I've never really considered myself an Aaron Sorkin fan, per se. I loved "The West Wing" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (yes, both), and own the box set of the complete series (a.k.a. two seasons) of the fabulous "Sports Night." After coming to terms with those facts, I realized just how much I like the guy. You either love him or loathe him, I think, because he has such an infuriating style, but Sorkin's writing has always been stellar -- and continues to be with "The Newsroom" -- and he is able to get so much from his actors (though some might argue that's the talent of the actors, not him).
"The Newsroom," for the most part, has been reamed by critics. So, naturally, I dug it. Don't get me wrong, there are some parts that are maddening and frustrating, for sure, but there's nothing like it on television and Sorkin's words have clearly been missed on the small screen.
In broad terms, "The Newsroom" is a combination of "The West Wing" and "Sports Night." Like its predecessors, it has a fantastic cast, that sweeping music, the walk-and-talks, the rapid-fire dialogue (not since Lorelai and Rory Gilmore have characters talked so fast). But since it's on HBO and not on, say, NBC or ABC, it stands a chance -- because the show can deliver the goods at its own pace rather than try to appease network heads and accrue the numbers it needs to stay on the air.
Despite hating Will McAvoy (or maybe he still confounds and we need time to understand him), Jeff Daniels plays the angry, smug, flawed character perfectly. And Sam Waterston's superb performance as network president Charlie Skinner may be the role that breaks him away from Jack McCoy (RIP, "Law & Order"). Jack wants to be a hard-hitting journalist, but he still needs to check the ratings the following day -- and his new executive producer (and ex-girlfriend) want him back to how he used to be. And that's where things slide a little.
Emily Mortimer has her work cut out for her. Her Mackenzie MacHale (ugh, don't even get me started on the alliterative name) is still hung up on Will and it's in those moments where I want to slap her. Sorkin likes to kick the crap out of his female characters and Mac and Alison Pill's Maggie Jordan are no different. There are times when Mac and Maggie shine, but when things get personal, as they often do in Sorkin shows, I just want to clunk their heads together. I don't get what Maggie sees in Don (Thomas Sadoski), who seems like a pompous ass, so far. The brewing triangle between Maggie, Don and Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) is the show's biggest downfall, and if that's Don's only reason for sticking around and remaining a part of the fictional "News Night" family, Sadoski is going to have to bring on some serious charm because I already want him gone, with Maggie and Jim living happily ever after. (Admittedly, I did like that, by the end, he manned up and gave respect where respect was due -- but it was too late by then, my opinion was already set.) It doesn't get any better for women in episode two when Olivia Munn makes her first appearance, and Mac referring to Munn's character Sloan Sabbith's (again, really?!) hotness and sexy legs. We get it, Munn's a hottie and a brilliant economist. But, hey, at least she looks uncomfortable when her looks are pointed out.
It's got some imperfections, definitely, but I was rapt during the reveal of the oil spill. Perhaps what I loved most (which I'm sure many hated) was that "The Newsroom" takes place in the recent past, which will showcase how an new-and-improved-and-now-idealistic news network would cover actual events (in the premiere, the 2010 BP oil spill). It'll also be fun to guess what big news story they're covering in future episodes. The second episode features some clips of Sarah Palin (can you imagine Sorkin taking on the former vice-presidential candidate?), so it's safe to say that the upcoming ripped-from-the-headlines stories should be goodies.
The actors get the job done, but it's Sorkin's clever, snarky dialogue that brings "The Newsroom" to life. It's raw and gritty and takes a hard look at what's wrong with journalism in this day and age -- but still provides hope of a new, better day. Some of you may have hated it, and no, it's not exactly "The West Wing," but it's still Sorkin, which makes it better than so many other dramas out there.