HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’ is entertaining despite flaws
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 01:09
For some inexplicable reason, “The Newsroom” has been a lightning rod for criticism and mockery since its premiere in June 2012. That could be due to the main name associated with the series: “Newsroom” is the creation of Academy Award and Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin of “The West Wing” (1999-2006) fame, which certainly gave the series a level of hype above that of a typical HBO show. Although the show — which will wrap up its second season on Sunday, with a third nearly confirmed — is nowhere close to perfect television, it definitely isn’t as awful as many reviewers and bloggers make it out to be. Structural flaws and script issues aside, “The Newsroom” remains an enjoyable, if at-times frustrating, show that has only continued to improve over time.
“The Newsroom” focuses on the behind-the-scenes action of a fictional cable network, Atlantis Cable News (ACN). Most of the show’s plot surrounds the network’s flagship program, “News Night with Will McAvoy,” and its star anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). Set in the recent past, the show has its characters reporting on real-life stories, with the first season covering 2010-2011 and the second focusing on 2012. Because of this, Sorkin’s own hindsight sometimes affects his characters’ views and decisions. Most of the first season focused on Will’s reawakening as an anchor and his desire to lead a program with the integrity of famous reporters like Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite, something he refers to as a “mission to civilize.”
While Will’s “mission to civilize” would unfortunately enable Sorkin’s more preachy tendencies as a writer to shine through, thankfully the second season has a more intriguing plot line. The news team did cover major 2012 events like the presidential election and the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, but this season has centered on ACN’s coverage of Operation Genoa, a story about U.S. military forces who used chemical weapons on civilians in 2009. The one issue? The story turns out to be completely false, creating different problems for all of the show’s principle characters. The slow buildup throughout the season to the actual airing of the story is masterful, a fascinating depiction of a news network constructing a segment from the ground up. Sadly, Sorkin isn’t as graceful with the actual fallout from the false report as he is with the buildup: Many characters’ reactions during the aftermath feel at odds with their personalities.
“The Newsroom” is excellent television when it zeroes in on the inner workings of the network through a story like Genoa. Unfortunately, Sorkin devotes a fair amount of time to the characters’ personal lives outside the office, and this is where things get problematic. Sorkin writes romantic relationships into the show to the point that such plot lines overstay their welcome. The drawn-out issues between producers Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie (Alison Pill) have long expired, and the show sloppily portrays the primary relationship between exes Will and MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer). Sorkin relies heavily on momentary hints and rushed dialogue to depict their complicated relationship status and often goes episodes without mentioning it before awkwardly shoehorning it in once again. A drama like “The Newsroom” can surely contain romantic elements, but it should have a relationship that viewers are actually invested in.
Although “The Newsroom” has some serious flaws, it is truly an enjoyable show. Even at its most forced moments, Sorkin’s dialogue is a treat to watch, and the show’s cast typically does a superb job of delivering their lines (Olivia Munn and Sam Waterston being the two standouts). Daniels is always a pleasure to follow as the main character, yet with such an excellent cast, the show remains a true ensemble piece. “The Newsroom” may not be the heir to “The West Wing,” but its witty dialogue and great acting make it entertaining television nonetheless.