There’s a moment in the tirade of debates in HBO’s The Newsroom where Jeff Daniels as ACN news anchor Will McAvoy debates whether it’s possible to offer a credible news service and still attract populist ratings.
He’s not convinced the two are achievable (has he been speaking to George Negus?). But it’s one of the more interesting observations in Aaron Sorkin’s new drama on the media, society and America’s morality.
McAvoy is about as unlikeable as they come. His staff are fleeing to a new show and he’s just gone viral because he mouthed off that America isn’t the greatest country on Earth. But he’s also very good at his job: telling stories, asking questions, getting on his soapbox and creating buzz.
ACN news division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) has hired a new executive producer for McAvoy, MacKenzie “Mac” McHale (Emily Mortimer). She may be the best in the biz, but she’s also Will’s ex-girlfriend. She yearns for more creditable news and constantly locks horns with McAvoy on editorial.
She brings an impressive young producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), who was embedded in Afghanistan with her. Other office staff include intern / personal assistant Margaret “Maggie” Jordan (Alison Pill), former producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) and social media expert Neal Sampat (Dev Patel).
On the night when McHale is trying to fight for her job with McAvoy a major news story breaks. It’s a chance for McHale and Harper to show what they are made of (to be more specific would spoil the fun).
There are flashes of Network in McAvoy’s “mad as hell” persona. But The Newsroom is also a fascinating anatomy of personality-driven news. Daniels is on fire as the ANC anchor, whilst Mortimer impresses as the career-driven producer.
Despite some razor-sharp performances, The Newsroom is less than perfect. Sorkin can’t help but overwrite the dialogue, with rapid-fire propaganda pieces. Save for Sam Waterson’s crusty news boss, nearly all of the characters sound the same. It’s an exhausting assault on your senses.
Few of the characters are likeable, which is pretty necessary for series television.
Yet there are plenty of moments of brilliance and satire that make it all so worthwhile and there is enormous potential to challenge American media.
Sure it’s uneven. Yet you can’t help but admire what Sorkin is hoping to achieve here and it is easy to cheer him on from the couch.
The Newsroom premieres 8:30pm Monday on SoHo.