Film & TV

At the End of Its First Season, a Spirited Defense of ‘The Newsroom’

Film & TV

At the End of Its First Season, a Spirited Defense of ‘The Newsroom’

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It was somewhere between the first and three-hundred-and-twelfth bloated monologue that I realized, with great reluctance, that I loved The Newsroom. That despite a thousand justified think pieces admonishing the show for its lack of narrative plausibility, character depth, gender balance, emotional subtlety, and political realism, among plenty of other reasonable critiques, my experience with the show had morphed from a nyah-nyah pointed finger at Aaron Sorkin’s ego to something resembling… enjoyment? Giddiness? I didn’t know for sure until last night’s season finale, when Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy (deliverer of so many of those bloated monologues) was roused to fight the good fight by one of his co-workers as the gentle strains of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” could be heard in the background.

And then, just as he decides to get up out his hospital bed for the first time in days, he rips off his wristband at the exact moment the piano in that song kicks in for the first time. Reader, I had to pause the HBO Go stream to give myself a moment to stop laughing at this cheesy, contrived bit that played like something out of a high schooler’s fantasy. Such a moment of perfect cornballing sums up exactly why The Newsroom, for all its imperfections, functions on a basic emotional level. Which is that for anyone who shares the show’s liberal politics, we essentially want to see these characters succeed—to have their foolish attempt at reshaping the discourse somehow break through. It means we’ll forgive every structural deficiency mentioned above, and even allow the use of a classic rock song for inspirational purposes. It’s all in the name of the good fight, right?

Oh, it’s painful to watch their arrogance and self-righteousness bleed through the screen, to imagine every click of Sorkin’s keyboard congratulating itself on its intellectual rationality. Every episode is essentially a sixty-minute Obama stump speech from that miracle ’08 presidential run where everything he said belied the possibility of an economically fecund post-racial paradise filled with unicorns and unlimited soda fountains. The thinker in me knows that Sorkin’s being manipulative as all hell when he teases this, and has his characters congratulating themselves simply for imagining they know what’s better. We have to know that the concept of “the greater fool” that last night’s episode was built around—the thinker who doesn’t know he isn’t supposed to succeed until he does—is probably what Sorkin imagines himself to be, which is horribly egotistical on a number of levels.

But I can forgive Sorkin’s conceit and his White Maleness because he isn’t afraid to wield his art as a collection of road signs pointing his audience in some spiritual direction. Where the show started off as a cynical appraisal of the discourse, it’s morphed into something more optimistic of some Great Future in which all Americans can be proud of their America. Which, again, is corny as all hell, and doesn’t work on those structural levels that can be endlessly dissected over and over again. But hell, doesn’t it feel good to shut off the cynicism and dive into some liberal fantasy porn? Shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad may be unparalleled dramatic experiences, capable of reshaping and dictating television’s narrative possibilities. The Newsroom makes me root for America without feeling embarrassed about it. It’s like The Olympics, the National Anthem McDonald’s Monopoly promotions rolled into one. I can’t wait for season two, especially if President Obama wins reelection. If not, then it might just get crushingly depressing.