The Newsroom: We Just Decided To Review: Does Sorkin’s New Series Live Up to the Hype?

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Tonight marked the premiere of HBO’s new series The Newsroom. And whatever the show might be lacking, the one thing of which there is no shortage is Aaron Sorkin’s signatures. The ever famous “walk and talk.” Snarky, fast paced dialogue. Morally fueled monologues. And absolutely captivating characters you can’t help but root for.

The episode opens with Will McAvoy, portrayed by Jeff Daniels, speaking to a group of students at Northwestern University. After being prodded by the moderator to stray from his signature staunchly moderate persona, he explodes at a sophomore girl who asks the question: “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” The basic premise of his fiery response is this: “it’s not, but it can be.” It was in the past, but America’s lost sight of what was once important. Despite the actual use of the unbearably cheesy phrase, “We reached for the stars,” it’s a beautifully written monologue, however overly romantic it might be. We got our first real taste of Aaron Sorkin via Will McAvoy in that first scene, and it just kept getting better throughout the rest of the episode.

Before the opening credits, it certainly seemed that Will McAvoy would be the vessel through which Sorkin would be peddling his idealism, but it soon becomes clear that the morally superior role is assigned to Mackenzie, the new executive producer of News Night, the show which Will McAvoy anchors. Portrayed by Emily Mortimer, Mackenzie is a former flame of Will’s who has just returned from a long stint in Afghanistan. She takes the job after Will’s entire staff leaves him post-outburst, which has gained national attention. His entire staff except for Allison Pill’s character, his charmingly vulnerable assistant Maggie. Maggie soon receives a promotion from Mackenzie to associate producer, and the dynamic between the two women is one of Aaron Sorkin’s favorite dynamics to portray: that of the mentor and their promising young pupil.

The relationship between Will and his boss Charlie, Sam Waterson’s character, is the other mentor/student dynamic, and proves to be my favorite of the show. Waterson plays the drunk but wise aging executive with an ease and charisma only he is capable of, and the back and forth between him and Will is nearly flawless.

The only characters that didn’t grab my attention right away were Jim and Don, depicted respectively by John Gallagher Jr. and Thomas Sadoski. Jim is an associate of Mackenzie’s who has come to work for her in New York, and Don is the previous executive producer of News Night. The problem with their characters might be the fact that for the first half of the episode they were nearly indistinguishable, but when Jim steps up to the plate it’s clear that both of these characters are going to have major roles as the show develops. One that will likely revolve largely around Maggie. The Newsroom, as with almost all of Sorkin’s past series, features many minor players whose relationships are positioned to grow throughout the season.

Once all the characters are introduced (perhaps not thoroughly, but well enough) we get to the heart of the episode: the news. The major catch that the entire first season will obviously hinge upon is Mackenzie’s contract: Will has negotiated with the network, giving back one million dollars a year of his own salary, so that her contract is for one week at a time, with Will having firing power at the end of every week.

When there is a buzz in the newsroom about an oil spill in the Gulf, the pace of the episode picks back up and feels Sorkin-esque through the end. I think the decision to use a real life news event, rather than invent a new one that simply mirrored the actual disaster, was an incredibly smart move. While anchoring the show, which is thrown together moment by moment without a rundown, we get to see Will (and Jeff Daniels himself) in his element. Will McAvoy is an inexplicably lovable asshole. Inexplicably, that is, until he captivatingly anchors the news, where it’s clear that he shines. As an asshole. He boldly interrogates his interviewees, ignores niceties, and delivers the news in a stark and matter of fact manner.

At the very end of the episode, we get a small glimpse into the relationship between Will and Mackenzie when they reminisce about the first time he met her parents. It’s just enough of a glimpse to keep us wanting more, but not enough to really give us any background. It’s frustrating in the best way possible.

My praise aside, there are some things I take issue with. While there’s a great cast and brilliant writing, there’s an overwhelming flaw in the basic premise of the show that simply can’t be ignored. The show basically overlooks the internet. There is one amusing reference to twitter, and an equally entertaining bit about a blog Will never knew he had, but aside from that, nothing. In this day and age, most people get their news from the internet, that’s an indisputable fact about the world we live in. The overly romanticized view of the nightly news as people’s primary news source is naïve at best, and pompous and arrogant at worst. I’m not sure this is a minor detail that can be easily ironed out. While I hope this will be addressed as the series progresses, in the premiere it’s disregarded.

Despite its faults, it’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in the spirit of the show and its characters, the contagion of hope and promise, which is what I have for The Newsroom’s debut season. Is The Newsroom the greatest new show this season? “It’s not, but it can be.” (7.5/10)

3 Responses to The Newsroom: We Just Decided To Review: Does Sorkin’s New Series Live Up to the Hype?

  1. Chris Finn says:

    “It is as it should be” well written prose.
    Now I’m going to watch the show….I guess I need to subscribe HBO into my TV tier.
    Excellent, Ms. Coan! You do us all proud!

  2. Kristine Moran says:

    Well written review. My interest in this show has now been peeked….excellent job Ms. Coan.

  3. Nathan Slovin says:

    Anne and I both say, well done Meg! We enjoyed your review.

    We are week behind, but Julie and I finally watched the first episode of “The Newsroom” last night and loved it.

    I heard some echoes of the West Wing, but not as much as I thought I would hear. I liked the two Executive Producers, Jim Harper and Don, not sure about Jeff Daniels yet, reminds me of a cross between Lionel Tribbey and Leo McGarry.

    The Sam Waterson character was interesting, but not sure I always believed him; give me a good Lou Grant and I think I will be happy. I think I need to get to know his character a little more. I love Emily Mortimer’s shoes, need I say more. I can’t wait to see how she develops and I am not a fan of the Donna Moss character, but I am holding out hope…… Julie is in Wisconsin with her parents in Wisconsin, I will be joining her over the weekend (I played well enough to make it to the weekend) and when we return we will have a “Newsroom” marathon, watching the episodes we DVR’ed.

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