Breaking the news: HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’ tackles the faults of modern-day reporting
“America is not the greatest country in the world anymore,” proclaims news anchor Will McAvoy.
So begins “The Newsroom,” the latest series from writer Aaron Sorkin, who took a hiatus from his usual TV series (“West Wing,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) to pen films “The Social Network” and “Moneyball.” Sorkin has a history of creating behind-the-scenes looks at different institutions–from the White House to late-night comedy TV–but this time he focuses on an unlikely target: the evening news. “The Newsroom” features his standard “Sorkinese” (characters talking in super-fast, facts-laced dialogue), but adopts a preachy tone as Will McAvoy and crew lament the demise of real news in favor of ratings-hungry, 24-hour cable network stories.
The story begins in 2010, allowing Sorkin to reinterpret coverage of recent major news stories, beginning with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and continuing with the rise of the Tea Party. The argument is that recent news coverage, in an endless quest for ratings, has sacrificed quality for catchiness, and that this fictional broadcast represents how good the news can really be. Even though it can feel very sanctimonious, getting a fresh take on old stories is fun, especially when the team tries to take down the Tea Party in episode three.
Aside from the series’ preachy, sometimes-shrill tone, much has been made in the media of Sorkin’s treatment of women, especially in light of his “Hey, Internet girl” comment that has become infamous, not to mention the way female roles were marginalized in “The Social Network.” And indeed, the female character in “The Newsroom,” notably Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) and Maggie (Alison Pill), are often prone to hysterics and storylines focused more around their love lives than their work, despite the fact that all the characters work in the same newsroom.
But what is more frustrating than the general typecasting of emotional, needy women is the so-far wasted potential in terms of characterization. We are told numerous times of Mackenzie’s bravery covering war stories in Iraq and Afghanistan, but instead of showing the viewer any of that history, we’re instead presented with a woman who struggles to send an email and spends most of her time fighting with Will over their past history together. Aside from being offensive, it just makes for less interesting television.
Despite this, Sorkin–as ever–writes compelling characters. Jeff Daniels, as Will McAvoy, grounds the cast with a surly presence that often leads to temper tantrums but is equally prone to random acts of kindness and a newfound commitment to good journalism. Meanwhile, the incredible chemistry between Maggie and producer Jim Harper (played by John Gallagher Jr.) works to form the best will-they-or-won’t-they TV relationship since Jim and Pam on “The Office.”
If you’re a fan of Sorkin, “The Newsroom” will satisfy your craving for rapid-fire dialogue and characters standing proudly on soapboxes. But even if you’re not–and you can get past the hysterics and the sermons–it makes for an entertaining hour and a thought-provoking rewrite of recent history.
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