There is a significant amount of criticism aimed at HBO's The Newsroom, and I agree with much of it. I wanted the show to be subtler, like Mad Men, with anchorman Will McAvoy at the heart as a conflicted soul whose every move not only reveals, but reinforces his character (and the character of his industry). I wanted well-drawn women like Joan and Peggy who speak and act authentically vs. the current versions of Mack or Maggie who appear to be little more than caricatures of/odes to female roles from the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s (and I love those). And I wanted plots that made me think, not ones that spoon-feed me the "correct" emotional response like I'm a baby at my first paper-ripping party.
No, The Newsroom is not subtle. And it often disappoints, but here are three reasons I'm still watching it.
Jeff Daniels. Rare is the actor who can inhabit a role. Where you can watch him/her perform and not think, "Oh there's Nicholas Cage playing... Nicholas Cage! " Rarer still is the actor who can do that across a diverse range of roles. From a pretentious, divorcing father struggling to accept what is happening with his family in The Squid and the Whale to the radically naïve Harry in Dumb and Dumber, Daniels has always impressed me in those ways. As McAvoy he emotes sensitivity and blowhard all in one. He is believable (despite some of the writing) and inspires empathy (despite some of his faults). Delivering Sorkin dialogue ain't easy, but when McAvoy (inhabited by Daniels) says early in the season, "I'm a registered Republican. I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage," I not only chuckled, I bought it.
It's Actually a Comedy. Speaking of chuckles, did you know that The Newsroom is a comedy? Though packaged as a drama (with a sprinkling of witty repartee), the place where I've gotten my belly laughs on Sunday night is HBO at 10:00.
During the August 5 episode, the crew celebrates its one-year News Night 2.0 anniversary at Will's apartment. Cue montage of the twenty-somethings playing 20 questions and reading tweets from Steve Martin aloud to each other while Jim and Will treat the crowd to an impromptu acoustic guitar jam session. Hilarious! Then, just when I can barely breathe as tears from laughter are streaming down my face, Newsroom president Charlie Skinner (played by Sam Waterston) asks a staff member's girlfriend to read a tweet from The Rock and is able to crack the code on a big, brewing National Security story. ROFLMFAO!
Plus, you know, Sorkinisms!
The point is the laughs are coming from places not intended.
I Hope it Gets Better. Before every single episode, I hold out hope that it will turn itself down a few notches and see what the view is like outside of its own ass. But I am so appreciative of the message and the purpose and the unbridled optimism that each week I still tune in with the hopes that it will deliver. So far, that's not been the case. Even the most recent episode reeked of sanctimony [spoiler alert: for a show that spent a lot of time preaching about why the news shouldn't cover Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner, it sure did spend a lot of fucking time on Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner]. All while the guy Mack cheated on Will with is hired by Will to do a cover story in some sort of twisted Sorkin fantasy. A Sorkfantasy! LOL!
As Sorkin and his fellow executive producers prepare for season two, I hope they take the feedback to heart and turn the show around. There is recent precedence for this. Many critics agreed that season one of Parks and Recreation was over the top and silly. But you could see its potential. In season two, it started to gel. The characters were still ridiculous, but real. The situations were funny, but still plausibly exaggerated. And we began to invest in them as an audience. When Leslie Knope won the election for Pawnee City Council at the end of last season, I cried.
I sort of want to cry when I'm watching The Newsroom. Just not from laughing.