'The Newsroom': What the Critics Are Saying

The Newsroom HBO still Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston

Aaron Sorkin returns to television this Sunday with The Newsroom. A follow-up to his Emmy-winning efforts Sports Night and The West Wing (and NBC's shortlived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), the latest series takes the Social Network scribe to the anchor desk of a cable news network.

Jeff Daniels stars as anchor Will McAvoy, working for the embattled News Night where he's joined by Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr, Alison Pill and a slew of others. And as the series thus far contains no nudity and minimal swearing, it definitely could have worked on broadcast networks like previous Sorkin efforts. So why HBO?

The Hollywood Reporter TV critic Tim Goodman says, “[It] can’t be screened in the big tent of broadcast television because it's political at its core and this country is so partisan that a political series wouldn’t get enough ratings to sustain itself and might be more trouble than it’s worth to the parent company of said broadcast network."

And in Newsroom, Goodman says that the creator treads in familiar waters to The West Wing but the premium cable vehicle allows for the “pure Sorkin."

“You have to applaud Sorkin’s ability to milk emotion whenever he wants,” Goodman says. “He can make the politically jaded feel patriotic and the cynical see hope in situation.”

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Emily Nussbaum, of The New Yorker, wasn’t as positive, noting, “In The Newsroom, clever people take turns admiring one another."

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“They aim to remake television news: ‘This is a new show, and there are new rules,’ a maverick executive producer announces, several times, in several ways,” Nussbaum writes. “Their outrage is so inflamed that it amounts to a form of moral eczema -- only it makes the viewer itch.”

Nussbaum did say the show scored some points if the viewers shared its politics. “Much of McAvoy’s diatribe is bona-fide baloney -- false nostalgia for an America that never existed -- but it is exciting to watch,” she says. “And if you enjoyed The West Wing, Sorkin’s helpful counterprogramming to the Bush Administration, your ears will prick up.”

The Boston Phoenix’s Ryan Stewart agrees that fans of The West Wing or Sports Night should know what to expect from the show. “The Newsroom is a dose of concentrated Sorkin, by turns maddening and exhilarating,” Steward says.

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He comments that when news breaks on the show within the show, the series "comes alive.” There is, however, a downside of Sorkin: "He’s writing an idealized vision of a newscast wherein anchors and reporters cut through the lies and tell people what they need to know.”

Stewart says this is fine, but that show already exists: “It’s called The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and it’s not really a new thing.”

Hank Stuever of The Washington Post says that the show “fails to meet the high expectations that greet it, save one: It is crammed with incessant gibber-jabber.”

The characters, says Stuever, “never stop speechifying to one another, replacing believable dialogue with the unmistakably Sorkineque logorrhea of righteous self-importance.” The show, he says, is a puppet show with Sorkin as the only hand, “expressing his displeasure with the tenor of public discourse.”

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Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan penned one of the least favorable assessments. "Its goals and its narrative strategies are in direct conflict with each other," she writes. The result? “A dramatically inert, infuriating mess, one that wastes a fine cast to no demonstrable purpose, unless you consider giving Sorkin yet another platform in which to Set the People Straight is a worthwhile purpose.”

The New York Post's Linda Stasi is a bit more forgiving, awarding the show three out of four stars saying, “Newsroom is both entertaining and irritating. The info is important and good, but the quipping banter with which it’s delivered, isn’t. News junkies will be hooked.”