After a noticeable three-year absence, Aaron Sorkin makes his long-awaited return to television with The Newsroom, a behind-the-scenes look at the fictional news network ACN, its onetime staple series “News Night,” and its host, the seemingly uncontroversial Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels).
Following an unexpected, emotionally-driven speech while appearing on a panel of political experts at Northwestern University, the career of McAvoy changes dramatically, as the subsequent weeks find his show in decline and much of his newsroom staff jumping the sinking ship.
Hopes were high that The Newsroom would become a “perfect storm” of sorts, taking the best elements of Sorkin’s past work to help create a new, original series on HBO. That being said, the series premiere of The Newsroom never felt as succinct as Sports Night, as earnest as The West Wing, or as honest as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Leading The Newsrooms’ eclectic cast of exceptional actors is Jeff Daniels, whose portrayal of the typically-sardonic Will McAvoy is, as expected, wonderful. Unsurprisingly, the same thing can be said about Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher, Jr., Allison Pill, Dev Patel, Thomas Sadoski and Sam Waterston. In the case of The Newsroom, it feels as if it’s the man, not “the machine,” wherein the problem lies.
Kicking of the premiere with a wonderfully-crafted monologue for Daniels, much of the premiere follows in suit. Coming in at just over 72 minutes, the almost feature-length premiere felt, at times, like more of a collection of wonderfully written monologues than the character-driven series we’ve come to expect from the man that helped revolutionize single-camera series.
The Newsroom’s placement on HBO allows Sorkin to do many things he couldn’t on TV, but perhaps it’s through those very same network limitations and time constraints where his stories became perfectly tuned. Slated as a 60-min series, there were many times where scenes felt like they could have either been shortened, reworked, or completely left out.
Sorkin perhaps felt like he needed to include a lot in the premiere episode, but a tighter pace would have made for a more fluid viewing experience, allowing audiences time to become attached to the characters on their own terms. Though one of the smallest television casts that Sorkin has worked with, very few characters, along with their motivations, are clearly defined by the end of the premiere.
With an orchestral theme song that doesn’t feel quite right for the series, and a unique, sometimes chaotic, visual styling that separates (not elevates) The Newsrooms from Sorkin’s usual pedigree, watching the premiere can easily become a challenge; it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that some things are amiss with this series.
Even so, for fans of Aaron Sorkin, there’s much to be excited about. While many will certainly focus on the political aspect of the series, HBO’s The Newsroom is as much about politics as FX’s The League is about football. Instead, this series much more about one man’s attempt at being true to himself.
McAvoy’s comments about America no longer being the greatest country in the world certainly caught the attention of everyone watching, but it was his further explorations (some forced), where the real story lies. Dropping references to New York Times media reporter Bill Carter and NBC’s famed late night staple Jay Leno, Sorkin is highlighting viewer’s trends toward more honest media – perhaps not always the highest-rated, but certainly more honest. For McAvoy, the struggle about coming to terms with his unconscious need (and want) to be more than just “the guy that doesn’t bother anyone” is one of The Newsroom’s few narrative anchors, though one that was only briefly touched upon. Fortunately, it’s an extremely hefty anchor. Certainly mirroring conversations that many longtime personalities must have had internally, McAvoy’s transition brings up some interesting questions.
As the familiar Sorkin storylines from the past begin to bleed their way into The Newsroom, audiences will be able to continue along an enjoyable journey that was started on Sports Night. However, for those looking for a truly more evolved series, one must look within those familiarities to find growth. At this point, it’s difficult to say how challenging that may be for audiences, but hopefully it becomes easier in subsequent episodes.
For all intents and purposes, HBO’s The Newsroom is anything and everything that one would expect to see from Sorkin’s return to television – though perhaps not what many had hoped. While there’s more than enough beautifully-written dialogue for fans to sit back and enjoy, it’s hard not to acknowledge a certain disconnect from the series and its characters that can be felt throughout the premiere.
Even though, at times, much heart can be felt onscreen, there’s not much more than Sorkin’s name currently driving curiosity and intrigue for subsequent episodes. Fortunately, for now, Sorkin’s name alone is enough.
Giving The Newsroom a few weeks to find itself, as well as to introduce the rest of the cast (Jane Fonda & Olivia Munn), isn’t much to ask from a series, writer, or network of this caliber. However, unlike in previous series, where Sorkin was able to tweak storylines to reflect the current status of the actual show, the first season of The Newsroom is already completed.
Like a train following an already set course, there’s no chance of correcting its path, even if it’s on the wrong one. At this point, the only thing you can do is to hope that you still end up at your destination. Thankfully, Aaron Sorkin is one of the few people to trust when it comes to navigating the world of television.
As if taking a note from The Newsrooms’ original title, we hope for more as this series develops.
Anthony Ocasio blogs at Screen Rant.