Even just two episodes in, I think that it’s unfortunately very clear that Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama ‘The Newsroom’ has a fundamental problem in its conception and execution. The show is literally old news. The decision to focus on real-world events from two years ago (and to approach them from such a blatantly revisionist perspective) simply does not work. More than that, the series itself feels like a regurgitation of Sorkin’s previous work and a collection of all his worst tics as a writer.
That “Sorkinisms” YouTube video that made the rounds on the internet recently was pretty damning. Even though it doesn’t specifically have any footage from ‘The Newsroom’, the new series could easily be squeezed in here. “And you know it.”
I’m also really disappointed in Sorkin’s treatment of women. Although he gives lip service that women may be good at their jobs, ultimately they’re portrayed as flighty, man-obsessed bimbos. The second episode, ‘News Night 2.0’, has two separate storylines that bend over backwards to highlight the incompetence of female characters. The most groan-worthy has a painfully telegraphed gag in which Mac (Emily Mortimer) is too dumb to figure out how to send an email, and forwards a personal message meant only for Will (Jeff Daniels) to the entire company. Later, Maggie (Alison Pill) wrecks the centerpiece segment of that night’s news broadcast when an important guest drops out because she insulted the booking agent, her ex-boyfriend. Oh, those silly women, always ruining everything!
Anyway, the plot of the episode puts the BP oil spill on the backburner to highlight the controversial Arizona immigration bill. After Maggie screws up, the show is forced to bring in three last-minute replacement guests who turn out to be nut-jobs and morons, and the broadcast is a total disaster. Meanwhile, Mac hires a “Money Honey” financial reporter named Sloan (the annoying Olivia Munn) to join the show. This leads to a very contrived scene where Mac sits Sloan down to explain the reality that she’s being hired for her looks as well as her talent – as if the girl (or the audience) was too naïve to figure this out on her own.
While I found the first episode of ‘The Newsroom’ to be promising but uneven, this one is a clear step down in quality. Sorkin’s preachiness is in overdrive the whole time, and I find his idealism and grandstanding to be misplaced. As he did for government in ‘The West Wing’, Sorkin tries to present us with his fantasy version of what broadcast news and the people who make it should be, not what they really are. I would find the latter, a hard-hitting look at the shenanigans that really go on behind-the-scenes of an allegedly impartial and objective newscast, to be a lot more interesting. That’s the sort of show we need, not this one.
I still want to believe that ‘The Newsroom’ has the potential for greatness, but so far, this is the weakest series that Sorkin has created. And this is coming from someone who defended ‘Studio 60’ to its bitter end.