The Newsroom is a terrible show. Despite (or maybe because of) its glaring flaws I have watched and enjoyed the entirety of the first season, which wrapped up last Sunday night. I will very probably watch and enjoy the second season as well. This isn’t because The Newsroom has great characters (it doesn’t, except for drunk Sam Waterston) or because the plots are interesting (they’re not—I care not about the arbitrary hookups of the interchangeable characters). Instead, I’ve watched The Newsroom because it makes me feel intelligent, justifies my feelings as a progressive, and services my gut feelings about media and politics. It’s thinky liberal smarty porn, and I’ve swallowed it down with equal parts shame and pleasure.
Find out why... after the jump.
The Newsroom’s use of real recent news is essential to what makes it appealing and also what makes it so immensely revolting. An early episode used the very real and very tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as a plot point. Seeing fictional characters bloviate about a fairly recent tragedy was highly squirmy and yet… even though I knew it was wrong and horrible I got something out of it. I liked seeing Jeff Daniels get all angry and belligerent about a real life event in the same way that I wish I had. I liked hearing the crew debate news I remembered in staccato tones—they were passionate, sure, but still measured and reasonable in a way that I wish and hope real TV news people are. Had this been about a fictional event, it would have been less uncomfortable to watch, but that would have also, weirdly, taken away from the fist-pumping escapism. I would not have been able to say “if only real news outlets had been like this back then.”
On The Newsroom, idealism and rage do not seem to cancel out intelligence or logic. Instead, the characters strong emotions seem to stem directly from how smart they are. From the series’ opening rant to last Sunday’s histrionic Don Quixote-invoking season finale, the message has been clear: Your liberal anger and indignation doesn’t cloud your powers of reason. It informs them. Your gut feeling is a function of your smartness. Your feelings tell you how intelligent you are. This is already an attitude that’s regularly skewered by Stephen Colbert, albeit from the opposite end of the political spectrum. In his very first episode, Colbert opened with the following:
"No, this show is not about me. This show is dedicated to you. The heroes. And who are the heroes? The people who watch this show... You get it. And you come from a long line of it-getters. You're the folks who say 'something's got to be done.' Well, you're doing something right now. You're watching TV. And on this show, your voice will be heard. In the form of my voice."
Hence The Newsroom’s “success.” Sorkin's latest is not good television, yet I've eagerly taken in every episode. The pitter-patter of Sorkin's dialogue sounds intelligent, and so I feel intelligent. I watch the show, and I feel like a hero. A doer of somethings. An it-getter. Sorkin's immense power of audience flattery circumvents all of the show's flaws. Or, at least enough so that I and enough other people have kept watching, and the show is getting a second season.
In the end, it’s little more than a sloppy, graceless ego-job for the audience. It’s delivered without any real skill or subtlety, but it’s delivered nonetheless. It's delivered with an excess and gusto that appeals to a certain kind of person who likes to think they are informed and passionate and kinda-sorta smart. Someone like me. I hate you, The Newsroom. See you next season.