Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Disappointing "Newsroom"

Will McAvoy is a fathead. A pontificating, holier-than-thou, blowhard of the kind of character that I love to hate. The problem is I had really hoped to love him.

When I first saw the promos for the new Aaron Sorkin show for HBO, The Newsroom, I thought it looked interesting. The cast was well-known for their good work, the idea of a series about a cable news show seemed relevant, and Aaron Sorkin is an award-winning producer and writer (The West Wing, Moneyball, The Social Network), so the whole thing offered the promise of keeping me entertained on Sunday nights this summer. So far it has been a disappointment, and it is mostly because of the character of Will McAvoy. He just sucks all the air out of the room for me.

Jeff Daniels, who plays Will, is terrific, as, in fact, all the actors are in their respective roles. There really isn't a stinker among them. But the words that they are given to speak are the problem.

Will seems to be channeling Eric Sevareid and his commentary on the CBS Evening News of long ago. All of his speeches - and every time he opens his mouth, it's a speech - sound like something Sevareid would have spoken on air. That wouldn't be such a bad thing in some contexts, but in every day conversation with one's colleagues, it seems stilted and inappropriate.

Moreover, Will is on a mission to bring civility to the world, but what that seems to mean to him is "civilizing" the women whom he chooses to date - mostly of the arm candy type. Each time he dates one of these...ladies, he seems to wind up lecturing her on correct behavior. Not attractive.

Of course, Will can't really get interested in any of those women because he's still in love with his executive producer, MacKenzie, with whom he used to be involved before he caught her in bed with an old boyfriend. And, naturally, MacKenzie is still in love with him, too, ( I mean who wouldn't be? He's such a peach!) and she tells everyone who will listen what a great guy he is and that he is the best person she has ever known. No doubt Will would agree with her.

The plot of the show has the news team covering recent events in the real world (the Gulf oil spill, the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the "Arab Spring") so that we know the outcomes of the stories and the characters get to sound wise and prescient as they interpret these events. I don't necessarily have a problem with that but I think it would be interesting and would help to humanize the characters if just once they got it all spectacularly wrong.

I think the real problem that I have with the show is the way it treats its women. They are mostly ciphers, there to be paternalistically lectured by Will or the other middle-aged white males in the cast. They are borderline inept klutzes, present to provide the aforesaid eye candy and comic relief and to gaze adoringly at Will, somewhat like Nancy looking at Ronald Reagan. One example of the ineptitude will suffice: MacKenzie, the supposedly hot-shot producer who has covered stories around the world, doesn't understand how to send email on her Blackberry and ends up sending a private message to hundreds of people.

The show premiered to a lot of raspberries from critics. The words "arrogant" and "cynical" got used a lot. But I really, really wanted to like it and I wanted to give it a chance to grow on me. Now, half-way through its season, I can report that it hasn't and I'm losing hope that it will. But I can be every bit as stubborn as Will McAvoy, so I guess I'll keep watching. After all, only five more Sundays to go. Maybe Will will finally make a mistake.


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