Grace Dent on TV: The Newsroom, Sky Atlantic
If you find Sorkin's latest a bit trite, think on this: at least you're not watching Winter Wipeout
Saturday 21 July 2012
On first whiff that Aaron Sorkin's new drama The Newsroom had base-notes of ordure, learned folk from every continent gathered round to beat it like a crap TV pinata. It's not that The Newsroom, episode 2 of which played on Sky Atlantic this week, is heinously bad – it's a pleasant enough way to waste an hour re-visiting the details of the BP oil spill played out in an office full of dislikable smartarses – it's simply not amazing.
To recap: Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is a VERY SHOUTY MAN, a godlike newshound biting at the bare bum of American truth. MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) is his ex-girlfriend whom Will doesn't like (shhh but he does, oh no he doesn't, ooh he's so torn). I've watched until the end of episode 4 and I'm already roaring "Oh bloody grow up" every time Will brings up MacKenzie's reported relationship-blitzing demeanour.
MacKenzie is one of the best executive producers in the world – ok, she can't use e-mail, work a wipe-clean board or even find employment in a newsroom where her boss blanked all contact for three years – but she is, nevertheless, truly brilliant. And MacKenzie loves news: in fact, when Will reads the news live on air from the autocue, MacKenzie stares lovingly at the monitor, drinking in its gorgeousness.
Maybe, having worked amongst reporters and TV folk for many years, I can't take this grandiose view of 'the newsroom' seriously. Much closer to the truth, I feel, is the 90s comedy Drop The Dead Donkey, the tale of a non-cosy, deadpan gang of quietly brilliant curmudgeons cranking out a wonky product, just hoping for the best, and somehow always triumphing just in time for last orders.
In Sorkin's newsroom, he who shouts loudest is king, in real newsrooms I always find shouting to be the sound of someone failing. Weirdly, Mackenzie is about 20 years younger than Will, but never mind the age-gap and the fact she's superhot –it's for Will she pines, a bit like Christine Bleakley would no doubt have a red-hot crush on Jon Snow if the two of them were placed in close vicinity discussing "the news", which as well as being bloody exciting is powerfully sexy.
So that's the basics. Add in a few recurring storylines between Maggie (The Newsroom's 'Dawn from The Office' character) and Jim (The Newsroom's 'Tim from The Office' character) and Maggie's boyfriend who works on 'The 10 o'clock show' (The Newsroom's Swindon Branch), oh and don't forget the money guys in the suits upstairs who appear approximately twice an episode to say: "Why, you! Pesky Will McAvoy, we coulda pushed d'ose viewing figures way up if you'd only said the Tea Party was real good, but you said it was baaad and now we're mighty vexed!" Plus the occasional comedy cul-de-sac moment from Dev from Slumdog Millionaire and his 'blog' and a LOT of waffling on about the politics of news and you've got a show already renewed for a second series.
The problem that Sorkin has with The Newsroom is that he's made a show far too clever for stupid people to love, but far too stupid for clever people to love. I may put myself on the "stupid people" side here as the majority of The Newsroom's machine-gun dialogue dissections of news corporations and agendas set in the light of complex foreign policy, woosh over my head on first hearing. Once Sorkin's characters walked and talked; now they don't even walk, they simply stand motionless, letting the scene benefit from the majesty of their truth.
A little too much self-reverent quacking for my ear, then. But for all the clever-clogs out there? Well, Sorkin attracts a certain kind of discerning (translation: bloody insufferable) TV viewer, the sort of "I love TV" Johnny-come-lately who watched seven series of The West Wing on DVD, gets wobbly lipped about Sportsnight, and will endure more throwaway froth like Wallander, then expect all TV to be equally quasi life-enhancing.
All Sorkin devotees still grizzling about The Newsroom should be forced to pass my TV Critic's Licence exam which involves clocking up thousands of hours of terrible telly to aid 'perspective'. This includes 50+ hours of ITV1 Sunday night one-off drama about a middle class family WITH A DARK SECRET (trailers scored by Des'ree); 20 hours of faded celebs on BBC1's Winter Wipeout; 100 five-minute Channel 4 4thought films where some blithering twonk claims you can "cure depression with prayer"; plus 75 Holby City plots where people with grave maladies die on trollies as staff are too busy dry humping in the cleaners' cupboard.
Crucial viewing for Newsroom critics, in particular, should be Channel 4's recent satire 'Hacks', a show so poor that real hacks couldn't even muster the strength to be rankled. Next week in The Newsroom: Jane Fonda shows up AND SHE'S VERY ANGRY. Well, she would be.
On Tuesday, Carol who does the weather on BBC Breakfast pointed at a yellow circle on the map and talked of "sun". It poured down shortly afterwards, but it was a thrilling summer TV moment.
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