Monday, July 9, 2012

Vexing Reactions to HBO's "The Newsroom"

Written By: Amanda Lowery

This past weekend I finally had a date night with my DVR and got caught up on some shows that have been building in my playlist, lingering in the back of my mind. So, I am a little late coming to the plate, but I have some things to say about HBO’s new series ‘The Newsroom’. I was excited to pull up reviews of the show to read about how everyone else is reacting, and I have to say I came away from my research down trodden and dispirited. I cannot believe this show is getting slammed the way that it is.

This show is smart. Aaron Sorkin “The West Wing” teams up with Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy”; Amy Sherman-Palladino, who brought us “Gilmore Girls”; and David E. Kelley, who created “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal.” I can see each of these creative minds at work in this show. Aaron Sorkin and Amy Sherman-Palladino deliver dialogue that makes your head spin slinging surprising pop cultural references at an alarming pace. However, unlike some reviewers out there, I am not put off by this phenomenon of fast paced entertainment. I understand that this doesn’t coalesce with individual viewing tastes, but I am a huge fan of having to be fully enmeshed in a show in order to appreciate its full potential. Granted, I go a little overboard with re-watching episodes, and then re-watching with closed captioning to make sure I catch every word of importance. How is it that shows like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood require this kind of investment and people give it, but when it comes to something so current and close to home on a social and political level it becomes too wordy and is criticized as false intellectualism?

Sigh. I’m also a fan of the over encumbered run on sentence that captures my full breadth of thought though, so I can see how my opinion is a bit on the biased side.

However, in all the criticism of the show’s zinging and weighty dialogue and Aaron Sorkin’s delight in his repeated use of character archetypes, and the “cuteness” of the young actors who are talented but don’t have much to do (uh, really? this last criticism made my insides twinge with contempt) there has been very little said about what is at the core of “The Newsroom.” The New Yorker review capitalizes on the fact that this show is rooted in the news of the past, and that it becomes preachy with its magnification of what could have been done differently. Um, yep. The show is operating as an entertaining social criticism highlighting the corruption of Network News in recent years. You have to have a message or developed perspective in order to drill home an effective criticism. And the message here is that the news has been distorted into a sensationalized spectacle backed by special interests delivering watered down facts in order to garner ratings and advertisement to keep the business of networks pumping money into CEOs' pockets. This is what the show is about! So they used real life events in order to exemplify how a non-biased (and may I remind you, ethical journalistic) approach to these real life events could have brought the public the facts and not the partisan propaganda we’re all so accustomed to, and critics are saying this makes it a show premised on “old news” and thus yawn worthy. Oh, I’m sorry I must be living in a different world, a world where there isn’t a steady stream of movie remakes and reinterpretations of historical figures and historical events.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but criticizing this show for its Network-esque “Mad as Hell” vibe is not a legitimate criticism. Not in this originality-stunted entertainment age. Will McAvoy says things that I have been thinking about the disintegration of ethical news media since I changed my major from journalism in college. And yes, at times the show can be heavy handed in its overall message, but I really think that is Sorkin’s style. The melodrama existing between the characters is in place to provide them with greater depth, and while there is only surface exploration of some characters, like Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel, we really get a sense that this high paced and exhilarating work environment plays a significant factor in the lives of all these people; bringing them together and pulling them apart in waves of events that mirror the waves in the news. The relationship drama in the show is something I feel Shonda Rhimes is responsible for while the physical humor, characters tripping, slamming, clapping, etc. is something that David E. Kelley excels at in developing character quips. I also read a criticism that said the show is based around ‘talking points’ and not genuine dialogue and drama, and I find this to an absurd criticism. A lot of the dialogue pacing and quick witted back-and-forth is influenced by what these people do, they live and breathe the news, the show is about the news, and so there will be a lot of mirroring of the news-like structure in whatever these characters touch, and the news never stops.

I’m okay with this structure. It keeps me thoroughly entertained for the entire hour. The show also aims to reveal the news gathering process at different levels while also providing a glimpse of the 44th floor of the business side of the network that houses the news. Jane Fonda made an appearance in last night’s episode to remind Sam Waterson that while the newly elected Tea Party candidates are ridiculously uninformed they are also holding the future of the entire organization in their ill equipped hands, and so it would behoove McAvoy to lay off the attack on their inadequacies. This is so real. This is the beating heart of what is wrong with special interests; this is why McAvoy’s ‘apology’ delivered to America highlights that advertising should have been written out of the political-entertainment policy that constructed the evening news. Just when Americans found a news anchor willing to reveal the gritty underbelly that is the truth of unfolding events everything is compromised by politics and money. There have been accusations that the show is naïve. Yes, these characters are bound together by their shared vision enmeshed in the naïveté that news can be pure and factual, just like it is supposed to be. But I do not think this makes the show undesirable, I think it makes the show dangerous. I can't wait to see what happens next. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I agree with your opinion on The Newsroom! Before I decided to check the show out for myself, I also came across the loads of banter critics were spewing against it. I’m glad I decided to give it a chance, since I found it to raise a lot of valid arguments about who is really in control of our society! A lot of people may not agree with Sorkin’s left-wing views of our bias media, but at least he has unearthed the issue and gotten people talking, from the tippy top of our news organizations to just a few Dish coworkers chatting over a cup of coffee. I definitely plan on remaining a part of the conversation, and that is why The Newsroom has crept its way up to the top of my DVR recording list. Unfortunately, I am the only one in my household that doesn’t find the show to be insanely boring. That’s ok because we have the Hopper DVR that can watch or record up to six things at once during primetime hours, so they can continue watching their mindless TV without affecting me! I can’t wait to see where the show takes us!