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Television Collision: The Newsroom Fails As Drama But Still Succeeds

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer


When you pair a big name like Aaron Sorkin with a behemoth of television like HBO, the expectations for the end result cannot be any less than out of this world. Although Sorkin has struggled a bit in recent years (see Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip and The Social Network, the latter having absolutely no place on his resume IMHO), the memory of The West Wing and Sports Night is enough to make any fan of smart, high-brow, politics-filled television salivate. With HBO money as his backing, The Newsroom could very well be expected to hit the ground running.

And for the first ten minutes of the pilot episode two months ago it truly did. It just so happened that I was having a discussion on Facebook with friends about the perception of America and its politics overseas and why it is so damn easy these days to dislike America, when I watched the pilot of The Newsroom. While Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) speech/outburst can be criticized when analyzed in detail for sexism and overgeneralization, when I first heard it my entire being screamed “YES! EXACTLY!”.
Here it is for reference:

 

As The Newsroom continued over the weeks, I had many of the same problems that other TV critics have raised: the show is preachy, off-balance, treats its female characters with disdain and suffers a lot from White Guy Syndrome. As a television drama, The Newsroom fails pretty much across the board. The romantic storylines are detracting greatly from what I think the show should be about – journalism – and here once again the women come off as damsels and pining, helpless stereotypes to the all-white romantic leads, who across the board are not very attractive (in the emotional sense) at all in their respective superiority complexes.
The news stories the show deals with, on the other hand, are often more name-dropped than really investigated, which is a shame, because if there is an advantage that The Newsroom has, it is that of hindsight, meaning it could present the news stories from a year ago to us in a more fully developed, balanced picture than the actual news stories of the time.

The characters on The Newsroom are still largely intangible even after nine episodes, as any necessary shading of their personalities or any consistency in their actions and convictions has been swept aside in favor of making each episode hit randomly determined sensationalist highlight points. Most characters even speak in the exact same Sorkinese that would be fine for one character, but comes off as terribly unbelievable if all the characters speak it. So, no, The Newsroom is not a successful drama. At its center it is neither about office relationships nor about romantic relationships nor about hard-hitting journalism. Half the time Twitter is mocked on The Newsroom, while the other half of the time Twitter is used as their first source of information on any breaking news item. And why are we meant to believe that the nightly news show on an Atlanta cable channel is going to change the American mind in general anyway?
The newsroom on The Newsroom comes across as about a decade behind on many issues of technology and self-awareness of what news shows can and should be – a fact that is not helped at all by the horrendously outdated and inappropriate soundtrack reminiscent of David E. Kelley shows in the Nineties.

However, while I bring up all these detrimental issues about The Newsroom, I still want to say this (pardon my language): I fucking love this show!
I don’t love it as a television drama, I don’t have any particular attachments to any of the characters per se (even though the show assembles a very talented cast of actors), but on so many of the political issues it touches upon, The Newsroom manages to succinctly articulate those most basic truths and fallacies I wish above all every single American citizen would understand. In a world where something as atrocious as Fox News is not only allowed to exist but is furthermore being watched by millions of people, it is hard not to despair.
The Republican party in America is fast becoming a global laughing stock given how some of its highest officials have presented themselves on the international playing field (Mitt Romney recently didn’t help at all), so it is refreshing to see that a registered Republican like Will McAvoy can be portrayed on The Newsroom as a sensible, intelligent, informed anchor, who likes to get to the heart of a matter and never once has to mention God to do so.

Yes, some of the speeches and lengthy tirades on The Newsroom come off as trite and sanctimonious to those of us who know our share about politics and would wish The Newsroom to dig deeper. And maybe the problem is that The Newsroom is airing on HBO, so they aren’t reaching those viewers that could still benefit a little bit from the researched facts that The Newsroom throws around. On the other hand, The Newsroom has True Blood as its lead-in, so chances are at least some people came for the vampires and stay for the politics.

What most attracts me to The Newsroom is its ambition. While it isn’t successful at bringing its vision fully to life yet, what The Newsroom digs at is a certain level of discomfort that currently resides in America’s heart. More and more the American people are becoming aware that something fundamental is deeply wrong with the path their country is traveling on right now and something needs to be done. What the remedy could be is not entirely clear and opinions differ greatly. But what I believe The Newsroom is capable of is opening up the much-needed political discussion again. Instead of nay saying and blocking each other out of sheer principle, Democrats and Republicans need to start talking to each other again and find their common ground instead of battling about their differences. It is this wish for progress and improvement in the political discourse and a call for more involvement of the Everyman in national and international politics that I believe is at the center of The Newsroom and I applaud the show for it.

Let me add on a personal note that I have just moved back to Europe after living in Atlanta for a year and never have I been asked more questions about the path America is on right now than I have in the past few weeks. People in Europe are worried, they are puzzled and they are shocked by some of the reactive, isolationist and panic-driven politics that have come out of America in the past few years. The Republican race for presidential candidacy was regarded more as a circus than a serious political event over here and many are shaking their heads at the direction America seems to want to go in.
It’s not that anybody wants to dislike America over here; it’s just that these days America makes it so damn hard to like it. And The Newsroom is placing a finger on that aching wound and thereby pointing at a place to start remedying the situation.

Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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