Of course, the reason so many people admitted to ‘hate-watching’ season one of The Newsroom has a lot to do with those tics not just being present, but being a lot more prominent. The things that Sorkin has always been a little less brilliant at were now front and centre, and the show’s other flaws were so obvious and in your face that it’s not at all surprising so many took against the show.
The Newsroom takes place in a fictional newsroom, where Jeff Daniels’ anchorman Will McAvoy is forced to work with his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) who joins Newsnight as his new executive producer. Together they report the news, but it’s familiar news. Real world news stories that occurred and were reported on, but not in the way Aaron Sorkin thinks they should have been covered. Even though it’s hard to disagree with his thesis, there’s a lot of left-leaning sermonising and self-importance to the way that he (via Will McAvoy) does it, that can rub the viewer up the wrong way.
Hindsight is 20/20, and there aren’t enough examples of the Newsnight team getting things wrong. Even more egregiously they all too often seem to get their journalistic breaks through luck, rather than hard work. It’s a frustrating viewing experience, and it’s not helped by a number of un-interesting or poorly executed romantic subplots between members of the ensemble. There are times when the show gets it right, such as in the Osama bin Laden episode ‘5/1’, and some supporting characters and relationships that are easier to invest in – Olivia Munn is a standout as Sloan Sabbith.
But there’s another reason that the curious practice of ‘hate-watching’ took place. Because even with all of those flaws, it’s very hard to stop watching The Newsroom. Sorkin’s pacing and narrative structure (the man loves a story circle) makes for an effortless viewing experience. Just as none of his flaws have magically disappeared, neither has his ability to write compelling television and craft scenes oozing with peerless, flowing dialogue. The whole thing also looks wonderful, particularly on Blu-ray. From the Greg Mottola directed Pilot onwards, each episode absolutely looks the business.
The characters may not all be likable, but the performances are strong pretty much across the board, and it’s exciting to think what this array of talent (both in front of and behind the camera) could do if those glaring flaws were addressed. The Newsroom isn’t bad television, nor is it merely good television. This is great television with just enough dodgy elements thrown in that it ends up being frustratingly only good. You don’t ‘hate-watch’ something that’s flat out bad, you ‘hate-watch’ something that’s letting you down, but which you suspect at any moment could turn the corner and really deliver.
Watch a clip from The Newsroom bonus material below: