Friday, August 10, 2012

The Newsroom

Okay, here's something I don't understand.

Everyone loves Aaron Sorkin. And quite right, too. Having given the world the likes of The West Wing and The Social Network, it's no wonder he's the Golden Boy of Screenwriting. And yet, despite that, the vast majority of professional reviews that I've read of his latest offering, The Newsroom, have been largely negative.

I'm sorry, but what?! The only possible reason I can think of is because this show doesn't exactly portray all journalists in a wholly positive light, and that the writers of reviews, being in that sort of business themselves, might not react greatly to that. But that's a pathetic reason at best, and I don't want to just assume that all journalists are that shallow, because not all of them are.

The show is essentially Sorkin pitching his idea of what news reporting should be like, in a world where I've just witnessed Fox News belittle Olympic athletes for crying after winning their medals. True, the character of grumpy-but-genuinely-decent news anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) might not quite be in the same league as Jed Bartlet yet, just as the fiesty, funny (and at times a little bit pathetic!) executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) doesn't have the same level of awesome pumping through her veins as CJ Cregg. But so what? They're both still ten times better than most other characters on the box at the moment. It's the best role I've ever seen Jeff Daniels sink his teeth into (he really is the star of the show - he lights up the screen), and you just know that Sorkin's given them fantastic dialogue when you feel clever just because you've kept up with what's going on without the aid of subtitles or the rewind button.

Jeff Daniels exudes authority and, frankly, pure class as Will McAvoy

The only things I think I agree with The Newsroom's critics on are the weakness of the Maggie/Jim/Don plot, and the annoyance of the occasional bouts of silliness that the show experiences from time to time (the Bigfoot subplot, anyone? Oh dear.) Other than that, I'm really just going to have to settle for agreeing to disagree, as I for one bloody love this show.

I've been trying to work out what exactly it is that I love about it so much, and I think I've cracked it. Yes, the acting's great. Yes, the dialogue has that distinct Sorkin flavour to it. Yes, it's got that idealistic vision of new reporting that only the BBC could ever really live up to and even surpass. But that's not it. I think it lies more in the fact that the show has one foot planted very firmly in the real world. That one detail gives the show a sense of realism that the exciting but evidently fictional situations in The West Wing never could provide. And, boy, does that pay off.

The final scenes of the fourth episode, I'll Try To Fix You, are, frankly, perfect. In those last few minutes, we see the characters learn of a shooting in Tuscon, Arizona. And at the exact moment they hear that news, we get drawn into the show in a way that doesn't happen often with TV. We all remember hearing about that awful shooting; seeing the characters experience that moment again makes us relive it. Knowing, with the benefit of hindsight, that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords thankfully survived makes seeing the ACN team take a brave stand against the pressure to declare her dead overwhelmingly poignant and powerful. Even the tiny details of that scene - like where Will mistakenly refers to the Congresswoman as "Gabby" before correcting himself - really pull at the heartstrings. And all that, coupled with Chris Martin's soaring vocals swelling over it all, really does make for literally heart-pounding television.

In a way, even trying to describe that scene in words feels like I'm cheapening it somewhat. Because sometimes, television is so powerful that you simply can't describe it - you have to watch it and experience it for yourself.

But what I'm trying to say is that although The Newsroom isn't Aaron Sorkin's greatest ever achievement, it is still one of television's greatest achievement this year - and we've not even made it to the end of the first season yet.

Basically, if you haven't yet given the show a try because you've heard bad things about it, or because you just haven't got round to it yet, then please do. The first scene alone might just blow your mind. And if that one scene at the end of the fourth episode doesn't make you believe that The Newsroom is one of the greatest pieces of television to grace our screens this year, I don't know what will.

(Screencap taken from

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