Damn the torpedos

The Newsroom, which just finished its first season on HBO, has been given a terrible drubbing by the critics. A typical tirade came from Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker. She dismissed the show as nothing more than “clever people … admiring one another.” She goes on to say, “They sing arias of facts. They aim to remake television news … their outrage is so inflamed it amounts to a form of moral eczema – only it makes the viewer itch.”

I’ve heard about getting diseases from door knobs or toilet seats, but this is the first time I learned you can catch something from TV. Whatever I’ve got, it’s good. I like The Newsroom. I awaited each of the ten episodes with itchy eyes. I sometimes replayed that week’s episode the next night to revisit scenes I relished or pick up on dialogue I’d missed because I was enjoying the previous line.

Aaron Sorkin, creator and writer of The Newsroom, is brilliant. Of course, I enjoyed The West Wing. But I’m not easy to please. Studio 60, another of his attempts, was a dud. The Newsroom, however, is equal to The West Wing when it comes to relevance, plotting and characters. I read one review that grumbled The Newsroom was trying to make itself look prescient by working with stories that already happened. I think that approach makes sense and offers a way for the cast to climb aboard developing stories such as BP’s Deep Horizon, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, or the Arab Spring in Cairo.

Another critic complained that Sorkin didn’t understand women. I wonder if that critic has ever worked in a newsroom. I have certainly met in various newsrooms women who are eerily similar to executive producer Mackenzie MacHale played by Emily Mortimer, the strung-out Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), and the brainy Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn).

Most scenes are redolent of real life writ large such as when Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) goes to the New York Library to meet a man he only knows as Late For Dinner. Skinner mistakenly approaches the wrong man because he’s wearing a white carnation. When Skinner finally finds the right man, Late For Dinner says, “I never said anything about a white carnation.” No, Skinner, admits, it was just his idea of how such furtive encounters were set up in spy dramas. Late removes the battery from Skinner’s smartphone. “I’ll never be able to put that back together,” says Skinner.

Or when Neal Sampat tries to convince Sloan to let him be a troll and run amok on her blog, he says he will make up stories about how “she screwed her way to the top and she’s got a big ass.” Sloan slams him against the wall, and demands, “Is it?” “Of course not,” he says, and then adds, “A lot of men like women with big ….” She slams him against the wall again. “Do they really? Never mind.” But as she walks away, you can see her turn her head slightly to see how her ass looks in her reflection in the office glass. These are the kind of deft touches for which Sorkin is renowned.

The last time I praised an HBO series, Luck, it was cancelled days later. This time, I’ve waited until The Newsroom was renewed for another season rather than risk putting the kibosh on it. With an audience of two million per episode, I’m not alone. Critics! Who can explain them. They can’t even explain themselves.

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