HBO wants to change the cable-news world and your thinking with its new drama The Newsroom, one of the most anticipated shows of the summer. I've seen the first four episodes, and I'll be your guide to help determine whether it's worth your time to tune in or not.
When do the long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths start?
The Newsroom airs its first broadcast Sunday, June 24 at 10pm on HBO.
Which actors will be delivering these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths?
Jeff Daniels (yes, the guy who did this) stars as fed-up news anchor Will McAvoy, who launches a new cable-news show that sticks it to everyone (but mostly Republicans). British actress Emily Mortimer (Match Point) plays the new executive producer Mackenzie; Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) plays promoted intern Maggie; Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) is resident nerd Neal; stage vet John Gallagher, Jr. plays producer Jim; and Sam Waterston (Law & Order) plays the network's president. It's a kick-ass cast, for sure. Oh, and I guess I should mention Olivia Munn is in this, too.
Who is the wizard behind these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forth?
Duh, who else could it be? Aaron Sorkin, the master of chit-chat and the man behind The West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Social Network. And his trademark grandstanding is all over this show. If you're familiar with Sorkin's work, you'll know what to expect, but take that expectation and multiply it by about ten. Sorkin created the show and wrote all four episodes I saw.
What are these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths all about?
The Newsroom follows McAvoy's transformation from a pushover cable-news anchor who's more interested in human interest stories and iPhone coverage to the kind of hard-nosed newsman that truth-seekers like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite he used to be. After he blows up during a public talk, new behind-the-scenes are brought in to kick McAvoy's ass back into gear. And one of those ass-kickers just so happens to be his ex-flame. There's another aspect of the show that follows the interpersonal and mostly romantic entanglements of the workplace.
What kind of audience will appreciate these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths?
If you consider yourself a "red-stater," STAY AWAY AT ALL COSTS or you will throw empty beer cans at your TV all night long. Despite claiming to be at "the center" where the facts are, The Newsroom does go southpaw more often than not, taking shots at the Tea Party and Fox News more than it does MSNBC. Essentially, this is an HBO show for HBO subscribers: It's aimed at intelligent idealists who like a mix of big political buzz rinsed with soapy relationship bubbles.
What are the good things about these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths?
The frenetic pace of the newsroom is pretty awesome, and it looks like the show will be set consistently a year ago in order to tackle real-world news that's still fresh in our minds. Assuming this is a semi-real representation of how these places operate, seeing how the newsroom turns its gears is pretty fascinating. The cast is superb (Daniels is great), and Waterston's Charlie Skinner may be the best new character of the summer.
What are the bad things about these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths?
Everyone in Sorkin's world is the same. Super smart, super sassy, and super opinionated. This will work for some viewers, but for many it will grate like nails on a chalkboard. Where HBO's Girls was criticized for being full of characters who are overly white, The Newsroom should be criticized for being full of characters who are overly witty. Real life, this is not. Conversations between characters can be organized into two categories: preachy, long-winded mouthpieces for Sorkin's take on how you should live your life, and clumsy grade-school relationship banter. Those two types of chatting split reflect The Newsroom's dual shows, the interpersonal side and the mission-to-save-America side, and they're simultaneously at odds with each other and unable to stand on their own. The show also gives off the idea that it's too smart for you by making plenty of academic and esoteric references, when really, it just talks more than you and AT you. A lot of these problems are less prominent in the fourth episode (which bodes well for the rest of the season), but that episode also happens to be the least interesting and ridiculous of the quartet. And I never want to hear "I'm on a mission to civilize" again.
Should I watch these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths?
As much as the previous paragraph says "stay away," I heartily recommend you check out The Newsroom on your own. There are definitely moments that will make you roll your eyes so far back into your head that you'll be able to see behind you, but the series boasts a strong cast and some very, very good moments (the opening scene in the pilot is particularly noteworthy). It's just a matter if it's worth trudging through the rest of the show to get to the good stuff. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. To me the show is a letdown, but it's a letdown that has something–I can't quite put my finger on it–that makes me want to continue to watch.
Do you have a trailer full of these long speeches and whip-smart back-and-forths?
What should I have on hand at my The Newsroom viewing party?
Very expensive Scotch, a very expensive cheese plate, and possibly a dictionary.
The Newsroom debuts Sunday, June 24 at 10pm on HBO.