The Newsroom is at once a high-minded critique of what television news divisions have become (ratings-obsessed entities more concerned with the bottom line than with “speaking truth to stupid,” as one character puts it) and a wit-infused comedic drama with myriad romantic subplots (most of which come off as clunky rip-offs of the one that anchored James L. Brooks’ far more successful Broadcast News). Like his script for The American President and his guidance of the much-beloved TV series The West Wing, The Newsroom is creator Aaron Sorkin’s latest attempt to create the world as he believes it should be, a heightened place where smart people talk in full, overly articulate sentences rarely witnessed in real life.
The Newsroom centers on the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) and its high-paid anchor of News Night, Will McAvoy (a stellar Jeff Daniels). The series’ opening scene is a call to arms of sorts: In response to a seemingly innocuous question during a media panel at Northwestern University, McAvoy delivers an unexpected, uniquely Sorkinian rant about America’s decline, which is seemingly spurred on by the visage of his ex-girlfriend and fellow journalist MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), whom he thinks he sees in the crowd. And, sure enough, a few scenes later Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), ACN’s news division president, attempts to wrestle McAvoy out of his long professional slumber (he’s known as the Jay Leno of newsmen) by bringing McHale on as News Night’s new executive producer. McAvoy is not exactly thrilled with the development — she cheated on him some years earlier — kick-starting a tension-riddled, love-hate relationship that Sorkin milks for the entire season.
Yet for all its focus on interoffice personal relations, The Newsroom’s central conceit is that it’s set in the recent past, which allows Sorkin and his fake news network to take on real news events (from the BP oil spill to the death Osama Bin Laden) with the benefit of hindsight — a tactic that’s both infuriating and fascinating. Grade: B