HBO is on quite a roll with its Sunday night programming. In the wake of TV series success stories like “The Sopranos,” “True Blood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Veep” and “Girls,” the award-winning cable network has developed and debuted yet another buzzworthy show, “Newsroom.”
Why is it buzzworthy? Because it’s written and created by Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy winner Aaron Sorkin and it’s a television show about television, specifically the behind-the-scenes drama involved in the production of a nightly news show. The major characters include a hotheaded and egocentric anchor (Jeff Daniels), his strong-willed-yet-soothing executive producer and ex-girlfriend (Emily Mortimer), their jovial and bourbon-loving boss (Sam Waterston), and the idealistic newbie (Alison Pill) who’s dating a senior producer. There’s much to love and hate judging from the mixed reviews from critics, but we’re totally hooked. Here are five things to love about “Newsroom.”
Aaron Sorkin didn’t win a Best Screenplay Oscar for “The Social Network” or Emmys galore for “The West Wing” for nothing. The man can write the heck out of dialogue. Say what you will about the pretentiousness, preaching and politics involved in an action-packed pilot that calls out America (and the mainstream media) for not being as good as it can be, but Sorkin moves things along at a crackling clip complete with pop-culture references from sources ranging from Twitter to Don Quixote.
Going Back to the Future
“Newsroom” is set in 2010 and the first episode revolves around the news of the BP oil spill. The show’s unique setting allows Sorkin to write around, and in some ways re-write, history, giving the “News Night” team the fictionalized plotline of being the only major news program to dedicate considerable airtime to early reports. Each episode will deal with fictionalized perspectives on memorable real-life news events and how they were reported.
Sorkin loves his behind-the-scenes-style stories — see his previous shows “Sports Night,” “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” In setting a show around something with which we’re all familiar (TV news, the White House) on a superficial level and then adding a healthy dose of interpersonal drama that everyone goes through at their respective places of work, Sorkin piques interest quite effectively. With “Newsroom,” the majority of the population can relate to watching TV news at some point in their lives, and Sorkin is using that to his advantage to draw in the audience as well as challenge them to think more critically about what they watch. We shouldn’t have to point out that it’s all a highly romanticized version of the real story, but there you have it.
Although his comedic brilliance in “Dumb and Dumber” will live on forever, Daniels’ equally special skills as a dramatic actor are on full display in playing “News Night” anchor Will McAvoy. He is arrogant and self-obsessed, moody and unpredictable, which might all come off as a bland stereotype were the role in less adept hands than Daniels’. In short, McAvoy isn’t all bark and bite and blowhard. There are finely flawed layers to slowly peel away as we greet new sides of his character in each episode.
Sam Waterston (and Other Support Cast)
It would be a disservice to lump all of the other castmembers into one brief blurb, so this week’s “Newsroom” MVP award goes to Sam Waterston for bringing wit and lasting charm to the character of OG newsman Charlie Skinner. There’s a lot to like about Skinner since he’s the big bad boss making sure “News Night” continues to exist, in the process not firing the overly opinionated anchor, and re-hiring said anchor’s former flame. He clearly has a backbone, integrity and an eye for talent, even if that eye is frequently blurry from day drinking.