Few would have expected Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin to start writing for television again following his recent success with Hollywood hit ‘The Social Network’.
The Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay seemed to finally acknowledge Sorkin’s efforts in writing, and represent the moment he graduated from a television series writer to the big league of full-blown movie-creation.
However, Sorkin lives and breathes television. The success of ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Sports Night’ has made him a legend amongst avid DVD box-set buyers, yet despite the rather disappointing performance of his last creation ‘Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip’ back in 2006, anticipation was high for his latest series ‘The Newsroom’.
Unsurprisingly, ‘The Newsroom’ follows a similar theme to Sorkin’s previous work: behind the scenes. Whilst ‘The West Wing’ provided a look at the inner workings of the White House and ‘Sports Night’ the production of a fictional sports show, ‘The Newsroom’ follows the staff of the obscurely-named Atlantis Cable News channel and their flagship programme Newsnight.
The series interestingly ties each episode with a real-life breaking news event, thus giving the series an air of authenticity and, as we shall see later, the chance to comment on the state of popular culture.
Whilst the first episode ‘We Just Decided To’ focuses on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the summer of 2010, seventh episode ‘5/1’ shows the news team dealing with the breaking news of Osama Bin Laden’s death.[one_half][/one_half]
Terms of Endearment star Jeff Daniels plays Newsnight’s lead anchor Will McAvoy, a troubled, weed-smoking republican who returns from leave in the season’s pilot to find his ex-girlfriend Makenzie McHale (played by Emily Mortimer) has been appointed the show’s new producer.
Delving into the high-pressure world of television news, ‘The Newsroom’ really falls down to it’s characters. Sorkin is no stranger to creating perplexing television identities, however on ‘The Newsroom’ it’s almost hard to escape the notion that these characters have all been seen before.
Take Daniels’ Will McAvoy, for instance, at times it’s almost impossible not to chuckle as the news anchor broodingly smokes a cigarette or emerges from New York subway smoke boasting a sweeping blazer-jacket.
Elsewhere things get even worse; Sam Waterston’s ACN news director Charlie Skinner resembles a bumbling Perry White from various incarnations of Superman, whilst Olivia Munn’s news reporter Sloan Sabbath is slightly unbelievable as a gorgeous Ph. D holding economy expert.
Similarly one of the series running story lines, the ‘will they, won’t they’ romance between producer Jim Harper and clueless assistant producer Maggie Jordan, seems almost lifted from episodes of ‘The Office’ or to a lesser extent ‘Friends’. This makes the painful opening chords to Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ almost unsurprising in the season’s fourth episode.[one_half][/one_half]
Furthermore, it’s difficult not to ponder whether at times Sorkin is utilising the programme to make very blatant statements on popular culture and television news agendas. The staff of Newsnight seem constantly at pains to maintain their integrity and their commitment to ‘real news’ despite pressure from above to feature celebrity gossip and speculative stories. Cue lots of emotive montages of staff agonising over difficult decisions, whilst seemingly appearing not be doing any real work!
Another ongoing element to the series is news anchor Will McAvoy’s ongoing crusade against political group the TEA party, no doubt a poorly veiled attempt by Sorkin, an outspoken democrat, to air his own political agenda. Quite interesting given the show’s US election year broadcast.
This is not to say that ‘The Newsroom’ is not an exceedingly enjoyable watch, Sorkin’s script-writing skills shine throughout the series and the season evidently proves as gripping as the Oscar-winners previous work.
It’s just hard not to think whether a writer of Sorkin’s class could have taken the opportunity to create a gritty look into the working of a newsroom rather than rely on certain storyline and character clichés.
Main image courtesy of HBO.com