I’ve been quite busy over the last couple of months with work to the point where I haven’t really watched too much TV or been to many films.
So regular readers of my blog who aren’t interested in Doctor Who have been left with little to read.
However, over the past few days I’ve finally taken the time to watch a show that I’ve been meaning to see – The Newsroom.
It’s an HBO show from the pen of West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin.
I loved the West Wing as – in its prime – it was probably the slickest written TV show I’ve ever seen. The pace, dialogue and characterisation was as first class as first class gets, and the blend of humour (without being ‘comedic’) and seriousness was in a league of its own.
The show ended at the right time, and since then Sorkin has worked on one relatively disappointing show (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), one film I haven’t seen (Charlie Wilson’s War) and two that I have and enjoyed very much (The Social Network and Moneyball).
So now he’s back and in charge of The Newsroom – a show about the running of a *gasp* network television newsroom. It’s
What’s It About?
America’s second most popular TV news anchor has become stale in that he has stopped trying. His popularity stems from him never offering an opinion on anything or asking any serious investigative questions. At the very start of the first season he has a bit of a breakdown when asked at a University Q&A night why the USA is the best country in the world, and when he gets back to work after a couple of weeks off he finds that his staff have mostly left him and his new EP is his ex, with whom he had a bad breakup a few years earlier.
And to cut a long story short, the two of them decide to revolutionise TV News coverage by ‘telling the truth’, covering what they consider to be the most worthwhile news stories and doing it without worrying about what their corporate bosses think.
In amongst all of that there’s a lot of time devoted to the relationships between the people who work in the department.
So really, it’s The West Wing in a newsroom.
Oh, but there’s a twist. This show is set in the recent past, so the news they cover is real news. So there are episodes that deal with stuff like Bin Laden’s death and the Arab Spring.
I see this as a divisive show, and I’ll tell you why.
First, there will be people who will shout from the rooftops that this is TV for clever people only, and that thick people shouldn’t bother, because they just won’t ‘get it’.
Meanwhile, other people will take the view that this show is trying so hard to be clever that it’s up its own arse, and that people shouldn’t bother with it.
Then you’ve got the political side to things.
There will be staunch Republicans in the USA who will deem this as far too Liberal and negative towards them, while Liberal people will think it’s great and that someone is speaking up for their beliefs.
I can see all of these points.
I can understand that this show is more high-brow than the likes of the Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of Wherever, and I can see that it’s written knowing that is the case. I get it. I understand the slickness of the writing and the subtlety of some of the jokes means that it will go over certain people’s heads. I also get that the content of the show will be alien to the sort of person who thinks ‘Spartacus: Blood & Sand’ is high-brow entertainment or the types who – worryingly – don’t realise that the Titanic was a real ship or that the universe didn’t start 2012 years ago.
I wouldn’t say you have to be ‘clever’ to get it, but I can see the sort of person who doesn’t even have a basic knowledge of politics or the news being rather lost. And I can also appreciate that it is very much written knowing that that’s the case, but despite that I don’t think it’s elitist. If it is elitist then so are loads of shows, including the news itself. It seems to me there’s no way of doing a show like this without it being considered that way by some people.
As to the political argument, it is true to say the political leanings of Aaron Sorkin are so blatant that it would probably make it tough to watch for someone who disagrees with him.
But since I’m not from America, that’s not a problem for me.
So I like it. In fact I think it’s great.
The writing is slick, the humour is there – sometimes subtle, sometimes not – and most importantly of all, the scripts are exciting.
The gimmick of it being set in the recent past is a very novel concept, though I can see it being potentially problematic for the show going forward. It’s not that we won’t have a situation where there is no news, but the excitement of the show is to an extent tied up with what happens in the real world, and it’s sad that from a creative point of view, the best thing that could happen would be for something monumentally bad to happen in reality.
And I can’t see how they can even go off-reality with it either. By showing real news footage and having the real political figures identified as key to what goes on, it means that they can’t just change it to have some fictional presidential candidate or political figure as part of the on-going narrative in interviews or debates.
This hasn’t been a problem in the 10 episodes of season 1, but it could be a problem in the future; that’s all I’m saying.
But to get back to what the show is, it’s fair to say that it’s well acted with a likeable cast. Yes, it’s got the same basic figures from the West Wing. It’s got the Jed Bartlett-like wonderful central figure, the wise Leo McGarry type and the Josh & Donna style relationship going on, and while that’s not exactly a fresh approach, it’s fine because we loved in it the West Wing and we love it in this.
And I also have to commend the use of music. I often say in my Dr Who reviews that when used properly, incidental or montage music can be the difference between good and great. Watch Episode 4 of this show, enjoy the scene while Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ is played and tell me that wouldn’t have less impact without it.
Each episode of the Newsroom is an h0ur long or more. I’ve watched shows that are only 40 minutes where you feel like you’ve been watching for a whole year. Sometimes you watch a new programme and it takes a while to warm up, and you don’t really have any immediate urge to watch the next episode.
But I watched all 10+ hours of the Newsroom over the course of a weekend. It kept my attention, it made me want to watch more, and now that it’s finished, it makes me want it to be next June already.
Despite its flaws and despite what people might say it thinks it is, I think it’s excellent, and it’s well worth your time.
Watch it; you won’t regret it.