TV & Radio
TV Review: Hugely hyped The Newsroom lands with a thud, though Bank of Dave proves unmissable
This week on TV we saw what was expected to be one of the biggest highlights of the year in Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, while a star was born on Bank of Dave.
When legendary scribe Aaron Sorkin’s latest venture hit HBO last month, the 51-year-old screenwriter was riding the crest of a wave following his Academy Award win for The Social Network and much praised script for the gong-laden Moneyball.
Another TV show with a political bent from the man who gave us The West Wing? Sign us up. Yet critics were not impressed by The Newsroom (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 10pm) and haven’t been in the weeks following its pilot episode. Landing on Sky Atlantic this week, we finally discovered whether the critics were overly harsh or right on the money.
The show certainly began with a bang, as hugely successful but completely vanilla ACN news anchor Will McAvoy is pressed on his political beliefs during a public talk at a university. After being asked to sum up why America is the "greatest country in the world" McAvoy snaps and unleashing an incredibly articulate rant on why America no longer is, but could be again.
It was an explosive series opener that suggested Sorkin had brought his best to The Newsroom, though sadly it was a high that the show never came close to reaching afterwards.
The episode then picked up three weeks later as McAvoy returns to work from a holiday, knowing that TV viewers are dying to see his comeback broadcast. Unbeknownst to him, he has a new producer - an idealistic ex-girlfriend (Emily Mortimer) with a mission to revamp the news and how it is consumed.
Numerous critics have picked up the chief failings of the show so I’ll briefly explain them. For someone of Sorkin’s talent, a snappy 21st century TV series designed to explore the modern media is a great concept – but why focus on the old media dinosaur that is the nightly 9pm news to do so?
In addition, the actual newsroom itself is impossibly clean and polished, with seemingly not a single out of shape or unattractive journalist or crew member to be found. Oh, and each staff member speaks in the most cringe-inducing flowery dialogue that would at least be suitable for a passable Sorkin parody.
This time around, however, they’ve not only swallowed dictionaries, they’ve seemingly read the entirety of Wikipedia and can recount it at will, or in Emily Mortimer’s character MacKenzie’s case, will forgo facts for at least 4-5 patronising and self-gratifying speeches instead. It was all incredibly unnatural to watch.
The real insult to the audience’s intelligence in the pilot episode, however, came from the revelation that the first major news piece to be tackled would be the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of summer 2010. Yes, The Newsroom uses actual news events for its inspiration, which initially seems like a great conceit. After all, what would it be like to be in a fast-moving newsroom once the news of the BP spill quickly accelerated?
I couldn’t tell you because what happened in The Newsroom was instead a blistering display of arrogance and the power of hindsight, as Sorkin wrote his characters to blow apart the entire crisis and identity the chief culprits in less than an hour.
How did they manage it? A staffer on his first day who just happened to have the most incredibly convenient and airtight sources possible – a bigger sister who works at Haliburton and an ex-roommate who works at BP. It’s a good thing that they were high enough up the corporate food chain to divulge high value information and had no qualms about doing so, eh?
A near-parody of Aaron Sorkin’s great work in the past, The Newsroom has an overpowering, transparent agenda that permeates through every line of dialogue and renders the drama of the show irrelevant.
With every character in the pilot episode an identical, trumpeting left-wing ideologue, this is a show that will appeal only to the converted and most die-hard of Sorkinites.
Not that the show’s creator will mind - after all, he can seemingly solve every one of our problems if given two years time and the ability to piggyback on investigative journalist’s work that had come before.
The first of a two-part series, Bank of Dave (Channel 4, Thursday, 9pm) gave TV viewers a real-life David Brent in the loveable, banana-chomping force of nature that is Dave Fishwick, a self-made millionaire who wants to stick it to the banks by opening his own in Burnley.
A fizzy, loveable presence undaunted by any setbacks, a true TV star was born this week. Hoping to speak to the "Head of t'Bank of England" and then setting up the bank before he had any license to do so, Dave cleverly tiptoed around that he would be jailed for opening an actual "bank" set-up by dubbing the operation “Bank on Dave” instead. He even visited small business in person to decide whether they were deserving of his generous loan rates.
With the final episode set for next week, the entrepreneur’s ambitious plans were in peril, however, as the men in suits cancelled a scheduled meeting to discuss whether he would be allowed take deposits from others.
"The banks are scared of me doing this,” he defiantly said afterwards. “One way or another we're going to manage it … I'm not fucking shutting. Bollocks to 'em." It was tough not to raise a triumphant yell in support at various points during the show and we’ll certainly be in his corner next week.