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On Balance, “The Newsroom” Is Enjoyable And Preachy

 

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of “Sports Night,” “The West Wing” and the short-lived “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” is repeating himself in his HBO series “The Newsroom.”

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 20:  Actors Jeff Daniels,...

Jeff Daniels, Jane Fonda and writer Aaron Sorkin of HBO's "The Newsoom"

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Watching even a Sorkin repeat is sort of like watching a “Seinfeld” repeat – a viewer can enjoy the rhythms, the dialogue, and see and hear something a little different each time.

“The Newsroom” — which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on the pay-cable network — isn’t revolutionary TV, though Sorkin is using it to promote a revolutionary idea that even he acknowledges is a fantasy – that national newscasts shouldn’t worry about making viewers happy and making money and instead concentrate on educating them to which government officials and politicians are telling the truth.

It is a series that might have better called “News Junkies,” because it more likely will appeal to regular viewers of “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation” and “This Week” each Sunday morning who follow current events very closely.

As usual, Sorkin tries to make the audience accept his lectures by giving them what they want – stories about love triangles and relationships, office politics and some off-the wall humor like having a newsman promote the idea that “Big Foot” is real.

I wanted to love “The Newsroom” so much that I watched all four episodes that HBO sent along in one night. I didn’t love all of the rapid-fire lectures, but the series improves with each episode. Finally, by the fourth episode, Sorkin gives viewers what they long for in all his series – some reason to become as emotional about his passion as he is.

What I do love about the series is its cast. Jeff Daniels is excellent as Will McAvoy, the demanding anchorman at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (CAN) who wears $4,000 tuxedos, smokes and goes on a “mission of civility” in the news and in his personal life after years of playing it so safe he is called the “Jay Leno of news.” Will is a bit of a jackass who slowly wants to prove he is human. He also is a Republican who wants to believe his party cares about humans and isn’t represented by the Tea Party.

His executive producer, MacKenzie McHale, is played by Emily Mortimer, an actress I fell in love with when she starred in the under-rated Andy Garcia movie “City Island.” MacKenzie also is the former girlfriend who broke Will’s heart when he had one, and the two still clearly have feelings for each other of resentment and love. They also respect each other as journalists and they respect the audience more than their competitors do.

Sam Waterson is wonderful playing a cynically humorous character that is 180 degrees from his “Law & Order” persona. He plays Will’s boss, Charlie Skinner, who protects the anchor from the network owner, Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda). She is chummy with many of the people that the new Will criticizes and worries that having an opinionated anchor who upsets congressman and billionaires will be bad for business.

The rest of the cast is younger, ambitious and idealistic. They include Margaret Jordan (Alison Pill), as an earnest secretary-turned associate producer who is dating Don Keefer (Thomas Sadowski), a jerky executive producer. Meanwhile, it is clear to the audience that she would be better off with the smart, caring guy that MacKenzie brought with her, Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) to change the news world.

If you’ve watched Sorkin TV, then you know the drill. There is enough jealously going on inside the newsroom to fill an edition of People or US magazines and have an hour-special on E! – all things that Will has contempt for.

The cast also includes Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith, who is put on Will’s newscast because she is brilliant and because – this being TV – she is beautiful. Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) also is aboard as Neal Sampat, a good newsman even if he believes in Big Foot.

Sorkin uses real news events and news footage – the BP oil spill, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, gun control arguments and the misrepresentation of President Obama’s stands by Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are among the topics – to drive home his legitimate point that sometimes it would be better if newsmen didn’t worry so much about balance when the facts are on one side.

It isn’t surprising that Palin or Bachmann would be Sorkin targets since he has justifiably hammered them in cable news interviews over the years. Like his fictional principled anchor, Sorkin doesn’t worry about balance. His anchor may say he is a Republican, but he would be the most liberal Republican in the nation judging by his lectures.

While there is an occasional swipe at President Obama for not doing enough on gun control, overall “The Newsroom” could be part of his re-election campaign.

One of the more passionate scenes in the first batch of episodes is an exchange between two veterans chewing the scenery, Waterston and Fonda (who finally shows in the third episode).

Leona isn’t happy about Will’s transformation from Leno to opinionated. The argument ends with Fonda’s character countering a Charlie defense of Will by saying “a lot of people might argue that Will is on a witch hunt.”

That line seems like a Sorkin defense of his lectures. But Sorkin lovers should be used to his politics by now because of “The West Wing” and probably will love the cast so much that they won’t mind being preached to again.

On balance, “The Newsroom” is educational and entertaining.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

pergament@msn.com

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