The Newsroom: The Complete First Season [Blu-Ray]

The Newsroom: The Complete First Season [Blu-Ray]
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In the opening scene of the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin's latest televised rant, The Newsroom, notoriously ambiguous, crowd-pleasing news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) — noted as the Jay Leno of the news world — goes on an unprecedented rant during a college forum after a student asks him why he thinks America is the greatest country in the world. He unloads a litany of statistics about education, health care, prisoners and employment, calling liberals losers and conservatives idiots before jumping into a bit of romanticized nostalgia about the way things were. His singularly male griping about the horrors of the modern world continues when old flame MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) is brought on to executive produce his show after hotshot Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) jumps ship for the ten-o-clock slot. Their mission, which is outlined in another Sorkin-esque speech, is to bring news back to the Kronkite era, removing themselves from the lexicon of gossip, human-interest stories, exaggeration and bandwagon-hopping banality. Noting that the modern blogger ethos has ostensibly enabled ignorance in the general populace, who are allowed to embrace, and feel pride in, their limited vocabulary and tendency to absorb information junk food now that the Internet has popularized unreliable, sensationalist news stories, catering to the lowest common denominator. In essence, this idea is noble in its singular intent, removed from the implications of what it means to categorize modernity under a single umbrella or the reality that McAvoy's ideal world is also one removed from the present, where women, homosexuals or minorities have positions of influence. It, like the show itself, is an idea that comes from unashamed idealism and screeching morality, which, as outlined by the old school opening theme song reminiscent of early '90s night time soaps, has a Picket Fences sensibility and smugness to it that's difficult to absorb. As The Newsroom progresses through its first season, taking place in the near-past and resultantly utilizing real news stories to add a sense of legitimacy, the endless speechifying defines its core purpose. Trash blogs, Internet comment sections, advertiser catering and political debate are just a few of the topics Will and his team of romantically challenged staffers encounter during these ten episodes. Knowing that merely having endless, well-intentioned, but solipsistic arguments laid out in monologue form doesn't exactly sustain a television drama, every single character is given a contrived love story arc, such as Will's refusal to forgive MacKenzie for cheating on him or underling Maggie's (Allison Pill) destructive relationship with Don, while secretly pining for her boss and colleague, Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.). Since Sorkin's writing style is essentially giving a group of characters the exact same vocabulary, education level, moral vanity, rate of speech, turn of phrase and tendency towards rapidly absorbing the non-sequiturs he embodies, there's absolutely no distinction amongst these people beyond their overt actions. Even worse is that his limited and embarrassing understanding of women is reduced to that of irrational emotional reaction — often physical or overly loud and crazed — as a sidebar to their tendency to speak and think exactly like all of the interchangeable male characters. As such, it's impossible to care about the cheesy and overly manufactured romantic arcs thrown in to support the partially considered nostalgia driving the narrative, even when able actors like Allison Pill and Emily Mortimer do their best to make human what are basically empty ciphers with slightly differing background indicators that don't affect their present line of reasoning at all. Still, much of the political posturing is at least interesting to consider and is presented in a way that attempts to be balanced and moderately comprehensive, which can, at times, be a bit inspiring, reassuring viewers that share similar frustrations about a society that encourages and allows ignorance. It's just unfortunate that Sorkin's repetitive, self-indulgent and essentially poor writing plagues the artistic component, leaving this whimsical, occasionally laughable series to feel like an undergraduate political science project with a big budget. In the round table included with the Blu-Ray set, Sorkin discusses his idealistic approach, but is never conscious of his inability to draw individual character portraits. Similarly, the many "Inside the Episode" snippets and commentary tracks included with the set reveal only surface tidbits about a show that has little to no subtext. (Warner)