The Newsroom: The 1st Five Episodes – Review
The Newsroom is a show suffering from an identity crisis. Catastrophically so.
It has so much wasted potential in a number of different genres and, perhaps owing to an attempt to be everything to everyone, it misses its mark with almost every direction it takes.
It also feels completely out of place on HBO. Its general feel, its sensibilities just don’t mesh with pay-for-cable television(though its political sensibilities aren’t a bad fit). Even the R-rated language feels unnecessary and forced, almost like The Newsroom is trying to justify its existance on HBO and can’t seem to do it any other way. F-bombs do not a gritty TV-show make. This is a show that just feels like it would be more at home on network TV, and that isn’t always a bad thing.
But the greater issue with The Newsroom’s lack of identity is that it can’t decide if it wants to be funny, clever, serious, political, offensive, or half a dozen other adjectives that shouldn’t necessarily be mutually exclusive of one another, but in The Newsroom they are. The episodes jump from genre to genre, from mannerism to mannerism with every scene and it just never flows together. It’s not unlike watching a film like Four Rooms or The Signal where multiple directors trade off direction duties at different points in the film. It doesn’t make for a cohesive, enjoyable experience.
Of course this might be more forgivable if the different parts of this inconsistant whole could stand on their own, but for the most part they cannot. The straight-faced Jon Stewart shtick was old by the second episode, and by the end of the 5th its just become eyeroll inducing everytime Will starts in on a new rant. Based on the demographics that would watch this show, its preaching to the choir anyway, so there’s no need to devote so much of every episode to the evils of…. well, of evil people. I don’t disagree with the vast majority of what is being said, I just don’t need to be preached at, and if I did, this isn’t where I’d go to get it.
The biggest draw for a show called “The Newsroom” might be seeing a behind-the-scenes look at just how a news show like this gets made. That sounds like an interesting show. In fact, that show probably exists already, I assume on the BBC. But this is not it. Occassionally we get a brief look at this stuff, but usually its very quickly glossed over and ignored before we move on to another political rant, or another will-they-or-won’t-they romantic interlude(hint: they will). The best look at actual news reporting we get is the 7 minutes at the end of episode 4 with a Coldplay accompaniment.
I mean Coldplay? Really?
Episode 4 compounded the crime that is a Coldplay montage by spending about half its time condemning modern media for ignoring anything and everything important in order to focus on the meaningless relationship woes of famous people ala Real Housewives, and then spending the other half of its time DOING EXACTLY THAT! Is Sorkin trying to be deliberately ironic here? If he is, I just don’t get it.
But here’s the really strange thing about The Newsroom: I really like this show.
Despite all the above criticsms, and a Coldplay montage notwithstanding, I really do like the stupid show. I like the characters, I like the trademark Sorkin dialogue(which isn’t for everyone to be sure), I even almost care about their meaningless relationship woes.
And the show is funny, at least when it isn’t trying to be so damn serious. Look at the ‘Rudy’ scene in episode 5: it’s silly, funny, ridiculous and even kind of sweet in its own manipulative way. That’s the sort of scene that would have felt right at home in Sorkin’s Studio 60, if it had ever been able to get past its own similar problems and overcome its need to be serious(Episode 5′s missing correspondent drama reminded me a lot of the incredibly stupid missing soldier story arc on the normally intelligent Studio 60). Seriously, people, just lighten up.
For a show that borders on slapstick at times, The Newsroom really needs to just chill. Not every show is about changing the world. If Sorkin could just stop trying to make another West Wing, I think he could find real success on TV again. In the meantime I’ll keep watching The Newsroom. It may be the best bad TV show you’ll ever see.