If you are not aware of Aaron Sorkin you might be aware of line “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” from A Few Good Men. He was also behind the screenplays for American President and recently The Social Network. His last TV series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip ultimately lost to 30 Rock. The West Wing on the other hand ran for 7 seasons. It’s impressive for a show about senior staffers at the White House. Sorkin’s latest series The Newsroom works with a TV production setting much more suited for the social commentary filled stories Sorkin writes.
The Newsroom centers around the production staff of News Night the eight o’clock program on cable news channel ACN (Atlantis Cable News). A keen eye will notice ACN’s New York based studios is in the Bank of America Tower on Avenue of the Americas by Bryant Park. It starts off in the recent past of two years ago and touches many of the major news stories that occurred. The ensemble cast has to navigate putting on news program the nation
The series starts with News Night’s normally non confrontational anchor Will McAvoy during a panel at a journalism collage seminar tired of the answers being giving by his dueling co- panelists delivers a shows stopping rant on why America isn’t as great as everyone thinks it is. Three weeks later after a forced vacation Will comes back into work and after walking across the office realizes most of his staff isn’t there. Most of his staff has been snagged by the executive producer who’s moving to run the 10 o’clock show for its new anchor. Will’s boss Charlie Skinner took advantage of the shake up to hire MacKenzie “Mac” McHale as News Night’s new EP. Mac and Will used to date and Will’s been a pain in the ass to work with since they broke up three years ago. Somehow they come together to do a news program that the Daily Show be hard pressed to mine for cable news stupidity.
First off news room in many ways resembles the other shows Sorkin has done. If you can’t stomach being lectured at and being told what’s flawed in politics and cable news. A good test is Will’s rant in the prologue of the first episode. ( http://yamiangie.tumblr.com/post/29223479820/kattybats-cc-and-ash-inminiskirts ) It’s well known at this point that Sorkin writes dialogue heavy shows not all of it is political arguments. The ensemble cast has their share of personal issues and strange interests.
Will played by Jeff Daniels is a wonderfully flawed character. It’s mentioned on his first day back from vacation that he’s about liked as John Adams in the musical 1776. It’s the real reason most of his staff jumped ship to the ten o’clock show. He’s so out of touch with his staff that he didn’t realize this show had a blog. He tries to do better with the staff of what becomes Newsroom 2.0 where he starts to lean people’s names. Will has issues which he doesn’t actually know how to or want to deal with, he was paying his therapist and regularly not going to appointments. While he spent the time before the series doing his best to not take a political stand Will sees himself as a moderate Republican. After being neutral for so long the rest of the media world seems to have a hard time believing it especially when he starts attacking the Tea Party.
“Mac” McHale (Emily Mortimer) is News Night’s EP and notability Will’s ex. Prior to the series she was reporting in the Middle East. She’s an excellent EP but rather idealistic, she believes that in a democracy the electorate (the voters) needs to be well informed. That on the matter of the issues there should be a dialog where the politicians should be held responsible for all the outright nonsense they are constantly spurting. The reaction Will has to her coming back to right the ship is not unlike Josh Lyman and Mandy Hampton in the first season of the West Wing. Unlike Mandy and Josh I can believe Mac and Will dated and were in love. Mac comes off as personable; Mandy came off as a bitch. Mac pushes Will to use his natural talents (he used to be a lawyer) to be the news anchor that asks the hard questions.
Margaret “Maggie” Jordan (Alison Pill) was an intern at the old News Night who is promoted to associate producer when she tells Mac she wasn’t leaving with the old EP Don to 11 o’clock. She’s insecure but she is passionate about the show. It’s hard not to see her as a younger version of Donna from The West Wing, although Mac compares Maggie to herself when she was starting out.
Don Keefer the EP who took off to run the 11 o’clock show. He and Will are strikingly similar in that they are both dedicated to doing their job and don’t like being disrespected. He’s clearly annoyed by others telling him how to do his job or preventing him from doing it. He’s in a rather rocky relationship with Maggie.
Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) worked with Mac in the Middle East and is now News Night’s senior producer. He’s a standard nice guy. He with Don and Maggie form a love triangle and sometimes quadrilateral as situations toss Maggie’s roommate Lisa into the mix. Maggie wants Lisa to date a decent guy while it’s very clear she and Jim would be good together. He’s level headed and works great off of Maggie when she starts arguing with him. The way Maggie and Jim go back and forth is reminiscent of The West Wing’s Josh and Donna.
Neil Sampat (Dev Patel) writes Will’s News Night blog and is the one that tracks what’s being said by online publications. He’s the first one on staff to see the low level event of an oil rig exploding in the Gulf of Mexico would be more serious than Don thinks. He got his start in journalism when he was caught in the London subway bombings and starting recording what he saw on his cell phone.
Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith proves she’s more than an attractive woman that she should get rid of that cosplay picture on her Wikipedia page. She is ACN’s financial reporter. Sloan’s character is extremely entertaining. She’s extremely intelligent when it comes to the economy, some other topics like mingling at parties not so much. She wants what she’s reported to be hear and if therefore touchy about how she’s attractive.
The true mastermind behind the transformation of News Night is Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) the head of ACN news division. He’s Will biggest supporter and is more than happy for Will to be off his leash. He even slips Will the information on the Tea party that ultimately makes ACN’s Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) owner unhappy when it potently jeopardizes their standing with incoming republican leaders. Like with Will being a Republican most are skeptical when he states the direction News Night has taken. It likely doesn’t help that Charlie is known to drink and his normally easy going personality.
One of the major themes The Newsroom is loyalty. A big part of this season is why Will has still hasn’t forgiven Mac for their brake up and keeps trying to torture her. Despite that both are ultimately dedicated to doing a news program with integrity. Despite whatever problem the staff is dealing with after a bad night they ultimately buckle down and do the job they were hired to do. In at least two instances they have the digression to wait for proper confirmation from verified sources than just jump on the bandwagon of reporting something because the other channels are.
The writing is as always in a Sorkin production a mix of serious conversations, arguments, and things that are just funny in hindsight later in an episode. Will seems to make an off handed comment that sounds like he’s making it up but ends up being true. Sorkin’s strong point is coming up with strong ensemble cast that can handle being the main driving force in an episodes plot. It doesn’t get boring when the story shifts someone like Neal or Sloan. Knowing the outcome of many of the events they cover also never takes away from how engaging the show is. Finally since the show is on HBO be forewarned that there will be cursing.