Good news for Sorkin ... for now

What's it about:

Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) returns to work his magic on the small screen. In typical style he is focusing on a small group of highly intelligent professionals but this time it's a team of journalists working for a renowned news network rather than a team of political aides running the country. No it isn't as life-and-death serious but Sorkin makes it feel like it is.

Our view:

Don't make the mistake of thinking you are watching a behind-the-scenes show on the making of a hard-hitting news programme. Instead it is a love story that just happens to be set behind the scenes of a hard-hitting news programme.

Meet Will, he's an affable news anchor who has made a good living out of not offending anyone. Well, that's not strictly true because he offends his staff all the time, just not the show's guests. We first see him fronting an audience of college students where he is struggling to take an interest in the panel debate he's on. He won't be moved to disclose his political leanings but with a bit of pressure he finally cracks and spews forth a diatribe on why America is not the greatest country on Earth. Amazingly, he is able to reel off a dozen statistics to support his case. Of course it's only amazing up until the point you remember that Aaron Sorkin seems to have a fetish for characters with photographic memories.

Surprisingly his lesson didn't go down too well, not with his fellow panel members, the college audience nor the many people who tuned in on YouTube. He takes a break to escape the calamity only to walk into another one on his return: his deputy has left to anchor his own nightly news show and is taking Will's staff him, including his whipsmart and highly annoying executive producer Don. Not to worry because Will's boss Charlie has already found a new EP who, and here's the rub, just happens to be Will's ex-girlfriend.

Enter Mackenzie, aka Mac, who apparently is one of the best television news and current affairs producers around. She's highly employable yet no one but Charlie will employ her. She's just returned from covering warzones and we're told she is more American than apple pie - we are told this because she just happens to have a British accent which could otherwise put off American audiences.

In a classic rom-com "meet-cute" Will and Mac first run into one another (not literally, that would be a little too cute) in the middle of the newsroom in front of the staff. It doesn't go well so they retreat to his office where they have a private slanging match, which turns out not to be so private because the glass walls in this building are in no way sound proof (something that will come in handy for future episodes).

Will reveals he has taken a multi-million dollar pay cut for the ability to fire her on a weekly basis and Mac tries to sell him on her intention to create a news program that aims high on information and intelligence with little regard for ratings. Don Quixote is mentioned and you are left to figure out who is Quixote, who is Sancho Panza and who is the ass. The novel may serve as a guiding light for the show but that point really wasn't hammered home enough.

Just as the pair are reaching a stalemate Mac's offsider Jim enters the room with a breaking news story: there has been an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. If the story sounds familiar it's because it is not only based on the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 but actually is that very spill. This is where we learn that The Newsroom will not be making up new events, nor will it even be inspired by real-life stories, instead it will be set in the recent past and taking advantage of actual news events. It's unusual and it's clever: this way the show gets to utilise past news footage and the audience gets to feel smart (something we don't usually feel watching a Sorkin show) because we know more than the characters do. For example, Don and Jim argue about the importance of the story – we of course know that it is just the tip of the iceberg (excuse the oceanic pun) and it further entrenches our dislike for Don (I have seen him likened to Josh Lyman from The West Wing, he may have the corresponding smarts and even the junior love interest but so far none of his charm).

With the introduction of the news story the extensive set-up finally starts to pay off. When Mac and Will throw out the show's rundown you begin to get swept up into the adrenalin of the moment. Their biting repartee, with Mac in the control room and Will at the news desk, is a high point and we can see that their relationship friction could make for interesting television.

The show is big on the feel-good factor. In the first episode the high ideals pay off and the staff bask in the joy of producing intelligent news. It was a job well done and we get to bask a little bit too. At this point there would be nary a journalist watching who didn't wish there was more of this euphoria going around. Just don't ask about the ratings.

Jeff Daniels, of Dumb and Dumber fame, is perfect as Sorkin's next leading man. He's gruff, authoritative but can also pull off the lighter moments. Emily Mortimer as Mac might be out-weighed (she is tiny) but she certainly isn't outclassed. Mortimer proves she not only can spout out a lengthy monologue but she can more than hold her own with Daniels in a scene.

The rest of the cast don't really put a foot wrong in the first episode. Maggie (Alison Pill), Jim (John Gallagher Jnr), and Neal (Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel) will provide plenty of fodder for debate in future episodes but for now the main criticism is that the newsroom is very Gen Y. In this regard Will's boss Charlie (Sam Waterston) brings some much-needed gravitas and his love of a bow tie is a nice old-school touch.

In a sentence: It's smart, funny and aims high - be prepared to sit through some sermons but there are laughs to be had and more than a dash of romance too. Did someone say Quixotic?

Best bit: The idealism.

Worst bit: The idealism.

Next episode: Monday, 8.30pm, Soho (Foxtel). Stay tuned because one of the best characters is yet to be introduced; Sloan Sabbath (Olivia Munn), the hotshot economics reporter, soon becomes one of the highlights of the show while some of the other characters crash and burn.

Worth watching again? Of course. Frankly if the mood of this show was available in little bottles we would all be taking a dose before work.

Grade: A

The story Good news for Sorkin ... for now first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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