Last night featured the premiere of Aaron Sorkin’s new show: The Newsroom. Jeff Daniels as a disillusioned Brian Williams may not be a big draw on paper, but this series from the mind of an Academy Award-winning writer has been heavily anticipated in the entertainment community for a while now which is why this is on our radar today. Earlier reviews said things like this was Sports Night with hardcore journalism and ultimately it is not unique enough to warrant any accolades, so let’s take a look what happened and whether that assessment is a valid one.
The pilot episode opened with Jeff Daniel’s Will McAvoy sitting in on a panel discussion about the state of our country. For whatever reason his character is there even though it is pretty well established he has nothing extraordinary to say other than witty comments to get around the tough questions. We buy into it though because after all, this is a new HBO series that could be the talk of tomorrow. It is at the end of that particular scene where the tone of the program is established when McAvoy finally speaks his mind and in doing so, shocks the audience.
This is the type of character breakthrough that is typically a season’s worth of development, and the audience tuning into The Newsroom gets it right off the bat which is not exactly a smooth move. Sorkin understood that you have to bring something gripping to the table initially in order to draw in audiences; however, there could have been other options that did not necessarily jeopardize the very notion of meaningful actions in this drama right off the bat.
That in itself was not necessarily bad, but then the show abruptly transitioned to some heavy behind-the-news politicking. Even though Jeff Daniels nailed the role, it felt like some of the characters were acting above the story particularly in a scene where McAvoy finds out that his staff jumped ship to another program. This moved onto a scene where he one-on-one’d with Sam Waterston’s Charlie Skinner and found out his new executive producer was Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) which sends McAvoy to his agent’s office to find out why he did not have approval.
At this point, some B-plot unfolds introducing MacHale as this comforting figure for Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill.) The character development of the EP was surprisingly well done in this sequence, and it certainly went a long way in helping to sell the conflict that existed between her and McAvoy–something critical for the follow-up scene in which the two finally meet up. That particular event kicked off by revealing that Daniel’s character had his contract changed to give him the ability to fire MacHale at the end of every week should he choose. This is definitely a great scenario that heats up the relationship even more, and it proves to be the primary draw of the first half of The Newsroom’s debut.
Up until that portion of the episode, everything was pretty much designed to introduce viewers to the show. Beyond that came some actual news in that the BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The audience is then treated to some behind-the-scenes insight as to what makes news a big deal which is oddly kind of cool for the news junkies among us. During all this, sidebar characters were debating whether or not it was newsworthy enough to tell McAvoy about the event while acknowledging their rapidly changing work environment. Long story short, the new Senior Executive Producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) breaks the news himself to McAvoy and in doing so proved his worth by going against Don (Thomas Sadoski.) Not only is this exciting, but it is also surprisingly fun to watch even though it seems to be yet another forced conflict in the show.
The premiere concluded with everyone coming together in order to deliver the news despite all the beef between one another. This played very well, but really did not add anything to the show’s core story which could ultimately prove to be a problem as the season progresses if these sequences fight for screen time with the handful of characters we currently know next to nothing about.
That said, I actually enjoyed the show because it is not the formulaic cup of serialized drama that we are used to seeing on television. I am eager to see more, and while I see flawed circumstances that could negatively impact the show’s flow down the road, The Newsroom is definitely way better than the reviews have suggested thus far. While it is too early to hand out the Emmy’s just yet, it would be a shame if Daniels gets snubbed should he continue to perform at this level.
This show is a solid ‘B.’ It is not must see, but The Newsroom definitely deserves a spot at the HBO table.