The Newsroom

Before I actually talk about HBO's newest hit the Newsroom, I need to confess that I am not an Aaron Sorkin fan. It's not that I dislike him or his work, I'm just not one of the legions of worshipers who rave about his rapid-fire dialogue and his sharp insight. As an actress working in the Baltimore/Washington corridor I'm biased towards creators who film in the area. David Simon kept people working for years with projects like the Wire and Barry Levinson was the creator of the first feature film I worked on, Liberty Heights. When the West Wing was being shot it was filmed elsewhere and came to town once a year to do a marathon filming session, running all of the extras ragged. It was also on during one of my long periods of no television watching, so I never saw it. The Facebook movie sounded like an exercise in torture, so the Newsroom is my first exposure to Aaron Sorkin. How did it go? The first time I tried to watch the pilot I turned it off after eleven minutes.

The Newsroom is based on the idea that our current incarnation of the nightly news is vastly in need of improvement. If you haven't seen the inciting speech that sends anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) from complacency to panic, you can actually read it here in this GQ piece. http://www.gq.com/entertainment/tv/blogs/the-stream/2012/06/how-to-write... There's a lot going on there and some of it definitely rubbed me the wrong way. He was cruel to the woman who asked him the question, who is obviously nervous. She's a college student and stumbles over her phrasing, a sure sign that she is nervous as heck. As far as I know McAvoy's stats are correct (although I have no idea why Sorkin says his knowledge of them makes him exceptional; it's his job to know this kind of stuff. When I was working for a mortgage newspaper I could reel off facts and figures also, and I wasn't even the one writing them) so I have no quibble with them. We are doing terribly on a global scale in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to infant and maternal mortality. What I didn't like was what comes after the what's wrong part of his speech. (I also loathed the part where he tells the students in his audience that they are “are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period”.)

He goes into a typical rant of someone who longs for an age that never existed. Of someone who wishes they still lived in a time when their particular subset of culture was in control. Also he says that people used to be informed, when we live in a time where we have access to more information than ever before! And then he walks off the stage and pretends he doesn't know what he said, blaming it on vertigo medicine. UGH. The weasliness of not owning his words was the final straw to me. I turned off the show and let it fester for a few days. Then I watched it with a college student to see if I was being oversensitive to the worst generation comment. Once they had assured me that I was not we settled in and watched the rest of the show.

Will is already in big trouble because his spur of the moment speech spread like wildfire online. Then he discovers that most of his staff is leaving for a later news broadcast and his new EP is his ex-girlfriend, whose loss he has never quite gotten over. But enough about Will, who is not very likeable AND kind of boring.

Characters that shine in this series are Mackenzie MacHale (Mac), beautifully played by Emily Mortimer, Jim Harper, played by John Gallagher Jr., Maggie Jordan, played by Alison Pill and my favorite, Neal Sampat played by Dev Patel. Mac is the aforementioned ex of Will and the soul and conscience of the show. Jim is her number two, freshly back from covering war zones with her. Maggie is idealistic and a little insecure. She is dating the previous EP,whose name escapes me, and as the pilot begins she is Will's assistant, but only because he forgot she was an intern and called her his assistant. (He also doesn't know her name, or indeed most of the employees' names. In an awful racist moment he calls Neal Punjab, which made me cringe and hide under my pillow.) Neal writes Will's blog and is extremely sharp and on top of everything. He seems to be the repository of information in the newsroom. He is the only one who can explain the new email system and he is the one to realize the importance of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. It's no secret that I'm a longtime fan of Dev Patel's. I've loved his work since I saw him in the UK version of Skins. He shines in the Newsroom, even when he is just background. His reactions to the other characters are hilarious. I'm also very taken by the performances of the others I just mentioned. Emily Mortimer is fantastic as Mac, a role I imagine must be challenging, and not just because of all the walk and talks and the fast dialogue. She has some very sexist lines and she spends much of the second episode trying to convince everyone Will is a great guy, in the face of tons of evidence that says the exact opposite.

Also fabulous, as if there would be any doubt, is Sam Waterston as Will's boss Charlie Skinner. He is adorable, charismatic and hugely funny. He makes watching this show worthwhile even if there were nothing else redeeming about it. But there is. So for now I will tune in. Maybe Will will experience a revelation and stop screaming and scaring his employees, hollering at students and generally being a sexist, racist and ageist curmudgeon. I hope.

You can watch the first episode for free here: http://youtu.be/1U4ZhFDFYvE

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a short animation based on one of Kate Beaton's comics, namely Brown Recluse Spider-Man. The original comics are here: http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=308 and the animated version is here: http://beatonna.tumblr.com/post/26559073611/so-great-sketchamagowza-brow.... It is in fact as awesome as it sounds.