Thursday, June 21, 2012

TV PILOT REVIEW: HBO's "The Newsroom"

I am not an avid newswatcher. The only reason I see the news of the day, if I ever see the news, is because it happens to be on when I turn the TV on, I happen to glance at it as I pass a newspaper, or it's trending on Twitter. I know that I'm "apart of the problem," but my love for fiction is so all-encompassing that I have no room for reality—except when my bills arrive, of course. HBO's "The Newsroom," however, is a perfect combination of fiction and reality. Most critics and viewers of the much-talked-about promo were blown away by the intensity and cleverness of the dialogue and, of course, the creator himself, Mr. Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network and Moneyball). But what I found most intriguing about the pilot was that it's only half way through that you're informed the series takes place in the Spring of 2010.
The action picks up as the news of the cataclysmic Gulf of Mexico oil spill breaks. We're taken through the thought process that broadcast networks go through to determine which angle they're going to use when they report, how seriously they're going to treat the topic, who they're interviewing, and what risks they're going to take. It's more tense than watching a delicate surgery on a medical drama. One misstep could make-or-break the careers of every single person involved, not to mention tarnish the network's reputation, costing them millions of dollars. And because Sorkin chose to go back in time instead of fabricating similar major news stories in present day, it feels more real than ever. If you didn't get the inside scoop on certain stories or see how a minor rescue mission escalated into a multi-million dollar environmental disaster, you will now.
What's also impressive about the series is that it does all of this without seeming like it's reading off a microfilm. It develops its characters and keeps you as interested in them as it does in the breaking stories. Leading the cast is Jeff Daniels as the broadcast personality Will McAvoy. His character has spent the last three years of his career playing it safe, never asking or answering the hard questions, and basically half-assing his way through the newscast. In the beginning, we think it's because he doesn't want the hassle that comes with constantly being on the defensive, justifying his opinions. But once his ex-girlfriend Mackenzie MacHale (British actress Emily Mortimer) strolls back into his life, we realize his neutered personality has everything to do with her seemingly abrupt relocation. And it takes her extremely abrupt return for him to get back to the man he (and she) once respected. Thankfully, both sides of him are perpetually pissed off, sarcastic know-it-alls, which is half his appeal. The other half being his sense of humor. If you've ever seen the indie The Answer Man, you know that Daniels is perfect for this role.
Mackenzie returns to the states after a bout in the Middle East that apparently rocked her to her core enough to make her come home, but not enough to crush her optimistic, sometimes-bubbly, sometimes-ballsy demeanor. She's accepted a job as executive producer of Will's show, but he refuses to work with and/or forgive her. She brought her producer Jim Harper (Tony award winning John Gallagher Jr. from Spring Awakening) along, a clumsy, awkward, nervous Dustin Hoffman meets Jesse Eisenberg kind of guy, who may look green but is far more intelligent and capable than anyone gives him credit for. Mackenzie actually has a talent for spotting people with potential. She not only gave Jim his big break, but she also gave one to her former intern, Will's traitorous ex-executive producer Don (Thomas Sadoski from Loser), and to his current intern-turned-assistant Maggie (Alison Pill from Midnight in Paris and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), who she bumped up to associate producer because she reminded her of a younger her. Rounding out the cast in the pilot are Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), who plays Neal, a highly knowledgable and resourceful blogger, and Sam Waterston ("Law & Order"), who plays Charlie Skinner, the functioning alcoholic and deeply involved president of the network.
You will get attached to these characters after watching the first episode. You will pity naive little Maggie and pray she grows a backbone long enough to dump her emotionally destructive boyfriend Don. You will applaud Jim for every risky move he makes and chuckle whenever he gets flustered. You will fist-pump whenever Don gets put in his obnoxious place. You will shake your head whenever someone fails to acknowledge Neal's existence. You will smirk every time Charlie reaches for a drink to fuel his increasingly inappropriate behavior and yet very effective methods of encouragement. You will cheer when Will preaches and berates. You will snicker whenever Mackenzie pulls one over on him. And you will wait patiently for Will and Mackenzie's relationship to unfold, because you can see she not only makes him a better man, but a better reporter. This is a solid cast. An Emmy-worthy cast.
I look forward to a season filled with debate, drama, and revelations, and to the cast members I've yet to see. There have been reports that Chris Matthews and Andrew Breitbart will guest star for roundtables; Olivia Munn ("Perfect Couples") will play a financial analyst with her own show on the network; Jane Fonda will be the CEO of a parent company; John Tenney ("The Closer") will join as Mackenzie's boyfriend and Natalie Morales ("The Middleman") as Neal's girlfriend. Stay tuned. I have a feeling it only gets better.

Premieres Sunday June 24th at 10pm on HBO.

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