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Simultaneously both good and bad
on 21 March 2013
I think my view of "The Newsroom" is chequered by having already watched "The West Wing", which is one of my all-time favourite TV shows. If you are in that position with me, be prepared to both love and loathe "The Newsroom".
First of all, "The West Wing" was my first real introduction to Aaron Sorkin's work. Therefore, at the time his manner of writing was fresh and new to me. "The Newsroom" suffers the misfortune of having a predecessor to be compared with. It is instantly recognisable as a Sorkin piece:
* Should I repeat a statement to make it seem more important? Should I repeat a statement to make it seem more important?
* The main protagonist has father issues, a la Jed Bartlet. He's also very intelligent and had a brilliant career as a lawyer prior to his being an anchorman, a la Jed Bartlet. Oh and he defends his staff to the bitter end as if they were his family, a la Jed Bartlet.
* You have not one but three versions of the Josh/Donna relationship occurring concurrently. And two of them feel like very contrived situations. If you like being endlessly spun a yarn, then you're in the clear.
* The Josh Lyman foot-in-mouth moments are duplicated here aplenty.
There are many other examples I could list, but you get the idea. If anything, "The Newsroom" exposes Sorkin as a bit of a (brilliant) one-trick pony. This is the same formula, with the same heart, humour and passion as its older brother. A Sork-com, if you will.
Politically, if you're right-leaning you'll probably disapprove of the left-ish tendencies on offer. On the other hand, if you're left-leaning (and I am), you may get tired with being preached to, *incessently*. TWW occassionally got on its high horse, but "The Newsroom" suffers this problem on a much larger scale. This is a shame because the fundamentals of what was being said are perfectly valid. But I've never felt so spoon-fed, and this is quite ironic given the whole point of the show is to depict a news broadcast that doesn't dress up current affairs in over-the-top language shoved down your throat. Sorkin tries to address separating TWW from this by constantly dropping in "I'm a Republican" quotes from Will McAvoy (the main character), as if saying those words makes it true. In true Arnold Vinick style, McAvoy is Sorkin's dream Republican, which is a Democrat who is just a bit more fiscally sensible.
All of this makes "The Newsroom" sound really very bad. Maybe I should redress this issue. It is a long way from bad. I certainly got enough out of it to watch all 10 episodes (and I'll probably pick up season 2 when it is broadcast). The writing is quite sharp, the actors do an excellent job with the material they're given, and I applaud the spirit of the show, if perhaps not the result. I think if I had never watched TWW previously, I wouldn't have one of the greatest TV shows to beat "The Newsroom" over the head with. This is a poor man's version, and there's no escaping that. On the other hand, if you have never seen either you'll probably love the show in the same way I loved TWW when I first saw that.
Overall, a watchable if slightly disappointing show.