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The Morning After: Follow-Up Story

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Brief spoilers for last night’s The Newsroom below:

Because I have already been very critical of The Newsroom, last night’s episode was the last of which I saw before writing my original review, let me kick this post off by mentioning one thing I liked about “I’ll Try to Fix You.”

The last few minutes, in which the News Night staff resisted pressure to prematurely call Gabrielle Giffords dead, illustrated a very worthwhile point about a real problem: rushing to be first (or at least to catch up) rather than to be right, as we saw in the blown CNN and Fox News calls on the Supreme Court health care ruling. What’s more, it did it without relying on deus ex machinas like the pilot’s BP story did. No one needed to have a friend or relative (or both) placed with inside info—it only took discipline and principle to wait for sufficient confirmation. And the scene, like the pilot, showed that this drama is most compelling when the characters are doing their jobs, not talking about them.

But as I said in my initial review, while The Newsroom makes a lot of worthy points as a media-criticism op-ed, that makes it no better as a drama. (Especially when it continually subordinates its drama to its message.) My agreeing with a show doesn’t make it a better drama. Having a message “that people need to hear”—almost invariably, people other than the person saying that, who already agrees with said message—is not an excuse for didacticism, stacking the deck, writing arguments for yourself to win, creating characters who are little more than bottles for your messages. It’s not a reason to overlook slipshod structure—only the most glaring example of which was flashing back to episode 3 in episode 4. And it’s certainly not a good reason for patronizing depictions of women—which, woo God, take your pick in this episode. They might as well change News Night’s title to “‘Quiet, Honey, a Man Is Talking,’ with Will McAvoy.”

But I’ve said my piece already at length; we’re now at the point where you’ve seen as much as I saw of The Newsroom before reviewing it, so I’m curious to hear what you think of it now. If you still love it at this point, we simply disagree, and that’s fine. But I’m especially curious if there’s anyone out there who likes the show on grounds that don’t depend on agreeing with its messages. Most of the defenses of the show I’ve read have boiled down to: “Maybe it has such-and-such weakness, but we need The Newsroom because look at what the media did on such-and-such story last week.”

Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing was full of messages too, but it had enough richness of characterization and expansiveness of spirit that I could see how someone could disagree with its characters’ politics and still love it. (That has to have been the case; it needed fans of all political stripes to have been a top-ten hit on broadcast TV.) The Newsroom, to me, is so strident and outraged that I don’t think there’s room to disagree with it and feel like it wants you there.

But I’m a journalist—I could be wrong! Anyone want to make the case for The Newsroom strictly as a drama?

21 comments
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lucelucy
lucelucy

I'm still watching.  Think my OCD is acting up again.  What struck me most about the 4th episode is how much the show itself reflected the gossip thread that ran through it.  Like a fake reality show - The Real Newsfolks of Primetime.  I thought this was supposed to be a show about the news, about how it's reported, about how it's produced, about how those decisions are made.  That's the real meat, the real interesting stuff.  The relationship drama - well, that could be interesting too - we do like our meat with a little sauce.  But this show is drowning in tasteless gravy.  I'm sorry, Aaron, but so far you've merited a take-down piece.

Elizabeth Arnold
Elizabeth Arnold

I really wanted to like this show, and Rush's response to this episode almost made me move past it's faults; but the show just has too many problems.  I personally do not care for using past events.  I know how these events played out, and it takes the drama away from the show.  Others will not agree and initially I thought it was a creative way to write a TV show, but it just hasn't really done it for me.  My biggest criticism is how women are portrayed on the show.  I don't know how to send an email, or I am a gun, crazy, jealous nut, who freaks out after one date.  Guess what, I watch the real housewives,  that does not make me a bad person.  Bad taste in TV, maybe; but how Daniels character talked to his date was unexceptionable.  Oh, and I am a registered republican, look at me, this show isn't liberal.  It's liberal!!!  That's the only thing I like about the show.  Also, it has made me realize the Anderson Cooper is amazing!    

Joe Shea
Joe Shea

This review, starting with the first sentence, is hard to understand.  The editors should have worked it over a few times.

Jennifer Tress
Jennifer Tress

I really wanted to like this show, but I'm so disappointed. I wanted it to be more subtle, like Mad Men; to not feel like I was being spoon fed (I mean playing COLD PLAY at the end to drive home a point? Everyone gets emotional hearing Coldplay. Everyone). In its current format it feels like a pretty cookie cutter (if not overly cynical) drama with swearing. FIX IT SORKIN!

Tomás Rossetti
Tomás Rossetti

It's really disappointing to see a show criticizing itself: the whole "real television" speech with the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy twist.

Shoot the Critic
Shoot the Critic

I agree that the show is most compelling when it shows them doing their jobs than when they talk about them. The depiction of women is despicable, as if all women watch Real Housewives, are petty, get hung up on guys, are jealous, and so forth. There's always a multiplicity of the same female depiction, as we see with all the women Will encounters this episode. And Allison Pill is just awful. It's still entertaining but has become increasingly unbearable to watch. I'm giving it a couple more episodes. - Shoot the Critic

max4374
max4374

I like it because it seems to lead to a future climax, which parallels our current political state.  We all know that some kind of reckoning is expected to happen in the near future that will either tip our nation to a much worse position, or expose the ludicrousness of  our  current state of affairs, such as when Katrina exposed the Bush administration for what it was.  Take your pick: wealth inequality, economic collapse, Tea Party, corrupt politicians, climate change...It seems like the show is giving a contextual background to where we are, and while slowly it is catching up to our timeline, it gives a feeling of building urgency. 

Perhaps we should view it differently than a standard drama: It is not the character storyline that is the center of the series, but the drama itself.  The characters do not drive the story, the story gives character to those driven by the drama happening all around them. 

And there is also another dimension: some of the most riveting storylines are documentaries.   We, and the characters, are both spectators affected by forces outside the control of the narrative.  We and the characters react, not act.  I see this show as straddling between the two dramatic mediums of reality and fiction.  I simply think that the combination works, as a whole and in its parts.

PThomas
PThomas

I find myself more and more disappointed -- because I have loved other  Sorkin shows and movies AND am a news junkie.  So this show was tailor-made for me.  But it's only when it's showing what goes on in the program creation and in the control room as the show airs that it lives up to its promise.  All the other "hot mess"  in the other 90% of the show  makes me angry: silly story lines (really:  Big Foot?) / characters parading their most personal lives in front of everyone (one thinks of Sally's admonition to Harry to the effect that "You've got to keep from saying everything that comes into your head the moment it comes into your head" / people screeching or screaming and over-acting / supposedly professional employees -- especially the women -- acting like nincompoops / etc. 

I'll likely keep watching and hope it gets better as it settles down...maybe even in Season 2 ... but I'm not optimistic.

anazagarus
anazagarus

I find Jeff Daniels' performance captivating. Maybe he just looks better with the almost exclusively poor cast around him, but I keep watching because Daniels is great, and watching the way he will grow this character over an entire season or series, when you can trust the actor, is always a sweet experience.

vuducat
vuducat

This is an interesting question.  From my standpoint, which is to say that "Newsroom" is my first exposure to Alan Sorkin's writing style, I think it works very well as a drama.  Perhaps the fact that it is an HBO series rather than a network series led Sorkin to try things he had avoided in the past with his writing; your statement regarding "Quiet, Honey, a Man Is Talking,’ with Will McAvoy.” seemed to me to be a means of making a statement about a perceived stereotype of conservatives and their "war against women" without directly saying so.  I think the show is faily well defined as having a liberal agenda by a significant cross section of the viewing population.  So why not have the main character display, in a very up front, poorly theatricized manner, that which seems to be one of the prevailing shortcomings of the modern GOP which they present in a very up front, poor theatricized manner.  In short, it seems to me that Sorkin has done a very good job of playing our expectations against us, in compelling each of us to make very reactionary, knee jerk observations about the reactionary, knee jerk characteristics we see in his writing. 

Michael R. Trice
Michael R. Trice

I thought at first the reaction to this show was mistaking its fantasy Newsroom for a real Newsroom. I was wrong. The first episode showed promise, but this series is a white hot mess. You expect this level of sexism in Entourage, but not a show like Newsroom that so desperately wants to important. It's simply too shallow and lazy.

autumnrose
autumnrose

I don't understand you reviewers. Maybe it's because Sorkin is attacking your field of work in this series. I am just guessing that The Newsroom might be after all media (especially with the story line involving Hope Davis's character). You keep on comparing the show with West Wing. You say the characters don't seem rich enough? You are picking on something because you don't want to watch the show. You don't want it to be good. Jeff Daniels is amazing and Sam Waterston's character is just as stabilizing than John Spencer's Leo (a favorite TWW character). Alison Pill kept my brother, who hated the TWW, interested. That rooftop scen in episode three with John Gallagher Jr. hooked him. He hates my "elitist" television, but he watched because the characters were interesting and cute.  

This is a preaching show, but so is every other Aaron Sorkin show! Either you like his formula or you don't. Don't blame the cast or say it's the characters. Even the guests are awesome (look at my new crush Chris Messina). The cast works and I would watch this show even if it never discussed politics or the news (Remember the rooftop). I think you are trying not to like the show. So yeah, I'll disagree with you, as do many of the other people replying. I'm going to go one further; You're trying to hate this show. HBO already gave it a second season. It doesn't need your approval. 

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

We disagree, but what I've written about the show is simply what I believe about it, not what I "want" to think about it. I'd assume the same is true for you. We disagree, but I have no reason to believe you're not being honest about it.

As for the "critics must hate it because it attacks the media," I've seen that argument a lot and it always puzzles me. If you read this blog at all, you'll see that most of the arguments Sorkin and his characters make about news coverage--about false objectivity, calling out lies, not rushing to judge--are ones I've made here. (See the link above to that SCOTUS post I put up last week.) But as I said, agreeing with the show doesn't erase its flaws as a drama, for me.

If anything, most TV critics (most of them working in print or web media) are harshly critical of exactly the same kinds of failings of cable news that The Newsroom is harsh on. If anything, they might be disposed in favor of a show that critiques the way things are in cable news. And I can't speak for everyone else, but I tend to doubt they identify with Hope Davis' gossip-columnist character.

Michael R. Trice
Michael R. Trice

It doesn't need his approval. What it needs is better writing.

Frank Simon
Frank Simon

I think, that show has deep that you have to find out. The fourth episode show it strongly. The story about dating was not about relationships between Wil and Mac. It was about Gossip and what is imporant. Can work Gossip Journalist and News Journalist based on the same basics, what is "entertainment" and raise ratings or not ?   Are both really in the "same business" (what surprisely at the end of the episode the president of ACN suggest to Wil) ?   The same was between Maggie and Jim, it was about Truth and Lie (surprisely, the same topic on the News relating to Guns). 

And in the end if come to the conclusion, when the decision is make, if speed is more important than provide confirmed information. The first signal what is important was made, as Wil through the Gossip Magazine from his table. And as Don, the guy that was opposite to what happend since he leave to 10 o`clock said "A Doctor pronounced her dead, not the news", this was the whole episode about. Not only the last 5 minutes.

The show is like West Wing. It shows "How it could be". West Wing need more than 4 episodes to develop characters and storyline. You do not have to believe in the liberal message, Sorkin show in the "content" of the show, but i think everyone can agree with the message: "A democracy need a well informed elector"

azure3391
azure3391

WoW!  Talk about rushing to judgement. It should take a few episodes to establish the characters on any TV show that expects to last more than one season. Thats why you continue to watch every week.  I think they are trying to put a human spin on news and show that the people involved are only human after all is said and done. Do you really think life is only like what goes on in front of the cameras? Give Sorkin a chance to develope the story, and thus keep us interested to see what is going to happen next.

drunknapoleon
drunknapoleon

I think my main criticism of the show is "show not tell."  Granted, you may think that's impossible for a Sorkin TV series, but the West Wing was replete with  smart dialogue which was subordinate to a grander point (see, for example, Donna's interaction with Josh about how lending $20 for a sandwich demonstrated a broader point between Republican and Democratic philosophies).    The episode of the Supremes I think did this particularly well (although that may not have been Sorkin -- I don't remember if he was out by then).  But nonetheless, there were tons of examples where the Sorkin dialogue did the following: (1) provided characterization; (2) gave laughs; and (3) educated the public about the political process.  With the Newsroom, I feel for the most part that I'm being lectured to.  

One other point is the protagonist.  Bartlet was just GOOD AT HEART -- he had his faults regarding concealing MS, but in a fundamental nature he's just very good.  Will is a jerk, with flashes of kindness and a (genuine) sense of civic responsibility.  That's just a tough carrot to pull off, rooting for the anti-hero.    I like the fact that Sorkin is tackling this, but the degree of difficulty in my mind is off the charts.That said, I think at least the intelligence of the discussions, while incredibly preachy, still appeal to me more than basically most other television, which is for the most part an oasis of imbecility.

drunknapoleon
drunknapoleon

Also, the antagonists are all one dimensional.  Jane Fonda wants to get rid of Will to push her business agenda past Congress.  In the West Wing, we saw depth and nuance to WHY the Republicans acted the way they did -- a great example would be that one episode where Josh and the gay Republican have beers, and the Republican says "I don't want to be defined by my sexuality!"   Josh therefore can't get the final vote that he needs to pass a bill, so technically the antagonist is the Republican but we sympathize with him.  The lack of nuance in the antagonists makes it for a less compelling show.  Here, we just see the traditional news establishment as just bad, bad, bad.  I'm sure all of them might WANT to do the type of show that Will is doing, but they're constrained by a multitude of factors.   In Newsroom, we simply see the antagonists  angrily and decisively dismiss the quixotic nature of what Will and the gang are trying to accomplish.

Okay, now I need to get back to work.

Nicolas Lazarus
Nicolas Lazarus

The characters are now starting to come out as the various relationships develop.  The writing and editing, in some cases, make for fast paced, heart thumping segments.  The "messages" are superfluous to the rest of the series which, I think, is coming along nicely, except maybe for episode 3 which I struggles to watch in its entirety.

steve0617
steve0617

I'll be the first to admit I LOVE this show. But that's because I like Sorkin's sanctimonious writing. Sure, he's looking smugly down his nose at others (I like that Maggie called out Jim last week as being smug. And they used the famous C.J. and Josh line last night of  'YOU THINK!?'), but I agree with his message about the 'media' Obviously, I'm who he's writing for. And I don't care about admitting that. But I loved Sorkin back from Sports Night when nobody knew Sorkin's writing style yet.

But I too like the show when they're doing their actual jobs, rather than all the stupid relationshippy stuff.