‘The Newsroom’ Finale Might Look Better In Hindsight (SPOILERS)

The Newsroom Finale Might Look Better

So Aaron Sorkin? As Claude Rains said at the end of “Casablanca,” “As I suspected, you’re a rank sentimentalist.” Then again, anyone who has stuck with “The Newsroom” through its three interesting, exhausting, at times aggravating seasons — or for that matter, “The West Wing” in its heyday — won’t find that to be a major surprise, or always a bad thing.

Yes, the writer rails against the failings of the modern media, but that’s because of his faith in the nobler aspects of the calling. Yet in romanticizing the news, his fictionalized work didn’t just preach, capitalizing on the benefit of hindsight to illustrate where journalists have fallen short, but too often rang hollow.

Those excesses, for good and ill, were evident throughout this finishing six-episode arc and Sunday’s series finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), which followed the sudden death of news chief Charlie (Sam Waterston) while his principled anchor, Will (Jeff Daniels), sat in prison for refusing to divulge the name of a source in an Edward Snowden-like whistle-blowing case.

To his credit, Sorkin tied up most of the loose ends, even within a truncated run. It’s how he tied up those threads that left something stuck in one’s teeth.

Before it was over, all the newsroom employees dutifully paired up with each other (that early-season threat from human resources about fraternizing with colleagues really was a joke), while the jargon-spouting entrepreneur who bought news network ACN to reinvent it, played by “The Office’s” B.J. Novak, was finally cajoled and threatened into doing the right thing, placing the news division under the stewardship of MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer), the ethical producer he had come close to firing.

One suspects staff members of the New Republic, who recently resigned en masse faced with similar new management, might find the timing of that outcome particularly ironic.

The way everything fell into place, it was hard not to think about Woody Allen’s fantasy sequence in “Annie Hall,” when he magically producers Marshall McLuhan to shoot down the theories of an intellectual snob, breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience, “Boy, if life were only like this.” Heck, Will even got the opportunity to tell off the ghost of his dad while in prison.

Sorkin, of course, created this world, and has the right to make the story turn out the way he thinks things ought to go, as opposed to the way they usually do. That was, in a sense, part of the romance surrounding “The West Wing,” which exhibited great knowledge about politics but not cynicism.

Nevertheless, “The Newsroom’s” critique drew strength from Sorkin’s grasp of media, and was clearly intended to resonate by weaving together real-life events, like coverage of the Boston marathon bombing, or fictional ones that closely mirrored reality, such as a cable-news reporter being fired for an ill-considered tweet about Republicans.

After all of that, it’s a little too convenient — or at least, not wholly convincing — to just sprinkle fairy dust over the whole enterprise and scribble “And They All Lived Happily Ever After” across the screen.

The shame of it is there was really nothing else quite like “The Newsroom” — or for that matter, Sorkin’s previous media-centric series, “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” — in terms of providing such a smart and acerbic take on the medium’s inner workings, without resorting to all the customary cliches.

Indeed, one of the ironies of Hollywood is the fact movies and TV shows about it almost invariably seem to have been written by someone who’s only visited the place, which certainly wasn’t the problem here.

That said, “The Newsroom,” despite a number of nice moments, including a few in the finale flashing back to Charlie’s role in everyone’s lives, has to go down as a failed experiment, one whose strengths couldn’t overcome its weaknesses.

Sorkin’s tendency to veer out of his lane to wag fingers also resulted in unexpected collisions, like the college-rape subplot in the penultimate hour that unleashed a torrent of criticism. There were actually legitimate points buried in that sequence — among them that cable talking heads turn everything into sports, not news — lost through the awkward construction, with the producer lecturing the victim about the dangers of trial by media.

Granted, there were plenty of people just happy to hear a point of view that mirrors theirs expressed so articulately, and to luxuriate in Sorkin’s rat-a-tat banter (although one friend observed, only half-joking, that the show’s tone was enough to make you “embarrassed to be a liberal”). With the writer immersing himself in features, viewers might not get another fix of that on TV for a while.

In a way, though, it’s that very admiration for Sorkin’s talent that set the bar so high for “The Newsroom,” tackling an important topic within the friendly and liberating confines of HBO. On paper, it looked like a marriage made in heaven.

Yet while the series wrapped up, appropriately, with Will saying “Good evening,” after three seasons that kept looking backward, there was no cause to shed a tear over saying “Goodbye.”

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  1. Alex says:

    I think a lot of people (journalists for the main part) just don’t get the show.

    Aaron Sorkin is a pompous prick. Yes. We get it. He bloody gets it too. He’s spent three seasons saying hey I’m a prick, I know that and I know you think that – but I don’t care. He has a dream and an ideology that he never shies away from or attempts to hide. It comes across as a sermon or lecture? IT’S SUPPOSED TO. It IS a lecture. That’s the entire point. Will spends a lot of time warding off people who call him an asshole, saying that that is just how he is. The whole thing was Sorkin speaking his mind – but he never pretended otherwise. He blatantly and obviously critiqued and fundamentally took apart journalism as it is today. Is he wrong? So far I’ve just seen reviews by journalists who say he’s smarmy, self-indulgent and outright condescending, without ever really refuting his core argument. If he’s wrong, why and how is he wrong?

    Yes he’s out of date, but he knows it, and still goes out to show why his vision is better. He’s on a mission to civilise, and on the whole, given that the vast majority of viewers (take journalists out) love the show, he succeeds.

  2. kdf says:

    I’ve found the negative reviews very surprising. This series was one of the very rare instances of quality television. It was smart, sexy, relevant, and ethical. And. although I’m very sad to see it end, I thought the finale was excellent. It made me smile AND made my eyes tear – both almost NEVER happen when I’m watching tv.

    • Brian Pastor says:

      Sorkin’s is prescient on the college rape issue. The critics claimed the debate was overly insensitive to rape victims becuase the male point of view was presumed innocence and female accusation outside a court of law could well be abused by some women. The rolling Stone piece on campus rape, which was discredited as negligently vetted proved this point. Yet despite his main point being vindicated, critics failed to admit they were wrong. I don’t balme Sorkin for going to film, when he gets unfairly criticized because of a politically motivated attack by critics. Nevertheless, I am still outraged by the failure of HBO to do whatever it would take to keep this quality show continuing. A prior poster opined that Sorkin didn’t want to come back. But did you ever consider this might be window dressing becuase HBO didn’t stand behind the show enough???? Believe me, if HBO wanted Sorkin to continue, it had the ability to make it happen.

  3. Sorkin has written over the heads of the Liberals he intended as his primary audience. The point missed by the reviewer is that Sorkin was criticizing the dishonest nature of modern Liberals by depicting how smart, honest Liberals could practice Liberalism. By no means is Sorkin trying to liberalize the media. He uses a smart conservative leading man as a highlighter pen, not as a straw man to knock down. It was a masterwork of writing and the nature of the criticism proves the point Sorkin was trying to make. I’m sure it’s exasperating for him and he had no intention of writing over the heads of his fellow Liberals. But sadly, that’s what happened. Cheers to HBO because I’m sure the smart Liberals running that outlet figured it out or it would not have been greenlit in the first place.

  4. Jodie Past says:

    I loved The Newsroom and was sad to see it go.

  5. Martin Miller says:

    “Jolie a ‘Spoiled Brat’ From ‘Crazyland,’ ” : The New York Post.
    “Shocking New Reveals From Sony Hack,” : The Daily Beast.
    “Sony’s Hacked Emails Highlight Hollywood’s Problems With Diversity,” : The Huffington Post.

    Seems to me that a lecture is warranted.

    MM

  6. Mari says:

    I also enjoyed the show and love the thoughts provoking dialogue provided by Sorkin. I remember when the people reporting the news had integrity and were trusted by the public. Now, we see the news media kissing the asses of Hollywood celebrities and more interested in stories and ratings instead of facts. The finale was done well. Everyone felt they had let Charlie down, he just wanted them to fight back. Everything clicking away as Will was getting ready to go on air, showing no matter how important we think we are, life does continue without us.

  7. Max says:

    Thanks Brian for recognizing the obvious but heretofore grossly overlooked analog between ACN’s “new media” fate and the en mass resignation of New Republic’s staff.

  8. Mark says:

    Speak for yourself Brian, I have loved every minute of this show and will miss it immensely. Luckily I can work my way through The West Wing still and am currently watching Sports Night. I find that show so bizarre….a weird drama/sitcom mishmash with a laugh track that just doesn’t belong.

  9. Linda C. says:

    If “The Newsroom” altered even one journalist’s perspective about the drivel all networks serve up now, the lack of journalistic ethics they practice or curbed any ceaseless, inappropriate editorializing, it is a triumph. I shed a tear and watched it twice last night, I was so reluctant to let go of the hope. Sorkin holds up ideals and challenges his viewers to remember what was and what could be again–I think he believes these characters are out there somewhere waiting to be challenged to care and DO IT! The scene with the student at Northwestern really was the five (or so) best minutes of television ever written and stands alone as reason enough for the entire series. Maybe those who are brilliant write ” The Newsroom” and those who are mediocre write criticism for “Variety” ?

  10. Brian Pastor says:

    It amazes me that the media, Varierty included, would so easily criticize and dismiss arguably the most intelligent engagingly written program on television. Sorkin’s accurate portrayal of the train wreck that is the Collission of news and entertainment, was incredibly well done. It is astounding that the bowel movement of reality TV, represented by Jersey Shore, Survivor, the Bachlorette, Housewives of Pointless Existence, are safe toxic assets, while genuinely thought provoking intelligent and entertaining Newsroom gets cancelled. The criticism by the media of Newsroom contributed to validating Sorkin’s point, TMZ wins and the public loses.

    • Stuie299 says:

      Except The Newsroom wasn’t canceled. Sorkin decided to end the show before he got bored and the quality would inevitably drop. HBO was actually trying to convince him to continue the show.

      That said I do agree with your initial point. Had Sorkin offered up more of a conservative counterpoint than this show probably would have been treated like the brilliant piece of television it was. I guess some people just can’t look passed Sorkin’s obvious bias.

  11. Nick Turner says:

    To paraphrase a line from Social Media, fully appreciating an episode of Newsroom was like an hour on the Stairmaster. Perfect? Hardly. Just light years beyond the nearest competition in most every way that counts. Criticizing Sorkin’s work for being moralistic and preachy, and for dialogue so densely woven it could stop nuetrons, is certainly not unreasonable. But its a bit like fundamentally dissing the Sistine for being overly religious and too “busy”. You may have a point but if that’s your primary takeaway, you missed a masterpiece. Whatever his shortcomings, Sorkin is brilliant and Newsroom was/is as good as any contemporary series in the genre could aspire to be. Like an hour on the Stairmaster, it takes your breath away but you are so much better for it.

  12. Jedi77 says:

    I love Sorkin’s work, and I have watched the first five seasons of The West Wing more times than I am proud of (seasons 6 and 7 only two times). That show is still the best ever written, in my opinion.

    But the Newsroom was terrible. Preachy, moralistic, cynical and with not a single character that I liked. Seriously, I think I disliked every single character in that show. I watched season 1, but could never get beyond the first couple of episodes of season 2. I simply wanted to wash myself after each viewing, because spending time with the characters on the show made me so uncomfortable. Loud, stupid, obnoxius, irritating charcters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. If I knew these people in real life, I would avoid them at all costs.

    So, I will go back to watching The West Wing, where every character is a family member, and someone I wish I knew, and wish were still with me. Even Donna.

  13. Anna says:

    Really don’t understand why The Newsroom got such bad press. I loved this show and I, for one, shed a tear over saying goodbye

    • Will says:

      Because it sucked and no one on earth – especially those in journalism – are on such a high pedestal and talking about ethics in journalism all the time

      • Martin says:

        Actually, it’s “hackneyed.”

      • Victor the Crab says:

        @ Lisa

        When you position your show with real world events, like Benghazi and the Boston Marathon bombing, it would help if your view of realism were a little more authentic, and not the hackney, wishful thinking BS Sorkin served to gullible idiots like you.

      • Lisa says:

        Oh I forgot we can only enjoy shows that are 100% realistic. I guess that explains why Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead are so popular….

  14. Robbie Goldstein says:

    I find it odd that at the same time your ripping Sorkin on the so-called weakness of The Newsroom. He is standing tall taking on the scum feeders that publish stolen emails of private conversations. This guy has been paraded around by sources claiming to be journalist. When in fact they are thieves. I hope Mr. Sorkin can get back to doing what he likes, without the BS around him, and create stories with the drama, humor and insight he has in his writings.

  15. Ron Loring says:

    I feel like I have lost a group of hard working friends. ONe of the few programs that we watched.
    It’s a shame that it was panned so poorly by the press, it was a program that we couldn’t wait to see the next episode.

    • Toni Stanley says:

      Why do the press love to hate Sorkin…when he produces so much controversial substance to debate in our society? I can’t think of another form of intelligent entertainment that not only entertains but causes such interesting controversy on so many subjects in one episode let alone in three seasons. There is so much banal entertainment and news shows and to finally have something that makes my mind think and emotionally react is a godsend!!!

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