Aaron Sorkin is back on TV, and he’s at his walky, talky best

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

THIS needs to be stated, right up front: Aaron Sorkin knows where I live. Not, like, my house num­ber or my street ad­dress; it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble he has no idea where or what Win­nipeg even is. But the play­wright/ screen­writer re­spon­si­ble for A Few Good Men, Sports Night, The West Wing, Stu­dio 60 on the Sun­set Strip, The So­cial Net­work and Money­ball knows where I re­side emo­tion­ally, as a TV viewer, and he con­tin­ues to cre­ate con­tent for movies and tele­vi­sion that pushes all the right but­tons and leaves me all a-flut­ter when I watch it.

Such is the case with The News­room, Sorkin’s new made-for-HBO drama that pre­mières Sun­day on HBO Canada. Like all his ear­lier TV ef­forts and most of his big-screen scripts, this high-minded and in­fal­li­bly well­worded glimpse at the in­ner work­ings of a fic­tional ca­ble-news net­work is ide­al­is­tic, op­ti­mistic, sar­cas­tic, un­apolo­get­i­cally ma­nip­u­la­tive and ... well, for this ad­mit­ted Sorkin ad­dict any­way, bril­liant.

As has been shown in the promo clips that have run end­lessly over the last few weeks, Jeff Daniels — as dis­en­chanted ca­ble-news an­chor Will McAvoy — opens the se­ries with one of those quin­tes­sen­tial Sorkin-es­que rants that sets the tone for what fol­lows.

McAvoy is tak­ing part in a panel dis­cus­sion in front of a study hall full of univer­sity stu­dents, do­ing mostly

Star­ring Jeff Daniels, Emily Mor­timer and Sam Water­ston Sun­day (check list­ings for times) HBO Canada

out of five what he has done to earn the nick­name “the Jay Leno of news” — duck­ing ques­tions, of­fer­ing bland an­swers and gen­er­ally try­ing to re­main dis­en­gaged from the de­bate.

But when the mod­er­a­tor presses him for “one hu­man mo­ment” and a young fe­male stu­dent asks what makes Amer­ica the great­est coun­try on Earth, McAvoy snaps, and launches into a de­tailed di­a­tribe about how the United States long ago ceased to be any­thing re­sem­bling great.

It’s a beau­ti­fully worded blow-up; of course, there are con­se­quences, in the rat­ings-driven news game, to “speak­ing truth to stupid.”

But the fall­out isn’t quite what you’d think. When McAvoy re­turns to the news­room from a forced va­ca­tion, he finds that much of his staff has aban­doned his prime-time news­cast to work on a highly pro­moted late-evening show that’s about to launch.

He also learns, from his iras­ci­ble boss, Char­lie Skin­ner (Sam Water­ston), that a new ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer has been hired to run his pro­gram — MacKen­zie McHale (Emily Mor­timer), an ex­pe­ri­enced war-zone pro­ducer with whom McAvoy had a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship that ended badly a few years ear­lier.

He’s fu­ri­ous; she isn’t aware, un­til she ar­rives, that Char­lie hired her with­out con­sult­ing Will. As they try to spar their way to an im­passe that will al­low the show to make it onto the air that evening, a ma­jor news event — of the real-life va­ri­ety, as the de­layed on-screen rev­e­la­tion of the date on which this episode takes place re­veals — forces ev­ery­one to fo­cus solely on the task of re­port­ing one of the big­gest sto­ries in re­cent U.S. his­tory.

And with that, the true per­son­al­ity of The News­room, and what Sorkin in­tends it to be dur­ing its 10-episode run, is re­vealed. The news­room in The News­room is de­ter­mined to fight the good fight, in the same way the po­lit­i­cal staffers and Pres­i­dent Jeb Bartlett did in The West Wing.

Sorkin, for bet­ter and worse, writes char­ac­ters who speak in lan­guage so per­fectly worded and de­liv­ered that the lines are al­most mu­si­cal in their com­plex­ity. The peo­ple who in­habit his shows al­most in­vari­ably view the world from a moral high ground, and they live in a fan­tas­ti­cal realm in which right is smarter, fun­nier and ul­ti­mately more suc­cess­ful than wrong.

With McAvoy and McHale as their lead­ers, the denizens of The News­room set out to re­de­fine the TV-news game by ig­nor­ing rat­ings, re­fus­ing to bow to pres­sure from ad­ver­tis­ers, dis­card­ing the fee­ble no­tion that truth and bal­ance are the same thing, and shut­ting out the shout­ing heads that have come to dom­i­nate news­casts in the 21st cen­tury.

It’s a fan­tasy, and it ap­peals to the head and tugs hard at the heart­strings of its view­ers. But if Sorkin knows where you live, The News­room will most def­i­nitely be mov­ing in for the summer.

HBO

From left, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn, Thomas Sa­doski, Sam Water­ston, John Gal­lagher, Jr., Jeff Daniels, Emily Mor­timer and Ali­son Pill.

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