Of the many, many shows on television, perhaps HBO's 'The Newsroom' is the most critically divisive. It's a political satire focused on the staff of 'News Night,' a fictional nightly news program that decides to undergo a back-to-basics approach to journalistic integrity. It lambasts Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and American culture in general, but drew fire for its perceived haughtiness. With season 2 slated to premiere on July 14, potential watchers might be wondering if it's a show worth tuning in to see.
That's a difficult question.
First of all, let me say that I like 'The Newsroom.' I don't love it, but I watched every episode of the first season, and I'll probably watch all of season 2 as well. The reason I've stuck with 'The Newsroom' isn't because it's a great series -- it isn't. But it has the potential for greatness, and sometimes that greatness shines through brilliantly. But, even after having seen ten episodes of the series, I'm not sure if that brilliance is worth all of 'The Newsroom's' shortcomings.
'The Newsroom' is built upon a starry-eyed nostalgia for the past. In the show's dramatically shot opening monologue, in which news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) describes why America is no longer the greatest country in the world, the show establishes its idealogical groundwork: people in the old days had integrity and morals, but not anymore! There's a dig at millenials (we're the "worst period generation period ever period" according to McAvoy) in there just for good measure, because hey, why not? Young people suck nowadays.
That's not to say that all of the problems that 'The Newsroom' points out aren't valid. Many of them are, especially the show's criticism of the 24-hour news cycle's eagerness to jump on the most salient stories and to leave out the actual facts. But Jon Stewart's been doing the same thing for over a decade now, and with almost none of 'The Newsroom's' condescension.
But there are moments of self-awareness, such as this scene in which a black, gay Rick Santorum campaign advisor dresses down Will for attempting to tell him what he should believe. It's the kind of scene that keeps me watching 'The Newsroom' -- when the show stops making obvious potshots and actually makes a hard-hitting, unique point. 'The Newsroom' can be a rewarding experience, you've just got to sift through paragraphs and paragraphs of Aaron Sorkin monologues to get to the good stuff.
And, really, that's what 'The Newsroom' is: just a long monolgue by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Every sympathetic character (and some of the unsympathetic ones) are just vehicles for Sorkin to voice his political and social grievances (though the most of the actors playing those characters really make those grievances convincing). Sometimes he really hits home with them, but other times he just seems like someone whose nostalgia for the Cronkite era has muddled his objectivity. Things aren't really as black-and-white as Sorkin would like to paint them, and it'd be nice to see 'The Newsroom' venture into less idealistic territory -- or at least for it to provide a solution that wasn't just "back to the good old days." And that's why I keep watching, ultimately: the show's scattered scenes of nuance give me hope that there will be more. But we'll see.
'The Newsroom: The Complete First Season' recently arrived to DVD and Blu-ray. The special features are nothing too special: some three-minute making-of featurettes for each episode, an inessential deleted scene here and there. The main special feature is a roundtable with the actors and writers, but there's nothing really informative here.
Honestly, 'The Newsroom' is a difficult series to love. If you don't agree with it idealogically -- or even if you don't agree with its approach -- it can be a tedious and often frustrating watch. But there are moments scattered throughout that make all that self-importance worth it. If you've got the patience for it, 'The Newsroom' is worth a watch.