Breaking news: it’s okay to like The Newsroom

Despite the achingly left-liberal preachiness, Aaron Sorkin’s much-mocked show is better-than-average entertainment.

Emmet Livingstone

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Liberal protégé and TV writer Aaron Sorkin is formulaic, but loveably so.

If, like many a sad nerd, you’re in still in mourning over the disturbing Game of Thrones finale: don’t worry. Aaron Sorkin is flying over the ocean on a magic carpet woven from pure cringe and the dream that was America – and he’s offering comfort.

The second instalment of Sorkin’s much lampooned series The Newsroom airs next month on Sky Atlantic to a largely indifferent UK audience. Though critics gleefully sharpen knives and murmur over bubbling cauldrons in anticipation, it’s worth casting our eye back on last year’s of-the-moment political drama.

Jeff Daniels stars as news anchor Will McAvoy at Atlantic Cable News – rubber stamp to government and corporations alike. Suffering mass walkouts because of a controversial on-air slip, McAvoy has his ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), foisted on him to reinvent the show. She brings with her a whole bevy of identikit producers who prattle away at each other at machine-gun speed, only taking breaks from their self-important striding up and down to indulge their love lives in the workplace. So far, so West Wing.

To those familiar with Sorkin’s wildly successful White House-set series, it will come as no surprise that The Newsroom is an unsubtle megaphone for liberal American values. Each episode revolves around a topical piece of news – the BP oil spill, the killing of Bin Laden, etc. Each episode also contains an ever-amusing tussle between ‘doing the right thing’ and reporting news that will draw viewers; where ‘doing the right thing’ almost always involves bashing the GOP and belittling Republican politicians. The formula also demands a healthy dose of corny sermonising, the effect of which always goads the entire newsroom staff into frenzied action or tearful self-reflection. Word of warning: this is not something to be watched hungover; the extra-cheesiness may make you vomit in your lap.

Despite the preachy political lessons and methamphetamine-fuelled dialogue, there is actually a lot to like about The Newsroom. Spotting the dumbed-down explanations of world events, the audience can derive a certain sense of smugness from knowing that Sorkin’s propaganda is not aimed at them. And more – that they recognise that this is propaganda. Furthermore, the discussion of real current affairs in every episode, however inane, makes the viewer feel as if this is time well spent. It is certainly a step up from the Daily Mail‘s ‘sidebar of shame’.

For a UK audience, it’s also hard not to be affected by the transatlantic appeal of the show. Alongside the prepossessing Mortimer, Dev Patel plays a fairly prominent role as a blogger and entry-level producer; happily chirping witticisms to all and sundry, perhaps dazzled by the fact the he is not an unpaid intern. Also fairly likeable is Daniels himself, a hyper-masculine leader among men who chews on cigarettes from the side of his mouth when the going gets tough, Clint Eastwood style.

Most striking, though, is the prophetic way in which The Newsroom predicted the NSA scandal. The eighth episode of the series, aired almost exactly this time last year, has a senior NSA employee contact the kindly, bow-tie-wearing editor to reveal the ‘Global Clarity’ programme (identical to PRISM). Of interest is the fact that this employee only hands over questions put to NSA officials in Congress, saying in jest that he is not ‘dying to break the Espionage Act’. The revelations are not reported on air, and it is assumed that this is a storyline that will be taken up in the following series. Given Edward Snowden’s revelations are only a few weeks old and that series two of The Newsroom begins next week Stateside, it will be fascinating to watch how Sorkin chooses to play this out. He, his fellow writers and studio executives must be frantically reviewing and rewriting scripts this very moment. Snowden didn’t just mess things up for the executive branch of the US government.

The Newsroom is not high art. It does not even pretend to be, so ignore curmudgeonly critics and West Wing fan boys. As sentimental, non-fussy entertainment, it certainly gets a lot worse than this. Yes, the patronising lectures are a bit wearing, but treat them like a bit like you do your preachy friend – with exasperated tolerance. Here is a programme that magically toes the line between cliché and pretentiousness. Whether with literate friends or slumming it with X-Factor addicts, you need not be embarrassed to say you like The Newsroom.

Emmet Livingstone is a writer living in London and a former intern at spiked.

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