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TV’s Smartest Show

Published on August 9, 2012 by in Columns

I’m beginning to feel like it’s been too long since I gave anything a ringing endorsement.

After panning the Olympics last week, I began to think that I should share something with you that I suspect you’ll love.  (Incidentally, the interceding week has brought us a few moments of Olympic redemption—specifically, America’s newest sweetheart, Gabby Douglas and South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, the runner and double-amputee with carbon-fiber legs.)

For several weeks now, I’ve heard friends and critics raving about a new TV show.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m notorious for being the last one to the party when it comes to television shows.  I didn’t watch “The Wire” until the series was off the air.  For years, I sat staring blankly into space as my friends giggled and squealed about “True Blood.”  “Numb3rs,” “Bones,” “Criminal Minds,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “24”—I’ve always been the last one on the bandwagon.

Jeff Daniels Newsroom

Jeff Daniels delivers a stellar performance as Will McAvoy.

But not this time.  I spent last weekend catching up on the best new show on television, “The Newsroom.”  Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a cable news junky, but it’s been years since I’ve seen a show that is so brilliantly written and so stirringly poignant.  The dialogue barrels along like a steam engine, the characters become more complex with each episode, and the acting is utterly superb.

Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, a difficult but affable anchor for a cable news network.  Sam Waterston is Charlie Skinner, the hot-headed, hard-drinking president of the News Division, whose every appearance is intensely captivating.  After a minor shakeup at the network, Skinner hires McAvoy’s ex-girlfriend, Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), as the Executive Producer of McAvoy’s primetime show.  And with that, the stage is set for a complex human drama to unfold against the backdrop of some of the biggest news stories of the past three years.

Newsroom Sam Waterston

Sam Waterston plays a fiery executive, and is a joy to watch.

I’ve never been in a television newsroom.  But I’ve got friends who have, and they love the show.  Dan Rather, the legendary news anchor, has spent a little time in a newsroom.  He was hired by the website to recap and review each episode of this first season.  “I’ve been looking for things not to like in this series,” he wrote in his review of episode 3.  “Haven’t found many.  Give it five stars so far.  If they can keep this up—if they can maintain the quality—they will have produced a classic.”

“The Newsroom” was created and written by Aaron Sorkin, who bravely and brilliantly tackles the institutions that shape our news—the political and corporate interests which remain largely off-limits to critical reportage.  The show is a portrayal of principled journalists trying to operate in today’s difficult media landscape, chronicling their efforts as they navigate the minefield.  According to Rather, it depicts “how a combination of big business and big government, working for their mutual benefit—not the public interest but rather their own interests—affects the news we see and hear.”

Newsroom Cast

The supporting cast is absolutely dynamic.

Even in this divisive political climate, I think we all suspect we’re only getting part of the story.  It’s the one thing, regardless of our political affiliations, that most of us can agree upon.  “The Newsroom” is a chronicle of these troubled times.  The model is broken, and there’s no clear solution.  The Fourth Estate is so beholden to the interests of the powerful, it has ceased to function as it should.  This is the message, delivered with eye-opening proficiency in “The Newsroom.”

If you’re an HBO subscriber, you can go back and watch the previous episodes online, via HBO Go.  They’ve posted the entire pilot episode on YouTube.  And perhaps you know of craftier ways of viewing subsequent episodes.

Spend an hour this weekend watching the pilot, and I suspect you’ll be hooked.

Originally printed in “Pulse,” 08/09/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2012.  All rights reserved.

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