It’s not a popular sentiment among many — especially the cynics in the critical community — but I love Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, faults and all. You put your heart on your sleeve like Aaron Sorkin does every week, and it sure as hell is going to be knocked off every once in a while by swarming critics looking for flesh. Not that all the complaints are invalid. Yes, it can be sanctimonious from time to time. Yes, Aaron Sorkin frequently has a heavy hand. Yes, he occasionally recycles his own dialogue. And yes, Sorkin himself is kind of a jerk who is very bad at speaking to other people when he’s being recorded. He’s a dick, but so are a lot of really smart people in the television and movie business (see e.g., Dan Harmon). That does not take away, however, from my affection toward his shows.
Look: I love and appreciate television’s current obsession with anti-heroes (although, the tipping point is approaching), but there’s also something to be said for television with a message, even if that message is heavy handed and comes off sounding like a lecture. It feels good to experience something each week as affirming and rousing as The Newsroom. I love Breaking Bad. I love Mad Men and Game of Thrones and Justified, but I also love to feel inspired, and The Newsroom is one of the few shows on television that can do that.
I know what the greater fool is, and I want to be one. Here’s nine reasons why you should be one, too.
Jeff Daniels — Daniels, in real-life, is one of those humble midwestern types (his Dad ran a lumber company in Michigan), and has always kind of been that hard-working blue collar actor who is great in comedies (Dumb and Dumber), B-movies (Arachnophobia) or indies (The Squid in the Whale), but besides Dumb and Dumber, in which Jim Carrey got most of the credit, Daniels has never really had the career-defining role that has allowed audiences to separate him from the quadrifecta: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Jeff Bridges, and Jeff Daniels.
Newsroom has finally given him that role, and you need look no further than his past roles to recognize how different, and how brilliant his portrayal of Will McAvoy is. He brings to that character a heady blend of smugness, self-righteousness, curmudgeonly old-schoolness, and a sweet romanticism that is not only well suited to the show, but makes him a more likable cypher for Aaron Sorkin. Plus, he’s on a mission to civilize, damnit.
“I think people who willfully, purposefully, and gleefully lie to the American people in order to damage someone’s reputation should, like a registered sex offender, be required by law to come with that warning label for the rest of their lives.”
A Much Needed Smug Social Liberal Perspective from a “Republican” — People often complain that there’s no great counterpoint to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, and while Keith Olberman held that spot for a time, he became downright intolerable. Now MSNBC is just as bad as Fox News, but without the ratings.
Will McAvoy gets to be the kind of an idealized version of Keith Olbermann, but since the character is also “Republican,” he’s also capable of providing the perspective from the political center. He’s also a very welcome reminder of the Republican party of old: Fiscally responsible, advocates for a smaller government, and less intrusive into the private lives of citizens. In today’s world, McAvoy would be a terrible Republican — he’s obsessed in the show with deriding the Tea Party — but Republicans like him did exist not so long ago. And yes, The Daily Show does a better job at promoting the liberal perspective, but they do so by satirizing of what cable news should not be, while Newsroom does so by example, demonstrating what cable news could be like.
Skewers the Corporate Culture Behind Cable News — Politics aside, Newsroom also deftly demonstrates the difficulties of running a news program on a cable news network owned by a cable conglomerate, and how those conflicts of interest can challenge objectivity and tarnish integrity. When so few companies control so much of the media, different arms of the same company can run afoul of one another very easily, and it’s the reporter’s job to resist the demands of the corporate executives. McAvoy, and his boss, Charlie Skinner, illustrate that tension. The show also presents the challenges entailed in the desires to present hard, investigative, and important news and the need to also turn a profit, two interests that too often collide with one another.
Drunk Waterston — Critics and fans of Newsroom can both at least agree on one thing: Sam Waterston’s Charlie Skinner is OUTSTANDING. He’s drunk. He’s belligerent. And he curses like a motherf*****, and he chews scenery like the goddamn class act he is. Show some respect, son.