Crashing Pilots: The Newsroom
By David Mumpower
June 28, 2012
Without revealing too much (I will save this for the follow-up of Crashing Pilots in a few weeks), The Newsroom has a twist of sorts. I literally groaned at first when I saw it because the use of typed words on the screen felt so artificial that I was momentarily alienated. After I watched the way the tone of the show changed afterward, I came around. Suffice to say that The Newsroom is not set in the modern day, which will provide Sorkin another avenue to explore alternate history in a similar manner to president Josiah “Jed” Bartlet’s two terms.
In the first execution of this premise, a major news event occurs and Jim, Gallagher's character, happens to have two different friends who provide him insider news tips within moments of the story breaking. This is…less than what Sorkin usually does. He even offers a tip of the cap to it at one point yet it bothers me enough that I fear this will become a recurring theme of the show. Some member of the News Night staff knows exactly the right person to call to unearth the portion of the story no other news organization can ferret out. This would bother me.
If this is the only such instance, I can forgive it because the unraveling events lead to Jim garnering immediate respect from his peers. This is especially important because his newfound popularity comes at the expense of one Don Keefer, the boyfriend of Pill’s character, Maggie Jordan. If there is a villain in the pilot – and that villain is not McAvoy himself – it is Keefer, who has led the charge to flee News Night. He has also not comported himself well in his relationship with Maggie, who has stayed with McAvoy out of loyalty even though the news anchor cannot remember her name.
All of this is leading to familiar territory for fans of The Office. Jim seems destined to wind up with Maggie, which makes her the Pam and Jim the…well, Jim. This early opportunity to impress is significant, albeit awkward. And that is the overall takeaway from The Newsroom pilot. Much of what happens in the pilot is forced, stilted. The flow is not what I have come to expect from Sorkin.
Over the past two decades, Sorkin has proven time and again that he has the rare ability to create dialogue that feels perfectly natural. Critics complain that nobody really talks like his characters, but this is what differentiates Sorkin from lesser scribes. His words are always those of optimism, challenging us to better ourselves in such a way that we may one day learn to speak with the rhythm and reason of a Sorkin character.
The lasting vibe of The Newsroom pilot is that somewhat has created a Sorkin knock-off program rather than this exemplifying the finest work of the author himself. This is not to say that there are not great moments. There is a marvelous turn of phrase about Louisiana’s fortune and a Shakespearean reference I am kicking myself for never creating on my own. And I immediately love everything about the character of Maggie.
What the show lacks thus far is precision. To wit, there is no reasonable explanation given for why Maggie is with Don Keefer, who comes across as a calculating opportunist at the start of the pilot and an utterly unskilled news producer toward the end. In fact, there is a direct contradiction when McAvoy tells Keefer that he is the best producer the longtime newsman has worked with yet the body of the episode has him showing all of the innate news instincts of Ralph Wiggum. These are the sorts of mistakes that are easily cleaned up long term but in the short sample size of a pilot, they are problematic.
The tone of this evaluation is harsh, which is a bit unfair. The last half hour of The Newsroom is exhilarating. Better yet, I expect this to be the tone of the show moving forward. It is only the introductory phase that has such limitations. Long term, my gravest concern is that McAvoy will continue to be so dislikable that his presence will cast a shadow over the proceedings. The rest of the staff, on the other hand, is extraordinarily well cast and innately engaging. I wish the pilot hadn’t been this uneven, but if I view it as two episodes combined, there is tremendous growth from the first episode to the second. I fully expect that within a handful of episodes, The Newsroom will follow the model of Sports Night by starting slowly but quickly building to greatness. Sorkin has never failed me before, so I have no reason to doubt him.