Thoughts on The Newsroom's first season

Last updated 10:10 16/10/2012

It's taken most of the first season's 10 episodes, but The Newsroom - the latest series from writer Aaron Sorkin, which finished its first season last night on SoHo - has slowly become one of my favourite shows. I have a few thoughts on the finale, and a theory about the poor reception to the first season, right after the break.

(Warning: Spoilers from the entire first season of The Newsroom follow.)

There is no question that The Newsroom had a few teething problems when it started just over two months ago: Sorkin appeared to be at his sanctimonious best with a script that too often veered into soapbox territory, while the large cast - led by Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, but actually containing around eight regulars and a dozen minor roles - took a few weeks to find their characters and get into the swing of the Sorkin-isms thrown into each episode.

The walk-and-talk scenes typical of Sorkin shows might seem an easy proposition on paper, but it takes a certain delivery style (as well as clever editing) to really sell them. By the fifth episode, when Dev Patel's Neal was dealing with an inside man during the Egyptian riots, the show had found its feet.

Last night's finale proved that further, neatly tying together several story strands - the internal phone hacking malarkey and getting the Lansings on-side, bringing the Jim-Maggie-Don love triangle to a head by bringing Sloan into the fold as well - in an enjoyable conclusion to a first season that should lead nicely into new episodes next year.

The show also overcame two things that annoyed me in the early days.

First, the recent history setting of each episode and the "hindsight bias" that many (including myself, in my review of the premiere) contended was one of the faults, eventually took a backseat as Sorkin used events to bring characters together, instead of using them to climb on his high horse and preach to the audience.

Second, the inaccuracies of the depiction of the actual newsroom setting ... I mean, I still think The Newsroom isn't an accurate depiction of a newsroom, but it bothered me less and less as the season went on. That the show builds around real events but is set in a seemingly unrealistic location is something that probably needs to be addressed, as one affects our perception of the other. I think this is probably The Newsroom's biggest flaw.

But there is something else I was wondering about The Newsroom, and hopefully you can help me figure it out.

I'm not even really sure how to articulate it - it's more like a feeling I've got over the course of these 10 episodes: if you've been watching, you'll know that Will and Mac and the rest of the News Night team are completely committed to bringing honesty and transparency to the news, to championing the important stories and doing away with anything trivial. It's clear they believe that what they are doing is truly important.

This notion saddened me a bit because it made me wonder if what I'm doing is actually important. For example, in last week's episode, Will wanted to reboot the idea of the televised debate, to better hold politicians to account. Meanwhile, I'm just writing a few opinions about a television show that will be gone in a few years.

I wonder if it's possible that The Newsroom kind of holds a form of intellectual superiority over its viewers, if the show perhaps turned viewers off because of an impression that Sorkin (and his characters) think they are more intelligent, and the work they're doing more important, than whatever the average viewer is thinking or doing.

It wasn't a big thing that I felt throughout, and it didn't put me off tuning in. But I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been thinking about the importance of what I do here at the blog as a result of watching this show. The truth is that I could probably do a better job at On the Box of shining a light on issues and topics that actually matter. For better or worse, The Newsroom's depiction of the media has made me want to be a better correspondent for you, the readers.

Perhaps improving the quality of the media was part of Sorkin's plan all along.

What did you think of the first season of The Newsroom? Do you agree that it improved as it went along? And do you feel that the show holds some form of intellectual superiority over its viewers?

- - - - -

One last note before I head off for the day: my congratulations to the crew on The Almighty Johnsons, who found out yesterday that they will be back for a third season next year.

I don't know if it made a difference, but thanks to everybody who signed the petition, joined the Facebook page and sent off letters to NZ On Air or TV3. Here's looking forward to the return of the Johnson clan!

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