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Monday, July 2, 2012

HBO's The Newsroom: Two Weeks In and We're Hooked

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 12:33 PM

  • Vanity Fair

In case you missed it last week, the first ever scene in the first ever episode of HBO's new series The Newsroom featured one of the boldest chunks of television dialogue in recent memory:

"We're not the greatest country in the world," announced weathered news anchor Will McAvoy (played gruffly by Jeff Daniels) to a room full of stunned students. "...There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world. We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies."

Sobering, thought-provoking, and shocking, these very real statistics coming out of the mouth of a fictional -- but terribly believable -- character were the perfect way to set the tone for a series that uses real news events (on fictional news show, Newsnight) as the backdrop to a wealth of drama (peppered with some very funny one-liners), played out by a gritty array of intelligent and flawed characters, who are all as incredibly articulate and frequently witty as you would expect from an Aaron Sorkin script. Needless to say, after only two episodes, we are completely and utterly hooked.

In the first episode, we see McAvoy lose most of his staff after his aforementioned outburst and commence further risk-taking under his challenging new executive producer -- and ex-girlfriend -- Mackenzie MacHale (played by the always wonderful Emily Mortimer). The sexual tension is palpable from the get go, and the chemistry between McAvoy and MacHale is immediately fascinating.

click to enlarge mcavoy_machale.jpg

The rest of the newsroom staff is also a joy to watch in action. Young assistant Maggie Jordan is promoted to associate producer in the first episode, and senior producer James Harper is equally as uncoordinated and cute as she is, so a future romance is delightfully inevitable (despite the fact that Maggie is currently involved with co-worker, and potential douchebag, Don). Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel appears as the dry-humored Neal Sampat, and station head, Charlie Skinner is played boozily by the extremely charming Sam Waterston.

The cherry on top of all of this awesome is that the news featured in the show is real. Events in episode one unfurl on April 20, 2010 ... the same day the Deep Water Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf. As the team drags together information in a fast-paced and appropriately tension-riddled manner, it's edge-of-seat stuff, despite the fact that we all already know how this one turns out.

The news backdrop of episode two is more on the the oil spill, as well as Arizona's SB 1070 immigration policy, but the most interesting development this hour is the introduction of economist Sloan Sabbith, played very sharply by Olivia Munn, who, on being told by McHale that she needs a physically attractive economist on Newsnight, retorts "Do you want me to do pole dance while explaining sub-prime mortgages?"


Meanwhile, McAvoy warmly defends McHale to their ratings guy ("She's reported more real news in one day than I have in my career") and McHale also goes on the defensive for McAvoy in a less articulate manner ("He is not an arse! He is not an arse!"). Their old relationship woes get aired to the entire office though, when McHale sends a very personal email ("Sloan Sabbith is under the impression that you cheated on me. Can you correct the record and tell her that I cheated on you and tore your heart out?") to the entire staff by accident, which results in a very public screaming match between the two.

Later, the show descends into a shambolic (and hilarious) disaster as a result of an important guest's last minute drop-out and the three right-wing idiots brought in to replace her. Finally, Maggie and Don break up (already? We thought that was going to get dragged out for at least three weeks!) and MacHale and McAvoy make up while Radiohead plays in the background in a heavy-handed manner (but we'll let that go).

We thought nothing would get us through boring Sunday nights after Girls finished two weeks ago, but The Newsroom is doing a stellar job, thanks to an exceptional cast, a fast-paced (and extraordinarily dense) script, and characters who all have a vast amount of room to grow in future. Truly, HBO is on a roll.

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