The Newsroom

Sundays 10:00 PM on HBO
The newsroom
TV Fanatic Works Better with Prime Instant Video
40,000 other titles are available to watch now.

The Newsroom Review: Anchor Away

by at . Comments

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
  • 4.6 / 5.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
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+.

Tags: ,
Avatar

The show is outstanding on every level. Not surprised the critics from corporate own media have panned the show. The brilliant Aaron Sorkin has put a big spotlight exposing the hypocrisy of the media and it's making them very uncomfortable.
One of the best lines from the show applies to some of the critical reviews I've read.
"Speaking truth to stupid"

Avatar

What I liked about this show was that it all fit together so well. When he (Will) thinks he sees MacKenzie in the audience it spurs him to say what she would want him to say, as they think alike. But we don't find out until the end that it was really her in the audience, very well done and makes sense that she would want to work for someone she believes in who follows her advice. It also sparked my interest to want more info on the two main characters (Will and Mac) and why their relationship ended. Also, would a new relationship be developing between Margaret & Mac's assistant (which Mac is pushing). It was more like a well made movie than a TV show. Looking forward to the next episode!

Avatar

God I realized the guy who wrote this review is the same dick who wrote all the appalling reviews for Glee last season. Hey buddy time to get a completely new job. I suggest something well away from journalism cause guess what? I named my dog after you. I called it Dicktard.

Avatar

/sadface. It has an unspecified character limit to posts. My closing point was that The Newsroom is where it belongs-on a premium network where his audience is most likely to be anyway.

Avatar

I've been looking forward to this premier for about two years, since I first learned of it as Sorkin's next television foray. Sorkin is not in any way for dumb people, and by that I mean, he's not for people who opt to turn off their ability to question what's being told to them. It's not so much that Americans are dumb, though any number of polls might support that statement, depending on a person's interpretation, it's that television programming is offering us less and less in the way of substance while shoveling more and more nonsense before us.
One of my favorite shows on television is presently "America's Got Talent," because it's the most talent I've seen on television since Sorkin's Studio 60 failed to reach what NBC felt was enough people to keep it.
I don't live my life believing everything Sorkin touches is gold, but that has been my experience. He raises expectations for me without lowering his standards, and he puts together intelligent shows in general, based on great dialogue and compelling characters in particular.
I'm thrilled to see Sorkin on a premium network, where his dedicated audience is most likely to be watching anyway.
The Newsroom wants to engage the news in the way that Sorkin wants to engage the country. My only gripe, and it's a big one, I assure you, is that HBO seems to have only ordered 10 episodes so far!

Avatar

One of the best shows I've ever seen I don't know what all the negative critics are talking about. Ive watched it like 10 times in 3 days and it doesn't get old its like a great piece of art or poetry. The characters are great you can tell so much about them already after one show. The energy of the show gives me goosebumps everytime I watch it.

Farsia2010

..... the noise background. amazing it creates a very authentic atmosphere.
and when Will first saw Mackenzie MacHale and called her into his office, the backdrop of rain did an amazing job creating an isolated and closed up feel for their conversation, it really brought out the intimacy of the moment and the sadness of lost opportunity too.

Farsia2010

Jeff Daniels is charming even while being antagonistic, and no matter how much of a jerk he appears to be he also happens to be a jerk who is RIGHT! kudos to the actor for bringing so many layers to his character right from the start, even before we got any background history on him we already felt like we knew him and he was already a complex character. Amazing work!
and Sam Waterstone? wow! it is soooo nice to see him after Law and Order, he definitely bring intellect to his character at the same time give us a glimpse of old school journalism and all that with comedy that is so sharp that it is satire. Come on his outburst when he threatened to kick butt because he is a marine and he didn’t care how many protein bars the guy ate!
Let me just quote sth:
Charlie Skinner: “you were unreachable, no one knew how to contact you except one person – �
Will McAvoy: “It was you!� and did you guys notice the echoing atmosphere that they have created as the noise background. amazing it creates a very authentic atmosphere.
and when Will first saw Mackenzie MacHale and called her into his office, the backdrop of rain did an amazing job creating an isolated and closed up feel for their conversation, it really brought out the intimacy of the moment and the sadness of lost opportunity too.

Farsia2010

*it's not a cop OUT.....

Farsia2010

it's not a cop, if we don't make shows like that and point out exactly what went wrong and how it did so we will never learn. the way HBO films it is impossible for them to take the material that is happening now. how are they supposed to make a show about this summer's news if they are filming it before the summer??? besides whether this is done in hindsight or not, the things that are said here were never said back when it all happened and they need to be said.
besides, writing a dialogue that is sooooo sharp and to the point and almost painful is not easy no matter what time period you are talking about. this is by far the best summer show to premier this year.
and the actors, they are true virtuosoes of their craft!
Just Brilliant all around.

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.