Monday night I eagerly anticipated the season premiere of The Newsroom, an HBO series by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin has always delivered high quality material from the acclaimed West Wing to the smash hit movie about Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network.
Like his previous works, The Newsroom was sharp, quick witted, and intelligent. Jeff Daniels stars as Will McAvoy, a jaded news anchor who is forced to work with an old flame, Mackenzie MacHale, played by Emily Mortimer. As the show opens, Daniels is burnt out and co-opted. He has given up trying to deliver hard, real stories that matter. But as he sits on a college panel, trying not to divulge his personal thoughts and opinions about the state of the country, he sees Mackenzie in the audience holding a sign about America intimating that it was once a great country; it’s not now but it can be again. This provokes Will to announce exactly where America stands in terms of literacy, infant mortality, and other important indexes that constitute success. From there on, working with his old love, whom he bitterly resents because she obviously hurt him deeply, enables him to emerge as a noble newscaster and semi-decent guy.
The show would have been perfect – great acting, perfect combination of drama and comic elements, informative yet not preachy – but it used real material. The first episode was all about the BP oil spill. Sorry, but I followed that catastrophe day by day when it occurred in 2010. I don’t want to go through a blow-by-blow description again. Will next week’s episode be about the spill? Or will we move on to some other old news like the Haitian earthquake or the terrible plight of the trapped Chilean miners?
I don’t want to revisit old news. The Newsroom would have been better off creating its own fictional news stories. That’s what made the West Wing such a success. The show began with a similar theme of a president who had almost given up and was spending much of his time just pleasing his constituency – or attempting to please them. Then he finally developed a backbone and started promoting policies he really believed in. But, West Wing had more creativity. They came up with their own potential foreign and domestic crises. The Newsroom seems to be relying on analyzing events that have already occurred: a bit lazy.
Does that mean that The Newsroom is not worth watching? Not at all. I’ll tune in next week and the week after, hoping for a bit more imagination from an otherwise good production.