Aaron Sorkin's New HBO Drama 'The Newsroom: Is It Worth Watching?

Is Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin's return to TV worth being added to your must-watch list?

HBO's new series, The Newsroom, is an Aaron Sorkin project. For that reason alone, its premiere this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET is getting plenty of buzz. See the preview below:


Fans of quality scripted TV are well-acquainted with Sorkin, because he created that peerless triumph of intelligent TV, The West Wing. Viewers with even more years under their belts remember his prior, highly articulate dramedy, Sports Night. (Oh, Will-from-the-The Good Wife, we knew you when!) And moviegoers also got to know Sorkinian dialogue in The Social Network, the film whose screenplay earned him an Oscar. Even Hollywood gossip lovers know Sorkin, because he's very publicly dating Sex and the City's Kristin Davis.

So while The Newsroom does have its stars -- Jeff Daniels as a heroic yet complicated news anchor, Emily Mortimer as his producer and Sam Waterston as their boss -- the show arrives with an instant caché. It will be smart! It will have rapid-fire dialogue! It will feature storylines about complex issues we'll have to Google after the show!

Another way to look at it: This show's got to live up to the highest of expectations from critics and viewers. And those high hopes no doubt hindered his last show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which crashed and burned within the span of one season. It's not easy to wow people when they're already expecting a lot. So it's both a surprise and not a surprise that The Newsroom is getting generally so-so reviews.

At the heart of the story is a group of characters striving to create a genuine news show despite growing pressure to pander for ratings. If other news shows are sensationalizing stories and choosing what to cover based on ad dollars, can this one afford to stay true to its core mission?

Summoning the strength to do the right thing is a typical Sorkin theme, whether it's in a White House press room or backstage at a sketch comedy show where writers are asked to tone down the content for advertisers. It's not a theme that critics tend to quibble with, but TV critic Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times takes issue: The Newsroom would be a lot better if the main characters preached less and went back to reporting," she writes. "At its worst, the show chokes on its own sanctimony."

Meanwhile, Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker has a problem with what she describes as "an odd structural choice." "Rather than invent fictional crises, he’s set the show in “the recent past,” so that the plot is literally old news: the BP oil spill, the Tea Party, the Arizona immigration law," writes Nussbaum. "That sounds like an innovative concept, but it turns the characters into back-seat drivers, telling us how the news should have been delivered."

But Maggie Furlong of The Huffington Post sees the "old news" angle as a positive. "Unless you're a major political junkie, a Hollywood insider or someone intimately familiar with the inner-workings of sports broadcasting, the rapid-fire jargon and weekly storylines of Sorkin's aforementioned TV shows were often just a bit (or, be honest, a lot) over viewers' heads," she writes. "But with The Newsroom, which takes place behind the scenes at a cable news show, viewers have a very distinct advantage: We've already seen this news."

Regardless of the critics, Sorkin fans probably won't be able to keep away from The Newsroom, if only to check out the first episode. He's wowed us before with insightful dialogue and plotlines. Who doesn't hope to be wowed again?

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