Hate The Newsroom? Try Watching It Like It's Just Another HBO Fantasy Show

By Cory Barker

Jul 12, 2013

Aaron Sorkin's political news drama The Newsroom, which begins its second season on HBO this Sunday, is one of the more polarizing shows on television.The first season was hotly anticipated by a lot of people—West Wing diehards, Social Network fans, and even the small but dedicated group of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip stans—all who thought that (Sorkin + politics) x (cable TV + HBO) = likely success. Of course, we now know that reaction to The Newsroom's first batch of episodes ranged from PURE RAGE at worst to heavily modulated optimism at best.

I'm not here to try to convince you that The Newsroom is a capital-G-Great television show; it's not. Instead, what I am going to do is let you all in on a secret viewing method that made the first season a lot more enjoyable than it probably should have been, one that I hope will help you enjoy Season 2 just as I will: Just think of it as another HBO fantasy show. It fits right alongside—or perhaps right between, on the scale of quality—True Blood and Game of Thrones.

Now, don't get it twisted. If you ask me, The Newsroom is a much better show than True Blood and it's certainly nowhere near as good as Game of Thrones. But like those two other tent-pole HBO dramas, The Newsroom exists not in reality, but its own utterly fictionalized version of the real world. In Season 1, so many people got hung up on the show's incessant need to re-configure the past so that Sorkin could show us all HOW TO DO JOURNALISM—partially because that mostly resulted in hilariously preachy bullsh*t, but also because the show tried too hard to key into real events. So here's what you gotta do: Imagine that none of it actually happened IRL. When Season 2 spends four episodes making fun of already forgotten conservative presidential "candidates" like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich and somehow brings Will McAvoy into the origin story of Binders Full of Women, your first thought is probably going to be "Who's Herman Cain again?" and your second thought is probably going to be to just tweet "SORRRRRKKKKIN!" in all caps. But what you should really do is just pretend—as the Republicans eventually did—that Herman Cain isn't a real person, and that he never tried to run for president. Keep repeating to yourself "None of this is real."

Once you've gotten past The Newsroom's insistence on mocking CNN long after it's already done enough to make a mockery of itself, it's easier to start accepting the show's other faults as parts of Newsroom universe (they're still problematic parts, but still). Sure, it could bother you that The Newsroom exists in a world where blogging is still only for really weird (and foreign) nerds and where just about anybody can easily deliver a soliloquy full of $2 words about important concepts like DEMOCRACY and AMERICA and REAL MEN. But hey, it could also bother you that, on True Blood, a vampire killed a newscaster and then suggested a race war on national TV and people only got mad for like four days, or that everybody on Game of Thrones likes to pontificate while they fornicate. We're willing to accept that vampires and werewolves and dirtbag werepanthers exist in society on True Blood, and that dragons and smoke demons exist on Thrones. Every fantasy show has its weird things we just buy because we're invested in at least some of the characters or themes. The Newsroom is no different.

And maybe, just maybe, thinking about the show as a fantasy will help alleviate what is perhaps The Newsroom's biggest issue: its treatment of women. Perhaps this is just a world where totally competent career women don't know how to use email clients on smartphones, or can't do their jobs because they're constantly blubbering their way through two different romantic relationships with barely deserving men. Right?!

Whoops, okay, so maybe that's a step too far. Being a fantasy show doesn't write off sexism. Hell, even True Blood knows that (I think).

But even though The Newsroom isn't a great show, and even though it probably never will be because so many of its fundamental flaws are so thoroughly Sorkin-y (the news boners, the sanctimonious speeches, the fairly problematic representation of women) it nevertheless features some really good characters (Sloan and Charlie most notably, but Neal, Don, Will and Mac all have their moments on the reg) that make the problematic material better. And once you start imaging the Newsroom universe as a place where every monologue about freedom of the press actually improves the world and let every montage set to five-year-old Coldplay songs wash over you, The Newsroom becomes immediately better.

Will you be watching The Newsroom Season 2? What do you like or dislike most about the show?

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  • emmiegirl Aug 10, 2013

    Wow, how did I miss this? The fray in comments was pretty steamy.

    Well I can hardly add much to the convo at this point except to say that truly, the most important montage of S01 was set to the amazing, timeless and epic, "High and Dry" by the musical geniuses Radiohead. It totally made up for any other unfortunate musical gaffes last season.

  • Debcoop Jul 22, 2013

    I liked the Will Mc?voy of last year's show. He was a liberal rediscovering his soul. So now he has transmuted himself into a moderate conservative. I do not like this Will McAvoy. I am a liberal and seeing one on TV was a pleasure.

    Frankly another dumb David Gregory clone is no fun to watch. Another usual mainstream rightish journalist is just soooooooo boring.


    so Sorkin listened to all the TV critics, moderates who trade in the same journalistic cliches , as the establishment of the Republican Party. So they reenforces a right wing view of the American polity. And since that is wh
    at most of the .american polity jphears on their brief moments of leisure, that is what they believe.

    if this Will McAvoy stays around I won't.

  • almaslegacy Jul 15, 2013

    Ok, confession. I love this show even more now after I've learned how much people hate it (especially those in the blogging world, media, news, journalism, etc).

  • MandySCG Jul 15, 2013

    I tried to love this show, but I couldn't get over how dumb the female characters are. I just couldn't.

  • ElisaDiaz Jul 15, 2013

    Not going to work. Fantasy is all about escaping reality. Why escape it to get back to it? I mean, come one, I sometimes even have to switch off the real TV news because it feels like all they say is bullshit. Now this show does the same - pretending they are ultra objective by giving us the same preaching bullshit... and how do I do to transform it into fantasy? And why would I want to do that? If it is fantasy what I want, there is True Blood and Game of Thrones.

  • kanniballl Jul 15, 2013

    If you want to look at it another way, think of it as watching dated episodes of the Daily Show along with their fake behind-the-scenes.

    People are fine watching the Daily Show poke holes through the "real" news networks epic fails at trying to be unbiased. They're fine listening to John Stewart's monologues about certain issues in the news as well as how he decries CNN and FoxNews for shaping the news for entertainment. How he's ashamed of the the crud NBC pulled during the Trayvon Martin case which unbelievably horrible.

    Here, we're watching the same stuff go on only with a bit more drama and less comedy

    I had a friend screaming with rage over how the Newsroom depicted how a real debate should work with their mock answers... they were like the debate rep. He was focused on how he thought they were doing a stand-up sketch instead of the fact that these were REAL questions and that the moderator wouldn't tolerate the target switching focus with a "RAH RAH America is #1" speech.

  • linzyjoy Jul 15, 2013

    I really want to love this show, as I'm a big Sorkin fan. But while the writing overall is good, the reason I like Newsroom but don't love it is the main character just doesn't have the same integrity/likeability that the other shows' main characters have. I LOVE Danny and Matt (Studio 60), and Josh/Leo/Bartlett/C.j (West Wing). I don't love Will McAvoy. I tolerate him. He's intelligent, but doesn't take personal responsibility for his actions, and doesn't show much concern for others. That's hard for me to overcome.

  • SinspaW Jul 14, 2013

    First of all, I disagree that this isn't a great show.

    Interesting characters? Check. Episodes that don't contain a single boring scene whilst keeping up the pace? Check. Relevant political and/or moral-filled storylines ? Check. I could keep going. The point is, Sorkin went nuts on season 1 but it worked on many levels, and if there's a guy who doesn't think most all of the points made weren't valid, well go ahead, say it. Nobody is saying the show isn't pompous or arrogant, because it is, but it also has to be because of its own very nature. The ironic thing really is that the show also mocks itself for taking itself too seriously and being overly harsh with the benefit of hindsight (check will's entire s1 storyline, including the "greater fool" metaphor which is more aimed at sorkin himself than will). Of course journalists are gonna whine about this, nobody likes being told they are doing a crappy job, which in the end is what this show is inferring. Guess what though, things like the overall approach to analysing the republican candidates for presidency was and IS unbelievably appalling, like it has been for many years (not just republican candidates or even just in american politics, but in general) because there is no real scrutiny, especially policy-wise, instead being related to who they go to bed with or if they buy expensive jewellery. This isn't good journalism, and neither is calling the death of a politician without having proper confirmation. So go on, journalists, tell me again that this show doesn't have an actual point.

    To finish, I said before and I'll say it again, I completely disagree with your view of women on the show. Women are totally nuts, but also do incredible jobs. Mac is the freaking E.P. of the news show, Maggie went from being in a fictitious position (will's assistant) to being a relevant journalist in the news show; Sloane started off with a couple of minutes of economy to being on prime time challenging politicians. How are women not portrayed as strong and powerful in all of this? Again, yes, they are nuts and do crazy things. Where I also think your point is moot is where... so do the MEN. Have you noticed Will's behaviour, or Jim's, or Neil's, or Don's? For god's sake, we're talking about a news presenter that goes high live on TV, a guy whom vies for another guy's girlfriend whilst having sex with her best friend, a dude who doesn't stop going on about big foot, and Don... is Don. Women aren't "the crazy" of this show, everybody is.

    Can't wait for S2 to start, and I hope all these pestering critics haven't made Sorkin change what he is about.

    Plus...I think we're gonna have some fun in this season's reviews and comments.

  • shadowonsun Jul 15, 2013

    Well said!

  • lynntrueblood Jul 14, 2013

    You are nuts; this is one of THE BEST shows on cable. I was mesmerized every single minute. The writing is first rate, the acting is superb, I have watched seasons 1 & 2 several times and can't wait for it's return tonight.

  • Sam20 Jul 14, 2013

    Seasons 1 & 2? Hasn't there only been one season?

  • XY Jul 15, 2013

    He's taking the "imagination" thing to a whole new level.

  • ionee24 Jul 14, 2013

    For the record I don't "hate" the show, I just don't care about it.

    But to answer the question: what I dislike the most is that "you have to love this because we say you do!" angle from shows like Glee, Smash or this one.

  • cfscorpio Jul 14, 2013

    Wow what obviously biased person was actually allowed to write this drivel. The Newsroom is nothing of what is written here. The show is fiction of course but it expertly weaves in true life events around an amazing cast of characters. I will be watching it and have been anticipating it's return.

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