Why you should tune into The Newsroom
Steadily improving scripts7
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jul 2020
Season 1 of The Newsroom is available on Sky and NOW TV until 9th July 2020.
“America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” That’s the opening gambit in The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s drama about a TV news show. First aired in 2012, the show chronicles the behind-the-scenes drama the fictional Atlantis Cable News, a channel that has long since lost its way in the primetime news schedules – it’s a ratings hit, yes, but not a news programme that does real news.
Your definition of “real news” is what will likely determine whether you get on board with Sorkin’s three-season championing of truth and democracy – tprone to monologues that lecture the audience on the importance of objective facts and “speaking truth to stupid”, it’s far from subtle, often closer to soap box speeches than nuanced conversations about complex matters. But if you’re a fan of The West Wing, or you’re tired of media reporting that sticks to sensationalised clickbait (let’s not pretend that your own choice of news outlet isn’t at least unintentionally politically biased), The Newsroom is an entertaining watch that, for all its earnest stances, does strike timely notes on a regular basis.
Season 1 sees veteran anchor Will (Jeff Daniels) go on a rant in the very first scene, prompting the network to bring in “Mac” McHale, a producing veteran and his former girlfriend, to oversee Will’s bulletin, News Night. She brings with her Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr), who swiftly finds himself falling for up-and-coming producer Maggie (Alison Pill). Mac’s arrival pushes out Don (Thomas Sadoski), who strikes up a relationship with economics correspondent Sloan (Olivia Munn). All the while, ACN president Charlie (Sam Waterston) watches over them and fights off the pressures of modern media and commercial rivals.
Fittingly, it takes a while to bed in its ensemble, as they find the best dynamic to get the show on the road, and a lot of the Aaron Sorkin-style dialogue sounds a little bit more like Aaron Sorkin than the characters. But the more the show drills in behind the headlines and the more time we spend with each cast member, the better it gets. While Season 1 grapples with the moral imperatives of being a journalist in an unreliable age of misinformation, Season 2 graduates to the more interesting question of the practical challenges of working out what the right thing to do is, while its third and final season goes one step bigger to follow the network’s struggle to survive on its own terms.
Along the way, each member of the group gets more finely tuned, with specifically the female characters growing to be more than just frustrated counterparts to the calm men in suits. Alison Pill, who repeatedly stole scenes in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, gets the screentime she deserves, as we follow Maggie’s on-off bond with Jim – and, crucially, not at the expense of also following her professional development, which becomes more of the focus in the show’s latter stages. John Gallagher Jr, too, does excellent work as the nerdish and naively principled Jim, who turns a plotline involving the tired supposed war between old-fashioned journalism and the internet into a more thoughtful study of privilege, presumption and poorly chosen romantic partners.
But it’s not all sex and simmering personal tensions – although Olivia Munn’s Sloan and Thomas Sadoski’s Don lighten the serious mood as they trade banter back and forth – as the inimitable Sam Waterston bubbles with rage at the world he can’t take anymore before overflowing with paternal pride. At the other end of the food chain is Dev Patel, who reminds you just how charismatic he is on screen as Neal, a tech expert who delves into issues surrounding online abuse, social media protests and national security leaks. And, erm, conspiracies about Big Foot.
But the central duo are undoubtedly Will and Mac, whose fiery clashes are fuelled by a nicely observed mix of respect and trust, even when one can’t stand what the other is saying. Emily Mortimer is hugely likeable as the forthright Mac, who will stand up for any member of her team no matter what it takes, while Jeff Daniels is clearly having the time of his life playing Will, a man of principles who is only remembering that he had principles in first place. It’s Daniels’ leading turn that helps bring shades of grey to the show’s overall tone, allowing for a mix of cynicism and idealism that’s not too jaded, even if Sorkin’s speeches often sound cliched. Standout moments include a blackout in the first season, Maggie scooping a politician on a train in Season 3 and any scene that doesn’t involve the cheesy opening credits music. The result isn’t the greatest show in the world, or even Sorkin’s best work, but there’s a charming escapism to its good-guys-against-the-world portrait of TV news that makes for a compelling watch.
The Newsroom Season 1 to 3 is available on Sky. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.