HBO

Political TV Fever!

I seem to be gaining a growing interest in politics…well at least TV politics. What started as a mild curiosity last summer, has quickly turned into a full fledged political TV addition. I’ve increasingly found myself drawn to political dramas and dramadies (dramatic comedies), and keep my radar on high alert at the sign of a potential new series.


The West Wing
: I’ve just finished the second season; I know, I know I’m about 7 years too  late. But in my defence I was about to turn 8 when the series originally aired so I’m going to say I wasn’t exactly in their target demographic! This show has been really refreshing to watch. Its definitely more of an adult drama through its tone and writing and I appreciate the lack of love triangles, the use of older actors (not old!) and the focus on politics as the source of drama. I know the series has been highly praised by political science professors and critics alike and its really not hard to see why, the show comes off as a smart drama with intellectual ideals. I will admit there are times when the show comes off as a bit preachy however I commend Sorkin for using a devout religious democrat (President Bartlet) and a smart, eloquent republican (Ainsley Hayes) rather than resorting to common stereotypes. I also commend Sorkin for not resorting to stereotypes against the Middle East, the original run was during 9/11, or cheap republican comebacks against George Bush, the entire series took place during his presidency. I’ll likely do a more in depth post on the series (just started season 4!), so expect that in the near future.

Scandal: If you’ve read my most recent entries, you’ll notice that many of them seem to be Scandal related. The protagonist of the series is Olivia Pope, a crisis manager, and her complicated love triangle with the first family. Because Olivia works in crisis management, the show deals with more salacious events rather than the seemingly everyday events portrayed in The West Wing.  While I appreciate that Shonda has chosen a republican as her presidential protagonist, he seems to have some very democratic views. Fitz was a governor from California, a state which is recent years has been more on the democratic side, his chief of staff is an openly gay male, and he hasn’t appeared to have a deep sense of faith by any means. Really the only republican sense we’ve had from him is his connection to ‘Big Oil’ (Hollis Doyle). I seem to have a love/hate annoyed relationship with this show. In my opinion the writing has vastly improved from the long winded repititious soliloquy filled pilot episode. The show has a stronger focus on the personal rather than the workplace (which is completely fine!) however there is a growing amount of drama for dramas sake rather than to extend the storyline. For instance take the revelation of Olivia’s father; while part of my weekly must-see television the series is quickly venturing into soap opera territory.


Political Animals:
A 6 episode mini-series that originally aired last summer on USA. I did a previous post on my thoughts on the pilot episode.  The series follows  Elaine Barrisch (Sigourney Weaver), a once presidential candidate, who is now Secretary of State, trying to make a name for herself in politics away from her promiscuous husband Bud Hammond(Ciarán Hinds). Bud just so happens to be a former president himself (Hilary and Bill Clinton anyone?). Sigourney Weaver and Ciarán Hinds are just a drop in the bucket in naming the well known actors involved with the series. While I do wish the series had been renewed for a second season, with the heavy hitting cast I wouldn’t be surprised if funding or scheduling were the issue. The main focus of the show is the turmoil surrounding the Hammond family, however we do get to see a fair bit of politics when Elaine Barrisch is in her element.

VeepAn HBO comedy series I started watching a couple weeks ago. Veep follows Selena Myer (Julia Louis- Dryfus) a fictions vice president and her senior staff. I find the series to be a refreshing take on politics, most likely due to the lighter nature of a comedy vs an hour long drama. While the entire cast is well portrayed, in my opinion the scene stealer is Gary Walsh, the vice president’s personal aide, portrayed by Tony Hale. Gary is extremely loyal, Selena’s confidante and carries a briefcase which he nicknames Leviathan! The series currently airs Sunday at 10 and its in its second season.

The Newsroom: Another series I began watching last summer (the new season begins airing on July 14th!). The series revolves around the fictional news network Atlanta Cable News (ACN) and their attempt to change the way the news is presented. After a very public tirade, Will McAvoy (a news anchor played by Jeff Daniels) returns to work to find a new executive producer, his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) who criticizes the way he had previously been anchoring the news. She tells Will (who is currently leading in the ratings), that instead of reporting the actual facts he is just trying not to step on anyone’s toes. The changes they have made to the fictional station are brilliant. Will acts as both an educator and as judicator, both educating the public on real news issues while holding politicians and big-wigs to the words that they’ve promised. While this isn’t a show about politicians per say, given the setting at a cable news station its almost impossible NOT to mix politics and the news. The show is quite different from the West Wing, while the tone is very much the same, we don’t see any representation of the White House. Similarly to Political Animals, I did a post last summer on my thoughts for the complete first season; you can read it here.

The Newsroom– Thoughts on the Complete First Season

In the old days we did the news this well. You know how? We just decided to.

So I guess I’ve had a sudden inkling for shows with a political influence, first with Political Animals (see my review of the first episode here) and now with The Newsroom. Mind you this isn’t a show about politicians per say but given the role of a cable news station, it’s almost impossible NOT to mix politics and the news.
Let me first just say I LOVE this show. Now from what I have read, the reviews have been pretty mixed; with some critics panning it as an unrealistic and idealistic take on the news whereas others sing its praises. The first critique is something that always bothers me. Do we watch Grey’s Anatomy and think all hospitals are full of over sexualized Doctors? Or that all widowed mothers are drug dealers after watching Weeds? These shows are produced for entertainment, if I wanted a realistic view into a certain workplace I would watch a documentary… Might I add that many of the critics that bash The Newsroom are in news broadcasting themselves….or have been shown in an unfavourable light in the show? Hmmmm could there perhaps be some bias in their opinions?

The Newsroom is a drama series on HBO primarily written by the series creator Aaron Sorkin. Now this series is in typical Sorkin style, so if you aren’t a fan of his previous work there is a chance you won’t like this offering. The series revolves around the fictional news network Atlanta Cable News (ACN) and their attempt to change the way the news is presented. After a very public tirade, Will McAvoy (a news anchor played by Jeff Daniels) returns to work to find a new executive producer, his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) who criticizes the way he had previously been anchoring the news. She tells Will (who is currently leading in the ratings), that instead of reporting the actual facts he is just trying not to step on anyone’s toes. The changes they have made to the fictional station are brilliant. Will acts as both an educator and as judicator, both educating the public on real news issues while holding politicians and big-wigs to the words that they’ve promised.

Since the show is set at approximately 11 months in the past, Sorkin is able to use real life events which brings both authenticity to the stories (using real clips and quotes from previous broadcasts) and allows the audience to come in with some familiarity. Mind you a handful of these events are much more memorable to those who live in the USA. I’ve found myself scratching my head quite a few times trying to either figure out the event or recall how it had been reported.

I’ve heard many critics of the show argue that Will, who is an admittant Republican, focuses too much on the mistakes that members of the Republican party has made. And that he does not represent the views of a Republican news station or of many Republican voters. This is something that I personally love about the show, as a Canadian I am pretty apolitical when it comes to issues in the USA however because Will is a Republican, he is almost ‘bringing the politicians to court‘ since their views have become more and more radical throughout the years. On an international scale the Republican party is stereotyped as a group of stubborn Southerners who refuse to acknowledge any change whatsoever (and that is the polite way of putting it!). Many people (particularly those that don’t live in the south) tend to hide their Republican views since the party is generally looked upon in such an unfavourable light. Will is trying to show the public how far the Republican party has swayed from their initial stances and beliefs, no longer fighting for the rights of the American people in the name of the constitution but for sub-important niche issues.

I would highly recommend anyone watch this series. It’s on HBO so there’s only about 10 episodes, and the writing is so brilliant that I walk away from each episode still thinking about the events. That is a sign of good, smart storytelling.

 
Here is a clip from the first episode of The Newsroom (this is Will’s tirade), because personally I don’t think the promos have done the show justice