Monday, September 5, 2016

Dated, But Worthwhile: The Newsroom Was Sorkin's Most Original Work In Ages!

The Good: Exceptional details, Good acting, Interesting characters
The Bad: Exceptionally dated and plot-specific
The Basics: The Newsroom had only three seasons, which amount to a body of wonderful television that ages poorly.

When it comes to the works of Aaron Sorkin, there are a number of things that casual viewers do not immediately recognize. For example, Sorkin recycles a lot of his lines and plotlines. When people quote The Social Network (reviewed here!), they often recall the line about how if the Winklevoss brothers had invented Facebook, they would have invented Facebook. While it is memorable and was used in many of the trailers, loyal fans of Aaron Sorkins work will easily recognize the line as a bastardization of one of Sorkins lines from Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (reviewed here!). In a similar fashion, Sorkin's latest television work, The Newsroom, used a few of its plots from Sorkin's work Sports Night (reviewed here!). Despite the third season of The Newsroom using the network sale plot from Sports Night, most of the HBO series is actually fairly original.

The Newsroom - The Complete Series is a compilation of the discs from:
The Newsroom - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 2
and The Newsroom - Season 3 with new packaging, but no new material.

The Newsroom is an hourlong show that explores the behind-the-scenes aspects of a cable news show. Fighting for legitimacy and credibility in a 24 hour news cycle, jaded reporter Will McAvoy accepts his ex-girlfriend as his new Executive Producer whose goal is to make the news show on their cable news network great again. Instead of softball news, McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale fight to change the tableau of nightly news by delivering stories the right way.

While breaking stories on the Deepwater Horizon (BP oil spill), Egypt's coup and the shooting of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords, McAvoy tries to expose the Tea Party as extremist hijackers of the Republican Party. McAvoy gambles his newfound principles by covering the Casey Anthony story in an attempt to get a strong Republican primary debate. Failing that, ACN gets lured into reporting a story that gets the team in legal trouble. The series climaxes with the fight between legitimate news and crowd sourcing the news when ACN is bought by a young, hip man who does not value McHale's approach.

As one might expect in a work by Aaron Sorkin, the writing in The Newsroom is exceptional. The dialogue is fast and witty and the characters are interesting. Unfortunately, The Newsroom is somewhat erratic. The first season is rooted in real-world events that are incredibly specific and remarkably dated (even now). The second season detours from the harshly realistic to create a fictional story that was analogous to how less-legitimate news sources get bamboozled. And in the third season, The Newsroom relies upon Sorkin's fictional African nation to sell a plot that allows for a contempt of court story for Will McAvoy.

Wound amid the stories are the behind-the-scenes dramas of the relationships of the people who work at ACN. Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale are exes who struggle to have a relationship that works while working together. Jim Harper is a professional who has a weak spot for Maggie, but can't seem to get it together with her. And Sloane Sabbith is a consummate professional not looking for a meaningful relationship when her most meaningful friendship develops into a shockingly good romantic relationship.

The Newsroom is dominated by distinctive characters and the essential characters are:

Will McAvoy – The lead anchor of ACN’s flagship program, NewsNight, he is unliked by his underlings and peers at the outset. When MacKenzie returns to the show, he starts doing the show they both wanted. He returns to integrity while fighting the Tea Party on air and standing by his employees,

MacKenzie McHale – Executive Producer of NewsNight, she loves Will and works to get him back on track. She is smart, efficient and runs the newsroom with integrity,

Jim Harper – MacKenzie's loyal assistant, he travels with her from her pre-ACN rut to ACN. There, he starts running the newsroom efficiently, despite developing feelings for Maggie. He starts dating Maggie's roommate at her insistence and tries to avoid her by going off on the Romney press bus,

Maggie Jordan – Initially in a bad relationship with Don, she works the newsroom with mixed professional results. To avoid her feelings for Jim and the consequences of confessing those feelings in a viral video on the internet, she takes an assignment in Africa that leaves her fundamentally shaken,

Don Keefer – The executive producer of the show that follows McAvoy's Newsnight, he is treated poorly by McAvoy's staff after being replaced by McHale. He dates Maggie until her true feelings come out and then he finds himself in an unlikely relationship with Sloan,

Sloan Sabbith – The economics expert at ACN, she is smart, efficient and professional. Despite that, she ends up in multiple personal quagmires - usually by men treating her poorly - and struggles to warn ACN of an impending hostile takeover,

Neal Sampat – He is the director of ACN's online presence who is ridiculed by his peers who do not see the internet as a legitimate way to gather information. But, after years of following internet clues to stories, he becomes mired in the heart of a story that exposes genuine government corruption,

and Charlie Skinner – The president of ACN, he fights for Newsnight to make the transition from soft news back to strong journalism.

The Newsroom is led by Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer and they bring instant credibility and gravitas to their roles of Will and MacKenzie. Younger performers like Allison Pill, Dev Patel and Olivia Munn play off the mature portrayal of Charlie Skinner by Sam Waterston and the mix of actors creates an environment that feels very real.

Ultimately, The Newsroom makes a good argument, but it belabors that argument and ends up as a body of work that was timely, but sadly ineffective.

For other works that are or were on HBO, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Game Change
Veep - Season 1
Game Of Thrones - Season 6
Girls - Season 1
True Blood
Six Feet Under
Sex & The City - Season Three
Da Ali G Show
Jim Henson's The Storyteller


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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