Who doesn’t enjoy a journalism based TV show? I guess you don’t really know because there isn’t one, unless you count Mad Men but then that’s advertising, which brings us back to the question. Who doesn’t enjoy a journalism based TV show? Written by slick Hollywood scribe Aaron Sorkin you would expect HBO’s new drama, The Newsroom, to be on a par with his other writing credits; The West Wing, The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War.
The pilot episode is simply the Aaron Sorkin ‘TV Writing Checklist’. It kicks off with an impressive rant from our chief newsman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). I’ve included this at the bottom, simply because it is the best part of the show, over and done with all before we’ve reached the opening credits. McAvoy’s rant, directed at a college student, sets up the rest of the show. All of his staff leave to go to the 10 o’clock slot, forcing the grouchy and self-important news anchor to work with his ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). The recurring plot devices have been helpfully listed at this other WordPress blog.
Over the course of the episode we follow the events of 20 April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill. On hand to guide us through (and irritate) are: Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), the former executive producer who spars with McAvoy; Maggie Jordan (Allison Pill), the peppy, resourceful assistant who is accidentally promoted. Twice. And we also have the obligatory tech nerd Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), who is always on hand to deliver the exact information required for the plot to continue.
While the show expertly navigates and recreates the events surrounding the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig, the characters leave the story wanting. All of them are fairly pedestrian and generic. McAvoy is your standard misanthrope; McHale is the irritating ex who tries too hard; Maggie is the bumbling ditz who isn’t aware of her potential. The list goes on. It’s all very predictable.
The dialogue is also ‘very Sorkin’. Speeches, zingers and ‘funny’ one-liners tumble from the characters mouths like coins from an upturned wallet. While the occasional rousing speech or blistering put-down is welcome in most TV drama, I find it most overused in The Newsroom.
It’s not that I want The Newsroom to fail. I actually want it to succeed. There are very few TV shows about journalism or centering on journalism so it makes a nice change to see someone try and shake things up a bit. Journalism needs a pick-me up, especially in the UK following on from the Leveson Enquiry, but Sorkin isn’t the man to do it. It’s entertaining enough but every other scene is a lecture on politics or morality.