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Courage under fire … Catherine Deveny, Peter Reith, Angry Anderson, Michael Smith, Imogen Bailey and Allan Asher from the second series of <em>Go Back to Where You Came From</em>.
Courage under fire … Catherine Deveny, Peter Reith, Angry Anderson, Michael Smith, Imogen Bailey and Allan Asher from the second series of Go Back to Where You Came From.

Eleven years ago, The West Wing was the intellectually vigorous drama for the politically correct and morally superior. (That would be us.) C.J. Cregg and Toby didn't waste time with personal lives because doing good, running the free world properly, meant talking and eating while walking down corridors very, very fast. When the news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre interrupted the broadcast of West Wing that Tuesday night in September 2001, we weren't to know how fundamentally everything had suddenly changed. TV never looked back.

Aaron Sorkin's writing style, full of glib, crisp rants that might have been drug-fuelled, were delivered rapid-fire by guys such as Rob Lowe - the fresh, boyish face of small-L liberal thought. Oscars, Emmys and series later, Sorkin's words are a broken record from the past century.

There is a clip on the internet called Sorkinisms that cleverly edits recycled zingers from every series and movie he has made. Diehard West Wing fans probably shouldn't watch it if they want to keep the dream alive.

His new series, The Newsroom (SoHo, Monday, 8.35pm), is so recycled it's almost green. The Newsroom enjoys predictable movie-star casting, high-horse self-righteous posturing, and a slightly nauseating core myth about the evening news on cable TV and its deep responsibility to the American people. Again, the ''good guys'' have no time for anything but the truth. Perhaps, Aaron Sorkin, you can't handle the truth.

The Newsroom is full of the sort of exhausted sighs we expect after George Clooney has carefully pronounced ''Darfur'' correctly in Congress too many times. In the guise of important ''truth'', it is self-righteous toothless pap. And we can only see it as such, in spite of charming performances from Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston and even ''Hanoi Jane'' Fonda, because of the progress TV has made since September 11.

Unless we're talking about singing contests and cooking shows, we're not so easily fooled any more.

Go Back to Where You Came From (SBS, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 8.30pm) tells us where we are, so many years later. With no solution to our growing refugee problem and the topic pushing more buttons than ever, a reprise of this ground-breaking series is timely. Bring famous folk on a journey back through the illegal immigrant experience and let's see if attitudes are set in stone.

For Angry Anderson, Peter Reith and shock jock Michael Smith, three weeks in Somalia and Afghanistan won't be enough. (Was Pauline Hanson getting her nails done?) Imogen Bailey, Catherine Deveny and Allan Asher are articulate without being rabid. This prize-winning series, which cannot provide a solution to world hunger or anarchic wars, does a great job at humanising a complex problem, engaging and entertaining us. Producers at Cordell Jigsaw show great respect for the ''celebrities'' courageous enough to subject themselves to danger and possible humiliation. No spin required. How would any of us feel about Australia's policies regarding boat people after meeting broken families and holding starving orphans? Running over three nights this week, it should be mandatory viewing.

The modern documentary series is not more useful than the glossy fictional drama for exploring social change. The dismal tabloid threat to serious news reporting and the global refugee crisis are both subjects demanding keen attention.

Go Back to Where You Came From plays as a provocative, intelligent conversation starter. The Newsroom works more as a worthy folk song that would be nice to sing along with, if only we understood more than a few words of the chorus.

This story Breaking news first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.