‘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.

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