I try to be objective in my reviews but I knew in my heart that some of my loves would result in either my first 1 Nerd review or my first 5 Nerds review. Reviewing The Newsroom is highly influenced by a personal nerdom I have for journalism and news reporting rather than the nerdy pleasures of comics, movies and TV in general that usually are the focus of my writing. Loving the topic of the show could have made me more critical of it, or more forgiving, and while I tried to be objective here, I have failed. It’s not just because I love the world of reporting, but also because the show is damn good. Its top quality television drama, a must watch for anyone looking for intelligent TV.
Few shows in recent memory have filled me so full of joy that I have felt like shouting aloud ‘F*#K YEAH’. It’s not that I lack passion for the things I enjoy, it’s simply that I try to keep those passions from blinding me to the faults that all programs have. And while The Newsroom has faults I can’t help but see a shining gem of a TV show that offers a heroic look at the craft of journalism. A side of the profession lost in the recent past.
Phone hacking, bribery of public officials, and the malicious tactics of Tabloid newspapers has only added fuel to the fires of contempt that many have burning bright for reporters. The Newsroom, like All the President Men, State of Play, and various incarnations of Superman before it, shows what all reporters hope the profession is about; the search for truth and the effort to get that truth to the people.
From the creator of The West Wing and writer of A Few Good Men, Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom is based around the work and lives of a news team working at a fictional US TV network and their efforts to make their flagship evening news program, Newsnight, about genuine news and not populist entertainment masquerading as news. Talking to you there Fox News. Episode 1 begins with the very public breakdown of Newsnight anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels); from there we see the development of the character and his news program from gentle and boring to forthright, honest and crusading.
Aaron Sorkin’s idealized left-wing politics, which took center stage in his previous opus The West Wing, are still present and correct in The Newsroom. They are often what divide viewers with some finding them preachy and condescending and others lapping them up, as a voice for rationality. You can guess which group I fall into by the glowing review but this will prove to be the sticking point for many viewers. This show holds up Walter Cronkite, and Edward R. Murrow as heroes while showing the Glenn Becks and Bill O’ Reillys of this world to be false prophets and demons of misinformation. You can see why this is a HBO production and not from a major network.
The gimmick here is not just the show’s politics and great characters. Set in the recent past each episode of The Newsroom details its crusading journalists reporting on real stories; not fabricated versions of real world stories but actual real stories. From the BP oil disaster to the death of Bin Laden, we only get the date the episode is set once the story being reported has become apparent. So us news junkies can’t deduce what the story will be by the date.
The ensemble cast, led by the ever-charismatic Jeff Daniels, is compelling all season. No one feels like dead weight or filler. Of course, there are standouts; Daniels has some terrific rants as McAvoy. The reigniting of his passion for journalism and his relationship with the Newsnight team, particularly his producer MacKenzie McHale, is a source of great dramatic and comedic moments; his story-ark is rich and rewarding to watch.
Emily Mortimer gives a fun performance as MacKenzie. Sweet to, yet manipulative of those around her she offers a nice counter balance to McAvoy’s angry outbursts.
A real joy is the presence of veteran actor Sam Waterston, known to many for his long-term role on procedural Law and Order, as head of news Charlie Skinner. Skinner as a character is a great creation; avuncular, tough, passionate, and perpetually drunk. A man ready to back-up his team, even with his fists if what he says is to be believed. As I said: a joy.
If all writers could create characters like Sorkin then I think I’d cry with overwhelming joy.
Season Two has been commissioned for broadcast starting July this year. If Season One offers any kind of indication then the wait will be well worth it. Yes its romanticized, idealistic, and polemic but Sorkin has given us a 21st century view at heroic journalism and that is something sorely needed in the world today. The Newsroom season 1 releases on DVD July 22nd.
5 out of 5 Nerds