and 2) HBO has delivered some of the very best material ever seen on television, and even if a new series misfires it’s still worth giving it a shot. I never caught the debut season last summer and decided to hold off until the second season was upon us. That way if I loved it, I wouldn’t have to wait as long for the new episodes. We all agree that makes sense, right?

So do I love it? Not exactly. In fact, there are more than a few times when I think “The Newsroom” is pretty damn silly, and not in a good way. Every character on this show talks fast, thinks fast and always has something important to say. Sorkin’s trademark dialogue is present in every interaction, and after a while you get the feeling that these aren’t different characters speaking their minds so much as they are different platforms for Sorkin to share his opinions with us. And this is a guy who is definitely not shy about picking apart all the things he doesn’t like about the media and everything he wishes he could change about politics. It certainly can be enjoyable to watch these high octane people scramble to put together a news broadcast, but it also becomes pretty taxing at times to be constantly subjected to their relentless banter and overwhelming desire to be the smartest person in the room. It’s not that these characters are unlikable or anything, but whatever happened to less is more? Why can’t somebody just say “fuck you” every once in a while or punch someone in the face? Whatever.

The other problem I have with the show is that the news events that ACN reports on are all things that actually happened, which is kind of neat at first, but eventually it pretty much sucks most of the drama out of McAvoy’s broadcasts. At least in “Entourage”, another HBO property that became way too silly for its own good, all of Vincent Chase’s movies were fictional and the involvement of real actors, writers and directors in the show’s events, including Sorkin, had absolutely no basis in reality. The lone exception was when Turtle started dating Jamie Lynn-Sigler, which actually happened and ironically was more unbelievable than any of the fake storylines that they cranked out. My point is I just have a hard time getting invested in something when I already know what the outcome will be. The only other subplot besides McAvoy and McHale’s sexual tension is the romantic entanglement between a few of the other producers who work for ACN, which would be interesting if said producers didn’t continue to date people that they had absolutely no interestest in being with.

Now there’s a lot of viewers who have the same gripes that I do, and there’s many others who love “The Newsroom” to pieces, which is great for them. With Sorkin steering the ship, there will probably be many more seasons to come and if Sunday’s season premier was any indication, all of the new characters who are introduced will be just as smart as the ones we already have. That doesn’t do anything for me, but to each his own. You see, I’m pretty sure that Sorkin knew ahead of time that this probably wasn’t going to be anything groundbreaking for him. After all, he has already dabbled with this kind of subject matter in his earlier work with “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”, so it’s not like he was foraging through uncharted territory. Quite simply, this was his opportunity to make a statement about the role he thinks the media should play in our society and how politicians and corporate sponsors would react if reporters and moderators started asking them questions that mattered. It’s a statement that a lot of people would agree with, but it doesn’t make for a particularly compelling narrative.

Jesse’s Season 1 Rating: 6.5/10

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