Aaron Sorkin's new show is unpleasant, heavy-handed, and often inaccurate.
"He's not going to look like an elite Northeastern prick?" a cameraman asks MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), a cable news executive producer, at the end of the first episode of The Newsroom. The "he" is Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), a formerly bland anchor who has blown up his reputation with a rant that was circulated on YouTube. "He is," MacKenzie acknowledges. "Let's make that sexy again."
Therein lies the problem with The Newsroom, a new HBO show by West Wing and Social Network writer-director Aaron Sorkin, which premieres Sunday at 10 pm. A series with great self-confidence but no discernibly unique ideas, The Newsroom is determined to dress up old models as the future of journalism, even as it blithely skates over the realities of the news business and the real work of reporting.
The Newsroom appears to operate on a hierarchy of condescension. At the top is executive Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), who describes MacKenzie as if she's a fragile flower rather than an experienced war correspondent. He says, "She's mentally and physically exhausted...and she's been to way too many funerals for a girl her age. She wants to come home." Will, a notch below him, is unpleasant to everyone in sight, starting in the opening sequences, when he tells a college girl, "You are, without a doubt, the member of the worst period generation period ever period." (The show later validates Will's nastiness to her by making her seem spoiled and entitled: She sues her college for emotional distress.) Don (Thomas Sadoski), Will's soon-to-be-former executive producer, can't risk snarking on MacKenzie, his replacement, "She's like a sophomore poli-sci major at Sarah Lawrence." Jim, MacKenzie's deputy, snaps back: "She's exactly like that. I guess the only difference are her two Peabodies and the scar on her stomach from covering a Shiite protest in Islamabad."