Amidst the snappy dialogue, quick one-liners, sometimes silly set-pieces, human interest plot lines, a theme of internal conspiracy and the occasional awful incidental music, The Newsroom is a welcome programme of substance.
It tackles issues head on, with real news stories, actual footage and, in a refreshing alternative from attempts to satire politics, hard facts and polemic. The early concerns it could be preachy are put to the side when events take over, with stories from the BP oil spill to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords becoming the real drama.
By the time The Newsroom gets in its stride, the seventh episode, 5/1, has echoes of the greatness of The West Wing, with a superb combination of characters stranded on a grounded plane while the emotion of the breaking news story, the successful mission to find Bin Laden, takes over everywhere.
As the ten episodes progress there is less of the annoying incidental music that assumes its audience as stupid, just as the show the programme is centred on, News Night, matures to treat its views with more respect. And it is the discourse within The Newsroom, from why one courtroom trial is prime time TV ahead of not only a major global economic crisis, but cases that could be exactly the same if not for the way the media, with an agenda, want to present the case, that lets the viewer listen in on intelligent and weighty conversations.
And that light-shining on matters from the ugliness of those who both produce and consume “human cockfighting” dressed up as celebrity gossip, to the exposure of how the Tea Party has had an easy ride as it has dragged the nature of American politics to a place of fear, loathing and lies, that makes the sometimes corny elements of the show palatable. The point that balance for the sake of it is worthless is well made and something the producers of the real British show, Newsnight, may want to take note of, whenever they feel the need to call on two monetarist right-wingers to argue against reason on a near nightly basis.
The comedy is at times hit-and-miss; the attempts to create a hysterical monologue sometimes take away from the authenticity, but the conversational dialogue and one-liners are sharp throughout; the humour between characters on The West Wing was at its best in later seasons as they developed, after Aaron Sorkin had left, so perhaps it is demanding to expect that quality from the start with The Newsroom. Some of the set-pieces though, such as the TV debate that included a gun-handler, a beauty pageant contestant and a racist academic in different studios, were funny enough to think it could have been on Veep.
Of course there is internal conflict, with the open plan office with flimsy glass walls at times resembling The Queen Vic as a stage for bollockings, but mostly there is a point to the fall-outs. Throughout there is the underlying drama of conspiracy following change coupled with sweeteners to pull in a mass audience using well-worn human relationship stories, tried and tested in TV over the years, the equivalent of an “And Finally” gimmick on a news bulletin. Both plot-lines work well though; the Moonlighting style personal conundrums, while unoriginal, allows characters to develop, which in turn makes their lines come alive, while the internal sinister presence is a nice theme that ties in with the wider issues of vested commercial interests and draws on the corruption at the News of the World.
Chris Messina is perfect for the bad-guy role, having played an annoying smart-arse Republican in both the Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the final season of Six Feet Under. It is a counterpoint to the other annoying Republican, the show’s main character, Jeff Daniels’ Will McEvoy, the hero with few redeeming features, except a mission to do good inspired by Emily Mortimer’s MacKenzie McHale. Mortimer showed she can do comedy with the one laugh-out loud moment in Match Point although her real value in The Newsroom was her introduction, which lifted the first episode, and the show, in an instant.
Another British actor that is integral to the programme is Dev Patel, who players the juxtaposition of a charismatic and likeable nerd. He pulls it off well and his character’s conviction on alien life form is enough to think the writers may have knowledge of a Big Foot story they are setting the ground for in future seasons.
Some of the storylines are signposted with a beacon and flashing lights, from the memo about emails to the timid PA that will no doubt be a strong central character. As Alison Pill’s Maggie develops though she has more than a hint of a young Mia Farrow as directed by Woody Allen, which perhaps he has noticed as well, as she has been cast in his last two films.
With a 2012 Presidential election and the guarantee events will always take place during the course of year, mean there will always be material for a second season in 2013. The show needs its own themes as well, and more Jane Fonda will be essential. And Sam Waterson’s old-school good-guy, Charlie Skinner, having a few more meetings that could have been set by John Grisham in The Pelican Brief wouldn’t go amiss either.
With echoes of Glory from American Cinema to Bruce Springsteen, and full of the flavour of Escape that European Travel brings, The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley‘ is available from Amazon and Smashwords. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.