By the end of the Pilot, I let out a deep sigh, because I was given a clear preview of what the show was going to be about and how it was going to carry itself forward. It was going to have idealistic and preachy moments; snappy and witty dialogue; complex office romance surrounding bad-at-love characters; a highly entertaining storytelling of the intricate events behind the birth of a headline; a bashing tone let alone condescending one on TV journalism, gossip columnists, corporate behind News Networks, the politics behind corporate behind the News Networks, Republicans and of course, the public, apparently the most idiotic content consuming machines the universe.
The show Newsroom was cancelled after three seasons with the first season getting bad reviews but it did manage to evoke positive response by the end of the series, from the audience and the critics (oh, sorry, scratch critics. They hated it with all their wrath) . Even with the improvement, it is still one of the most divisive-receptions-ever-garnered shows.
Why? Simple. It was written by Aaron Sorkin, who either has hardcore fans for his style or haters tired of his style. No between. And also, this show was bashing the existing “corporate-licking, populist approach to a story” sense of journalism and this pissed off many critics. Guess why, they mostly belong to journalism.
But these reviews shouldn’t affect our experience, although they do. A show must entertain and impact. Aaron Sorkin guarantees entertainment with his style of snappy rhythmic (kind of poetic) banter between his overly intelligent and witty characters with stereotypical flaws set in a highly energetic profession, in this case, it’s a Newsroom of a popular TV news at prime-time where Jeff Daniels plays a narcissistic, immature, smart and funny Will McAvoy out to save the dying concept of journalism. The previous sentence had 62 words which is exactly the average number of words a person talks in Sorkinverse (It’s the writer’s universe where all his characters are living in. Everyone is super humanly energetic and you must have met a few from Social Network, Money ball, Steve Jobs and West Wing).
The show begins with MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) being appointed as the executive producer of Will McAvoy’s time to reboot the entire show as News Night 2.0 covering only news that matters objectively. In fact she goes ahead and makes three “I”s which each story must satisfy to make it on-screen.
Is this information we need in the voting booth? 2) Is this the best possible form of the argument? 3) Is the story in historical context? Sounds over the top doesn’t it? Sadly this is how it is actually supposed to work.
They together assemble a team of ragtag of young bloods under the leadership of Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), who easily becomes the most lovable character of the show with his eccentricity and maturity. They decide to present news as is, and take on the bad guys head on without fear.
The storytelling is pretty straight forward in the first season and in season 2 an intriguing Social Network style of interaction with lawyers leading up to a certain mega event. The scenes are mostly running real-time as Sorkin jumps from character to character giving them individually a conflict and the team a collective conflict in the form of a news story, all of which are resolved by the end of the story arc. Did I say this show presents itself as an optimistic light during dark times?
The amusing thing about the show is that the end goals are always not great while the journey towards the goals is brilliant. I mean, the characters are flat and women aren’t portrayed in a great light. But the shows shines with the way the characters interact with each other and react to events in the show. Every character is weird but on a positive note, shows growth. Imagine people like Sheldon, Sherlock and Jack Sparrow in the same team and imagine watching them for three seasons. Exciting but exhausting isn’t it? That’s exactly what happens here.
The romance aspect of the show is bland while the complexities of it and the rippling effects it creates in the Newsroom are entertaining as hell. Second season begins with a clear message that some blunder has been committed by the team. Although we figure out what happens as the show proceeds, they handle the suspense with such a solid writing covering to the finest detail the slightest events that affected the last event indirectly. This is where the show succeeds, in the writing when the show takes itself seriously deals news.
It is a fictional news set in our world. Meaning they cover real events like Bin Laden assassination, oil spill, etc. So you get an idea what it must have been to be on the journalist end to receive the news. The shows does have some bad ass moments were the team hits hard at various ludicrous moments of American politics and maturely hits itself for trying to be smart ass, like the moment where Will gets the heat for grilling a gay black politician on TV. Safely we can say, the way they tell us the news is entertaining while the way they tell the news to their fictional audience is tiring after a point.
I talk about nothing other than the writing because there is nothing to note. Acting is great with Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston carrying the show with ease. The visuals are great primarily they are inside a newsroom with so much chaos that it looks like a back stage of a theatre underway. The music and cinematography are slightly frustrating with the blatant effort to induce energy or optimism (the number of things happening in a single show by itself is an adrenaline rush, why use ridiculous camera movements to amp it up?)
So, is the show good or bad? I would say the show is good with so many great moments. It is entertaining for sure, but with the preachy attitude it takes up and the kind of disconnect we have with the crazy people on-screen, it nullifies the impact that was created by the great moments. So you’re left wondering ‘what exactly I’m supposed to feel?’
But I am sure that hours spent on watching the show would not be regretful if you can bear through the theatrical moments. In fact the show itself is like an elaborate theatre play (like every other Sorkin show). It has least locations and maximizes the interactions and focuses on dialogues to deliver and not action. If you’re watching and wondering “why are they always talking?”, then you have not got the show and you might belong to the group that hated the show.
It gives a new perspective on the behind the scenes of the news and will definitely alter the way you look at journalists….For a few seconds, after which when you turn on the news you’ll realise maybe Sorkin was right about certain things.