Canadian media reviews of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom
You’d better believe that journalists, being obsessed with getting the facts right, will be the first to point out when facts about them are wrong.
This may explain the lukewarm-at-best reviews that Aaron Sorkin’s latest drama series, The Newsroom, has garnered in the Canadian media over the last week.
Here’s some snippets from reviews around the country:
The good: “I think the series captures well the intense energy and excitement that surrounds a good newsroom when a major story hits and journalists dig deep to drive the story to air. Ditto its brief glimpses into what editorial meetings can be like when dark humour can often get you through some difficult discussions.” – Peter Mansbridge, chief correspondent and host of The National.
The bad: “It’s tedious and navel-gazing — there isn’t a scene, plot development or character in this newsroom that’s even vaguely plausible. What happened to humour and irony at HBO? Bring back Ken Finkleman and at least let us laugh at ourselves.” – Carol Off, host of CBC’s As it Happens.
The meh: “I laughed aloud when The Newsroom’s new executive producer (EP) MacKenzie McHale walks in with a large Louis Vuitton bag slung over each shoulder. Most producers I know don't make enough money to afford one small Louis, let alone two large ones. I don't think a journalist supposedly embedded with U.S. troops in a war zone for 26 months would suddenly start carrying one of the biggest symbols of luxury and tote it around a newsroom in which she’s trying to make an impression as the new EP.” – Leanne Hazon, producer for CBC News.
The good: “More refreshingly, what they orate about is quite timely. The opening quartet of shows spans a specific period from April, 2010 to January, 2011, with each episode revolving around a particular news event – the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the midterm elections, the Gabby Giffords shooting. Add in recurring clips of figures like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Obama himself, and the text has a palpable immediacy rare on TV or in film.”
The bad: “Having watched the first four episodes, which clock in at well over four hours, I can assure you of this: The first four minutes are infinitely better than anything that follows.”
The meh: “Sorkin has a gift for quick dialogue but, even at his best, his characters often sound too eloquent and arch for their roles; in fact, they can all start to sound like a suspiciously articulate pack of Aaron Sorkins.”
The good: “One bright spot is Canadian Alison Pill, who is compelling as an associate producer named Maggie Jordan.”
The bad: “The well-circulated trailer for The Newsroom really is a misrepresentation of what the show is. That's common for movies, not so much for TV … The scene at the university tees up the plot of The Newsroom, but it certainly doesn't drive the plot. Daniels' Will has a lot of contradictions -- like all of us, some might say, but in this case they're glaring and distracting.”
The meh: Because The Newsroom is set in the news business, am I being harder on it than I might be on other shows? Maybe. Probably.
The good: “Sorkin has spared no expense in conscripting a splendid cast: Emily Morton as McAvoy’s new producer and ex-flame; Sam Waterson as McAvoy’s scotch-swilling boss; John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski and Dev Patel as McAvoy’s team of researchers; and, yes, Jane Fonda as one of the big bosses of the cable-news network who is not a fan of McAvoy’s current assault tactics on air. But it matters not, since they mostly bicker with one another about their approach to the news.”
The bad: “The Newsroom is not meant to parody or expose. … Fair enough. However, this zeal to become the unflinching Superman of news, espousing truth, justice and the American way – triggered by just one outburst – puts Sorkin on shaky ground. Holier than thou is a tough path for mere mortals, even Sorkin, to follow, particularly considering the trespasses of the show’s principals.”
The meh: “And so it is that The Newsroom quickly morphs into something almost insufferably earnest and sanctimonious and self-flattering and smug and shrill and condescending. “
The good: The Newsroom is not a wasted effort — even bad Aaron Sorkin is better than no Aaron Sorkin at all. But it is a wasted opportunity.
The bad: “News Night, McAvoy’s show-within-the-show, doesn’t work as fake news, even when re-enacting actual (two-year-old) news stories. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom doesn’t work as real drama, or for that matter, fake drama. And you won’t believe what he gets away with either. In both cases, not coincidentally, it’s preachy, clichéd and over-written, masquerading as smart, topical and witty. McAvoy at least has an excuse: he and his team are after nothing less than remaking the face of TV news.”
The meh: “And then there is the problem of McAvoy himself … who for all his preachy newsdesk sermons and grudging conciliatory gestures is a singularly shallow and unlikeable guy. It doesn’t help that he’s giving out conflicted messages. Personally, he professes growth when clearly there has been none. Professionally, the kind of honest and educational news show he’s espousing is, well, highly unlikely.”
The good: "The opening scene sets up what's to come, good and bad. It's a terrific scene, but also oddly strained and forced: realistic, but not quite realistic enough to pass for real. ... For a full three minutes, McAvoy launches into the kind of speech that still makes anyone old enough to remember The West Wing long for the days when Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet and Bradley Whitford's Josh Lyman could talk about serious issues in the guise of a popular-entertainment TV program, when network television wasn't so . . . dumb, and reality TV had yet to make its presence felt."
The bad: "The Newsroom is full of mixed messages - as news and as entertainment. It assumes its audience will be as interested in news gathering as the mainstream TV-viewing public was in seeing Martin Sheen play an idealized version of a fictional, left-leaning U.S. president in The West Wing, but the truth is that journalism - while interesting to journalists - has never been as interesting to a mainstream audience as law enforcement, firefighting, medicine or even presidential politics."
The meh: "The Newsroom manages to straddle the line between satire and gentle amusement for a time, but after a while it becomes increasingly apparent that it doesn't quite work as either."