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HBO's The Newsroom sputters at the start, but looks promising

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As a fresh journalism school graduate, I had high hopes for The Newsroom, the latest series from Aaron Sorkin (creator and writer of The West Wing and The Social Network). The show is about the crew of a nightly cable news show on a quixotic mission to reclaim journalism as a defender for the public interest. Totally realistic, right?

At this point, it may be better to start off with what I liked about the first episode, since so many critics had a field day hating on it.

First of all, I really like Jeff Daniels as the lead character, anchor Will McAvoy. He has just the right amount of world-weary screen presence to pull off an effective mad-as-hell rant about the sometimes bizarre and disheartening world of 24-hour cable news.

...Unfortunately, that's about it.

The critics were dead-on about the overwritten and sometimes self-righteous dialogue. In fact, that was the main problem with this episode. This was painfully apparent within the first five minutes, when McAvoy's mad-as-hell rant about how much America sucks dragged on past its expiry date into "our founding fathers" territory.  

Emily Mortimer plays Mackenzie McHale, the executive producer of the nightly news show. Video from HBO on YouTube.

The dialogue also sparked and sputtered in unpredictable bursts. Although there's definite chemistry between Daniels as McAvoy and Emily Mortimer as executive producer Mackenzie McHale, their conversations too often turned into awkward, two-way monologues. A prime example is Mackenzie's extended sermon about reclaiming journalistic integrity in Will's office. We get the allusion to Don Quixote-- there's no need to recite the CliffsNotes.

A final note: so far the white guys have talked--a lot. Sure, Mackenzie and Maggie Jordan (played by the likeable Alison Pill) also got a fair share of screen time, but both spent most of it tiptoeing around men trying not to piss them off or asking to fetch coffee (in Maggie's case). It's also hard to believe that Mackenzie, who has scars from reporting in a war zone, would spend that much time wringing her hands and trying to massage Will's feelings from whatever happened between them years ago. 

With all this said, I'm pretty optimistic for the show improving as the season goes on. I can see Maggie becoming the journalist version of Peggy á la Mad Men, Mackenzie taking over like bad-ass lady journos can, and the promising cast members like Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and Olivia Munn (The Daily Show) emerging as central players as new stories develop.

The Newsroom airs on HBO on Sundays at 10 pm EST and MT. The full first episode is available online.

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