Disclaimer: normally I would wait until the end of a season before reviewing a show, but in this case I felt an exception was called for. As such, no M&Ms will be awarded – and I also reserve the right to change my view, should I continue until the end of the season…
Anyone who has spent any time at all discussing TV with me will know that I am almost evangelical about all things Aaron Sorkin. Who is Aaron Sorkin some of you ask? If you are asking that, you need to immediately get hold of Season 1 of The West Wing, Season 1 (and criminally only) of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and the film The Social Network. All three were written and (in the case of the first two) created by Aaron Sorkin who – in my view anyway – is one of the best wordsmiths currently working in the English language anywhere. He is famous for inventing the ‘walk and talk’ dialogue – conversations held in corridors while walking to a meeting by people with an intellect that enables them to both walk fast and talk fast at the same time. In the contexts in which he has worked in TV so far – sports journalism, politics and sketch comedy – this has suited the environment nicely and been a pleasure to behold.
His latest venture is The Newsroom, currently screening on Soho. Suffice to say, given my worshipping at the altar of Sorkin, I seriously considered getting a Sky subscription JUST so I could watch it. But, I have to say – and this will shock many of you – having watched three episodes, I am glad I didn’t bother.
I know, I know. Am I seriously about to say that I don’t like something Aaron Sorkin has created and written??? Yes, I am as shocked as you are. But yes, I am. I just don’t like it. And I should like it – and not just because it is Sorkin. In principle, I love the message he is trying to get across. The Newsroom is about an evening news show whose protagonists decide that – ratings be damned – they are going to cover the real news stories, the ones that matter, rather than just the ones people think they want to see (like Justin Beiber vomiting or a Kardashian’s marriage exploding). They are going to do in-depth coverage of the stories that matter – in an effort to create an informed electorate. I could not agree more with what they are trying to do here and how I so wish – as I did with Jed Bartlett’s Whitehouse – that such a thing was happening in the real world.
But, the execution here just isn’t working. Sure, the dialogue is still whip-smart and brilliantly paced. And the cast is fantastic. He has a great combo of veteran actors and young guns who are set to become stars. But, and it is a massive but, it just is not fun to watch. But hey, you object, didn’t I just say that the news should show what we need to see not what we want to see? Yes, I did. But this isn’t the news. This is a show about the news. And if he wants us to buy into his message – which he has proven before he can do so well – then he has to make it fun to watch. It is like cough mixture at this point – we know it is good for us but it tastes gross. He needs to add the sugary goodness that makes the message go down easier.
The main issues I have with the show – again after only three episodes so maybe it gets better – are three fold. 1. Too much yelling. Sure, there was yelling in his other shows, but he saved it up for when it really mattered. Here it is ALL THE TIME and about things that don’t really matter. Being an anti-conflict kinda gal, I just could do without all the agro. I get the feeling Sorkin is so angry about the state of broadcast journalism that he is venting via his characters. It doesn’t make for fun watching. 2. No decent female characters. Sorkin can write women really well – CJ Cregg (The West Wing) and Jordan McDeere (Studio 60) are two of my all-time favourite on-screen females. But here he just hasn’t nailed it. Mackenzie MacHale, played by Brit Emily Mortimer, is meant to be an experienced and battle-hardened globe-trotting reporter, but is brought to her knees dealing with ex-flame – and now colleague – Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). And I had high hopes that Alison Pill’s Maggie would be one of those characters you get to see gain confidence and ability as she climbed up the rungs of the journalism ladder – but instead she is a sappy young girl that appears to be there solely as a love interest for Jim Harper (incidentally, the only character I really care about so far). Come on Aaron, you can do better with your females. 3. It isn’t funny. Credit must be given to someone who can make the hum drum and complex world of American politics utterly hilarious at times. The West Wing contains some of the funniest lines and sequences I have ever seen on the big or small screen. Same goes for Studio Sixty. But in three episodes I think have laughed maybe twice. Like I said, he needs to make the cough mixture go down more easily – and god knows there is laughter to be found in a broadcast newsroom.
From what I hear The Newsroom has been rating ok but been hammered by the critics, for many of the reasons I listed above. I really hope that maybe he can pull it out of the bag and improve it in Season 2, as I think the premise has real potential. In the meantime though, I will go back to re-watching, for the gazillionth time, The West Wing. And for those of you who have never seen an episode – THAT is a 5 multi-coloured M&M watch without a shadow of a doubt (and by the way – if you want to watch a quality drama about broadcast journalism – British show The Hour is utterly fantastic).