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The Newsroom – We Just Decided To

I could not be a bigger fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work if I tried. I have seen everything that man has ever written, most of it several times over, and so I feel somewhat qualified to talk about his newest outing, The Newsroom. When Aaron Sorkin’s name was mentioned next to HBO last year, people paid attention. The Academy Award-winning screenwriter is known for a very particular type of dialogue, one that more than a few people believed could work perfectly in the HBO format. Hour-long dramas needn’t bring in 12 million viewers a week to stay on the air, instead, all they need to do is be good. So, is The Newsroom what was expected? Yes and no.

If you had any interest in the show whatsoever, it won’t likely have escaped you that in the last few pre-air days, reviews from the left, right and center of the media have hit the Internet and been less than stellar. Frankly, I’m not entirely certain what it is that they’re all talking about. The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin. The Newsroom is in my eyes, exactly what it was supposed to be. It’s lofty dialogue spoken by idealistic characters who strive for the betterment of the world. Sound familiar? Of course it does, because it’s exactly what Sorkin always writes. With The West Wing, it was how to run a country, with Sports Night, it was how to cover a draft and with Studio 60, it was how to make people laugh without systematically destroying the national IQ (although, let’s all admit that none of the sketches on the show were actually funny). 

The Newsroom is about a newsroom and it does what it does well. The principle argument against the show at the moment seems to revolve around it being unrealistic—its characters being caricatures instead of relatable and its dialogue being so off-the-charts-perfect that nobody would actually say it out loud. Yes, that’s not an unrealistic assessment of the situation, but it is exactly what everyone should have been expecting. It’s been 15 years in the making and it’s finally here: it’s Aaron Sorkin, on television, with cursing. There are going to be people that love this show and there are going to be people that hate it. Sorkin is notoriously liberal and it will likely come through in the writing, despite the small bit of liberal bashing that we got, and he writes unrealistically. If you can deal with it, then you’re going to want to watch this show. 

We picked up in the 70-minute pilot with the scene that everybody already knew was coming from the myriad of trailers that have plastered the Internet for the last few months; Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy losing it while being forced to answer the question, “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” In short, his answer was that it’s not, but it can be. From the opening alone you’ll know if the show is for you. It has the punchy dialogue and displays exactly why Jeff Daniels is the show’s leading man. I’ll be the first to admit that when he was cast, I was a little worried that the show was going to tip its hand towards comedy rather than drama, but I’ll also admit that I was stupid to think that. Daniels proved himself to be more than worthy of carrying the show throughout the pilot, even if his character isn’t a particularly likable man, but something tells me that he’s going to get there in time. 

Over the next hour we were introduced to the remainder of the cast which boasts equally as questionable choices as Daniels, but once again, I was wrong to question. I won’t go around the room and point out every single performance, and what they did right or wrong, but I will say that both Emily Mortimer and Alison Pill surprised me. I was worried that Mortimer’s accent would grate in comparison the majority of the cast and I was also concerned that, having only seen a small amount of her work, Pill might not be up to the job. I am, however, converted. Though they may not be the best-written women on television (Sorkin does have an interesting relationship with female characters), both of them bought it and though I only know John Gallagher Jr. from his whiney cameo in The West Wing, I already like his character. Like I said, I won’t go around the room, but the cast is solid, with a few additions still to come. 

In an interesting turn for the writing, half an hour into the show we’re all treated to the knowledge that events are unfolding in the faux-recent past and, as opposed to completely fictitious news, the team is about to deal with April 20, 2010: the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As Will deals with the fallout from his widely publicized blow-up, his team both old (those jumping ship for fear of losing their jobs after the meltdown) and new (Gallagher Jr.) try to piece together quite how big the story is going to be. As new boy Jim uses inside sources to determine the seriousness of the situation, the outgoing executive producer Don tries to downplay the story. Ultimately, they decide to run with it and deliver an hour of fantastic hindsight news. 

Likely another sticking point for many of the show’s critics, “News Night” (the show within the show) is perhaps just a little too good at delivering breaking news. With Mortimer’s Mackenzie MacHale now in charge, the turnaround from the Jay Leno of news anchors to hard-hitting journalist in Will is extreme. With no script and only on-the-fly information, he delivers a flawless example of what the news should be. As I said, the show is idealistic. It delivers what is essentially a “how it should be” view of the past. If you can deal with that, watch the show, if you can’t, don’t. 

Outside of the drama provided by shouting at college students and covering breaking news, the show also has its soapier moments, as the set-up for at least two potentially romantic relationships was laid at our feet. Will and Mackenzie have a past and even though they spend the majority of the pilot fighting, the final moments of the episode show us that it is definitely not over. More interestingly and perhaps a little more soap-like, Jim and Maggie (Alison Pill) clearly have something. With her boyfriend Don leaving the show and him not being that great of a guy, it seems fairly likely that something will develop between Jim and Maggie in no time. It might sound a little clichéd but it’s those types of story lines that might just help to ground some characters that are otherwise slightly too close to unrealistic.

As I said, when it comes down to it, “We Just Decided To” was what the pilot needed to be. It had smart dialogue backed up by a strong cast and it held my attention for the full 70 without ever feeling like it was vamping. It was funny in the right places and once the news actually kicked in, had enough of those triumphant moments that make you decide to like an at-times obnoxious guy. There’s definitely more to be seen before I could really say either way—the characters need more development as do the relationships between them—but for now, it’s likely that Sorkin fans are going to like this show and there should be an even wider audience that will appreciate it. That being said, many of the criticisms leveled against The Newsroom are valid, but I’d still highly recommend watching the pilot before you write it off.


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