There are a lot of reviews available of the new HBO series The Newsroom, the latest creation from Aaron Sorkin. So before beginning my own, I thought I’d link to a few from major TV review sites that I frequent.
Over at The AV Club, Scott Tobias gave the pilot episode a grade of C+. I’ve never really been a fan of grading individual episodes of a television, but if I were to award a grade to “We Just Decided”, I’d certainly go higher than a C+. It seems like Tobias’s main criticisms are that the script seemed too similar to Sorkin’s previous work Sports Night, and that it felt self-righteous. I agree on the latter point, but I still really enjoyed the show overall.
On HitFix.com, Alan Sepinwall also points out the similarities to past Sorkin work and some other criticisms, but his review seems to have a more positive tone.
And at NPR’s Monkey See blog, Linda Holmes has written a thoughtful review on Sorkin and idealism, and then goes on to give the show what I’d call a mixed review.
Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night debuted in 1998, when I was 12 years old. I didn’t watch – I didn’t even know about it. The West Wing aired from 1999 to 2006, so ages 13 through 20 for me. I was aware of the show and its cultural relevance and have been meaning t watch it for years, but have yet to do so.
So what have I seen? A Few Good Men, in a Grade 12 poli sci class. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which no one liked. Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network and Moneyball. But really, I’m coming at this show and this review as someone who doesn’t have a really clear idea of what a Sorkin work looks, sounds or feels like. And I kind of like that I have that opportunity.
I really liked The Newsroom, despite what I’d consider a few flaws. I like the fast-paced, intelligent, quick-witted writing. It’s dialogue that I love to watch, like a good tennis match. (Or, you know, like I imagine a good tennis match would be like for someone who likes tennis.) I like the characters and the actors. I liked the high pressure newsroom environment that’s been created.
Jeff Daniels was great, I thought, as the gruff newsman who just doesn’t give a crap anymore. That opening speech was fantastic, yes, but I thought his off-the-cuff newscast was even better. I love Emily Mortimer as his new executive producer, who also happens to be his ex-lover. She’s kind of flighty and neurotic, but we’re never supposed to question the fact that she’s good and I like that. I love Alison Pill, and I’m glad her character is meant to be something more than a scattered, young, wide-eyed doe of an intern-promoted-to-assistant-promoted-to-associate-producer. Sure, the show could benefit from also featuring a stronger, tougher female character. But I think Mortimer filled those shoes when she messed with Daniels’ Will McAvoy just seconds before going live on air.
I’m a big fan of Dev Patel, and I’m looking forward to seeing where his character goes. I like the idea of the quiet, unassuming blogger who knows everything, and I want to see a partnership between him and John Gallagher Jr., who I think stood out most of all to me in this cast. I loved his character, especially as a foil to the obnoxious, rumpled traitor of an executive producer played by Thomas Sadoski.
At one point, Will McAvoy has to interact with Dev Patel’s character for probably the first time and refers to him as “Punjab”. This garnered criticism, but I’m actually OK with it. I think, in fact, that it helped sell the idea that McAvoy is so unlikable off-camera that almost his entire crew abandoned him. I didn’t think it was meant to be funny workplace banter, I thought it was meant to be obnoxious. I thought it was meant to make me think “Oh hey, that’s another example of why everyone hates this guy.” I mean, Dev’s character, Neal, writes McAvoy’s blog and McAvoy didn’t know he has a blog. That’s how out of touch with the staff he is.
At times, the pilot lost me. It got a little too rah-rah in all the claims that America was once great, and it can be great again! If only this, that and the other thing would happen. It got a little too self-righteous in the suggestions that the only thing modern journalism needs is one strong news anchor to look into the camera and tell America the truth! It seemed a bit bloated, a bit self-important, and a bit simplistic in the way it depicts left vs. right wing views. And I’ll probably feel all of these things again, but for me there was enough to love to keep me interested. I’m even already invested in the Maggie/Don/Jim love triangle, even though we’re all totally rooting for Jim.
An interesting thing about The Newsroom is that the pilot took place in April of 2010, and featured pretend reporting on the real world issue of the BP oil spill. I actually really liked this, and found the behind-the-scenes look quite enthralling even though I knew it was fictional. We’ll see how I feel as the show continues to tackle actual news stories rather than “ripped from the headlines” imitations.