The Newsroom - S01E01 “We Just Decided To”
Let me admit something shameful right off the bat - The Newsroom is only the second Aaron Sorkin show I’ve ever watched. And the first was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. And I actually liked Studio 60, which is supposedly his “worst” attempt at television thus far. After the first episode of The Newsroom, however, I am fully prepared to dive in to each and every past show of his. Sorkin television is what all television should be - thoughtfully crafted, genius writing with a wealth of witty dialogue and complex characters. Basically - everything I love about TV.
I love this show. Critics be damned.
As is typical Sorkin style, we open on a pessimistic diatribe on the state of America today. This time it comes from washed up news anchor Will McAvoy, played by the brilliant Jeff Daniels. As part of the Millennial generation that he’s trashing, I should probably be offended, but I can’t think anything but “Hell yeah!” at the way he crushes that poor little college student who asks the hardly innocent question of “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”. That and I’m Canadian, and as much as it pains me to say it (cause God knows our country is going to shit too) I do like to watch the US brought down a couple notches. Or at least forced to confront reality for once.
The set up is this - Will, as head news anchor, seems to have an inordinate amount of power at the fictional station he works for. That doesn’t prevent the majority of his staff from leaving him for greener pastures after putting up with his “bad attitude” for longer than they probably should have.
Thus, the head of the station, played by Law and Order’s Sam Waterston, must bring in the big guns. Namely, EP Mackenzie MacHale, with whom Will has a past. She brings along cute Senior Producer Jim Harper and promptly sets in motion what will be one of many of the show’s ships by encouraging him to pursue a romantic entanglement with Will’s assistant (though soon to be associate producer) Maggie, played by the lovely and awkward Allison Pill. Problem is she’s already entrenched in a workplace romance with ex-EP Don. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Mackenzie and Will have it out and it’s infinitely refreshing to not be spoonfed their history. This is good writing, this slow leak of information. Will’s managed to renegotiate her contract so that at the end of every week he has the opportunity to fire her if he so chooses - which is a pretty damn good ticking clock and will no doubt be milked for all it is worth.
Even as all this drama is unfolding, the basic premise of the show is not overlooked. Suddenly, the newsroom is in the middle of the break of the BP oil spill and running around with their heads cut off to inform the public before their competitors. The old team is vilified for their refusal to act and the new team has their trial by fire moment as they run with the story, coming together as a team as they do so. Aw.
It all turns out pretty good in the end as Will becomes the impassioned anchor he is meant to be (and his co-workers want him to be). I for one can say I’m excited for what is to come: lengthy walk-and-talks, heated debate and some of the most intelligent writing on television.
I know the show - and Sorkin himself - have come under attack as of late. Critics are split and the political nature of Sorkin’s writing has caused a bit of an uproar.
I won’t say I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic on either side of the debate, but as a writer myself I will say this:
Writers are not their characters.
It’s unfair and frankly a little ignorant for anyone to assume otherwise. While yes, writers do use their own experiences as inspiration, that does not mean that one can make the Sorkin = socialist or Sorkin = sexist statement purely on the basis of his writing. Don’t presume to know the man because you’ve seen his shows or watched his movies.
Past that I won’t comment on what the guy is like, who he votes for or any of it. I will say that he writes damn good television and that the show plays host to a collection of complex characters - both male and female - that come with a variety of political views.
And that’s something I’m interested in watching. If you’re not - don’t watch it. It’s as simple as that.
On another note, people are saying this is just a re-hashing of The West Wing with a newsroom in place of the White House. To that I say - so what if Sorkin has a style? Do what you’re good at.
Again - not something you want to see? Don’t watch.
Uh, everything? And just so y’all know - Sorkin dialogue is the epitome of good dialogue. That said, some other great stuff:
The casting - Jeff Daniels! Emily Mortimer! Allison Pill! John Gallagher Jr! Dev Patel!
The inklings of romance to come. Especially John Gallagher Jr’s Jim Harper. God I’m a sap.
Did I mention the dialogue?
Will McAvoy: Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you nonetheless are without a doubt a member of the worst, period, generation, period, ever, period. So when you ask what makes us the greates country in the world I don’t what the fuck you’re talking about. Yosemite?