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The Newsroom Season One: A Review

Saturday, September 08, 2012
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"Hmmm...chocolate sounds good right about now. Who can I threaten with their job to get me a Mars Bar..."
"Were you listening when I was speaking or were you distracted by a bumblebee?"

We came late to this party, not so much fashionably as we just picked up the scent of fried food and the sound of a mariachi band and followed our senses.

Maybe five weeks in we caught this new show, created by Aaron Sorkin, he of Sports Night, The West Wing and The Social Network and the long-glaring view into the soul of America by the pessimistic optimist.

Beginning with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Newsroom takes a sweeping, retroactive look at some of the events that shaped America and the world, through the eyes of the fictional Atlantis Cable News and its anchor, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels).

Will's life becomes immeasurably more complicated when his staff quits and his boss (played by Sam Waterston) hires Will's ex-girlfriend Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) fresh from the desert wars, to reform the punchless and lazy nature of the show and turn it into something which has a good, hard look at things.

Which as it turns out, Will also needs to do.

"Hey look, Glenn Beck's taking his pants off on live TV!"
This is ably helped along by the perpetually-frittered cast of fifteen year olds who it seems, can easily get jobs on staff at major news shows. Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) and Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) all play solid parts in the deconstruction/reconstruction effort that is the show and also Will's life.

Don Keefer (Thomas Sadowski), producing the late news, is an antagonist who occasionally is blurred into the good guy and who by the end of the season needs a hug. Olivia Munn plays Sloan Sabbith, an economics guru with no ability whatsoever to handle social situations.

The characters are well-formed. There are occasionals who do an outstanding job, such as the hilarious Terry Crews, who plays Will's bodyguard Lonny, and David Krumholtz in the role of Will's therapist.

If this review makes it seem like much of the show is about Will...well, it is. His life is a reflection of the chaos engulfing his show and the show engulfs his life, so I suppose it all works out if you twist your mind and tilt your head sideways.

Daniels is very, very good in this role. He brings a fractured persona to the character, with a frailty only offset by his callous and seemingly unfeeling attitude towards...everyone, really.

Mortimer is his counterbalance and the show surely needs her. Her frenetic, enthusiastic, almost psychotically upbeat energy ticks him off no end and needling Will is when the show is at its best.

The Newsroom is an incredibly polarising TV show. Focussing as it does on real-world events which actually happened, it brings a unique - perhaps easy - analysis which sits firmly and unashamedly on the liberal side of the fence. McAvoy plays a Republican but has wearied of the nonsense sometimes uttered by the conservative extreme flank. I dealt with some of that in my post on the internet weirdos.

The hardcore Republicans will not appreciate this show. Independents may cautiously appreciate the content and the way McAvoy rips apart some of the key principles and players of the Tea Party mythology and fraternity. Liberals will be more likely to enjoy this show.

However they're going to have to get past the one main hurdle: the overt Sorkinism.

I (Mr Speech) liked Sports Night and I loved The West Wing. But the dialogue, mainly can grate after a while.

Imagine a world in which everyone speaks incredibly quickly, in long unbroken chains of syllables which blend together to form what might be considered words. Imagine that their perfect witticisms always hit the mark in the most derisive and humiliating way possible. And imagine that ordinary people walk around with the ability to recite the driest, most inane statistics imaginable, without needing to check.

In 1952 the Sasquatawmee county school district had an overall adjusted graduation rate of 63.5%.

I made that up. But it would sound a bit bizarre if I could pull trivia like that out of my pocket and place it on the table in any conversation, wouldn't it? Maybe I'd need to step away from the computer thing for a while and breathe a bit?

The other major Sorkinism is the disparity in common courtesy that exists between the senior members of the ACN staff, and the underlings. Maggie, Neal and some of the other minor cast members are so horribly beat up by casually cruel people - starting but not ending with McAvoy - that surely in real life they'd be curled up in the corner singing old songs by My Chemical Romance and swigging from the nearest bottle of turpentine while applying beaucoup eyeliner.

That they take it in stride is either a testament to their fortitude or more likely, dodgy writing.

The only thing you ever have to do to make me happy is come up with original material.
Aaron Sorkin has a thing with repeating himself. His reputation is built on recycling the same zingy bromides, some of which aren't necessarily all that zingy anymore. I'm not sure why he needs to repeat his material when he obviously has a fairly deep well of conversational creativity from which to draw, but nonetheless the bumblebee quote. When the fall's all that's left...you turn right I suppose.

However there's something as strange going on with the character construction in Sorkin's shows: the characters are all alike. Seriously, each character comes from a mould somewhere in Sorkin's parietal lobe, a cast which churns out Donnas and Macs and Charlies and Leos, then adding a different colour hair or better fashion accessories.

The result is a very deja vu approach and one which brands each Sorkin show with an inimitably familiar quality.

On the plus side, for those already familiar, you don't exactly have to bring a notepad and pen when you tune in.

But when the characters click and the situation brings them together, The Newsroom produces some memorable moments. The ending of episode 4 ("I'll try to fix you"), Neal going all WWE on a computer monitor because of another abhorrent Rush Limbaugh quote, Will being taken to the cleaners by a (fictional) gay black member of Rick Santorum's campaign.

And while they're not real moments, and while they sometimes drip with soft-focus emotion, the negatives do not outweigh the positives.

Season one of The Newsroom has some fantastic episodes, one or two mediocre episodes and one turgid account of ACN's response to the death of Osama Bin Laden. But there's enough there to pull me in.

I'll watch season two.
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