I admit, for the first few episodes of HBO’s The Newsroom, I was hate-watching. I searched for nits to pick—not that Aaron Sorkin made it particularly difficult—and was reluctant to accept any merits the series might have held. The fourth episode, however, made it abundantly clear that Sorkin’s newest creation is nearly devoid of value.
The episode opens with a New Year’s Eve party in the ACN studios, where Will is curmudgeonly sitting in the dark, wearing a tuxedo and desperately waiting to explain his attire to innocent passersby. In the events of the party, our beloved Neal shifts from Sasquatch-touting nerd (the first sign of the Sorkpocalypse is when a character tries for an entire episode to run a story about Bigfoot) to an ass-pointing bro in a single, fluid motion; Don sets up Jim with Maggie’s less-than-virtuous roommate Lisa, and Will receives his first of many alcohol showers. All this happens while the viewer wonders what the hell everyone’s doing at an office party on New Year’s Eve.
This first act of the episode steps away from the news broadcasts entirely to focus on the personal storylines of the individual characters (MacKenzie still carries a torch for Will and vice versa, and so on). After a good deal of meandering through Will’s personal life, it becomes clear that there is no point to any of these character arcs. Admittedly, four episodes is a small sample size, but there have been no hooks to draw viewers in. The love triangle between Maggie, Jim and Don (technically a love rhombus with the addition of Lisa) is the most compelling aspect of the series to this point, and it falls flat in large part because Alison Pill’s Maggie is a one-dimensional character with no life outside of her self-deception regarding the aforementioned rhombus. At some point, all this character stagnation begins to feel masturbatory, which is a good way to describe the entire series.
Sorkin’s intention with this show was, presumably, to show us the error of our ways and to promote the notion of national broadcast news that doesn’t whore itself to ratings and special interests. That’s sweet of him, but the execution in his pseudo-reality is fraught with problems as it is. Primarily, The Newsroom preaches to the choir. The content of each episode is so antithetical to the political groups it criticizes that it cannot reach them. That is to say, the success of conservative media misdirection is not derived from logic; as a result, you cannot combat the misdirection with logic.
Explaining that media personalities can be deceptive is insulting to a viewer that already knows and accepts these facts. The idea that broadcast news can be saved neglects the fact that there are other news outlets that are reliable. Beyond this, it appears Sorkin himself doesn’t have a firm grasp on what News Night 2.0 would look like. Within “I’ll Try to Fix You,” McAvoy bounces between Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart in his broadcast style.
As dysfunctional as News Night’s broadcast is, the office is even more so. Maggie continues to be unreasonably unprofessional with her witty barbs, and various characters engage in shouting matches in the middle of the office as though this were something that happens with regularity. This behavior is not relatable. It flies past melodrama, and when it finally lands, it teeters on the edge of the absurd.
The ultimate insult, however, comes in the episode’s closing minutes. Amid all the personal battles and Neal’s Bigfoot Overture, Maggie notices a news alert that Gabrielle Giffords has been shot. What follows is not a panicked news team rushing to break news but Sorkin’s disgusting attempt to milk a real-life tragedy for an emotional climax to his show. The overwrought score swells as the ice water in McAvoy’s veins melts, tears roll down cheeks, and everyone feels united in the end. One notable moment in this sequence is when MacKenzie et al refuse to follow other major networks in declaring Giffords dead. This should have been trumpeted as solid journalism—not relying on an unreliable source of information—but the concept gets buried in the over-the-top pathos of the scene.
Aaron Sorkin finally gave us a reason to really hate The Newsroom.