We report back on the first season of Aaron Sorkin’s TV news fantasy on Sky Atlantic.
Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series The Newsroom was one of the most anticipated TV debuts this year, and once it finally aired, it became one of the most divisive. Love it or hate it, at least people were talking about it, and maybe Sorkin would take that as a victory. Not to mention, ratings held up and he got his second season renewal pretty damn quickly.
But, now it’s finally finished on Sky, how did I find it? Did I end up on the pro-Newsroom side, or agreeing with their enemies, the people who hate freedom and democracy?
As an experience, I think I enjoyed it. Certainly, it picked up a lot in the second half. It’s unfortunate that they distributed the first four episodes to early critics, because the fourth episode was, um, awful. Boring, patronising and ending in a Coldplay montage, I ended up watching it in three sittings.
Fortunately, things improved. Having established the two love triangles that would fester throughout the season, the show was able to backburner them in the mid-section and do stories about actual news. And, suddenly, it became more watchable. The sixth episode, Bullies, was a series highlight.
Especially because it finally questioned the approach of lead character Will McAvoy, rather than treating him like an almighty truthspeaking prophet, by interrogating whether he was “doing the news properly” or simply yelling at people because he liked it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the run either venerated or used him as a mouthpiece, and it grew tiring. I often agree with Sorkin, but still don’t enjoy always being preached at. Good speeches, yes, but they needed an opposing voice. Even noted liberal fantasy The West Wing had grumpy Toby to provide a counterpoint to straight idealism.
Still, it was a decent if preachy drama series for a while, although still wobbled whenever the love triangles were on screen – epecially in the season finale where Sorkin felt he had to put them back front and centre. So he teased a possible resolution to both, before pulling back and throwing everything forward to next year.
Which left me with a bad taste in my mouth, even though that episode had other parts I genuinely liked. Damn. Oh, and having seen the whole season, I don’t think the Mackenzie character had a cool scene after the first episode. Certainly not a memorable one, and it’s a shame as Emily Mortimer is very good. Surely this is an oversight?
And Sorkin’s obvious hatred of the internet is odd in a “modern news” programme. And it’s hard to fully identify with the attitude to Bin Laden’s death this show portrayed, although I am British so maybe am too removed. And the Dev Patel character got annoying. And did the cast do any journalism that didn’t involve happening to know someone involved in the story?
Still, Olivia Munn’s Sloan was great, as was Sam Waterston as the perma-drunk kindly older-man boss figure who appears in every Sorkin show. In fact, most of the acting was very good. They even made the Don character sympathetic eventually, which fixes one of the glaring flaws in the Don/Maggie/Jim love triangle.
Basically, The Newsroom season 1 will go down as an “interesting failure”. A show with a strong creative team and concept that just didn’t work – good moments, but never came together. For other interesting failures, see most of Torchwood and, indeed, Sorkin’s own Studio 60. Hard to wholeheartedly recommend, but a lot of fun to write blog posts about. Can’t complain myself.
More details about The Newsroom on Sky Atlantic’s official site.
Guessed the spoiler? Are modern audiences too savvy for TV show twists?
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum