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Paul Casserly: Sorkin's Newsroom - heaven or hell?

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Ahead of The Newsroom's New Zealand debut, TV blogger Paul Casserly looks at the critical reaction to Aaron Sorkin's new show.

Jeff Daniels in Aaron Sorkin's new show The Newsroom. Photo / Supplied
Jeff Daniels in Aaron Sorkin's new show The Newsroom. Photo / Supplied

The Newsroom has created a critical firestorm.

I was pretty excited with the news a few months back that Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) was making a show called The Newsroom.

I've always enjoyed behind-the-scenes media shows, especially one that smelled, at least at first, a bit like the movie Network, a bit "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more".

My love of this type of show probably goes back to The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the even funnier WKRP in Cincinnati.

More recently there's been The Larry Sanders Show and the best of all, the Australian series Frontline, which is often cited by insiders as being the most realistic.

But unlike these, The Newsroom isn't meant to be a comedy. It's meant to be serious, like season five of The Wire which was set in a newspaper newsroom undergoing the kind of gutting currently going on in Australia.

Then there's the recently screened news-thriller the The Hour with its mix of nostalgia, political intrigue and Sherlock Holmesy thrills. As a kid obsessed with radio and TV, these peeks behind the scenes have always appealed.

I've been known to watch endless hours of CNN and BBC and even FOX - although the latter is basically a form of 'Hatewatching'.

But don't call me a news junkie. It really is a terrible term. I also reserve bile for people who say, 'I'm a foodie'. 'News Junkies' who are also 'foodies' are intolerable. Really, you find the news interesting, and you like food? How amazing, you really are a unique individual and not at all like everybody else. I bet you're against animal cruelty and child abuse too.

So, no, I'm not a news junkie, but I do enjoy it recreationally and I suppose it does make me sweaty and nod off sometimes.

The trailer for The Newsroom looked good, with its combination of Jeff Daniels, Sorkin and HBO. What could possibly go wrong? But just a few weeks into its US run the online world is alive with heated chatter about the show and most of it isn't positive.

"Makes the viewer itch" someone in The New Yorker reckons, before really getting stuck in. "The third episode is lousy (and devolves into lectures that are chopped into montages). The fourth episode is the worst."

It's not the only bad review.

My favourite is from someone who appears to be the American Psycho himself - @BretEastonEllis: "Fake-scene after scene - The Newsroom belongs in some terrible off-Broadway remake of Broadcast News. And where are the tits and ass?"

Having seen the first episode I see what he means. This is no Boss, that's for sure. But it won't stop me from watching more because there's also a lot to enjoy. There's the usual rat-a-tat melodramatic magic.

Like The West Wing, the treacle is poured on, the cheddar smeared liberally. It infuriates at times but it's also exciting. Almost unforgivable is the Sorkin staple: The over deployment of supposedly rousing speeches. These come at regular intervals after a bit of yelling.

But I must say, as much as I've enjoyed the critical GBH I'm finding the visceral negativity of the reviews a little surprising. After all, this is the kind of stuff Sorkin makes. Is it really such a surprise? Maybe the reaction is because The Social Network was so good.

The West Wing contains a myriad of faults but could also be a compelling and satisfying watch. So yes, The Newsroom may contain traces of liberal hand-wringing but there's no denying that Sorkin makes compelling work.

If sometimes you're compelled to groan out loud or even yell at the TV, is that such a terrible thing?

Watch this brilliant cut-up of lines of dialogue that Sorkin likes to use and reuse. It was put together by a young editor from LA who considers himself more of a fan than a foe.

*The Newsroom screens on Soho from Saturday, July 21 at 9.30pm. A preview is currently available via iSky.

Follow Paul Casserly on Twitter.

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