Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Newsier Than Thou:

Aaron Sorkin, famed creator of The West Wing and writer of Moneyball, among other things, has a new show out on HBO. It has style, it has wit, but it's also got dialogue up the wazoo.
Newsier than Thou
The Newsroom / Early-Season Review
July 17
by Bryan Lobrutto
Newsier Than Thou
The Newsroom / Early-Season Review
HBO, Sundays at 10PM
Words By Bryan Lobrutto
The Newsroom opens with a man and a woman arguing fiercely during a political discussion panel. The man argues on behalf of the political right, the woman for the left. Both are equally committed to a pre-packaged set of principles, furiously hurling ready-made phrases and points at each other, subjecting their audience to a clinic in unoriginality and futility. Between them sits Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), known as the “Jay Leno of the news” because of his refusal to take risks, humorously deflecting the moderator’s prompts to become involved. McAvoy steadfastly refuses to participate, until he is pushed to explain why America is the best country in the world. He launches into a tirade about why America is not in fact the greatest country in the world, although it could be.

It is moments like this that make The Newsroom, HBO and Aaron Sorkin’s latest whirlwind of witty banter and idealism, a success. McAvoy returns to the news after a mandatory leave of absence to find his staff gone, and begins a new show. A show that will do only one thing: deliver the facts. If this sounds like Sorkin is creating a dream where real issues are less complicated and the right decision is always clear, it’s because that is exactly what he has done. Perhaps this is not a bad thing. It might do some good for people to see a situation, however artificial, in which journalism is pure and sensationalism nonexistent. It is certainly a worthy goal. The Newsroom succeeds in sucking the audience into a realm of honesty and righteousness, and it is exhilarating to travel with Will into the unmapped seas of a news show that only reports the news.

Unfortunately, Sorkin fills the show with supporting characters that at times don’t fit with the overall tone of the series. It’s not that they are written badly, it’s just that when Will is reporting the breaking story of the BP oil spill (with perfect sources practically flinging themselves anonymously at his staff in record time), you just don’t care about inter-office romances or rivalries. Other moments simply don’t make sense. At one point in the second episode, a character who is supposed to be an experienced professional just back from working in dangerous countries overseas fails to understand how to properly send an email. Moments like this weigh on the show’s momentum. Other times, speed is exactly the problem. Every character that populates The Newsroom seems to speak with the desperation of a drug addict combined with some innate need to unleash their cleverness on the world, creating an exhausting mixture of sometimes brilliant but too often irritating dialogue that makes you want to scream at everyone to just relax and talk like normal human beings before someone has a coronary.

The problems with The Newsroom are substantial, but they don’t mask its potential. The show is still young, and there is still a chance for it to mature, to shift focus to the more interesting aspects, and hopefully to do away with the vaguely preachy tone. Perhaps Sorkin will tire himself out with his breakneck exchanges and dial down the unnecessary intensity. The series is exciting and relevant but has significant room for improvement. The Newsroom is not the greatest show in the world, and it won’t be. But it is fun, and it should be watched. It’s just a shame it isn’t better.
Posted on July 17, 2012


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