After a notable 5-year absence from television, made even more notable by a well-deserved Academy Award win for The Social Network screenplay, Aaron Sorkin returns this Sunday to HBO with his new show The Newsroom. The series centres on Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), host of cable show “News Night”, whose passion for truthful investigative reporting is reignited by a flame from his past: decorated producer and intellectual firecracker Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer). As they seek to “reclaim the 4th estate” the series sets out to explore the media’s role in society, how corporate interests skew the news we receive, and whether “fair and balanced” news is news worth getting at all.
Sorkin fans will immediately recognize the DNA of the acclaimed creator’s past series in the “Newsroom” pilot: an impossibly dedicated crew of live television professionals (Sports Night, Studio 60); ripped-from-the-headlines news stories (West Wing, Studio 60); a sexy, take no-prisoners female executive (SN’s Dana Whittaker, S60’s Jordan McDeere); a checkered romantic past between said exec producer and the on-air talent (SN, S60); a budding romance between junior staffers (SN); and finally, hyper-articulate and statistic-laden dialogue delivered at a rapid-fire clip (all of Sorkin’s things). Put simply, The Newsroom marries the characters from Sports Night with the scale of Studio 60, and the political urgency of The West Wing.
Having watched the first three episodes I’ve found The Newsroom to definitely be a worthy addition to Sorkin’s brand of exciting, intelligent, and witty television. While the pilot’s opening tirade from Daniels immediately recalls Judd Hirsch’s Network-inspired meltdown from the Studio 60 pilot, the show quickly calms down and settles into the day-to-day workings of the News Night organization. Though I ultimately enjoyed the pilot, it does get off to something of a rocky start. Sorkin takes a while to get back up to speed, and along the way leans a bit too hard on some of his old character types and plot devices. Fortunately though, it appears that Sorkin has taken the soapbox political opinions he’d most recently (and often painfully) shoved into Studio 60, refined them, and presented them into the far more appropriate setting of a cable news program. Also wisely abandoned are Studio 60’s barely-concealed parallel’s with Sorkin’s personal life (no thinly-veiled Kristin Chenoweth analogues in this show). Sorkin’s trademark self-importance here feels appropriate – one can’t watch the show without fantasizing that all journalists actually have these heated debates just moments before going on the air. Daniels anchors the show ably as the gruff, combative, but ultimately charismatic McAvoy. Emily Mortimer provides an excellent counterpoint with her witty and sparkling portrayal of MacHale. Law & Order’s Sam Waterston also brings colour as the rascally (and permanently-soused) veteran newsman Charlie Skinner.
As a Sorkin mega-fan I am admittedly pretty predisposed to like this show, but I believe it represents a return to form after the promising, but ultimately disappointing Studio 60. The Newsroom is bold and ambitious in its ideas, but with a more intimate look toward its characters than I was expecting. I look forward to recapping the episodes week to week along with fellow Dork Shelf contributors Thomas Drance and Brian Crosby.
Look for my more spoiler-filled review after the pilot airs, this Sunday June 24th at 10pm, on HBO and HBO Canada.