Let’s all just admit it: Aaron Sorkin shows can be a little bit difficult to digest at times. The enhanced idealism, the rapid pace and dramatization of every single conversation… he’s definitely a man with a specific style, and his execution of it makes every single project he writes undeniably his (this is not a man whose shows and movies are going to get confused with everyone else’s). And The Newsroom might be Sorkin at his Sorkin-est, relying on every trick in his toolbox to create a harsh but undeniably enthusiastic criticism of the media, and the entire news continuum as it exists in 2012.
In the nearly 73-minute pilot, ‘We Just Decided To’ really tries to accomplish a lot by both establishing its characters and reinventing them almost immediately, all while trying to frame their human stories within the filter of a cable newsroom. This in itself would be a lot to do, but add on top the show’s larger goal: to critique the media and the way it handles news by using real-world events, and the show has to adopt a pace so rapid-fire and to-the-point, much of it feels rushed and/or shoehorned… and to top it off, its as arrogant and short-sighted as the world its trying to critique.
(Note: I’m here to discuss the show, and not its political views, or how Sorkin’s political views are the same as mine, or different, or whatever. This is a TV review, not a political debate).
The worst part of it all, of course, was the ending, which completely undermined anything I had grown to enjoy or respect about Will McAvoy. Will’s entire undoing in the media’s eyes comes in the show’s first scene, when he lambasts the college audience he’s speaking to, the talking heads around him, condemning everyone in the world for caring about their first-world problems and patting ourselves on the back, instead of recognizing the complete degradation of our country’s culture, political and educational systems – along with the simple fact that most of us willfully live outside of the world of reality.
The first scene of the episode sets it up as Will having a delusional moment, seeing an ex-wife in the crowd who isn’t really there. But when its revealed in the end that she was, it completely undermines the entire premise of the series. Will McAvoy isn’t having an awakening in the opening scene: he’s being guided and orchestrated by an ex-wife he hasn’t seen or spoken to in over three years. Beyond the inherent ridiculousness of her even being in the Northwestern audience, but the idea that his moment of truth with himself was not only NOT that, but what appears to be a melo-dramatic, “romantic” gesture by a woman trying to save the intelligent, rich, unbelievably arrogant man she apparently loved (and still does) quite deeply.
Flipping her presence from a vision of Will’s to an actual reality changes the entire inner transformation we’re supposed to believe in as the backbone of the show. But its overly contrived, and plays out like some big reveal at the end of the episode, like it’s important that she somehow didn’t ruin his conception of events for some reason.
It is though, but not in a good way as the show wants us to think: it steals a ton of credibility away from McAvoy, whose moment of awareness is no longer that, but clear orchestration by Margaret to both bring herself into the newsroom, but also give her power over McAvoy’s mouth and use it to project her ideals (or Sorkin’s, depending on how you view her big speech about ‘getting better’ in the news).
And in the end, McAvoy doesn’t really become more aware, does he? He still can’t figure out where his own control room is, and while demanding truth and objectivity from the news people failing around him, he’s doing the complete opposite during the BP spill news scenes, allowing unfiltered news from an unknown producer to become the centerpiece of his show, some of the exact same things he was accusing the liberals and conservatives about doing before.
It’s a very weird contrast: the first half of the episode is concerned with the salvation of news journalism, but the second half is only concerned with showing how much better ACN is at reporting the BP oil spill than the real people. And this is where I have some real problems with the pilot: there’s no denying how sharply written and filmed the broadcast scenes are, but the influx of information, revealing of sources, and anything else related to the first episode with the new news team feel like an arrogant “see what you guys all missed?” kind of scene.
Sorkin’s admitted in interviews to making the news team smarter and better than real news teams, because hindsight allows him to point out the mistakes people made. That has no dramatic value whatsoever in my book: if you’re only concerned with showing people being wrong, and your characters being right, then the show is quickly going to become the worst possible version of itself where mouths become voice pieces for Sorkin to lambast the media for its style and approach to news – which I’d be all fine for, if it was handled with a little more nuance.
I have more thoughts on the different characters on the show below, but The Newsroom is a show with a lot of promise in its premise, but one that is going to struggle if it continues to suggest that the right news story is definable in minutes (when in reality, it can take days or weeks to get the phone calls and information the staff glean in mere minutes), and the overwhelming feeling that Sorkin knows whats wrong with the news, and has all the answers to fix it. I’ll be reviewing it through the first season, but the show is in dangerously self-righteous territory already in the pilot.
- I didn’t talk much about anything except the news points of view and McAvoy’s character, and that’s because everyone else is so obtuse I don’t need to discuss them. Maragret is the green, big-eyed girl who wants to learn a lot, and will be stuck in a love triangle between Don and Jim, who OF COURSE, are set up against each other in every way possible, from approach, to attitude.
- There’s no ambiguity between who is right and wrong on this show, and that’s what bothers me. Why is McAvoy instantly absolved from his role as being so high-paid and mainstream, he’s been part of the problem for years? Having Will be the righteous hero of the show is going to be problematic, and not because he’s an asshole who can’t remember anyone’s name: it’s because he’s really just a hypocrite, pompous and self-indulgent in every way that he seems to despise about his fellow Americans.
- The editor’s line about “we just decided to make great news” (paraphrasing) didn’t really ring true, considering he orchestrated the whole damn thing. Didn’t feel like an earned moment.
- all that criticism, but there were bits I enjoyed, particularly Will laughing while reading the BP press release.
- I’ll get a little more into the actors and what not next week – I’ve only seen the pilot, so I don’t have much context into how well the acting is, thanks to the sub-par introduction of the ancillary cast.
- I’m very put off by one-sided nature of every single issue the show tries to address. There doesn’t seem to appear to be any gray areas, which leaves the show feeling less realistic than it should. I don’t need the boring day to day of a newsroom, I’m ok with dramatization there, but the show’s debates can’t be so clear cut with right and wrong, both in script construction and filming sequences at certain angles to hold our hand through whose point of view is right and wrong.
What did you think of The Newsroom? Captivating pilot, or self-important piece of ranting television? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and stop by next Sunday night to talk about the second episode!