Starting in 1998, for the better part of a decade, writer/producer Aaron Sorkin created three primetime shows for network television. One centered around the White House produced critical and mass appeal. The other two, neither of which received the same notoriety, were about a subject dear to his heart – television. Sorkin returns with a new show, a new network, and a familiar subject matter with The Newsroom. It’s not television, it’s Sorkin on HBO.
Sorkin’s latest stars Jeff Daniels as news anchor Will McAvoy, who, as the show opens, does something uncharacteristic by telling the truth at a town hall meeting in front of college students. When asked why America is the greatest country on Earth the newsman goes on a rant espousing why it isn’t. As we’ll learn, despite his Neilsen numbers, Will is
a bit of make that a humongous prick. It’s this rant that earns the newsman a three week vacation, only to return to find his executive producer (Thomas Sadoski) has quit and is taking the vast majority of his staff with him.
News doesn’t get better when Will’s boss (Sam Waterston) informs him he’s hired a replacement, the thoroughly qualified Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) who just happens to also be Will’s ex-girlfriend. After the appropriate amount of tantrum, Will renegotiates his contract with the ability to fire Mackenzie whenever he wishes. However, a breaking news story caught by Mackenzie’s assistant (John Gallagher Jr.) earns the show an exclusive on its first night back, and the pair at least another week of employment.
Other important characters of interest we’re introduced to include Will’s assistant Maggie (Alison Pill), who is also dating his former executive producer, and Dev Patel, Adina Porter, and Margaret Judson as members of the newsroom fact checking the story as the news breaks and lining up experts and interviews for the show’s broadcast. Olivia Munn is scheduled to join the show next week as a financial analyst for the network.
The new series borrows heavily from themes of Sorkin’s previous shows. The opening, in which our main character has a mini-breakdown on live television certainly harkens back the the Pilot episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, as does theme of ex-lovers working together and the struggle between producing a good show and fighting for ratings. The behind-the-scenes bustle of the newsroom itself will remind Sorkin fans of Sports Night (although the show is more serious in tone, closer to The West Wing, and lacking Sports Night‘s zaniness).
The show stakes it’s flag early on, and is far from subtle, with the idea that news should be informative not entertainment. It’s an intriguing idea to make the executive producer, not the star (with the actual power and authority), pushing the message on her reluctant ex-boyfriend who is still trying to publicly back away from his recent controversial statements. Newsroom is pretty good, certainly not the best of Sorkin. At it’s best it shows Sorkin’s trademark style and wit, and it its worse comes off (at times) pretentious and hamfisted. However, even with these issues, there’s certainly enough for me to stick around and see where the show goes. Much like the news it’s reporting Newsroom isn’t great, at least not yet, but given time it could be.