Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More About HBO's The Newsroom...On Fire!

Just watched the season finale of HBO's The Newsroom last night. This first season was a total of, maybe, ten episodes altogether, which changed my life. In the final episode, viewers are reminded of something we've heard about, but perhaps isn't foremost on our minds: voter ID laws - a way of keeping people who wouldn't normally vote for you from voting at all, like, maybe, people of color. Something like 38 states have passed some form of these laws. This is scary, and it looks like nothing can be done about it before the next election. In my mind, it's one more way for politicians to get what they want by manipulating elections...shameful and completely undemocratic.

Some people are saying The Newsroom is a left-wing rant, but I disagree. However, if by left wing, one means disagreement with the philosophies of the Tea Party, or even daring to believe that church and state should be separate, then yes, I suppose it is. The highlight of the season finale is when anchorman Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, states that the Tea Party is the equivalent of the American Taliban. On the show, his character receives over a hundred death threats for issuing this statement, which is backed up by a list of beliefs the Tea Party harbors that truly mirror the Taliban's. I wouldn't be surprised if writer Aaron Sorkin, the producers of the show, HBO, and poor little Jeff Daniels himself will receive threats now - but they had to know they were taking the chance.

The Newsroom is simultaneously the bravest, most interesting, intelligent, and entertaining show I've ever seen on TV. Ever. The next season doesn't begin until June 13th, 2013 (how will I live 'til then!), so you have plenty of time to catch up using On Demand, Netflix or however you can. If you're not watching this show, you're missing something huge.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

HBO's The Newsroom: Oh. My. God.

I admit, I watch television. You'd be surprised how many artsy friends I have who eschew the tube in favor of...say...reading, or sitting around engaged in meaningful conversation. As an author, I'm certainly in favor of reading, and partake of it daily. I also love the art of conversation, which is actually a part of my television watching. My husband and I, and often my twenty-year-old son, enjoy discussing in detail what we see on TV, including the commercials. Being a writer of popular fiction and screenplays, I feel it's important I keep my finger on the pulse of pop culture. Does that excuse my watching The Deadliest Catch? Probably not, but it was worth a try.

Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom
Around our house we've been having the liveliest conversation lately about the show we all consider, hands down, the best thing on television: HBO's The Newsroom. Haven't seen it? Oh my god, pay HBO just for the privilege of watching this one show. In lieu of that, pray that the first season comes out on Netflix the moment it culminates which is in, like, a week. Starring Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Emily Mortimer, Jane Fonda, and Dev Patel (of Slumdog Millionaire), it's so much more than great acting, or the fast-paced, hard-hitting, cracker-jack dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network; The West Wing). Here's the premise: A cable news show, called News Night, has been trundling along for years reporting everything that comes off the wires at face value without bothering much to see if it's factual. The anchorman, Will McAvoy, played by Daniels, is a popular guy along the lines of Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer, who considers himself a journalist, to be sure, but who has long ago resigned himself to delivering news as, basically, entertainment. In order to shake things up, the president of the cable network's news division, played by Waterston, hires a new executive producer for News Night, Mackenzie MacHale, played by Mortimer. She is determined to make the news just that: the news again, hearkening back to the days of Murrow and Cronkite. She and her fresh team of journalists and interns are all committed to this exercise. Though at first thrown by the turn of events, Will soon jumps on board. He is a self-proclaimed Republican, but he now refuses to spew right, or left, wing conjecture or opinion. His news broadcast will report nothing unless it's checked out as completely factual. This makes for some riveting, nail-biting moments, when, for instance, every other news show is reporting that Congressman Gabby Gifford has been shot dead, and News Night would rather lose ratings than confirm such a thing without being sure. For this reason, they are often the first to report the correct news story. The owner of the station, evil Leona Lansing played by Fonda, is only interested in ratings and every time News Night disdains ratings in favor of the truth, she flips out and threatens to fire Will. Besides the tension with  Lansing and/or her son, there's lots of sexual tension as well because Will and Mackenzie are exes who still have a thing for each other in spite of past heartache, and the former executive producer, who still works at the station, is dating one of the interns who has an unfulfilled crush on another intern, and vice versa. It's so far from a soap opera though, it's not even funny. People don't talk to each other on this show, they spit, they crackle, they fling their words. It makes you wonder how anyone could stand the pressure of working at News Night. But since you don't, you, or at least, I, just can't get enough of the thrill of watching it all unfold.

Alison Pill as intern Margaret Jordan
I know, I'm obsessively prattling on about it...because I don't want anyone to miss it - seriously! My son, who digs True Blood, has agreed that The Newsroom far outshines that vampire sex-and-blood-bath. I'm even willing to say The Newsroom is as good as The Sopranos - yes, that good - but to tell you the truth, I'm sick of gangster series. I was into Boardwalk Empire for a while, and I enjoy Magic City, though it's practically soft porn, but, frankly, I'm tired of the sex, violence and misogyny. The Newsroom has women in superior positions to men, and they deserve to be because they're smart and interesting. They're also human and vulnerable, as is everyone on the show (with the possible exception of Leona Lansing) and that's what makes you love it.  The only violence is what News Night may happen to be reporting at the time, and since the show takes place about a year and a half in the past, we already know what to expect. It's fascinating to revisit those moments such as the Gulf oil spill, the liberation of Egypt and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. We not only get to experience the events in retrospect, and remember how we reacted at the time, but we learn some fascinating facts about what really happened, backed up by true-to-life sources. Sometimes it's scary.

Dev Patel as Journalist and Blogger Neal Sampat
In summation, do not get a hold of the episodes that have aired so far: eight of them, in season one. You'll thank me, trust me, you will.