‘The Newsroom’ Pilot – A (Positive) Review

I am not a Television critic. I may aspire to be one by watching an inordinate amount of television, I may even become one someday, but for now,  I am not a Television critic.

And with not being a television critic, I do not possess certain privileges that all critics gain access to. I do not get screeners early and I do not get early copies to a bulk of episodes. I am, for the most part, your regular television viewer.

So when I sat down to watch ‘The Newsroom’ on Sunday evening, like the majority of American television viewers, I was expecting to utterly detest the show that was laid before me, a show which has emerged as one of the most critically disdained television shows on HBO in a very long time. But to my (pleasant) surprise, the show extracted the complete opposite feeling.

‘The Newsroom’ is Aaron Sorkin’s (founder of shows ‘The West Wing’ and Sports Night), latest creation depicts Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, an anchor for Atlantic Cable News (ACN), who along with a very strong ensemble cast, aim to deliver a news show “in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements”.  It is set in 2010, as to allow the writers to refer to real life events, this week it was the BP oil spill. It’s a bold angle to take, and the ideology of the show is one that seems to have extracted controversy within the American Media, the same American Media that the show is openly criticising.

It may at times, not be the most realistic depiction of The Newsroom, but ignore that for one moment. Ignore whatever criticisms you may have of Sorkin’s work, because ‘The Newsroom’ is simply the latest example of Sorkin’s mastery of dialogue. It is fast paced, funny and maybe sometimes goes over the top, but who the hell cares? This is the way television was meant to be written. When ‘The Newsroom’ ended, it felt like it had been barely half an hour, and that certainly doesn’t indicate a lack of content. The Walking Dead feels much longer, and hardly anything eventful happens unless an action sequence occurs. If an episode of television feels like a fully fledged movie, you know it has been an hour well spent. And that is exactly how I felt about ‘The Newsroom’.

The Pilot also does a great job of establishing the main characters. Within the first 7 minutes, Daniels had already captivated my attention as he attempts to summarise why America is the “greatest show in the world”. “It’s not” he replies, before delivering a stirring rant on everything that is wrong with society today. The moments preceding that were full of witty remarks, humour and everything seemed fantastic. ‘This McAvoy fella’ seems nice doesn’t he’, was my inital reaction. Within five minutes, Daniels had completely transformed his character, displaying a breadth of delivery, sometimes unseen in a character throughout an entire season. And it doesn’t stop there. We also witness strong interactions between McAvoy and his boss Charlie Skinner, complying more to the humourous side of the show, as we are introudced to the eccentric nature of Skinner, whilst also hinting at the background between McKenzie and Will, which would only further emphasise the tension (awkwardness) of their initial meeting later in the episode.

Sometimes the show sacrifices that dialogue in order to serve the extended ideological monologues that occur quite frequently during the pilot, but I can deal with two or three “we can make a difference” speeches, if the rest of the hour is spent with this cast interacting, which is ultimately where this television show excels.

And whilst Sorkin’s writing is undoubtedly an essential component, the fantastic ensemble cast  assembled, certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Jeff Daniels, whose career has certainly been hit and miss to say the least, looks re-energised as Will McAvoy, Emily Mortimer does a fantastic job playing the counter-part to McAvoy’s narcissistic mannerisms, Sam Waterson delivers a typically reliable performance as McAvoy’s boss and contributions from Dev Patel (star of Slumdog Millionnaire), John Gallagher and Alison Pill are ‘the icing on the cake’ (to use a cliche that can sometimes find it’s way into the show’s dialogue).

At this point, I am struggling to fully comprehend the contempt that this show has received within the media. The reaction from the general public appears to be generally, very positive and with the pilot delivering HBO’s 2nd strongest ratings for a pilot ever, behind Boardwalk Empire, it will be interesting to see if there is a significant drop-off in those figures next week.

Does the contempt arise from the fact that this show openly criticises the television critic’s very profession? I sincerely doubt it. Even if you are offended by the show’s ideological thinking, you can still appreciate it as a good television show (which in my opinion, it is).

So, as I made reference to earlier, it must be something to do with the upcoming episodes, which in general, tend to be the weakest in a television series anyway. The Pilot is typically quite strong as a lot of time is devoted to it, and then it takes a few episodes for a show to establish it’s identity and structure. So even if the show falters in the next few episodes, I am still going to continue until the end of the season.

So for the most part, I am feeling somewhat optimistic about this show. ‘The Newsroom’ delivers a sharp, fast-paced, somewhat tense thriller of a pilot in which the slight hiccups can be forgiven because well… it’s a pilot.

As for the upcoming three or four episodes, lets just see what happens.

10 Reasons Why Miami Are A fantastic Fit For Hard Knocks

Even before Coach Philbin and the Miami Dolphins announced that they would be the team in the spotlight of HBO’s reality television series ‘Hard Knocks’, the Dolphins had already become acclimated with its fair share of the media spotlight. Dating back almost a year ago, the Miami Dolphins head coaching search had been amidst with controversy, firstly missing on John Harbaugh whilst Coach Sporano was still under contract, then missing out on Jeff Fisher after a tireless pursuit, before finally deciding that Joe Philbin was their guy.

And that was not the only talking point from the Dolphins off-season this year. The Peyton Manning saga undoubtedly left a lot of franchises scarred, but maybe none more so than the Miami Dolphins. A team who in the past, have missed so many times in finding Dan Marino’s replacement. In total, 17 quarterbacks have been under center for the Dolphins since  Marino’s retirement. So when Peyton Manning decided to take his talents to Denver instead of South Beach, who most considered the early running favourites, Miami fans were left with that eerily similar feeling to that of when they missed out on Drew Brees years before. Ultimately, Ryan Tannehill was drafted by the Dolphins with the 8th overall pick, signifying the first time the Miami Dolphins have selected a quarterback in the first round, since Marino.

So why you ask, are the Dolphins and Coach Philbin even considering making their locker room susceptible to even further criticism? Some say Coach Philbin’s hand may have been forced by owner Stephen Ross, but when Joe Philbin came out during his daily press conference and announced that this was entirely his decision, it made me think, that maybe this is not as bad as we first thought. Here’s 10 reasons why Miami are a fantastic fit, not only for HBO, but also, for the Dolphins themselves.

10. Wide Receiver Battle

A lot of people were shocked that the Miami Dolphins did not address the Wide receiver position until the 6th Round in the 2012 NFL Draft, considering that just a couple of months prior, Jeff Ireland executed a trade that sent star receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for 2 3rd round Picks. But even before that there was uncertainty as many people questioned Brian Hartline as a no.2 reciever (and now it looks like he’s going into the season as the no.1 guy).

Joe Philbin has stated on numerous occasions that in his system, much like in Green Bay, there is not a true no.1 receiver, he likes to spread the ball about. But even without that security of a Brandon Marshall type receiver on your offense, the Dolphins only possess two certified locks at the wide reciever position to make the team. Clyde Gates, was highly touted after being drafted by Miami last year, but has yet to show up on game day, Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace have both shown flashes but injuries have stagnated their progressions and then there are the three rookies. Jeff Fuller, an unrestricted free agent, who just so happened to be Ryan Tannehill’s number one target in college, Rishad Matthews was a perceived 3rd round pick who fell to the Dolphins in the 7th round, and BJ Cunningham (taken in the 6th round), was the leader in Receptions and receiving yards in Michigan State history.

All of those receivers have a shot at making the roster. And with only Davone Bess and Brian Hartline as ‘locks’ to make the team, that alone would make for compelling tv, but throw in the fact that one of those ‘fringe’ players could end up starting, and the sheer breadth between success and failure, gets that bit bigger.

9. Lauren Tannehill

When the Miami Dolphins selected their Quarterback of the future with the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, there was a lot of Buzz about a person with the ‘Tannehill’ surname. No not, Ryan Tannehill (the guy they drafted) but his wife, Lauren Tannehill. Yep, she is definitely something, and when Hard Knocks airs its Premiere on August 7th, I fully expect her to be a large feature, as her fame spreads from Miami to the national audience. Expect some form of storyline focusing on the Tannehill’s getting acclimated to their surroundings. That’ll be the context, but really, HBO are doing it because she could potentially emerge as a star.

8. South Beach

There are not many glitzier, more glamorous cities than Miami, Florida. Celebrities will be out in abundance, the Miami Marlins and the Miami Heat get massive media attention. Could we potentially see people like Lebron James on the show? Maybe, but the amount of celebrity activity in the area is sure to provide HBO with great incentive to create some very compelling storylines.

7.  Celebrity Owners

Stephen Ross’ early years as owner of the Miami Dolphins have definitely not gone smoothly so far. Initial controversy incurred by Ross’ decision to give B-list celebrities such as Serena Williams minority stakes in the Dolphin’s ownership, and criticised for his involvement in the John Harbaugh affair, whilst Tony Sporano was still under contract, maintains that Mr Ross has definitely got his doubters within the Miami fan base. And that controversy should no doubt provide HBO with some fantastic storytelling opportunities, but it not only benefits HBO. Hard Knocks provides Stephen Ross with the chance to clear up his image. It could end disastrously, but then again, that would just further benefit HBO, and who are we to complain about controversy?

6. The Miami Dolphins Fanbase

This is very much in the category of why this is a great fit for the Dolphins organisation. Yes, it is a well-known fact that the Dolphins fan base has certainly deteriorated over the years, and what better way to bring the Dolphins some National media attention than through Hard Knocks? Many say this issue will be addressed when the Dolphins start winning games, but Hard Knock’s is a nationally televised television program. People will take notice, and if anything, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

5. Joe Philbin

Never before on Hard Knocks has a rookie head coach been a part of the show. That all changes this year, when Joe Philbin, who is not only in his first year with the Miami Dolphins but also as a head coach, takes center stage under the spotlight. Many of the Miami media have been impressed with his attention to detail (he does after all come from Green Bay), capped off with his dry humour, and he has certainly to some extent, re-energised the fan base. It may not have been the glamour hire that Stephen Ross was hoping for, but it could turn out to be a very shrewd bit of business. Joe Philbin could definitely emerge as a star from the show. Sure, it could certainly end disastrously, as a rookie head coach, there are all sorts of new acclimatization’s that need to be made, and the added distraction of having 24 NFL Films cameras constantly over-looking you, could certainly pose a problem. But something makes me feel that, that might not be the case with Coach Philbin. He has an aura about him that emphasises that this extra media attention is unlikely to phase him. He may make quips like stating he’s “more of a radio guy” but he is certainly popular with the Miami Media. Could that translate to the national media? I can’t see why not.

4. Reggie Bush

Miami is most definitely a glamorous city, but the Miami Dolphins organisation doesn’t really pertain to that philosophy. Most people would struggle to reel off the starting depth chart for the Miami Dolphins because they simply lack the ‘big-names’. But when the Dolphins acquired Reggie Bush in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, and he produced his best season in the NFL yet as he rushed for over 1000 yards, that all changed. Yes there aren’t many more famous individuals in the NFL. He’s hosted Live! With Kelly and he was certainly in the spotlight through his tumultuous relationship with Kim Kardashian.

In previous iterations of Hard Knocks there has always been a ‘star’. Rex Ryan was the star of the New York Jets Hard Knocks, the Bengals had Ochocinco and the Cowboys had TO. Could Reggie Bush find himself on that ‘PRESTIGIOUS’ list? Maybe, I can’t wait to find out.

3. Ryan Tannehill

I mentioned his wife earlier, but now it is time for Ryan, to take the spotlight. Quite shockingly, there has never been a rookie quarterback on Hard Knocks, Ryan Tannehill signifies the first time, and that is sure to make for compelling television. How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the expectations of the fan base? How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the ‘ghost’ of Dan Marino? How will Ryan Tannehill acclimatize to the NFL? Will Ryan Tannehill impress in Training Camp? There are tons of questions surrounding this kid, and I only named four. HBO must be licking their lips, because this is a fascinating storyline.

2. 3 Way Quarterback Competition

And if that previous point wasn’t enough, the Rookie Quarterback has been thrown into a 3-way Quarterback OPEN competition for the starters job. Matt Moore impressed down the stretch last season, David Garrard’s whose time as of late has been marred by injuries was brought in to provide competition, and then there’s the franchise ‘saviour’ rookie quarterback, who some say is not ready to start week 1. It’s a fascinating competition and fits perfectly with everything that defines the Hard Knocks television series. Even Stephen Ross has shared his thoughts, stating that he expects Matt Moore to be the starter week 1. Now whilst your perception may be that he is trying to force the issue, he was saying that as a fan. As a fan that’s what he thinks, and that is also a great sign for the Dolphins who were worried by the rumors that Stephen Ross was forcing Jeff Ireland and Coach Philbin’s hand to start Ryan Tannehill right away. It’s an interesting dynamic and is one of many branching storylines that HBO can take with this issue.

Great stuff. And if all of that wasn’t enough, Joe Philbin has promised that a starter will be named by week 3 of the pre-season, which just so happens to be slap-bang in the middle of the Hard Knocks programming. This really has the potential to be great.

1. A Chance for the Dolphins to Clear Up Their Image

Yes, this one is most definitely concerned with why it is a fantastic fit for the Dolphins organisation, because let’s face it, bar the saints there is not a more screwed up organisation in the league. With Joe Philbin’s arrival, the franchise promised a more transparent organisation.Yes there has been controversy, and that controversy is one of the many reasons why this is a fantastic fit for HBO, but by agreeing to this, Hard Knocks marks the next step on the road to transparency for the Dolphins. Jeff Ireland has had his critics, over things such as the Dez Bryant controversy and Stephen Ross certainly has tarnished his image. By agreeing to Hard Knocks, all of that can change. The Dolphins have a chance to address that negative perception. Jeff Ireland may have poor management skills, which could be disastrous when it comes round to showing the front-office making their cuts, but he has shown that he has impeccable football knowledge. This is a smart man, now here’s a chance for him to show that off to the world.

You may not be watching the show to see this being enacted, but it is without doubt the most important factor in why the Miami Dolphins are a fantastic fit for Hard Knocks.

The tide may be shifting in Miami. With the hiring of Joe Philbin and the drafting of potential franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a new feeling of prosperity has descended upon the Miami fan base, Hard Knocks is simply the next phase in that progression. So let’s sit back and enjoy the ride, times are changing down in South Beach, and Hard Knocks allows you the fan, to embrace that change.