What makes America the greatest country in the world?
It’s a question that angers jaded news anchorman Will McAvoy into a sermon against “THE.WORST.EVER” generation America has ever produced. Some articulate and smart points are made. There are figures to back it up and everything. It’s a speech that evokes Sidney Lumet’s satirical masterpiece Network and Sorkin’s last show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip where Judd Hirsch similarly got mad at society and preached some truths they needed to hear.
It can always be problematic to quote something as clearly superior as Network but hey most people in this generation probably haven’t heard of it. They’re all too busy playing on Facebook and texting. Damn kids.
Then comes the title sequence. The best of these perfectly combine music and images to evoke the spirit of the show. With the opening bars, you should know exactly where you are. The Newsroom’s music is soft piano punctuated with strings. It’s drippy and sentimental and vaguely patriotic like the Captain America theme. It needs to be more urgent and immediate and evoke News. The images are quite pretty with televisual lines and images from news days past contrasted with slightly shaky cam images of the cast which also seem strangely at odds.
This is Sorkin’s third attempt at a show set behind the scenes in television. Most will be familiar with Studio 60, a show that flopped, even on NBC, and was unfavourably compared to the similarly themed 30 Rock. People complained that Sorkin wanted to talk about politics too much on a show about a comedy show. That’s a criticism many people will level at the former West Wing writer. He uses his shows as a mouthpiece for his own views without sharing the other side of the debate.
Isn’t that awful? He’s a writer who actually has something to say and uses a platform to say it. For shame. Can’t we have another police procedural with a wisecracking detective?
The first version of this format was Sports Night, a show about sports news and perhaps Sorkin’s best work featuring a wonderful cast including Peter Krause and Felicity Huffman. It was oddly hamstrung with a laugh track for a few episodes but became a nuanced and beautifully crafted piece of art.
So to characters, you could easily look at this show on its own merit but where’s the fun it that? Sorkin has archetypes. You could easily find ciphers for this group in most his other shows but he also works with some fine actors who imbue them with sparkle.
Jeff Daniels is a mostly unlikable lead, but he exists purely to be redeemed. Emily Mortimer brightens up the screen as soon as she appears as Will’s new executive producer and former lover Mackenzie MacHale but these leads should share screen time long before the half way point in the episode. Sam Waterston is the wise old head of news who will no doubt dispense prescient wisdom at every opportunity. The young people, Dev Patel, Alison Pill and John Gallagher Jr. are all likable but need fleshed out a bit more. But in this beautiful land of TV there is time to do that.
The plot is a “let’s get the band together” deal and all revolves around a series of coincidences with a rather familiar sounding oil spill. In adversity this argumentative group of people learn that they can work together and report great news. There are lots of characters meeting for the first time and that’s a reasonable way to introduce the characters to the viewers, but perhaps at odds with the proclamation that they believe television audiences are intelligent.
It’s a show that improves with each act act and with the characters, ground rules and the relationships established, there is enough to invest in and see how Sorkin develops his opening mission statement and makes America great again.