(S0101) Ironically, the one good thing about HBO's new Aaron Sorkin-directed show, The Newsroom, has virtually nothing to do with Sorkin. The show's saving grace -- and the reason why I'll be sticking around beyond last night's premiere -- is the quality of the performances given by its stars, in particular Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston.
The problem with the show is... well, just about everything else. Sorkin's writing is typically Sorkin-esque. It's full of high-soaring monologues and idealistic speechifying. And of course there are plenty of classic "walk and talks." Some people find Sorkin's dialog exhilarating; I usually find it exhausting.
The Newsroom is the story of Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), a cable news anchor who is not only non-controversial, he's human Ambien pill. He doesn't rile any feathers or push any buttons. He won't talk about his political affiliation, nor will he asks tough questions during interviews. He's described as the "Jay Leno of news anchors."
Well, that is until he has his "Network moment." He's mad as hell and he isn't going to take it anymore. What's he mad at, you ask? He's mad at a female college sophomore who has the gall to ask him why he thinks the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. (For the record, he doesn't think that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world).
Oh, did I forget to mention that Will McAvoy is a complete and utter dick?
Will claims that he's "affable", but we can no evidence of that on screen. While it's certainly possible to base a show around unlikable characters (HBO's Girls is an example of a show that does a great job of making compelling television out of pretty awful human beings), The Newsroom simply gives the audience an a-hole and asks us to take their word that he was a great guy at one point. It's a classic example of a show "telling" and not "showing."
After a mental health vacation in St. Lucia with Erin Andrews, Will returns to the air with a mandate to "do a good news show and be popular at the same time." His boss, played by the great Sam Waterston (by far my favorite character in the premiere), teams Will with his former producer (and former lover), Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer). Together, Will and Mackenzie will revolutionize the world of cable news.
The show is set in 2010 and features real news stories from that period. By setting the show in the near-past, Sorkin is able look back in hindsight at stories with 20/20 vision. When he uses the benefit of time and distance to criticize the real news media, it's utterly self-serving and disingenuous.
In "We Just Decided To", news breaks about the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Will an his team immediately recognize that the real story isn't the explosion and dead oil workers. No, the real story is the environmental catastrophe brought on by failed attempts to fix the leaky pipeline.
Weeks and weeks of real life reporting went into putting the facts together. It's all but impossible for McAvoy's newsroom to connect all of the dots in a matter of minutes. But in Sorkin-world, Blogdog Millionaire makes all of the connections immediately with little more than a rudimentary understanding of science fair volcanoes.
It simply doesn't make sense and displays a fundamental lack of understanding of the way the business of reporting is done. The best analogy I can think of is this: Imagine if on Sports Night, Sorkin's take on an ESPN-like cable sports show, Casey and Dan did a story about a Major League pitcher winning 50 games in a season. Is it technically possible? Yeah, I guess. But not really. Is it possible that someone could instantaneously connect an explosion on the Gulf with Halliburton and an obscure government agency in the time it takes to heat up a Tombstone pizza? I suppose, technically. But much like Sorkin's stilted, stylized dialog, it just doesn't work that way in the real world.