Tuesday, June 26, 2012

HBO's The Newsroom - TV Review

Well, now we the regular people can make our ruling on the most talked about show of summer.

This show is the epitome of Aaron Sorkin, for all that entails. I happen to like Aaron Sorkin, even though I could only watch The West Wing in patches. I was ready to embrace Studio 60, but they'd soliloquy about comedy skits like they were in the well of the Senate. His movies are more disciplined, and therefore more crackling.

So for this show, he gets a format to grandstand and speechify, but I still went with it. Sorkin likes to create worlds where talented people are just doing what they do best, in an idealized more left-of-center world.

Jeff Daniels is great as Will McAvoy, one of the most successful anchors on cable news because he is so objective and safe that he hides his true opinions well. (Some of today's most respected newsmen are ones who do just that, but here it's an insult.)  One day McAvoy snaps at a media forum at a college and spouts off numerous stats in Sorkinesque succession to illustrate why America is no longer the greatest country in the world.  Well, well.

Back at his cable home at ACN, his boss (Sam Waterston, bow-tied and more relaxed than he was on Law & Order) decides he's hiring a new executive producer (Emily Mortimer), who also happens to be Will's ex-girlfriend.  She encourages Will to embrace his new-found notoriety and just do the news they've always wanted to do.  It means asking harder questions, and not hiding what he thinks.  Waterston cites Murrow and Cronkite as idols, and goals for the new age of journalism.

It's also set in 2010, so we get to watch McAvoy deliver the news on stories where we already know the result, and Sorkin gets to get his characters to deliver the news the way he wishes it had been done the first time around.

Sorkin aspires for higher intelligence in news digestion, even though every character has to explain their references as though the viewing audience is stupid and needs those details.  I know Man of La Mancha is a musical; do I really need to be reminded it was written 45 years ago as well?

This fantasy take is all fine and good.  The cast is good and I hope the characters get developed beyond shouting at each other.  (Stand-out for me was Allison Pill as the nervous young assistant to Will.  I also hope Josh Malina and Bradley Whitford do not join the cast in the near future; no offense to either, but I've seen them enough in Sorkin-land.)

I've read Sorkin spent some time backstage at MSNBC to get ideas on what the crew does, and you can see a little of Olbermann's ego, Matthews's doggedness, and Scarborough's skepticism in McAvoy, but he's really his own character, and one that I hope fleshes out as the season progresses.

I saw this episode free on YouTube so unless I get HBO for a month here or there, I won't be watching the rest soon, but overall - overall - I was encouraged into thinking this can be a good show.

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