Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Newsroom

Other than news and analogously nerdy talk programs, I faithfully follow only a few TV programs. My latest is The Newsroom, an Aron Sorkin production, which purports to be a behind-the-scenes look at a cable news show and the various people who make it happen. It’s presumably about the state of news in today’s America, but also (and much more interestingly) about the interpersonal dynamics of the news program’s anchor, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), the Executive producer (and McAvoy’s former lover), MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), the President of the News Division, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson), and the younger newsroom staff – a bunch of energetic, driven, nerdy news junkies, who all manage nonetheless to be very good-looking and to juggle complicated emotional and sexual relationships right there in the newsroom.

As one would expect from a Sorkin production, the politics – ideology really – is for the most part perfectly predictable. It’s the orthodox, politically correct world-view presupposed by any right-thinking member of the urban, liberal cultural elite. Like President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in Sorkin’s super successful West Wing, McAvoy is somewhat flawed, but in his case considerably less likeable personally than Bartlet was. His obnoxiously, self-righteous, bullying “mission to civilize” is simply the external face of a desperately conflicted, ultra-self-absorbed narcissist. It certainly speaks volumes about the self-confidence of current elite opinion that the show’s hero is someone so hard to admire, let alone like. Obviously, he is intended as some sort of latter-day Edward R. Murrow. But journalistic conceits about Murrow’s heroism just don’t translate well into a much different social world, whose characters lack the moral framework for such heroism.

As one would expect, there are (besides the news itself) a number of interesting, intersecting sub-plots. There is the unresolved emotional tension between McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale. There is Charlie Skinner, the somewhat old-fashioned News Division’s president (who also, one suspects, would like somehow to re-incarnate Murrow) and his on-going clash with the bottom-line concerns of the parent company. By far the most personally compelling sub-plots, however, are the soap-opera-like lives of the younger newsroom staff – notably Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) and the complicated love triangle of Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), and Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.)

All in all, it’s a classic soap opera, grandly dressed up in elite concerns of purportedly world-historical significance. On occasion, as in the most recent episode recalling the killing of Osama ben Laden, those concerns manage to transcend sentimentality and express meaningful human (and even patriotic) emotion. Most of the time, It’s a lot of fun and a great show!

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