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The Newsroom Pilot Review: How Do You Fix Breaking News?

By on June 25, 2012
Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in The Newsroom. Photo: © HBO. All Rights Reserved

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in The Newsroom. Photo: © HBO. All Rights Reserved

Like most good stories, The Newsroom begins at a turning point. There is a break from what is normal and we get to see the aftermath. Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is a popular news anchorman who avoids conflict by remaining completely impartial. After he has something of a public meltdown, he finds the majority of his staff has left him for another show. His boss Charle Skinner (Sam Waterston) hires his ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), to be Will’s new EP. The potential for drama is endless as the show asks, “How do you fix breaking news?”

We are introduced to Will just before he becomes flustered and spills his actual thoughts on the condition of America. He is asked questions about his political allegiance and does his best to avoid them with jokes. It is stated that he is popular because he doesn’t bother anyone –  the Jay Leno of anchormen. When he can no longer hold it in, Will goes on an impressive, lengthy and profanity-laced rant about why America is not the greatest country in the world. He is wildly condescending, but his agitation is genuine. He is passionate about the country he lives in and affectionately describes the way it used to be.

While most of Will’s staff choose to jump ship after the speech, a few loyal workers stay behind. Among them are Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) and, possibly temporarily, Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski). Maggie was an intern mistakenly promoted to an assistant and, shortly after, an associate producer. Eager to please, she is patiently quiet when Will repeatedly calls her by the wrong name. Don’t worry, he gets it right eventually. She’s dating Don, who plans to leave the show because of Will’s personality (Will’s response: I’m affable!).

MacKenzie McHale, Will’s ex-girlfriend and the new EP for his show, brings along a few staff members of her own. One of them, Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), appears quite taken with Maggie. Inevitably there is some passive aggressive talk between Maggie’s current boyfriend and Jim. The potential love triangle there will undoubtedly be entertaining to watch.

MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). Photo: © HBO

As for MacKenzie herself, she has an uphill battle ahead of her as she tries to work with the very uncooperative Will. Will’s boss hired MacKenzie without consulting Will, who then attempts to have her contract altered. When apologizing and negotiating with Will proves ineffective, MacKenzie gets more forceful. The two manage to come to a somewhat mutually beneficial agreement, and by the end of the episode Will seems slightly more amiable. Slightly.

The show really picks up when news of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reaches the office. The show is referencing the actual, tragic disaster that occurred in 2010. It is sad to relive the event again, but gives the show an air of authenticity that it would lack with fake news stories. They argue amongst themselves about whether or not to trust Jim’s sources, eventually deciding to run with them. This proves to be a good decision and the show, which they make up almost entirely on the spot, is successful.

Will is clearly the center of the show. Initially he comes off as arrogant, though we do see subtle hints about what lies beneath the exterior. In a very human moment, his hands tremble before he runs with the oil spill report. The fact that he was in a relationship with a kind woman like MacKenzie indicates there is a softer, more likeable side to him. He also seems honestly surprised that people do not enjoy working with him. At the end of the episode, Will gives a heartfelt thanks to the control room staff for their effort. Amusingly, when he realizes he has addressed the wrong control room, he decides not to bother with it.

Many of the conversations are so fast-paced that other scenes seem too slow in comparison. They do offer a break for viewers, as do the snippets of humour. One of the funniest lines comes from Will. When an employee states that he writes Will’s blog, Will is just perplexed to learn that he has one. Later, Will randomly repeats, “Seriously though, I have a blog?”

When a show has a talented cast and a writer like Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) behind it, there are going to be pretty high expectations. So far the show has received mixed reviews. It may be a consequence of its political nature that it is receiving some significantly strong opinions. It seems important to note that The Newsroom is a television show, a form of story-telling, and not necessarily about political activism of any kind. Just because the story is set in television news does not mean Sorkin is literally trying to change the landscape of newsrooms. It is an overwhelming concept for a show and this is only the pilot, so it will be very telling to see how the characters and plot flesh out in the coming episodes.

So while some find the show inspiring and others find it preachy, it is worth giving a try. If you like witty, bullet-fast dialogue with a touch of comedy and a behind-the-scenes news environment, The Newsroom may soon be one of your favourite new shows.