I'm sorry for the delay of my thoughts on The Newsroom as there was a long string of complications that, between cancelled airplane flights and high doses of Dayquil running through my veins, kept me from watching the show. It was harrowing in many ways, but mostly being my inability to watch one of the shows I had anticipated more than anything for a long time.
The Newsroom is the new show created by Aaron Sorkin for HBO that explores the behind-the-scenes workings of a cable news show and stars Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston and Emily Mortimer among a few other fairly unknown, but solid actors. The show begins with Daniels' character, Will McAvoy, at a lecture at Northwestern college. We find out that Will has become "the Jay Leno of cable news" and provides it in the easiest to swallow and most non-controversial way possible, but obviously somewhere deep down he doesn't feel that way and wants to speak his opinion. After prodded by the moderator to answer a question from a student about "Why America is the greatest country in the world?" he goes on a rant about why he will not say that America is the best country in the world, because, well, he doesn't really think that it is. Will goes away on vacation to escape the 24 Hour news cycle exploiting all of the video captured and put on YouTube by audience members and comes back to find that his news show has been completely changed in his absence. The head honcho has brought in Will's ex-girlfriend Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) to be the executive producer on the show, and here we find the conflict of the series. She wants to come back and help him "change the news" and even though he went on his rant, he is not sure that he is ready to do that and right now just wants to get better ratings and not begin a descent into obscurity. Being on opposite sides of this spectrum, they are going to have a lot of witty banter back and forth especially as we have learned, they have some sordid past in which she hurt him a lot and he has never been a nice guy since. Will also arranges it so he has the power to fire her at the end of each week, so she has a lot to prove in a pretty short period of time. Consequently, she will need a big team to help her run the show and keep her job, and here enters our quintessential Sorkin ensemble cast.
However, with the cast is where I find my biggest problem with the show and while there are many other aspects of it I truly liked, this is a big one….I am really not sure how I feel about the main character. While it is an ensemble, this is a show that truly lays itself around one character and that is the character of Will McAvoy played by Jeff Daniels. The show revolves around his news show and the fact that America loves and wants to watch him appear on their televisions on a nightly basis. And based on this, we are meant to believe (based on our knowledge and assumption that a news anchor would have to have some sense of charisma and like-ability) that he is this guy. Yet, we spend the majority of the pilot with this man who is pretty awful and does not smile. I'm serious, go back and watch, I would venture to guess you don't see his teeth even once. And, it is not until 52 minutes into the pilot that we see him actually doing his news show and for the first time we don't completely and utterly hate him. However, I'm not even sure that when I see him doing the news that I am not still baffled as to why this guy has captured the hearts of America in any way. He delivers the news with such a dead-pan, straight face that if it wasn't for the fact that we are told about 15 times that he is a popular news-anchor that I would believe that was actually true. I know that it is a serious story they are dealing with, but come on…show some sense of personality. Now they do (in a throw-away manner) address this in the show as Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) points out that the last time Will smiled was when Mackenzie was around. So, more than anything, I am hoping that this is just a problem with the pilot as they worked so hard to portray a guy that got mean and had a breakdown after she hurt his heart. However, I must point out that they forgot the first rule of character development; if you are going to have a character be an asshole, in order for audiences to attach to them, you must still have some aspect they can like about him. On the other hand, I liked the ensemble cast surrounding him very much, especially Emily Mortimer and John Gallagher, Jr, and while Alison Pill could tone down her awkwardness just a bit, I'm looking forward to seeing more of these characters. We didn't get to see Olivia Munn or Jane Fonda yet, which I wasn't that disappointed about, because I am kind of confused as to how Munn is going to pull off great acting in a dramatic show, but I'm also ready to be proven wrong and like her.
Now, here is the good thing, I really and truly did enjoy watching the show. Yes, we have the same witty dialogue that Aaron Sorkin writes that noone could probably actually carry on in the real world (even in the smartest of environments) and yes, we have some of the same relationships and dynamics that he sets up in all of his shows, but honestly, I don't really have a problem with that. That is what I came here to watch. It is what I was hoping for and what I wanted and now, it is why I am looking forward to watching in another episode. And, yes I'm sure that much of it could be considered preachy, but that is another thing that I am kind of expecting when I watch a Sorkin show, so yet again, I am okay with it.
I also am not sure whether this show truly and accurately portrays the inner workings of a newsroom or not, (and due much of the controversy that has been talked about since it debuted, I think it probably doesn't) but in this case, I don't know that I really care. One of the great and fascinating aspects of The West Wing was that it truly did give a look in to the White House, which is an important thing. I felt more informed about how our country runs after that, and I thank that show for it. However, I don't know that I really care if the inner-workings of a CNN or FOX News show are accurately portrayed. I can see where people might be upset by this, because they did set up the expectation the show was somewhat true to life by making the pilot based around the real-life events of the BP oil spill off the Gulf of Louisiana. But, for some reason I was able to suspend my disbelief on this one, and just view it for entertainment's sake and enjoy whatever portion of this world they are choosing to portray. In addition, I must say, I did find it thrilling to be able to see an account (whether real or not) about how things happen once a big news story we know well broke. On the other hand, I am curious to see if they will be able to keep that up, because if they are going to set up stories based upon particular events in history, I am not sure how they are going maintain and develop a storyline week to week as they will have to jump around a lot in terms of time.
I know I have seemed to go back and forth between liking and having problems with the show, but pretty much that is what I felt while watching and thinking about it after, so I don't yet have a clear cut and definitive opinion. However, I have watched a lot of pilots (probably more than one ever should in a lifetime) and let me tell you, it is a rare moment when you end a 72 minute pilot and wish that there was more. That's right, I did not want it to be over and I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to see more of the story and I wanted to see it now. I have no idea what is to come and truthfully, I don't know for how many episodes I am going to be feeling that because I suspect and fear I could have already watched the best hour of the show. In my experience, a television series can either go one way or another: they either have an amazing pilot that a series just simply cannot then live up to, or they have a not very good pilot and the series takes a few episodes to grow and cement itself in to a solid show. My quandary with The Newsroom, is that I truly have no idea which way this one is going to go, and I could see arguments for either. So, where it ends up remains to be seen and I don't feel prepared to make a statement upon that yet, but the fact that I am looking forward to giving it a shot and finding out means there was something worthwhile about this pilot and that, ladies and gentleman, makes it some goddamned good television.
If you happen to miss the pilot and don't have HBO, they have made it available on several different on-demand outlets and you can even find it on YouTube here.
Watch it and let's talk about it! I want to hear your thoughts.