2. It has cutesy romantic triangles and “Will they or won’t they?” intrigue.
Lots of TV shows are fueled by the sexual tension between their characters, but The Newsroom is practically powered by its hormonal rush. On one side, you’ve got the younger characters (played by Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr., Olivia Munn and Thomas Sadoski), most of whom are sleeping with someone they shouldn’t while pining for the one they should, all the while behaving as if they’ve been transplanted from a ditsier version of His Girl Friday where everybody is really good at journalism but drooling idiots when it comes to everything else. On the other side, you’ve got Will and MacKenzie, whose inability to move past their old relationship requires them too often to act like sitcom characters. (You know they’re still in love because of how much they yell at each other. It’s Sorkin’s idea of flirting.)
3. It is very disappointed at how shallow we are.
The Newsroom is predicated on MacKenzie’s belief that the nation wants a more meaningful discourse from cable news than it’s currently getting, hence her strategy to produce a more substantial broadcast. This is presented as inspiring—and at the show’s best, it hits that same stirring, patriotic sweet spot Sorkin nailed in The West Wing, The American President and A Few Good Men—but Sorkin can barely get through his flattering of our national character before he starts scolding us. We’re too enraptured by the Casey Anthony trial! We’re too interested in gossip! Hey, man, we’re watching your show—we can’t be that bad, can we?
4. It features everybody talking to everybody else as if they’re finalists in a snappiest-comeback contest.
Sorkin’s gift for sparkling dialogue is both blessing and curse. His Newsroom characters are funny and hyperarticulate, but they’re funny and hyperarticulate in exactly the same way as his characters were in The Social Network, Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and elsewhere. It’s such a gimmick by now that his Sorkinisms inspired not one but two viral videos that compiled some of his most-repeated turns of phrase, not to mention a Twitter feed chronicling memorable Sorkin lines. For better or worse, The Newsroom is like a Sorkin revue: The snazzy back-and-forth is a reliable magic trick, even if you now sort of know how the magician does it.
There are plenty of ways for The Newsroom to be improved in its second season—less lecturing, less self-satisfaction, less depiction of the female characters as ridiculous rom-com clichés—but they’re probably not going to happen because Sorkin is still firmly at the controls. This is actually for the best.
Much more so than film, television is a writer’s medium—the voice of a single individual—and The Newsroom embodies all that’s great and annoying about its creator. And that’s why it’s such compulsive viewing. The show’s grandstanding, histrionics and mixture of soap-opera plotting (Is Will going to get fired because he was high on air?!?) and sincere social consciousness are all stirred together in one big, juicy, vibrant Sorkinian package: The Newsroom can be utterly ludicrous, and yet it’s executed at a high level by a true believer. Ultimately, it’s Sorkin’s shameless, naive conviction that he’s doing something important that makes The Newsroom undeniably gripping—he pulls it off with such gusto, chutzpah and skill that you have to be impressed. And if you’re not and you’re still watching, maybe that has more to do with all that’s right with The Newsroom than all that’s wrong with it.
Tim Grierson is Playboy for iPhone’s critic-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter.