tv review

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

This week in TV: Political Animals Pilot Episode

If you’re still on the lookout for some great summer TV, you may just be in luck. Political Animals is a 6 part mini- series that just aired its pilot episode on Sunday over on USA, and here on Bravo in Canada. Now just as the title of the series obviously states, this is a political drama. In all honestly I’m trying to think of other political dramas that I have been a fan of but am coming up blank, this isn’t typically a genre a gravitate towards. Mostly, I guess, due to my lack of interest in American politics (which should be understandable considering I’m not an American 😉 ).

Political Animals has a stellar cast, I kind of watched this on a whim and was immediately stunned by all the heavy hitters on the screen. Sigourney Weaver, Ciarán Hinds, Adrian Pasdar, Carla Gugino heck even Dylan Baker made a cameo!  Now mind you there has only been 1 aired episode but nonetheless I don’t want to give too much of the plot away.

In the pilot episode we meet Elaine Barrisch (Sigourney Weaver), a once presidential candidate who is 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?). After losing the election Elaine accepts the position of Secretary of State which is where we meet her now. We also meet their two sons Doug (James Wolk), a seemingly political golden boy and Elaine’s chief of staff. He has an impending wedding and it is referenced multiple times in the episode that Elaine must be too busy planning the event  than to uphold her political duties (a false assumption mind you). Then there is Doug’s twin brother TJ (Sebastian Stan) an outwardly gay man who can’t seem to keep up with the pressures of being a member of the Hammond family. Rounding out the main cast is Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), a news reporter who has spent much of her career trying to undermine Elaine’s political attempts and whose biggest news story to date has been her coverage on Bud’s numerous affairs.

Although I feel that the writing could have been sharper, the pilot delivered some great zingers such as:

Never call a bitch a bitch, us bitches hate that.

He’s not your floor manager at Chili’s; he’s the President of the United States!

 I feel that this miniseries has some great potential, I like that all of the characters are likable but seem to have that hidden bag of bones buried in their closet.  I’m hoping this gets turned into a full fledged series but for now I’ll have to settle for 5 more episodes. However with a cast of such established actors I know that this project must NOT have come cheap.

For those of you unable to find the pilot episode in your local listings, the official Political Animals youtube page has uploaded the pilot episode (in its entirely) here. I’ve noticed quite a few shows using this practice and all I can say is 2 thumbs up! It’s a great way to give people a taste for your show while gaining some extra publicity. Below is a promo (shot mock-interview style!) where you meet many of the main cast. Overall I would say to give this series a shot, while not the most original concept I’m very intrigued how far the writers will be able to develop the story in such a limited amount of time.