Three episodes in, and I’m still totally on the fence about The Newsroom.
My feelings have stayed pretty much the same since I reviewed the pilot a couple weeks ago. I like the cast, I like the quick-witted classic Sorkin dialogue, I like watching shows about journalism. But much of it still feels so pretentious, so holier-than-thou. Aaron Sorkin has created the perfect newsroom filled with the perfect journalists because hindsight and imagination has allowed him to do so. The show is Sorkin’s own commentary on the journalism of today, and for the most part I’m OK with that. But you can’t ignore the fact that by depicting real news events from two years ago, Sorkin is able to portray journalism with an ease and clarity that isn’t necessarily possible in the moment.
(On the topic of The Newsroom choosing to use real events instead of the “ripped from the headlines” type of storytelling, this tweet from the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal really made me laugh.)
I’m still not sure about the characters, too – specifically the female ones. In the second episode, I was turned off by Mackenzie’s very public freakout over everyone thinking Will is an asshole, the predictable and rather difficult to believe mass email accident, and the relationships in general between men and woman. It’s fine that Maggie suffers from panic attacks, it’s fine that Jim helped guide her through one, but does she have to be SO doe-eyed and does his armor have to shine SO brightly? Geez. I like both of their characters and I want to root for them as a couple, but to do that I have to understand at least a little bit why she’d stay with that other guy.
By the end of the episode, Maggie had dumped Don – apparently, this time, for good. And that, for me, highlighted another one of my problems with The Newsroom. This episode alone covered a span of six months, and the three episodes we’ve seen so far have taken place over about eight and a half months. This timeline allows the show to move quickly through major news events, but I think character development suffers. The characters have known one another for almost a year now, but I barely feel that sense of camaraderie. Are Neil and Jim really good buddies now? He knows Jim is in love with Maggie, so I guess I’ll have to assume they are. We hear that Don and Maggie are constantly breaking up and getting back together, but we don’t actually witness that exhausting on again/off again relationship. Other than parading a slew of hot women through the office, are Will and Mackenzie on pretty good terms now? I need more.
And another problem: ever hear the words “show, don’t tell”? It’s a mantra of journalism and writing in general, and it’s not being employed on this series. I feel like every week, the thesis of the show is being restated in some eloquent, but unnecessary speech from Will McAvoy. Yes, you are the media elite. Yes, you have a responsibility to report the facts, put them in context, and not get caught up in looking so balanced that you’re not really reporting anything or getting sucked into a dog and pony show just for the sake of ratings. I get it. Now stop telling me that this is so, and start showing me.
It’s not all bad, of course. My reviews make it seem that way because I’m harping on the criticisms, but if I didn’t like the show I’d stop watching. There’s lots to like. As I mentioned above, I really dig the individual performances on the show. I like the idea of Don running the ten o’clock news in a completely different style than News Night, and kind of hating himself for it. I love dialogue, and there were quite a few lines last night that made me laugh out loud.
So I’m still in, for now. But I have a feeling that the issues I have with the show won’t go away, but will probably become even more heightened. So pretty soon I’ll have to decide to either suck it up and watch, or check out. I won’t be making that decision after next week’s episode, one titled “I’ll try to fix you”. I’ve read various critics’ advance reviews of it and they’re all negative. Expect a lot of Will McAvoy teaching all the women how to only care about important things and not silly, frivolous things that easily capture the attention of flighty, silly females. I’ll go into next week’s show with low expectations, and where it goes after that will determine if I keep watching. What about you guys? Are you still tuning in to The Newsroom? Do you like it more than I do?