By Ron Peltier
The season premiere of HBO’s The Newsroom, “We Just Decided To,” promises strong things for the series. However, the show’s pilot is not without some minor flaws and issues germane to pilots.
The show centers on famous cable news anchor, Will McVoy, played by Jeff Daniels, and his newsroom staff. The episode begins as McVoy melts down at a conference discussion. He asserts several alarming facts about the US, challenging the popular notion of US supremacy. Such unvarnished veracity does not go down easy with American audiences.
After a vacation, he returns to work and finds his staff has all gone on to work for a different show and replaced by his boss, Charlie Skinner, played by Sam Waterson. The replacement staff includes his ex-girlfriend as the show’s executive producer, sending the mercurial news anchor into a rage. His ex-girlfriend, Mackenzie McHale, is played by Emily Mortier. There is a history between the two, which the show promises to tease out throughout the season.
One of the problems is that too much pedantic exposition occurs. Aaron Sorkin, whose impressive credits include Moneyball, The Social Network and the revered T.V. series The West Wing, is the show’s creator and episode writer. His work often provides lengthy speeches by smart characters. Several scenes serve to inform us of the importance of news and its relationship to democracy, the US and, more generally, freedom. These scenes have the feel of a lecture at times. However, it is setting up one of the essential conflicts—can news be profitable without compromising values?
The show works best when it’s frenetic and not preaching. The last half of the show works very well and portends strong things to come.
Before the new staff settles in, the BP Deep Horizon Oil Rig blows up, and the new staff must decide how to cover it. Is it just a search and rescue story or the worst environmental catastrophe in our history? Just like on The West Wing, characters move, think and talk quickly while the camera tries to keep up.
Various staff members discover important elements about the breaking news story and are able to convey the information just in the nick of time as McVoy relays the information on-air. It demonstrates the skill and competency of the new staff to both McVoy and the audience. Only a complete moron could miss that. All this is a little too convenient; it does work to set the show in motion, however.
There are several additional characters in the news room, and already there is a burgeoning love conflict between staffers. But the best thing about Sorkin’s work involves the witty banter between characters. Smart people engaged in smart discussion and repartee are often nowhere to be found on the TV landscape. And the pilot provides some clever quips.
The pilot has additional burdens that the on-going series does not. It has to introduce several characters and provide them with interests and personality. It must set the series in motion by revealing the tension and conflict. However, despite those concerns, “We Just Decided To” effectively provides a reason to keep watching to see just where things go. The show could be a lot of fun; we’ll have to wait and see.