So, last Sunday was the series premiere of the new HBO show Newsroom. I realize how late this review actually is, but this is the first free moment I had all week so just deal with it. I’ve been waiting, with excitement, for this show to premiere since commercials first started popping up for it, and I have to say, it did not disappoint. I really liked it, maybe even loved, but I’m not ready to make that commitment yet.
Let’s start with the pros for the show, and the first pro has to go to the casting. Jeff Daniels did a great job as Will McAvoy. He was able to portray a character that has a versatile personality, ranging from mild witticisms to loud outbursts. And even when he’s blatantly wrong about a situation, you still kind of feel for the guy. It did take some time for me to stop thinking of Daniels as he was in Arachnophobia though; many a time I was just waiting for a spider to jump out of a corner of the newsroom and bite someone, followed by John Goodman storming in and burning the fucker. Obviously that didn’t happen.
Then we have the lovely Emily Mortimer playing Mackenzie Machale, a spirited woman who has spent the better part of the last three years covering various warzones in the middle east. She’s obnoxious, whiny, overly nosey, broke Will McAvoy’s heart, and was just hired as his new Executive Producer, without McAvoy’s knowledge or approval. This leads to an inevitable brouhaha as the two characters are forced to resolve their differences, temporarily at least, so they could get through the show (till the end of the week at least as McAvoy plans to fire her first chance he gets). Again, Mortimor does a great job with her character, giving her wit, earnestness, and a commanding presence when the fate of the show calls upon it.
For the most part I have the same compliments to say about the rest of the cast, they all did a fairly good, if not great job, with their characters. My one gray area at the moment (Olivia Munn comes on next week and she has yet to prove her competence at anything, so we’ll see if she joins the gray area or not) is Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner. Charlie is a pretty straightforward character; overall a nice guy, who is often drunk, and who enjoys speaking more bluntly than most about a situation. Now when it comes to the pleasantness and the frankness, Waterston does a decent job of showing us what his character is like, and what he really cares about at the end of the day (wanting to watch some real news). My issue with him, are the odd outbursts of shouting that seem to break the image of the character, and are just not delivered that well. For instance, in this scene Charlie is just explaining to McAvoy that he hired a new EP without McAvoy’s approval, this causes McAvoy to jump up and go to his agent’s office to see why he didn’t have approval in his contract. Right before McAvoy leaves, we get an outburst from Charlie about how three years ago was the last time that McAvoy was a nice guy. As you watch, you’ll see why I have an issue with the outburst. First, it comes out of nowhere, and second, it’s delivered in this odd monotonous yell, which I guess was supposed to make us think that Charlie wasn’t being serious about the insult, but it could have been delivered so much better than it was.
The next pro for this show has to be the story. I’m not so much talking about the plot, or even the minor subplots; nothing has been developed enough yet for me to really sink my teeth into. What I really mean is that it’s just really interesting to see the newsroom in action, developing a story, and producing the news show. We see how breaking news causes the show to have to throw out their rundown and start from fresh. How the team perfectly guides McAvoy through his show without any real script to work off of. Sure we have the usual subplots of exes forced to work together, and an Office-style Jim/Pam/Roy situation developing, but at the end of the day, what really wires me up for this show, is seeing the actual backstage work of the show in action.
It not all sunshine and daisies though, there are a couple of issues I do have with the show. So, here come the cons.
My issue isn’t with the entire message of the show; I do agree that the way the news is given to us lately is in need of an extreme make over. The biggest hit the the world of news ever took was the invention of the 24 hour news network. For the most part, there isn’t 24 hours worth of news to deliver, so what do these networks fill their time with? News opinion shows. Opinion shows that range from objectivism to extreme partisanship and, surprise surprise, most americans prefer the partisanship to objectivism. McAvoy says at one point that Americans nowadays don’t just pick the news they want to watch, they pick the facts they want to believe. Someone who watches MSNBC will probably have completely different facts and talking points than someone who watches Fox News. So to this extent, I do both appreciate and agree with the message.
The message that irked me was the one we get from McAvoy’s little monologue at the beginning of the show. It starts off fine, first we get some characterization for McAvoy, he doesn’t want to show partisanship, he doesn’t want to stir conflict, and most importantly, he’s a Jets fan (J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS). Then he finally gets provoked into saying that he doesn’t think the US is the greatest country ever. And for the most part he’s right. He throws out a dozen statistics explaining his position and with those statistics it’s hard to argue that we are in fact the greatest at anything. Then he gets to part two of his speech, “we sure damn used to be…”And to this, all I can say is bullshit. Pure. Fucking. Bullshit. he says we used to fight for moral reasons, for what? For WWII we didn’t join the war effort to save anyone from concentration camps. For both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, we didn’t fight because of the human suffering, we fought because we disagreed with a political viewpoint and did everything we could to stop it from spreading. America even rejected jewish immigrants in the years and months leading up to WWII. He says we used to pass laws and strike down laws for moral reasons. Sure sometimes we did, it took for fucking ever to desegregate the US. It took for fucking ever to give women the right to vote, and we still see issues today that have remnants of both those things. And what about blacklisting? What about mccarthyism? Don’t tell me that we used to be any stronger, or any more moral than we are today, because it’s just not true. He ends it with “we used to not get scared so easily.” I can only assume he’s referring to the post-9/11 world where we have passed laws that sometimes sound even more frightening than the horror that was brought to this nation. But, at least we’re responding to a direct attack on us. He, on the other hand, is referring to a time where people were so scared, not of an act against the US, but of a political ideology that was vastly different from the US, that they villainized anyone and everyone who sympathized with that ideology. Sure this eventually led to military threats like the Bay of Pigs, but it started because we reacted in an extreme manner to a country that decided to follow communism over capitalism. And when we fought with them, it wasn’t to protect the people that they were forcing into their system, it was out of fear that communism might take over, and we couldn’t have that.
We then have the resurgence of this conversation when McAvoy is talking to Mackenzie and she says that he forgot to say that America is the only country since its inception to always want to better itself. Again, bullshit. In every generation, and in every country, there will always be people who want change (for better or worse) and those who want the status quo (for better or worse) so to say something this ridiculous is obviously for literary effect, no proper thinking person can take a sentence like that seriously.
My final issue has to do with the writing. Again, it’s not the entirety of the writing, just an issue that has prevailed in Sorkin’s writing since forever. Now, I give all the credit to Sorkin for being a great script writer, and he is and I love his work for the most part. But, what grinds my gears sometimes, is how everyone is so fucking witty all the time. Sometimes to the point where an earnest, human moment just turns into two people flailing witticisms at each other. Sometimes it’s entertaining, it is. But sometimes it’s unnecessary and unbelievable. Take Maggie Jordan (Allison PIll) for instance. She’s supposed to be insecure insecure in her personal and professional life, and clumsy in general. Yet, she still finds a way to toss out a witty remark. It’s just one of those things that pull you out of the reality of the show and reminds that it is in fact just a show.
Overall the show is definitely something that should be watched and I highly recommend it, especially if you need to fill up that 10PM time slot on Sunday. For those who didn’t see the first episode, HBO posted the entire premiere on Youtube, here.