Jul 12 2012
Do you like Jon Stewart? I bet you do. His and our demographics seem to line up in many ways, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that he has some fans reading this now.
Since Stewart’s favorite punching bag, George W. Bush, left office, Stewart was in a bit of a pickle. Obama just wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to poke fun at, so a new target needed to be acquired. And Stewart found one: The Media.
Some of the best Daily Show segments in the past few years have been Stewart absolutely demolishing the cable news networks. His main focus is generally Fox News, which has a tendency toward hypocrisy and a laughable “fair and balanced” moniker. More recently he takes CNN to task for their inane fluff pieces that don’t even belong on YouTube much less a major network. MSNBC has to ram their feet pretty hard into their mouths to get his attention.
Now what if I told you that there was a show that did something similar? Only this time it’s a drama that has an Oscar and Emmy worthy cast, a brilliant writer and a network that lets it do whatever the hell it wants. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom on HBO is that show, an embodiment of Stewart’s rage at the inept media and corrupt politicians they keep letting off the hook.
Working in TV looks too stressful for me.
No, it’s not Game of Thrones, whose Sunday night time slot it occupies as Westeros takes a vacation for nine months. No one is decapitated, there are no breasts to be seen and really, it’s just a whole bunch of talking. But it’s the best damn talking on TV today.
In just three episodes, Sorkin has been on a warpath with his scripts. He talks so openly and directly to the media, it’s viewers and the political establishment, I’m not entirely sure The Newsroom can be called a TV show. It’s more like an incredibly well-written rant for fifty minutes a week. Yes, there’s the will they/won’t they flirtation of the co-producer and the assistant. There’s old flame drama between the anchor and his EP. But really, the meat of the show casts aside these petty distractions, and so far has taken to task the media and politicians for the terrible things they’ve been doing to the country through misinformation.
All this said, it’s easy to see how this show can be dismissed by some. I happen to agree with about 85% of its politics, but those that don’t will likely see it as borderline propaganda. Jeff Daniels plays a newsman known for asking the easiest questions and running the lightest stories. He has a wake-up call from his new producer (and ex-girlfriend) and changes into a hybrid of Edward R. Murrow, Anderson Cooper and Keith Olbermann, turning in informed reporting that keeps his subjects honest while mocking them in an authoritative tone. But he does make good points.
A role I genuinely like Olivia Munn in; perhaps Sorkin’s greatest achievement.
The idea is that the anchor, Will McAvoy, is a Republican, but cannot hide from what are deemed inevitable facts about his own party. Last week, the home-grown Tea Party was targeted before the mid-term elections (the show takes place in 2010). McAvoy sees the very transparent fact that though the organization may have started out with noble intentions, it had been appropriated by corporate interests who mold the group into a political force for their own purposes. In one segment, he interviews two proud Tea Party members who have no idea that their recent grassroots rally of thousands was paid for in its entirety by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers. He openly wonders how people have been riled up into voting against their own interests, and his attacks raise a shitstorm in the head office of his network. The execs have to do business with the congressmen and businessmen he’s attacking after all, and tell him to tone it down or risk being fired.
As you can see, it’s an intensely political show with a distinct point of view. What I’m wondering is if other people can enjoy the show who don’t explicitly share its views. My hope would be that it could be used to instruct. That the arguments are presented clearly and smartly at the hands of Sorkin’s scripts that it will make people think about their own entrenched notions. This is a greater challenge than it was to enjoy Sorkin’s past project, The West Wing, regardless of party, because even if that was a show entirely about politics, it’s a hell of a lot less political than The Newsroom.
So now it’s ask the audience time. We don’t do politics often here (if ever) and I’m not trying to start. I don’t care if you think global warming is real or that gay marriage killed the dinosaurs, but I’m wondering that if you do watch the show, what your political leanings are and how do they affect your viewing of it. For me, it’s the most enjoyable hour of TV on every week now. For others, I’m wondering if it brings the same sort of satisfaction.
Update: The famous first speech:
And you can actually watch the entire first episode for free here.
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