REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 1 — “We Just Decided To”

I have so many preconceived notions about this show I have never watched. LET ME SHOW THEM TO YOU.

First, the good:

1)   It’s an Aaron Sorkin show. To me, this means super slick, rapid-fire dialogue that makes you feel smarter for having heard it, even if you only partially understood it. Sorkin shows know how to build drama, create moral dilemmas, and crack incredibly funny jokes. I loved Sorkin’s previous shows: Sports Night, The West Wing, and even Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which I don’t think anyone else liked even though Bradley Whitford has the most adorable dimples on the planet. I loved Sorkin’s movies: A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball, although there was way too much silence in that movie to have been written by Sorkin alone (he co-wrote it).

Um, that was kind of my only thing on the list. Whoops. Onward!

The bad:

1)   My brother’s a journalist and he hates this show, because it’s about a news team covering actual historic events, but the writer of the show has the benefit of hindsight, which any actual reporters at the time did not have. Which is obviously irksome to a journalist in a similar way that Grey’s Anatomy is irritating to doctors — it’s unrealistic and creates distorted perceptions of the profession. I personally enjoy Grey’s Anatomy most of the time, because I am not a doctor. I’m not a journalist either, so I’m pretty sure this won’t bother me the same way it bothers my brother.

2)   Also because of hindsight, my brother tells me, the show gets preachy and sanctimonious, because of what the writer, Sorkin, thinks ought to have happened regarding these actual real-world events being depicted. I can handle a little preachiness (all Sorkin shows are a bit preachy and message-oriented), but too much gets on my nerves.

3)   Since The Social Network, Sorkin has kind of become a target for ridicule and criticism regarding his portrayals of female characters. In fact, the AfterElton recaps that I skimmed when the show was on the air sometimes had headlines like, “The 5 Worst Lady Blunders From Last Night’s ‘Newsroom,’” which contained lines like: “Aaron Sorkin’s way of establishing [this female character’s] flaws are condescending and unbelievable.” I am not in the business of mind reading and I have no idea if Sorkin is an especially sexist man. I’d like to believe he isn’t. He has a daughter. Female characters on The West Wing like CJ Cregg and Ainsley Hayes were quite awesome. But is it possible for character portrayals to be sexist even if the writer himself is not sexist? I think yes, personally. If female characters are consistently more irritating/incompetent/shrill/underdeveloped/overly sexualized than the men, then that’s a sexist portrayal of women (I know, we have a lot of demands for our fictional representation; deal with it). This can be the case even if the writer doesn’t personally hate or disrespect women. I’ll probably be more sensitive to this while watching The Newsroom than I would be otherwise, since I know about this controversy.

4)   I’ve heard that the villains in the show are often one-dimensional straw men, and Professor Dunphy’s comments in class reinforced that idea. I know that sometimes it’s very satisfying to root against a totally evil villain and watch him fall, but I really enjoyed the nuanced and often sympathetic opposition portrayed in The West Wing and thought it made the show feel more honest and rich.

5)   Okay, I think that’s it for now.

Now I’m going to actually start watching the show. Gonna liveblog this thing. Watch along with me!

*

—   Well, you can see exactly how fed up Will is with all the arguing on this panel. The voices fading in and out, the faces out of focus, the jump-cuts to get rid of all the pieces he tunes out.

—   Panel Guy is SO sexist, my god. He says to Panel Woman, “Let it out,” “You’re getting really worked up,” because we women have irrational emotions and that’s all we base our arguments on, clearly.

—   Emily Mortimer in the audience! I liked her in Lars and the Real Girl.

—   Of course Will’s gonna say America’s not the greatest country in the world. That was kind of a dumb question. Would someone actually ask that? (Note: it was asked by a girl. First obviously dumb character is a girl. Yay.)

—   Oh, he’s going on a rant. There was a character who did that in the opening of Studio 60; guess Sorkin likes that. Nice touch with all the video phones, because of course rants like that are perfect for youtube.

—   Aw, cue sappy music as he waxes on about how wonderful and moral America used to be. As if there was no slavery or institutionalized injustice then.

—   Oh, so America was great because great men were the shapers of public opinion. Clearly he’s casting himself in that role now. How modest of you, Will. I can definitely see why people would say Sorkin was also casting himself in that light by creating this character and this show.

—   Wait, so he doesn’t remember saying any of that? Rage blackout? Weird.

—   Nice opening credits sequence. Not as majestic as The West Wing, but that’s probably as it should be.

—   The show picks up again three weeks later? So we don’t get to see the immediate fallout? Boo.

—   Aaaand the first scene with a major female character is an argument about relationships and involves her being told by her boyfriend that she’s asking too much of him and that she doesn’t deserve her job. Lovely. (I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in real life, but why does it have to be the character’s intro? Can’t we show her being good at something before having her be insulted in front of us?)

—   Don is absolutely right. Will isn’t a nice guy. He’s an egomaniac and I don’t like him because I don’t like egomaniacs and the way they disrespect others. I hope he gets more tolerable because it’s going to be hard watching this show if he doesn’t.

—   Okay, so he shows a little humility by admitting he cares that people don’t like him.

—   They’re building Mackenzie up to be the Best Thing Ever. She better be good.

—   Two different women nearly start sobbing within minutes of each other, both trying to pull themselves together in the name of professionalism. When was the last time I saw that kind of scenario play out with a man at work? I’m gonna guess and say never. Because we women are sobby wrecks.

—   And the first conversation between two female characters is about a man. Bechdel test, I’m waiting for you to be passed.

—   Mackenzie is really sneaky and manipulative, in a kind of childish way. I don’t like her much right now. Hope she gets better and stops playing into those stereotypes.

—   Ooh, real world event! The BP oil spill!

—   Ah, the argument that “the masses are asses” and that nothing good can be popular. I think Sorkin himself proved that wrong with a show about the White House that lasted seven seasons.

—   Okay, I agree with Mackenzie that the news should be more informative. I like her a little better when she’s not being a flirtatious weasel.

—   Oh, gosh, they really need to stop with the sappy music. I get it, Show, you’re being idealistic and rousing about the nobility of media. Now turn down the music.

—   Blah blah, Don is being mean to Jim and we know Jim is right because we know the oil spill is a big story. Yawn.

—   So the moral dilemma: To blame the spill on the lack of government regulation or not. Honestly I don’t really care. Maybe it’s because it’s unclear what the stakes are for either outcome.

—   I’ve watched my uncle work at his newsroom in California. Even when crunch time is coming, no one is running around like this. Kind of a sleepy, lethargic atmosphere. But that wouldn’t make good TV.

—   Ooh, redheaded actor. Is that Ned Vaughn? Lemme check IMDB. Yup, it’s Ned Vaughn. He’s in everything. Carry on.

—   Will nailed the inspector, Eric Neal, and made him look incompetent. That sounds totally fair, to blame the spill on one guy. I just googled Eric Neal, and this article would seem to indicate that there were many more people questioned about the spill and possibly at fault than just the one. So much for honesty and thoroughness.

—   Yay, everybody claps that they made it through the news broadcast by the seat of their pants. Will gets to look smug and majestic.

—   His boss, Charlie, says that McCarthyism ended because of the opinion of a news anchor, Edward R. Murrow, and the Vietnam War ended because of Walter Kronkite. While yes, media is powerful, I’m sure there were a lot of other factors at work in both those cases. This is extremely oversimplified, though it fits with the 2-step flow theory of authority figures shaping the public opinion.

—   Oh, joy, a workplace love triangle involving characters I don’t really care about.

—   Of course the female lead tells the male lead that he’s perfect. Ew. Perfection is so overrated.

—   Aha, so Mackenzie was in the audience at the panel discussion, holding up those signs that triggered Will’s rant. That would be a much bigger twist if I cared at all about their relationship. I still don’t know what she did to him.

*

Final thoughts:

I found the whole episode moderately engaging because, yes, smart people talking fast is a bit hypnotic to me. Unfortunately, I don’t like any of the characters very much — Will is an abrasive egomaniac, Mackenzie is split between being a whiny child and a professional and annoyingly idealistic executive producer, and the rest of them are just tiny bit players at this point and I don’t give a hoot about their relationship problems. If I were more invested in the characters, their professional and personal successes would be a lot more satisfying to me. As things stand now, I don’t care much about what happens to the news program or to the relationships, because the characters don’t hold my interest.

Plus I don’t think these actors have the same comic timing as actors on Sorkin’s previous shows, so that makes the show less funny overall.

I also think Sorkin did himself a disservice by centering the show on real world events and claiming that his lofty goal is to inform the public. If the events were fictional, like in The West Wing, you could never go to google and find out all the facts he’s leaving out. As is, he basically undermines his own message, since there’s no way he could possibly include all the facts, and yet he pretends he is.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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