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Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Newsroom, Season 1 Review.

Not as bad as I feared, not as good as I'd hoped. If I had never seen a Sorkin show before last week I would have been completely enamored by The Newsroom. But I've been following him for years and while his formula is one of the best there is, its still a formula and I know all the ingredients. I was constantly playing a drinking game in the back of my mind (female pratfall!). I didn't want to, but its like those magic eye posters, (awkward shouting match!) when you see it once, you're always squinting to see it again (awkward shouting match fallout!).

But after a while you ease into it like a hot tub and just roll with it. You're in Sorkin-land and worst case scenario, you're gonna get some good monologues. Jeff Daniel's first as firebrand news anchor Will McAvoy is a barn burner. He's a decent character, you know he's an ass, but it takes a long time for that to register because he's pleasingly three dimensional. The first couple of minutes alone do a great job of fleshing him out.

McAvoy's played the moderate for too long, he's become the second highest watched cable news anchor, but at what cost? He's inconsequential at best and a phoney at worst and after being asked to explain why America is the greatest country on earth, he finally snaps. That snap gives his producer (Sam Waterson) the excuse to make McAvoy matter again. By being more editorial, by reporting news that matters... and by hiring his ex girlfriend to oversee the whole thing. Waaaaaaait a minute, isn't that how the West Wing started too?

Is it an unnecessary love triangle contrivance? Yes. There's actually going to be a couple of these, but in the moment, each of them work. McAvoy's with Emily Mortimer is the best; but you've also got the one with Alison Pill (Maggie) between the go getter 10:00 show producer Jake, (jock) and the passionate editor/puppy dog, Jim...(nerd). It gets better as it goes along but a good 30% of the show is sacrificed on the alter of these office romances. The biggest problem is Jake doesn't become anywhere near relatable until halfway through the season. You have no reason not to hate him, he abandons McAvoy professionally, he abandons Maggie romantically, and he openly tells Jim that he hates him at least four times. Its a mess.

Thankfully the news stories, as revisionist as they are, do a great service by simply reminding you of what happened 2 years ago. I had forgotten almost every story they covered and the rhetoric attached to each was viscerally satisfying, but unapologetically one sided. But that doesn't bother me, McAvoy constantly name dropping the fact he's a registered republican does. I mean, I know moderate republicans, McAvoy is no moderate. There isn't a single word that falls out of his mouth that a democrat would disagree with, in other words, its a wasted trait that only serves to make him a less interesting character. He's a liberal Sorkin, stop trying to eat your cake too.

But I gotta admit one story they worked on got me good. They made a connection I had never thought of before. Remember the bill that allowed corporations to give unlimited funds to political candidates? It also extended to unions. What happens immediately after that passed? The Wisconsin teacher strike. I'm sorry, that's good journalism.

I haven't even mentioned how much of a joy Sam Waterson is, I avoided Law and Order like the plague so maybe he's always been this funny. Olivia Munn wound up being much more enjoyable than I thought, her Fukushima sub plot was one of the highlights for me, but she's still really stone faced. Fun though, she would kill voice over work.

So there. It's patchy, hits a lot of sour notes, women rarely talk about anything other than the men in their lives, and the two black characters just don't have anything to say other than exposition. But those are my problems, objectively its a "good" show. If you liked the West Wing, you're gonna like this. If you were hoping for Sorkin to alter his vision slightly or shake things up (like me) you'll walk away disappointed. But I want to keep watching it and that's not nothing.

Oh, and this one time Terry Crews showed up out of nowhere and it was awesome.

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