‘The Newsroom’ misses many a mark
The Newsroom had a lot of potential. It is created and written by Aaron Sorkin, the man behind the multi-Emmy winning series The West Wing, and Academy Award nominated films The Social Network and Moneyball. But it has been panned by the critics, being described as ‘smug’ and ‘intellectually self-serving’.
When The Newsroom is good, it’s really pretty good. When it gets bad, it leaves you wanting to switch it off and watch The West Wing, just to remind yourself that Sorkin can do better.
The Newsroom begins strongly. The show’s main protagonist, Will McAvoy, portrayed by Jeff Daniels, is a cynical and desperately unlikable man who decides to tell students that America has fallen in to disrepair. The character’s personality in that first scene draws you in. That is, until, the cheesy music sets in. Whoever is responsible for the composition needs to turn their attention to children films instead.
This cheesy, and overtly patriotic-seeming music cuts in at numerous moments, making what was a serious scene a bit of a joke. ‘Let’s reclaim the fourth estate!’ cries MacKenzie McHale (yes, that really is her name) as the cringe-worthy overly-dramatic music plays underneath. Sorkin is well-known for his lengthy monologues, but those in The Newsroom threaten to become preachy and frankly, unrealistic. The speeches found in The Newsroom contain all the things you’d wished you’d said in hindsight, but weren’t articulate enough to say just right at the time. These characters though, have perfected the sanctimonious speeches with no rehearsal necessary.
The opening speech is purely, and intentionally, a lecture directed to the show’s audience. ‘You are all failing America, blah, blah, but here’s how we can improve it, blah, blah’. Many of Sorkin’s lines appear to be delivered just to get across his own views. Self serving? Just a bit. Over the top and unrealistic? A lot.
It is all too easy to criticise, however, and there are some highlights. Many (male) characters are intriguing and well-formed. Jim Harper (played by John Gallagher) is a fun and quirky character who is likely to become a fan favourite. Equally, Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) looks to be a promising character, and it is interesting to see Patel in an American TV show.
The female characters are less pleasing. Maggie Jordan’s (Alison Pill) storylines revolve around her relationship rather than her job. She is whimpering and lacks a backbone of her own. MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) may stand up for herself, but she constantly looks apologetic for her and Will’s relationship status. It is strange, when you compare The West Wing’s strong female characters, CJ Cregg, Abbey Bartlet and Amy Gardner to name just a few, to these weak female characters of The Newsroom.
Indeed, The Newsroom seem to be fighting to insert relationship storylines. Whilst relationships between characters in The West Wing emerged effortlessly, those in The Newsroom are thrust into the viewer’s face with as much subtlety as a full-blown sex scene right in the middle of the office. The introduction of Maggie and Don Keefer’s (Thomas Sadoski) relationship, for example, is a very unprofessional fight in the middle of the newsroom. It just seems completely unnecessary and only makes the characters seem a bit pathetic.
The main plot, once it gets to that stage, is fun to watch. It is a curious insight into a newsroom involved with a major news story. And the twist half way through leaves you wondering where exactly this show has the potential to go. The answer is, that it could go many places in many intriguing ways. It is in these moments, when the characters are actually doing their jobs rather than dealing with their relationships, when the show comes to life. Sadly, there is not nearly enough of it.
If the critics are to be believed, the show gets worse rather than better. Despite reasonable viewing figures, The Newsroom just does not seem up to HBO’s usual high standards. Aaron Sorkin is well-known to cut others out of the writing process. It is not difficult to imagine that he would have refused any constructive advice from HBO also. The Newsroom could have been so easily improved. With the exception of some key, wonderful moments it falls completely flat to the point of embarrassment.
But I’ll tune in next week. Because when The Newsroom gets its lines right, it is highly entertaining.