Monday, 24 September 2012

Why everyone hates The Newsroom but I like it anyway

Almost everyone on the internet hates The Newsroom. Reviews of each episode range from 'this is the worst thing ever', to 'at least it's not as bad as last week'. All the commenters join in and soon everyone's agreed that it's Not a Very Good Show. I watch an episode and enjoy it, then go on the internet to learn why I didn't really enjoy it after all. The argument is that it only looks and feels like good television if you let it wash over you, but if you think about it it all falls apart. The obvious thing to say here is that feeling like you enjoyed something is the same as enjoying it. But no, it's actually bad for you, apparently.

So is it just a lot of idealistic lecturing that goes nowhere? Sort of. It's Sorkin's view of the world, and that gets on most people's nerves. It's like The West Wing was how he wants things to be, and The Newsroom is him complaining that it's not. These aren't politicians who we watch doing something to fix the problem, they are journalists with Powerpoint presentations giving actual lectures. And because HBO gives him big long episodes, he's not forced to reign it in. This seems like a good enough reason to take against the show from the start, and if you do you're definitely not going to like the rest of it. It's true that not much has changed from the first episode of the season to the last, but if you like the characters it'll be a lot more fun. And I do like them. I feel like I have to apologise for that, but I do like them. Even the ones who don't seem to do much. Sorkin has never been very good at planning a whole season, so most of the narrative thrust and character moments are in individual episodes. I think 'Bullies' and 'Amen' are some of the best things he's written, even if they don't have much impact on the overall story. Maybe I just enjoy watching people fall over.

The Newsroom is, basically, about the successes and failures of making this news show, and the changes in Will's confidence and attitude towards it. That's a familiar idea. Replace 'news show' with 'comedy show' or 'government', and you've got the first seasons of other things. If you're looking for something else you're going to be disappointed, but it still works for me. It's about the staff coming together as a family, and the parents looking after the children. It's not the The West Wing, there's no characters that compare to Josh or CJ or Toby, but it's different. It's younger and a bit unsure of itself. Some of the characters need more time and some of them need less - it's more about the group as a whole. When Will defends one of his guys, or Charlie comes down to tell them off, you can see how this family works. It's got potential.

I'm not pretending that these romantic storylines aren't hopeless, or that they don't drag on. The whole Jim and Maggie thing has become toxic. In every episode it pretends to make some progress, then goes right back to where it was before. Jim must have broken up and got back together with Lisa about three times. Three times. The end of the ninth episode looked like a natural breaking point, but then it turns out to be two months later and nothing has changed. And then it goes through the whole thing again, picking up extra characters along the way. Sorkin must have decided to prolong this, so he must think we care. I used to, but it's been played so badly that I've lost interest. Though somehow, and I'm not sure how it happened, the Will and Mac thing eventually ground me down into caring. Eventually.

Ignore all that and look for the good stuff. Like everyone lining up outside Will's office to give him a cheque. Or the dialogue that is still as good as it ever was. Or most scenes with Charlie in them. There's something in this show that's good. Not great, but promising. It's somewhere underneath the lectures, doing its best to hide. It'll be easier to see in the second season, when most of the problems will have been ironed out, and it can really settle in.