Thursday, 05 July 2012

Television Reviews: 6 July

Michael Moran finds himself still looking for the breaking story in this series

Written by Michael Moran
Michael-Moran1A number of media commentators have already weighed in on Aaron Sorkin's new drama series The Newsroom (Tuesday, Sky Atlantic HD at 10pm). That's predictable enough. We self-regarding media commentators like nothing more than to talk about how important media commentators are.

Hence the interminable chatter about the secretly very dull Leveson Inquiry and hence the intense focus on The Newsroom, which is set behind the scenes in a US network TV newsroom.

Most of the early notices have been a little negative. There's been talk of Sorkin's widely documented liberal sympathies given full rein in a series of rhetorical monologues about patriotism, dumbing down, corruption in high places, and the responsibilities of news media. Especially the latter.

Sorkin clearly loves the news. The title sequence is a montage of classic news footage from America's televisual past, coming right up to date with Jeff Daniels as the anchor of The Newsroom's fictional nightly broadcast.

The titles are more than a little reminiscent of the opening credits of Enterprise, the most recent Star Trek TV show, in which we were given a potted history of the evolution of spacecraft, rather than news shows but, give or take a power ballad, the effect is much the same. Once we're into the show yes, there is a fair bit of pulpit-pounding from Sorkin, but the show is also smart and funny.

The players are at once fulminating, like the cast of Network, and trading dynamite one-liners like the newshounds of Billy Wilder's The Front Page.

As the first episode progresses, Daniels himself becomes increasingly convincing as cold, irascible anchorman Will McAvoy. Meanwhile, Sam Waterston dispenses gnomic insights as a thinly disguised cypher for Sorkin.

It's an American show but there's a fair bit of British interest too. The incoming producer for McAvoy's revamped show is played by Emily, daughter of John Mortimer; and Dev Patel, from Slumdog Millionaire, turns up as the show's in-house blogger. Both are great in their roles.

Perhaps the biggest risk the show takes is in using real news stories for its reports. The first date depicts events from April 2010, so I'm sure HBO's lawyers have been through the script with a finetooth comb for actionable content, but the melding of fact and fiction is a touch discombobulating.

It's worth pointing out, though, that we're half an hour into the show before there's any news at all. The engine of the drama is McAvoy's abandonment of his glossy impartiality in favour of a more editorialised look at the news in the tradition of Ed Murrow or Walter Cronkite.

I fear that The Newsroom may live for only one series, but that is likely to be a gem. If anyone you know is a self-regarding media commentator, even if only at the amateur level, the DVD set of this immensely watchable show would make the ideal Christmas gift.

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