Two episodes in and already The Newsroom promises to stand alongside The West Wing and The Social Network in Aaron Sorkin’s cultural and political war chest.
Sorkin makes no bones about being an idealist and as such writes his best characters that way. He told the Wall Street Journal that his “resting pulse as a writer is writing idealistically, romantically, aspirationally” and that’s exactly what we get in The Newsroom. The protagonist Will Mcavoy (Jeff Daniels) is an anchorman for a network news channel who has built his reputation on being bi-partisan and unopinionated but knows deep down that his destiny is to change the way news is reported in America. We get our first glimpse of his quixotic qualities when he is asked on a talk show “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” prompting Will to try to blow off the question before losing his temper and embarking on an aggressive yet inspiring tirade along the lines of “It’s not, but it can be”.
The series is set in an America which ought to look very familiar to its viewers. “News” is the trading of sound-bytes between career politicians in a “debate” which serves only to divide opinion and boost viewing figures. The agenda is set by the advertisers and coroporate owners who have a vested interest in keeping viewers blissfully uninformed and intelligent, informed opinion is regarded as boring or intimidating.
Enter Mackenzie Machale (Emily Mortimer), an articulate, experienced news professional with big ideas for improving both the broadcast and the anchor whom she obviously has some kind of painful romantic history with. She really believes in an erudite and informative take on current affairs and she really believes in Will. Just as the first broadcast goes live she is told by an intern that there’s no script, “nothing on the prompter”, she snaps back with a knowing smile that “nothing on the prompter is where this man eats!”
Sorkin’s dialogue idles at 70mph making it ideal for the kind of environment filled with brilliant, learned young professionals. Like for example, the White House or the offices of a legal firm. Unsurprisingly a network newsroom is also a perfect fit and Sorkin and his cast really tap into the energy of that kind of high-pressure environment. The cast seems to relish the challenge and does an outstanding job of projecting that high paced buzz onto the screen and really making the script sing.
People will criticise the series as utopian and unrealistic, but that’s entirely the point. Sorkin wants people to think critically about these issues and aim high and this comes across in his writing. Besides how hard can reforming the media really be? As Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterstone) says at the end of the first episode “We did the news well and you know how? We just decided to”.
Are you a fan of The Newsroom? Has Sorkin struck gold once again, or is this too formulaic for your liking? Let us know in the comments!