Sick of Australian politics? and Australian media? Watch Newsroom!
We watched the entirety of season 1 in just a couple of days. Much like watching West Wing (which is unsurprising), coming back to reality after watching this is enough to cause a smidgen of despair. In terms of the way politics is discussed, anyway. There were a few things I did have an issue about; well, mostly the portrayal of women.
Newsroom is about one of US cable TV’s most-loved news anchors and his awakening to the duties* of civilising America. There’s a lot of quoting of Don Quixote (we skipped back and rewatched the bit at the end of the last episode where MacAvoy starts quoting totally appropriate sections of DQ, and got inspired for all of five minutes about going and memorising appropriate bits of Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer to spout at appropriate points in time).
It is the anti-Frontline.
The show is pretty coy for a while about MacAvoy’s own personal politics – Republican or Democrat – making the point that that shouldn’t matter, in the reporting of the news; the story, and presenting a balanced/fair (there’s a lot of discussion about what actually is necessary to make reporting balanced and fair) story. One of the very cleverest bits of the show is that they use real news stories to base each episode around. The date is shown in every episode – sometimes later, sometimes earlier, depending on how much of a reveal the specific news-focus is – and the the news itself actually plays a major part in every episode. Like what I think usually made the best episodes of West Wing is when the political decisions themselves were a crucial part of the story. Unlike how Grey’s Anatomy focuses on actual medicine (ie not).
My problem with the show, which makes me a bit sad, is the representation of women. Some spoilers below here.
The women: Maggie, a ditzy intern who clearly has some skills but is pretty insecure, makes some dreadful mistakes and, especially at the start, appears to be in a borderline abusive relationship. Sloan is a spectacularly intelligent economist with monumental ethics who is utterly clueless about emotional stuff. And Mckenzie, the world’s greatest executive producer – recently returned from two years producing the news from Afghanistan and Iraq – sometimes feels as ditzy as Maggie, and only really shows any competence when she’s in the room pushing MacAvoy to be the best he can (thus, facilitating a man). My total favourite overall is Leona – Jane Fonda rocking as an older, tough, “I can kill you with my brain if you’re worth the time” channel owner; but she doesn’t get that much airtime. There’s also a few other women whom I think of as “all the ones with long hair and the black chick too” – because they’re just background characters (which is not in itself objectionable since there are a few purely background male characters too, that’s fine). I do think the show passes the Bechdel test, which is nice; it would take some effort to make a show where discussing the news is central to not have two women doing so. My problem is that these three women do not really get the development and complexity that the male characters do.
Will MacAvoy is an ass. He’s brilliant and selfish and vain and on a mission to civilise. Jim is sweet and competent, hopeless in personal stuff and yet clearly has more of a clue than Maggie (who has been in a relationship for what, a year?) about her own life. Don is even more of an ass than MacAvoy and for the first few episodes I was quite happy to see be hit by a bus; I was shipping Maggie and Jim so hard. But he comes through in awesome news-ways and he has self-realisation when it comes to his relationship with Maggie. Neal has the struggler’s back story and does a lot of silly things but also comes through a number of times as vital to the team (also, is a true believer of Bigfoot). Leona’s counterpart in the older-tougher stakes is Charlie, who isn’t quite a major player but still has some emotional moments, especially towards the end of the season.
The gender development is uneven and it got to me. It was balanced by the fact that almost every episode had me wishing I could sit down every journalist in the country to watch every episode back to back and then set homework. So that helped. It is also genuinely fascinating to have an insight into how a news programme is actually put together (one version of it, anyway).
*Which I always think of as “doooty,” thanks to West Wing and the discussion about Gilbert and Sullivan.