Aaron Sorkin, writer of “The West Wing”, “The Social Network” and “Moneyball” has a sort of trademarked handle on fast talking, maybe not so realistic but damn entertaining dialogue. His latest work is with HBO’s “THE NEWSROOM”, in which a fictitious news station ACN (Atlantis Broadcast Company) is in the real world alongside other stations such as FOX and CNN. The season spans 15 months following head anchor Will McAvoy and the major news events of the end of 2010 and most of 2011.
In the opening minutes of the series we are introduced to Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy on stage with two others participating in a talk at Northwestern University. He doesn’t say much on stage but when prodded he has an episode resulting in a tirade involving how America is no longer the greatest country in the world. Since the audience is made up of mostly college age students, the meltdown is recorded on mobile devices and uploaded online in no time. This opening scene is intelligent and intriguing introduction to the Will character as it conveys a massive amount of thought leading the viewer to wonder how this well spoken, seemingly important individual has a meltdown like this. From there the viewer is brought into the past to the days leading up to that moment.
The rest of the show is an interesting blend of fictitious personal stories all playing out around major news events breaking. The main focus of the earlier episodes are about the BP oil spill however there is much talk about other topical issues such as the immigration reform, the apple employee who left his phone at a bar, banks doing bad mortgages leading to the collapse, Obama’s supposed $200m trip to Mumbai, gun control and Osama Bin Laden. During the new broadcasts there is a lot of actual footage of real people like Sarah Palin talking on Fox, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others.
Sorkin is aware of the precariousness of which side the viewers fall down on. He does a good job of steering clear of not being too democratic, too republican or too leftist/ rightist. With McAvoy as his voice, Sorkin straddles a fine line in which not to have people think the character is completely one sided (even though his chosen party is explicitly stated). Jeff Daniels character is a vehicle for cathartic speaking of opinions. An example is when he gets upset about the low quality of tweets he has to read at the end of each brpadcast. In turn he makes it tougher to sign up on their site by giving making people give their names and states so they are no longer anonymous. Aaron’s other strength as a writer is his ability to take highly intellectual talk and make it easily consumable for the masses. Ultimately viewers will love or hate of the show depending on many of the views they have of the issues that are talked about.
Since the creators are using a fictional television station they can use this towards their artistic agenda. They use real life events and portray the broadcast company as doing the honorable thing. And with that they have the ability to make it pay off most of the time. It is a “in a perfect world” scenario. “THE NEWSROOM” also excels at seeing how a brand-new news event grows from being a brief blip on the internet into the next big national story. From there it shows how the story grows into everyone doing their job simultaneously to get as much information as quickly as possible. Every time for a new major event is in the works it is tackled a little bit differently in every episode as to not be repetitive. In almost every case it shows the urge of wanting to be the first to break a story and balancing it with making sure you have enough credible sources first.
All the top billed actors in the show are immensely compelling and likable. Jeff Daniels as McAvoy nails it as the lead. The sign of a great character performance is when you forget that you are watching a famous actor just doing another role and Daniels achieves this. He is simultaneously an a%&hole, funny, demonstrative and most importantly sympathetic. Sam Waterston shines as McAvoy’s quirky and consistently “wet” boss. Emily Mortimer is terrific as McAvoy’s ex and new partner. She tends to add more of the comic relief than Daniels does. Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr, Olivia Munn and Thomas Sadoski all part of the main cast help as secondary characters providing nice personal touches with their younger storylines. From the outset, HBO is going for a classy, intelligent style that stems from the glassy, sterile news station floor environment, the wardrobe , all the way to the font used in the credits.
With an OAR of 1:78.1, “THE NEWSROOM” was mostly shot digitally using APRI Alexa digital cameras. However the pilot episode was filmed using 16MM film (I love this idea by the way). When cinematographer Todd McMullen switched to digital cameras he used filmic lighting techniques to try even out the ‘digitalness’ and have it match the 16mm look to capture the best of both mediums. Due to some costly issues with filming 16 inside it was only used in exterior scenes. The issue was that almost every indoor shot taking place in the newsroom had 15-20 digital monitors as part of the set and that caused many graphic syncing issues. The difference in cameras does not create a jarring viewing experience as there is a consistent look throughout the entire show. The end result is an image with great detail however not as immaculate as other HBO offerings. Sharpness is not front and center nor was it intended to be. What we have is a unique visual experience using two different mediums. I am confident in saying that what is on the Blu-ray is nearly exactly to how the show is supposed to look.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 may not be as boisteroius as your typical action movie but in this case the subtlies work nicely. Ambient sounds come in the form of the busy nature of the newsroom office. It is like you are in the middle of the room and you hear everything going on around you such as phones ringing, audio from the monitors around the room, people’s faint arbitrary conversations, papers shuffling and random doors opening and closing. Dialogue is perfect and well prioritized to the front speaker.
As usual with HBO, there is a boatload of Extras. There are five Audio Commentaries peppered through all the episodes. They are interesting and will appeal to fans of commentaries. Each one has high energy, wit and is highly informational. Each disc also has Recaps of the previous episodes as well as Previews of the next ones. There are ten Deleted Scenes which is pretty much one per episode. They are interesting but can see why they were trimmed. Next is Mission Control which is a brief look into the main sets of the show. Those familiar with HBO release will recognize their reoccurring feature called Inside the Episodes in which there are insightful tidbits of the episodes from teh creator. Lastly is The Rundown in which the laid leads and creators get together to talk more about the show.
HBO’s “THE NEWSROOM” is a fictitious and in-depth look into modern television broadcast journalism set inside the real world. ACN represents how a news organization should be run with ethics and responsibility above sensationalism and high ratings at any cost. There is an Edward R. Murrow quality to the show’s philosophy in this regard. This ultimately may be a contentious show depending one someone’s politics and how strongly those views are held. Having said that, the show does a suitable job of straddling the line so that most viewers will find the middle ground. Besides the point of the show is not to be divisive but to bring back old school values to modern day mentalities by creating a fantasy-like entity built on being responsible. Audio and Video are top notch making this easily recommended.