Sep 8, 2012

Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom"

I don't normally review entertainment on this blog, but I think this show more than merits the attention. I hurry to disclaim the hell out of this review by saying that other than The Social Network, I'd had no previous experience with Sorkin's writing prior to watching the first season of The Newsroom, so I will not be comparing it to his previous works.

The show focuses on a news team in the made up ACN network, led by superstar anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). After years of hiding in his comfortable job and ignoring the low level of political discourse in the country and the ignorance of his viewers, Will finally reaches meltdown point at a lecture in Northwestern University, and unleashes a scathing speech that resounds throughout the media. That's when his idealistic boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson) sees an opportunity and brings in a new producer - the talented Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) who has had a tumultuous relationship with Will in the past. Together, they turn "News Night" into a critical engine, devoted to informing, educating and revealing the truth no matter the cost.

The plot of The Newsroom is fairly simple, and the character interactions are there more as decoration than the point of the story. A lot of their relationships have a goofy, comical vibe, even in the serious moments, and it is easy to see that Sorkin's goal has been to expose the degradation of the news in the US by showing us an idealized version of what they could be. Will McAvoy is a former prosecutor, borderline genius, and a man with unflinching integrity in the face of falsehoods who stops at nothing to expose them. His entire team is devoted to finding the truth, reporting it first, and reporting it in the best possible way

There are two things that make The Newsroom so compelling. One, Sorkin's trademark "on crack" dialogues. People talk a lot, talk fast, all over each other, and it's dynamic to the point of vertigo. It tip-toes on the edge of becoming just blabbering and talking for the sake of talking, but mostly it stays clear of it. What it does though, is create an environment that feels so alive and active that you have no choice but to believe that those people will report the news to you seconds after they happen.

The second part - and by far the strongest element of the show - is the subject matter. The story takes place between early 2010 and August 2011. Which means that it deals with social and political events that are as up to date as you can be without dramatizing the world in real time - from the oil spill in the Mexico gulf to Osama's assassination. A huge chunk of the show is devoted to unmasking and debunking the lies of the Tea Party and the absurd level of incompetence and lack of political understanding that its members exhibit. However, The Newsroom is not some "liberal" propaganda. Will is portrayed as a proud Republican who cannot stand that his party has been hijacked by fanatics with neither knowledge, nor respect of the political process, and Sorkin is careful to make the distinction between "Republican" and "Tea Party" (as well as steering clear of Mitt Romney who gets only one little barb in the last episode).

I used the word "dramatizing" in the previous paragraph, and I think I will do it again. Because this is what makes The Newsroom the amazing experience that it is. The fact that if you see what's wrong with the politics in this country, and can't stand how no source of information is untainted by partisanship, you have the chance of experiencing the news in a dramatized form, with characters reporting the truth in the way that you would want them to in real life, yet ones who aren't just reporters, but also people you get attached to as the season goes. The perfect blend of the pros of both fiction and non-fiction, with barely any of the cons (with the possible exception of some soapy drama occurring here and there). The Newsroom has the potential to be an eye-opener in the real world, and I am extremely excited about Season 2, which will air next year.

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