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The Newsroom premiere review – The aspirational world of Aaron Sorkin

The pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin's 'The Newsroom' embodies TV news the way Sorkin wishes it would be, journalism's version of 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.'

- Season 1, Episode 1 - "We Just Decided To"

When I finally sat down to watch the pilot episode of HBO’s new drama about cable news — brought to us by the creator of The West Wing and Sports Night – I carried with me a whole bunch of negativity. You see, I’d already read several negative reviews calling the show everything from sanctimonious and pompous, to overly talky and packed to the gills with lofty speeches instead of dialog. And having now seen The Newsroom’s first episode, I get what fellow TV critics are saying.

There was indeed an avalanche of unrealistic speeches. The lead character, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) who had a public meltdown at the beginning of the episode, is prone to bloviating and bellowing. He showed not one iota of likability. Not. One. Plus, the characters spoke so fast and with such premeditated, inhuman eloquence that they made the infamously chatty Gilmore Girls look almost dumbly mute.

Then I took a step back, away from the slow-moving pilot which wasn’t as riveting as I would have liked it to be … until the BP oil spill occurred, and everybody swung into action. I tried to figure out what exactly show creator Aaron Sorkin — he of the famously brisk walk-and-talks around the White House corridors, where loyal advisers spout off witty lines overloaded with insightful facts about history, literature and art — was trying to do here. He’s certainly not holding up a mirror to the world of TV news, as many, many critics have complained.

Instead of reflecting reality, Sorkin is trying to shame news people into modeling their profession and into his Frank Capra-esque world view: This is news the way it ought to be, journalism the way it ought to be, free from commercial compromise, free from the artifice of objectivity (since everybody has opinions about everything) and free from the gloom that pervades the profession that’s seeing its ranks rapidly diminished as journalism struggles with an uncertain future.

The Newsroom is Sorkin as the newbie, wide-eyed Senator Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart), eagerly arriving in Washington, D.C., hoping to honestly do “the right thing” for his constituents and his nation, only to come face-to-face with dirty corruption and backroom deals designed to help only a few at the expense of the many. Sorkin looks at the world of TV news the same way, hence all the speeches, all that righteous indignation, the Sam Waterston character egging McAvoy on and hiring McAvoy’s former lover as the executive producer who will bring out the very best in the battered TV anchor, the very best in journalism, because she’s the very best of journalism herself.

As a West Wing fan with a sentimental affection for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I’m willing to give The Newsroom some latitude here, even when its characters pop off into another monologue that gives voice to Sorkin’s dreams of how news reporting could be. I’ll roll my eyes but attempt to see the bigger picture. It’s a noble goal he’s got in mind, trying to prod journalists into turning away from the Snookis of the world, away from the ridiculously shallow, non-news stories that grab ratings, and toward risk-taking, intelligent, revelatory reporting. I think The Newsroom is worth the investment.

Photo Credit: HBO

2 Responses to “The Newsroom premiere review – The aspirational world of Aaron Sorkin”

June 25, 2012 at 3:34 PM

I liked it. (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is on my favorites list, as is the West Wing, and are always watched when I see them on the listings). It was refreshing to have a show that tries to challenge the viewers to at least think a little bit, especially after True Blood and in the reality tv black-hole that is summer. Who ever thought of that programming line-up is bananas.

June 26, 2012 at 1:23 PM

I wasn’t impressed. Daniels/Mortimer have little chemistry despite all the “witty” dialogue. It also implied journalistic hard work relies on having roomates and siblings in key companies. Really? I may give it a few more episodes, but the early reviews all seem to say the next 3 episodes get worse.

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