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.


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+.


Oh for an edit button half that post disappeared
I think a lot of the reasons critics are going to jump all over this is because they are journalists and it is about journalism and it won't be terribly realistic to how a newsroom actually operates I am sure that doctors could say the same about lots of medical dramas So I don't need this to be realistic, but I do need it to be entertaining and well written and the pilot was


I have to say that most legal TV shows are pretty unrealisitic as to how court cases actually operate They almost always win their cases;
Their clients are usually innocent (highly unrealistic);
A very junior newly qualifed lawyer will get handed a really high profile, difficult case they wouldn't be let near in a million years often with little to no supervision;
The lawyers often end up re investigating the case and finding something the police missed and 'solving' the case in the courtroom;
cases that would drag on for months and years, with boring preliminary hearings, are wrapped up neatly in 40 mins; witness/ suspects routinely break down under cross examination and confess to being the real killer etc;
lawyers routinely indulge in outrageously grandstanding speeches to judges and juries that would never be tolerated in a real courthouse But they are TV shows that are designed to entertain- they are dramas not real life-The Good Wife is not that realistic but it is well written- has a strong ensemble cast and it is very entertaining to watch I am sure that doctors could say the same about lots of medical dramas So I don't need this to be realistic and a lot of the criticisms I have read of this show are frankly from journalists who are perhaps a little close to the subject matter and miss the point that it is a tv show not a documentary I want a show I watch entertaining and well written and the pilot was


Cervantes, really? A few too much speechifying. I thought that the opening scene was amazing, but it maintained that preachy tone for just a wee bit longer than I was able to handle.


I loved the show. Our daily news has become nothing more than local crime reports and car crashes. We get so little of the "truth." I think this show is awesome and perhaps a little preachy (soap box style), but is something that really needs to be said. I've too often heard, "must be true as we heard it on the news."


I thought it was fantastic, and I hope it keeps me entertained in the weeks to come. Now I feel bad about never watching the West Wing. So very nice to see Jeff Daniels in top form, he nailed it!


This might sound mad, but I think this show could actually be a vehicle for change in this country. The insightful dialog, like " this country has not been this polarized since the civil war" and of course that impassioned speech at the beginning of the episode. I hope Sorkin keep the plot points focused around topical current events and not office drama.I can not remember the last time I saw a piece of media with this large of an audience so unapologetically unabashedly hold a mirror of reality up to this country. I've allready read some people attacking his facts and his views in the show, and calling it liberal whooey, but he is a republican on the show. I love that, I hope it keeps things unbiased. Not to go on a political tirade, but we need to stop the partisanship in this country, stop listening to the expressive sensational journalism on BOTH sides, and just look at the real honest to goodess, in-propagandized reality of our situation. The good and the bad of it.....Yosemite Sam!


I watch television to be entertained, to take me away from the real world. The fact that this series is based in the real world makes it all the better. The way Aaron Sorkin writes is the way that most of us wishes that we could verbalize our thoughts. I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot, and I know that there will be further fleshing out of the characters in coming episodes. This episode was written to pull you in, and that, it has done. I am truly hoping that this series does not go the way of Sports Night, one of my all time favorites. Smart writing seems to have taken a backseat to bloody massacres, stupid vampire tales and...stupid vampire tales. And dont believe for one minute that real television news programming, especially cable programs, are any less scripted than this show. In fact, many of them could use a healthy dose of Mr. Sorkin's "reality".


this is a damn good show! this pilot episode is good enough to be a movie, no kidding! do not make the mistake of changing the channel which i almost made, the show gets better...especially when emily mortimer(EP) arrives. in my honest opinion, the overall "aaron sorkin" approach of being too honest and in yoru face is good, but the personal stories between the characters make it so much better. and the way its being delivered(an hour episode,but the amount of writing they put into it),Gratz!


It wasn't the spokesperson of BP, it was Halliburton.


Great show! Honest writing. From one writer to another, I hope the people who NEED to see this series will. The points taken are understandable and the cast of characters mesmerizing. Kudos. Can't wait for next week. Over and out

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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.


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