Within 90 seconds of watching the new HBO series The Newsroom, the viewer is left without doubt that they are watching an Aaron Sorkin TV show. Monologuing, self-righteousness, and that Sorkinese cadence are all on display as protagonist Will McAvoy spouts out a serious of statistics that demonstrate just how poor the US performs against other nations. And just how smart and superior Will is. For those who are unwilling to embrace Aaron Sorkin doing what Aaron Sorkin does, they need to ask themselves what the hell they’re doing watching an Aaron Sorkin show?
For the rest of us: Bring it on.
The Newsroom is very much the child of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Aaron Sorkin’s last foray into television was one that was fraught with problems. Sorkin may have approached that NBC series with the best of intentions, but it was quickly apparent that the show was an ill-fit for almost all involved. Tonally, the show never sat right. The cast, as charming as they all may be, never quite gelled with their characters (Matthew Perry included, despite having a mouth born for the words of Sorkin). The sketch comedy show within the show was too heavily revered by its cast (despite the sketches proving that Studio 60 the sketch comedy show was beyond stuffy). And then there was the social commentary. The awkwardly shoe-horned in social commentary. The Newsroom seems designed to step around each and every problem that Studio 60 drowned in.
The setting of the series makes sense to discuss the issues of the day. Romance is fused to the core of the shows DNA (both professionally and Cupid-ly). And the spirit of a news-based workplace feels as though it obeys a sense of internal logic that has it feeling real enough.
For anyone expecting a rehash of Sports Night, The West Wing, or even Studio 60, they’d be well-advised to set their expectations appropriately. While the spirit of the show is reminiscent of those series, Sorkin is taking full advantage of the fact he’s no longer on network TV. While HBO has him free to curse (I did count at least three swears – the F kind), the premium cable nature of the show enables the show to have a largely unlikeable character at the core of the series, while also allowing the show to shift in tone when required to reflect upon a real life news event through the prism of news gathering/reportage. The result has the show feeling darker and more meditative than Sorkin shows have in the past. Furthermore, the script feels like it’s working at a pace that suits what the episode needed to be rather than fitting within the confines of a networks strict 40-42 minutes plus ad-break forced structural concerns. Sorkin hasn’t changed his schtick so much as to be unrecognisable, but he’s certainly altered his work enough to suit the opportunities that HBO have allowed.
It’s interesting to see a Sorkin show with a different visual style from what we’ve seen so far. Instead of working with Thomas Schlamme, the Director of the pilot for The Newsroom is Greg Mottola (Superbad, Paul, Adventureland). Mottola creates a starker, quieter tone to the series than the more theatrical tone that Schlamme often brought to Sorkins work. Visually, Mottola keeps the viewer at a distance for the first half of the pilot, shooting everyone at a distance. It’s only when the team start working together on pooling information for the news show that Mottola alters the visual style to include a lot more close-ups and build the intimacy with the shows regulars. While one fears that this distance may have alienated viewers from the show, it does challenge the viewers to come to the show in a more HBO-friendly style.
The Newsroom isn’t perfect. It’s more challenging and frosty than most of Sorkins work to date. By the end of the pilot, I retain some reservations about what the show will look and feel like by the end of the season. That said, by the end of the pilots 72 minute runtime, I am a lot more eager to explore the world of The Newsroom further. Haters are gonna hate, but fans of Aaron Sorkin will most likely be more than willing to come along for the ride.