Television Revision: The Newsroom – Season 1

The Newsroom S1

By Andrew Williams
November 13, 2013

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation). 

Now, this is a story all about how… Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is an immensely popular, unopinionated cable anchor with a great salary and great ratings – right up until he launches into a furious tirade on the state of America. Together with his ex-girlfriend and new producer Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), he sets out to make a news show he can be proud of.

The Newsroom S1

Happy days? Look, I know what show Aaron Sorkin was trying to make, and it would have been terrific. A mixture of journalistic and political drama with a dash of screwball comedy set in a media landscape that desperately needs a kick up the backside? Sign me up. Yet, the alchemy on display in The West Wing and Sports Night is sadly absent in the first season of The Newsroom. While it by no means deserved the vitriolic level of criticism it received, it’s still a failure. A noble one, but a failure nonetheless.

The major issue is one of stakes. Speechifying, crusading characters and high drama are acceptable when the future of the free world is at risk; less so when it’s the future of an 11pm cable news show. The same problem plagued Sorkin’s last project, Studio 60, which tried to convince us that having a satirical Saturday Night Live rather than a funny one was the most important thing in the universe. But at least Studio 60 had a capable cast. Almost every actor in The Newsroom struggles mightily with the Sorkin dialogue, having apparently decided en masse that delivering the lines quickly was more important than finding the meaning within them.

There are myriad other problems (the decision to set it in the real-world past; the fairly dire romantic subplots) but it would be remiss of me to ignore that The Newsroom also has much to recommend it. The sparkling dialogue present in so much of his past work still bursts through occasionally, and many actors are immensely likeable and talented despite their struggles with the dialogue. One thing’s for sure: there’s plenty of potential in this show.

The final frontier: I agree with the grand majority of things Aaron Sorkin has to say in The Newsroom. I just wish he’d said them better.

The Newsroom S1

Top two episodes: 1) We Just Decided To. The pilot of The Newsroom is actually pretty good. Smart and funny, it nonetheless also sews the seeds of problems yet to rear their ugly heads. 6) Bullies. Part of the problem with Will McAvoy is that he never seems to be wrong… until he finally is, and the show is all the better for it.

Worst episode: 9) The Blackout: Part 2. This is the one ep that actually had me wondering if I might give up on The Newsroom. The show’s insistence on forcing numerous romantic subplots rather than just letting certain actors develop chemistry with each other makes for occasionally interminable television.

Season MVP: If the producers had sacked the majority of the cast and rebooted the show to be about Olivia Munn’s fiercely intelligent finance reporter Sloan Sabbith, I would have been first in line for Season Two. It’s The Newsroom’s most compelling character and performance.

2.5/5

The Newsroom is available on Quickflix.

One Response to “Television Revision: The Newsroom – Season 1”

  1. Well said, Andrew. We enjoyed the Newsroom, but it was never so compelling that we put everything else aside to watch it. Though tedious at times, we mostly enjoyed the cast – led by Jeff Daniels who is superb. I agree on Sloan – she was terrific.

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