The Newsroom: Season One - DVD Review
The second season of The Newsroom launched last night, so we're doing a mini-season of two posts to celebrate: first up, a review of the season 1 DVD. Join us tomorrow morning for our recently-composed expert opinion of the season 2 debut episode. Look, we're just like Aaron Sorkin's characters from The Newsroom: preaching the truth, no matter what.
ANYWAY: The Newsroom first season boxset has been out for a few days in the US, and hits next Monday in the UK. Is it a worthy collection? Should you rush out and buy it even if you've seen the episodes? Let's investigate.
The Story ItselfWhen the first season originally aired, I wrote this full review of the whole damn thing, and having both re-read that post and rewatched the entire season in a few days for this review, I do stand by what I said. So this section of the review won't be as long as it could be.
But I have a few observations following my second viewing of the whole season over a short period of time. The rhythm of it becomes hard to ignore when seen so quickly: the early episodes are okay, albeit a little preachy and slow, a side which grows and grows until the awful fourth episode. Fortunately, the mid-section of the season, where the ongoing storylines are frozen in place and most cable shows get kinda boring, are actually the best bit as they set about doing some news stories of interest, rather than focusing on the banal love triangles.
And then, of course, the final two episodes happen, the major plots are reignited and it's not great. Aside from the love triangles, though, a big problem in both the pentultimate and final episode: we're presented with endeavours by the heroes which are clearly meant to be genius (the new debate format, Will's "masterpiece" broadcast attacking the Tea Party), but they're either kinda average or, at the very least, fundamentally flawed. But since the only characters allowed to criticise them are the ones portrayed as amoral scumbags, you worry that Sorkin hasn't realised this. And although those are the two most egregious examples, it's a problem woven into the fabric of the show, and it's no coincidence that Bullies, the episode where Will's methods are genuinely questioned, is one of the best in the run.
This problem also lived in Sorkin's Studio 60, but even more severely - the comedy show being hailed as genius was... merely average when we actually saw it. The Newsroom, for all that people pick on it, doesn't suffer from perceived quality disparity quite as badly.
The other problem was, of course, the love triangles. People like to say "Sorkin can't write romance!", but he can sometimes do write likable, engaging couples. He just can't seem to pace these will-they-won't-they subplots well. It was a huge weakness in Studio 60 and an even bigger one here. The Jim/Maggie/Don triangle was less annoying when watched through quickly, but all the more aggravating when you get to the finale and see no progress whatsoever. If he'd just put an ending at the end, it wouldn't have been as bad. Never mind.
Despite the glaring weaknesses, it's hard to hate this show. Because Sorkin still has a good ear for dialogue and humour, because his speeches about what's wrong with the media are often valid, albeit preached a bit too bluntly, because the cast are great and if the scripts just tightened up and acquired a bit more nuance, this could yet be a great show. Maybe in season two, guys. Maybe in season two.
The Behind The Scenes ExtrasI'm in two minds about the extras here. On the one hand, they have made an effort - as well as the usual commentaries, we've got a few minutes on film by Sorkin for each episode explaining what he was going for - although this being a fairly transparent show, there's a decent chance you guessed a lot of it. Indeed, if you find The Newsroom overly blunt and preachy, you might wonder why he felt it needed explaining.
There's also a behind the scenes featurette about the set building process, and a 25 minute round table with Sorkin and a few other key players. Both are interesting but perhaps not enlightening - it's nice to see, in the round table, that everyone appears to get along and have a sense of humour, but if you hoped for engagement with some of the (valid) criticism levelled at the show, there's none of that.
So, yeah, as ever, the usual publicity material, but a decent amount and with some insight into the thought behind the show. Nothing amazing but I've seen much worse. In fact, that might be a reasonable way to describe The Newsroom as a whole. Nonetheless, they have the cast, talent and money to make something good, so I'll be there for the second season to see if they pull it off. Full review tomorrow.