Published on June 15th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
The Newsroom – Season One 
Summary: The show's first season proves a bit underwhelming in a series that has loads of potential. It's obvious Sorkin wants to do something groundbreaking but resorts to many worn-out devices.
Original Air Date: June 24, 2012 – August 26, 2012
Network: HBO | Creator: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn, John Gallagher, Jr.
The sophomore season of HBO’s media-minded drama The Newsroom will premiere next month, but before the Avid bay gets to whirring again, let’s take a look back at the show’s debut run.
Its plot focuses on cable’s second-highest rated news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and the workaholic staff of his program “News Night” on the fictional Atlantis Cable News network. Most of the episodes are played out in the ACN newsroom, which is as frenzied as the New York Stock Exchange and serves as a second home to most of the show’s characters. As McAvoy and his team pick apart actual news stories from the previous year’s headlines in prepping and executing their nightly show-within-the-show, their personal lives also play out including massive amounts of office romance drama and ex-lover problems.
You’ll notice right from the opening credits that this show is full of more recognizable acting talent than most HBO fare. Daniels joins Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bill Paxton, and Steve Buscemi as probably the biggest stars to ever lead a series on the network–typically they’ve made stars out of no-name actors rather than using big-time talent to push new shows. He’s supported by other noted actors like Sam Waterston, Emily Mortimer, Jane Fonda, and even Terry Crewes (yep, Cheeseburger Eddy has finally broken into high-brow television drama!). Also, Dev Patel finally found another gig after breaking out in 2008’s Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire, and he’s a strong point of the show. The Newsroom is certainly not just a parade of stars though, the large cast is peppered with unknown performers like Alison Pill and John Gallagher, Jr., who undoubtedly provide the show’s heart.
Creator Aaron Sorkin has made a career of bringing out the underlying nerddom in everything from politics to baseball to web programming (not that he needed much help there). Here, he turns his attention once again to the business of television, the center of his NBC flop Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Using the freedom that HBO offers a writer of his acclaim, The Newsroom at times carries a predictably liberal-biased slant on current events–but in its best moments serves as an honest critique of television news presentation and journalism at-large. There are thought-provoking scenes where the “News Night” producers are picking apart flaws of real programs, such as when bulldog executive producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) breaks down Nancy Grace’s coverage of the Casey Anthony trial, proving how content-devoid it was.
As someone who works in news and has a love for television criticism, these scenes are what get me most excited about The Newsroom, because like Sidney Lumet’s Network did in 1976, this show aims to make us more aware of how a message is presented on the tube. However, I realize the show can’t simply exist as a one-hour critique of broadcasting, or it would be titled Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz–bringing me to its side plots. If asked to compare The Newsroom to another series, I would obviously point to Sorkin’s The West Wing as a stylistic twin, but from a storyline and character standpoint I would align it closer to The Office. This show falls directly into the category of “Office Drama”, as most of the show’s action takes place in the workplace and among co-workers.
A pair of romantic storylines play out in the first season, among exes McAvoy and his executive producer MacKenzie McHale (the names on this show either make me want a Big Mac or a Guinness…probably both) and young producers Jim (Gallagher, Jr.) and Maggie (Pill). The latter pair’s constant stream of missed-connections is one example of an overused plot device that would fit more on a network sitcom than in an ambitious HBO drama. While watching Jim & Maggie’s storyline unfold over the season’s twelve episodes, I was constantly reminded of The Office‘s early season as audiences begged for Jim & Pam to get together–with even the male characters’ names being eerily similar, Jim Harper and Jim Halpert. Another glaring weakness I noticed in The Newsroom is that its characters seemed to be very flat and without any real flaws–so you’re left with a cast full of “good guys” with the lone exception being a ratings-hungry stuffed shirt executive archetype played by Chris Messina and a gossip magazine columnist played by Hope Davis, who’s plot will certainly carry over to season two.
No show has ever been perfected in its first season, Seinfeld featured zany ‘Clare the waitress’ as its female lead until Elaine was written in and even The Sopranos didn’t achieve its signature dramatic tone in its first 13 episodes–and I hope the same will be true for The Newsroom. The show is over-written at times, with dramatic moments rarely having a chance to land due to the constant stream of dialogue spewing forth in every episode. It wouldn’t kill Sorkin (who wrote or co-wrote each episode) to provide his actors with a beat every now and then, it would also give the audience a chance to catch their breath amid the barrage of smart-sounding talk. Undoubtedly the series is still figuring out its overall direction but my main concern is that, like its main character, The Newsroom can’t tell if it wants to “feed [viewers] their vegetables” while being innovative or if it simply wants to be well-liked by a large audience with familiar, played-out storylines.
I’ll be tuning in for season two, especially anticipating the show’s coverage of stories like the 2012 presidential election, Muammar Gaddafi’s death, and Occupy Wall Street. I’m also excited to see if another antagonist develops or the show continues to use members of the Tea Party as its bad guys. The Newsroom has a ton of potential thanks to a talented cast and a workhorse writer/creator who’s been given a long leash from HBO–it will be a shame if it doesn’t live up to it. One thing’s for sure though, the stories behind the scenes at “News Night” are what will ensure the show has a 5+ season run or dies a quick death.
Also, I feel like nothing interesting must ever happen on “The Capitol Report”. Poor Terry Smith…