The Newsroom

Sundays 10:00 PM on HBO
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The Newsroom Review: Anchor Away

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There is just so much to say about the first episode of Newsroom, a lot of which is summed up by the final name listed in the opening credits: Created by Aaron Sorkin.

Any fan of The West Wing, The American President, The Social Network and Moneyball is aware of what this means. We'll be treated to sterling dialogue, passionate speeches, endless banter, intense fighting and characters entrenched on top of their especially high soap boxes.

More so than any of his previous projects, the opening episode of Sorkin's first forway into cable television, "We Just Decided To," focuses on the latter.

Jeff Daniels on The Newsroom

The Newsroom begins with Jeff Daniels' Will McAvoy blasting all that America has become, running down its poor rankings in a variety of key areas and even throwing in a jab at Comic Book Guy by spelling out how the sorority girl who asked him a question at a panel discussion is part of the "Worst, period, Generation, period, Ever, period."

But the "first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one," McAvoy says in one of many Newsroom quotes that places journalism at the center of all that ails this country and all that can save it. "America is not the greatest country in the world anymore."

How can it become so once again? Sorkin makes the premise sound oh-so-very easy: the news has to better inform an ignorant public.

Most would agree this is a fair assessment of at least one problem plaguing America. Will is not meant to take the side of either political party, merely the side of truth. He's there to report the facts (as opposed to the facts people choose to believe, as he laments early on) and question anyone who tries to obfuscate them. (Perhaps the most enjoyable back-and-forth is when Will immediately shoots down a Halliburton spokesperson's attempt to dodge a question by stating his company's "thoughts and prayers" are with the victims.)

But Sorkin takes the easiest way possible in order to fictionally fix this issue: he sets The Newsroom in 2010. In the case of the premiere, this means focusing on the BP oil spill; and in the case of many other examples to come, it means Sorkin has the benefit of hindsight.

Of course you can take newscasts at that time to task when you have information two years later they may not have had the day of the spill. Of course you can prop up the importance a character who predicts this will be the worst environmental disaster in American history... when you know it actually will become the worst environmental disaster in American history.

Will and Emily Mortimer's MacKenzie McHale at one point say they can "frame the debate" over whether government is an "instrument of good" and, wouldn't you know it, that just happens to be a major political topic of the 2012 election.

Moreover, it's simply unfair to the real-life reporters The Newsroom criticizes when News Night's big break comes as a result of one employee having a sister who works for Halliburton and a college roommate who works for BP.

We can all probably agree that many media outlets have failed to properly do their jobs in recent years, but we can also agree that none of them had the kind of access Will is fortunate to have at his fingertips the moment the spill takes place. They had to actually report on the catastrophe and that takes time.

It's a rather large cop-out and a rather large problem for the show. Fixing the broken news is a simple task when you can sit back years later, take various real-life reports from various outlets, and have possibly the best television writer in history spin them into eloquent speeches about all this country could and should be.

There's an agenda at work here, which is often the case when Sorkin is behind a script. But, like everything I hate about Glee, the agenda with The Newsroom clearly comes first. Sorkin wants to inform before he wants to entertain. Correction: he wants to preach before he wants to entertain.

On more than one occasion, Americans are referred to as "dumb" or "stupid." I wouldn't blame any viewer who was turned off by a series whose premise is that citizens are uneducated and so easily swayed by what they see on television.

All these criticism aside, though... I sort of loved The Newsroom.

I've seen upcoming episodes and the sanctimonious speeches do escalate, while the female characters grow more marginalized. I'll deal with those and other issues in upcoming reviews.

For now, for this episode, I managed to separate the pompous, over-arching theme but the great individual moments. The back-and-forth is just so quick and witty, the scenes building upon one another so perfectly. I admit to being a sucker for any behind-the-scenes look at, well, almost anything, meaning I was mesmerized by the moments in the control room and the quick pace at which MacKenzie worked with Will over their earpieces.

I simply love how Aaron Sorkin writes.

Unlike Glee, which tries to be several shows in one and which doesn't treat most of its societal themes or messages with the respect they deserve, The Newsroom is as up front as it can be. There's never any doubt that this is an Aaron Sorkin production and each episode will come at you from an Aaron Sorkin point of view, as self-righteous as that can often be.

It may become grating to some, it may already be grating for others and they won't be returning to The Newsroom. But if you can focus on the brilliant writing of the messenger over the message, or don't mind the message being hammered home on a weekly basis, this is one newly-built ship you'll want to ride on every Sunday night.

Review

Editor Rating: 4.6 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (403 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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I just watched my first episode of The Newsroom (You're Fired). I was truly blown away!! I had to go online and "google" this show. I plan on going back and watching all past episodes. Not only was the writing/acting terrific, the content mirrored my hearts knowing about today's Republicans held hostage by the right wing of their party (Tea Party Republicans). Government has always been about governing . . NOT religion. Church and State are to be kept separate PERIOD!!! Bravo!!!!

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for those complaining about the lack of minorities... have you ever heard of "The Wire" or "Treme" - two HBO shows with tons of minority leads? helloooooooo, please think a little bit.

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...is like watching The Day After Tomorrow for the weather report. Compelling viewing...but its not exhaustive of all facts. Everyone has an agenda- The Newsroom just happens to have an eloquent writer, so its agenda is broadcast to millions. Don't be seduced by the word "news" in the title and the funny clips of an irrelevant Palin. This is not a documentary.

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@Erik- I have to thank you. Your comment FINALLY shed light on the ambiguous nagging I've felt in my brain since watching the pilot (and 3 subsequent episodes)... a huge percentage of this show's audience is watching The Newsroom AS IF IT WAS THE NEWS. This is a scripted, fictional television series that happens to exist in a realistic world (very unlike True Blood), so people are confusing it with reality. The political leanings of this show or its creator are irrelevant to me, as I adored and still adore The West Wing, which was even LESS shy about its liberal tendancies. But for some reason, the audience of TWW remembered it was an idealized, although still fictional, representation of a writer's creation. Keeping that in mind, just because Aaron Sorkin writes a line for a character of his creation regarding fallacies of the Tea Party (or any conservative politician, pundit, etc) does not mean that the full "truth" has been spoken "to stupid." Watching The Newsroom for national information is like watching The Day After Tomorrow for the weather report. Compelling viewing...not exhaustive of all facts, though. Everyone has an agenda... The Newsoom just happens to have an eloquent writer, so its agenda gets broadcast to millions.

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I love this show! I love how the very people that are being attacked hate it. Maybe they should take notes! I pray there is a news show like this in my generation. Right wong critics say it talks over the head of the viewer. Maybe we aren't as stupid as you think(or as stupid as you)! I love it uses real
Stories. Shows the way they should have been covered! It would take blind loyalty and, frankly, a brain tumor to define the Tea Party after seeing the facts. Thank you Sorkin and thank you HBO!

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The show is excellent and the dialogue is fantastic! Before the media says it's unrealistic I get the best American news from the daily show - that's just sad.

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Newsroom simply brilliant, Jeff Daniels is amazing and so believable as a new anchor, if the acting gig doesn't work, he can have another career LOL Aaron Sorkin a master writer, his work is so far from mundane, a pity that that more people do not appreciate or have the intelligence to understand his writing.

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This ain't WKRP for sure, and it seems to be making some solid points about the current state of politics and government. I hope the bulk of the public gets their heads out of the lower end of their digestive tract and pays attention. They have set the bar rather high for talking about the reality of our government. I hope they can live up to the first few minutes of the first show.

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Loved both episodes, flaws notwithstanding. This program went into "record series" mode on our dvr....rare for me but I do not want to miss one word of dialogue ... not one!

The Newsroom Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.

Will

This is more than unprofessional, it's uncivilized and more than that, it's unprofessional.