From the fast-paced debate in the opening seconds to the passionate speech delivered by Jeff Daniels soon after, it’s clear what we’re going to get from The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV series.
This is Sorkin doing what Sorkin does best; taking a subject close to his heart and presenting an idealistic vista of what it could or should be. All the while he delivers this vision with his unique brand of fast-paced, reference-laden dialogue.
There are many who don’t like Sorkin and they won’t like the Newsroom. I’m not one of them and I loved the first episode.
Ever since the West Wing, I’ve been a big Sorkin fan and have lapped up most of what he has delivered. I even liked his last attempt – Studio 60 – a series that had a lot to commend it but that ultimately failed to hit home with viewers with its introspective focus on the inner workings of a TV show. On the surface it might seem that Sorkin is a glutton for punishment in returning to this subject, but The Newsroom is different.
While it clearly has many similarities with Studio 60, it will resonate with audiences far beyond the media industry. It speaks in much broader language and the underlying themes are far more universal. And perhaps because of this it feels in places (in the first episode at least) like vintage West Wing Sorkin. From the very West-Wing-esque title sequence to the first ‘walk-and-talk’, it’s comfortable territory.
The acting is slick too. The relationship between Alison Pill’s cute but feisty Maggie and John Gallagher’s Jim (aka Sam Seaborn) is perhaps the most intriguing and some of their set pieces show clear chemistry. Jeff Daniels too is brilliantly cryptic, vulnerable and emotional all at the same time as Will. I thought Emily Mortimer was strong in the first episode but became worryingly screechy and maniacal in the second. Hopefully this will be addressed.
It will take time to see if this ensemble cast can ever approach the summit of that reached by the former residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but there’s no doubt the tone Sorkin is trying to set is similar.
This isn’t dumb TV for dumb people
At one point Sam Waterstone declares “I’m too old to be governed by fear of dumb people”. At another MacKenzie uses the word ‘quixotic’ in a raging debate with Daniels. This one word is a perfect summary of the show and of Sorkin dramas in general. In an interview with NPR last week he admitted as much: “Everybody, at some point in this series, says the word quixotic. The theme of Don Quixote goes all the way through the series.”
With The Newsroom, Sorkin is making a clear point about the state of journalism and the dumbing down of television. Sure, it’s idealistic. It’s liberal. And it’s unrealistic. But we all have longings for escapism TV and I’d take this above all of the other crap out there.