The West Wing is without doubt one of the best television shows of all time (at least the first five seasons), and Aaron Sorkin, the show’s creator, is similarly a fantastic writer. His characteristic witty banter, featured in every one of his projects (including The Social Network, A Few Good Men, Moneyball and Charlie Wilson’s War), makes political junkies and comedy nerds alike swoon. It is appreciation for this brilliant man that caused me to literally countdown the days until the premiere of The Newsroom last Sunday (that, and the fact that all my other shows have ended).
The show centers around a grouchy and weathered, but ultimately goodhearted news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). McAvoy has given up on the idea that a news show can be good and also make money. He is referred to as the “Leno of news.” After a public breakdown in which he decrees that America is not the great country it once was, his entire staff leaves him and the network executive, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), forces him to rethink the news. Skinner hires Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), who has just returned from covering the war in Afghanistan and with whom McAvoy has an unpleasant past, to be the new Executive Producer.
The Newsroom absolutely delivers on the promised aforementioned banter, but other elements of the premiere had me scratching my head. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but when MacHale wistfully describes the first time McAvoy met her parents, I uttered a loud Seth Meyers-esque, “really?”
I felt the same desire to roll my eyes when a love triangle is set up between McAvoy’s assistant (Allison Pill), the former Executive Producer and the cute new Associate Producer, loyal to MacHale. The inclusion of Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, Skins) did not help things. Again, please don’t mistake my fear that the show will turn into non-musical version of Glee for dislike of Patel (who I happen to adore). I just worry that the intertwining relationships between the young, good-looking people will overshadow more interesting plotlines like the actual news events the team struggles to cover.
The pilot’s actual news event was the BP Oil Spill, and the internal debates about how to best cover the news were the bits that had my internal West Wing fangirl cheering. Arguments are clearly where Sorkin shines. And this is the main reason why I am worried that The Newsroom won’t live up to its potential: There isn’t enough arguing. I don’t mean between the characters, but between political philosophies. For a show that is a critique of partisanship and bias, it is remarkably partisan and biased. I’m not sure that it’s as much a critique of partisanship as it is of Fox News and its viewers.
On the whole, I agree with the political philosophies of the show as does, I assume, Sorkin, which actually made the bashing of the token Republican in the first scene just seem preachy. And I hate to sound nitpicky, but the “controversial” speech McAvoy utters in the opening scene when he lists a whole host of reasons why America is definitely not the greatest country in the world, is not the least bit shocking to anyone who has ever watched The Daily Show (which I’m assuming is everyone who tuned in to watch The Newsroom on HBO this Sunday).
I feel bad complaining about The Newsroom. Compared to most television shows on air, The Newsroom is excellent. However, compared to most television shows on HBO, it’s kind of mehh. Granted, my expectations were probably too high, and I haven’t given up yet (as I’ve said, I have no other shows to watch this summer). I still have hope for The Newsroom, but at the same time I am afraid that it will spiral down like another of Sorkin’s enterprises: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (about which Sorkin fans tend to forget).
My advice is to keep a wary eye on The Newsroom. If you’ve already caught up on Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and every other show you know you should watch and now find yourself wanting a new show to get you through the summer, watch The Newsroom. But unless you’re a Sorkin-ite or a political fiction addict upset that Veep is over, watch those other ones first. I hope that a year from now, I will be here telling you that, after a shaky start, The Newsroom managed to rise above all other television shows ever in the world and that Season 2 promises to continue that trajectory. But until then, stick with Netflix.