24-hour news networks are evil at their core. For my part, I was glued to MSNBC throughout Clinton’s last years through the Lewinsky scandal, the shootings at Columbine, and concluding with Y2K. What happens when you don’t have content? You have to fill that space somehow. Aaron Sorkin, no stranger to behind-the-scenes affairs, and scribe of Facebook ‘show-all’ The Social Network, wants to bring the back end of this kind of news show to light with episodes set to recent events. Here, we witness the transformation of Jeff Daniels’ anchor/producer Will McAvoy and the team that supports him. So does it work?
The Newsroom is always moving. Producers and researchers are constantly on phones picking up information and verifying others. Their work and play intertwine and we love them. Will himself is coming off a weird period in his life, in which the media has painted the star/producer of ACN’s News Night as an inoffensive Jay Leno-type who doesn’t ask any ‘hard questions’. In the opening moments of the pilot, he finds himself spitting out this lengthy tirade about how America is no longer as great as it was. He’s mercurial, confrontational, and rude and when a former flame arrives at the behest of his boss, Charlie (a fantastic Sam Waterston) to produce his new post-breakdown News Night show, he goes mad, going so far as to sacrifice portions of his contract to keep her at bay.
But we let the characters breathe a bit. We learn what happened between Will and Mac. We see what happens with new Senior Producer Jim (who could be a passable relative for John Krasinski’s Jim from The Office) and secretary-turned-producer Maggie (an adorable Allison Pill). We see Jane Fonda ironically play a conservative executive at ACN who threatens to take the axe to Will’s head when his show threatens her business. Even if we can’t agree with how the news is covered, we begin to fall in love with the people who bring it on the air.
Always one to be dramatic, Sorkin’s trademark dialogue is witty, smart, and consistent. In fact, it’s so consistent that it was hard to discern any of the individual characters because they’re all written exactly the same with the same biting commentary and borrowers of the same pool of cultural data that, well, Sorkin knows. It’s fun to watch, but it’s definitely annoying at times for people to have such similar surgical arguments that rarely pay off because of the intellectual stalemate. This isn’t really exclusive to his Newsroom, but it’s still there.
As a self-proclaimed Republican, McAvoy spends 100% of his time debunking the sound bites of Tea Party affiliates and 0% of his time debunking the myths of Obama’s mega-hyped term. Again, Sorkin’s prerogative, but it seems incredibly odd that somehow he finds the goofy caretakers of his party are somehow infinitely worse than what his opponents are doing. This lop-sided political perspective that pervades the whole series makes the whole thing look like a post-2000 MSNBC, rather than a pre-2000 MSNBC before all those anchors left for Fox News. Sure, Sorkin/McAvoy bring up plenty of good points, but in a show that has frequently trumpeted the necessity of his show, and others like it, to be a nightly standard for balanced information, The Newsroom completely fails. Sorkin has admitted he knows nothing of politics and is bringing in ‘conservative advisors’ for the second season.
I enjoyed The Newsroom, perhaps because of its flashiness, perhaps because of its bias, perhaps because of its never-ending self-serving conversations. It’s witty and the performances are fantastic (although I’m still not sure about Olivia Munn’s ascendance from Attack of the Show). This is a story I want to see and I can put my politics behind me for the most part to enjoy what Sorkin’s brought to the table.