Aaron Sorkin definitely has his friends in the media, and that friendliness has never been more exposed than for the premiere of his HBO series The Newsroom, which airs tonight at 10PM. If I sound a bit cynical it might be because I seemed to be the only person that loathed Studio 60 prior to its debut, upon which it promptly tanked, despite the copious amounts of Sorkin worship that oozed from the mainstream prior to its release. Yes, Sorkin is a genius, but he also deserves the same amount of skepticism anyone else gets when they bring something ‘new’ to our screens. So that said, it’s not surprising to see that The Newsroom is the object of much critical admiration. Is it for real this time? Or are we staring down the barrel of another Studio 60?
The Newsroom essentially tells the story of the rise of a cable news political pundit, William McVoy (Jeff Daniels). By pundit I mean loud mouth, ala Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, you get the meaning I’m sure. At the same-time, it is an almost allegorical expose on the way these sorts of personalities passions are seized upon by their corporate masters to the point where you don’t know what is coming from the heart and mind of these talking heads, or what is coming from their production ‘handlers’.
In that aspect, it has some things in common with Studio 60 in that it is an effort to peek behind the curtain, but where Studio 60 did so in an almost pseudo-fantasy way, The Newsroom does so with a far grittier and realistic rhetoric.
My biggest concern going into The Newsroom was that it would be too heavy handed in its politics. Preachy, in other words. There are definitely lines of dialogue, particularly McVoy’s monologue on why the United States is not a great country anymore, that will affect the FOX news crowd differently than the MSNBC crowd, but the political aspects of the show are hardly meant as indoctrination. If anything, The Newsroom seems to be highlighting how difficult it might be to find true political bona fides on the idiot box, for all of the tuning of message and production that goes on behind the scenes. It’s also the story of a developing voice finding himself more and more boxed in as his influence grows.
It’s already been pointed out that The Newsroom is delivering essentially the same message as Network did in the mid-seventies, but perhaps that is part of what makes this show so important. For all of the evolution mankind has seen in the proliferation of information, we still find ourselves being spoon-fed a carefully concocted narrative through pundits that seem to be speaking from the heart, but are secretly reciting the talking points of faceless puppeteers. McVoy’s struggles are played for maximum dramatic effect, and Daniels gives a performance here that is career defining, but its the subtext of The Newsroom that is truly the star here. As it rolls on, we get the impression that Sorkin knows a few things we don’t, and we wait expectantly for his lessons. Clearly, Sorkin is as mad as hell, and he isn’t going to take it anymore.
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