So as we approach the Olympic week itself there’s very little in the way of new programming so to counter-balance this I’ve included a couple of shows that I didn’t have room for last week.
And starting that off is The Newsroom the new series from Aaron Sorkin and the third that looks behind the scenes of a TV show following Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin, still best known on TV for creating The West Wing, once again looks at the way that news reporting has changed over the year namely because of rival networks attempting to bump up the ratings. Our star news anchor is Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, who is a much loved TV institution due to partisan political beliefs and the dry wit with which he answers questions. The opening scene of the show sees McAvoy take part in a university debate in which he stays silent but suddenly snaps when somebody asks him why America is the greatest country answering this with a speech on how America is no longer the greatest but it could be soon. This incident, which is reminiscent of the diatribe Judd Hirsch launched into in the opening episode of Studio 60, results in Will having to take two weeks holiday and on returning finds that his former News Night co-anchor is leaving the programme taking his producer Don along with most of the other staff. As Will’s only remaining staff members are his loyal assistant and Don’s girlfriend Maggie and Neil the author of a blog that Will didn’t realise he had it seems that he need some new staff members but he is dismayed when Charlie Skinner suggests the name of a new producer. The producer comes in the form of Emily Mortimer’s McKenzie ‘Mac’ McHale, Will’s former girlfriend who after years of being a war reporter is tired and wants to be back in the studio bringing her producer Jim along for the ride. Jim is also the first to spot a story about an oil spill off the coast of New Mexico and it is only then that Sorkin reveals that the events are taking place on the 20th April 2010 and this discovery is the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill controversy. After some careful persuasion Mac gets Will to cover the story and it is only then that The Newsroom really came alive as Daniels show you why Will loves his job so much. As this is an Aaron Sorkin programme we also get plenty of reaction shots as Will’s co-workers gather round looking at him in awe while Thomas Newman’s inspirational music plays in the background.
If you’re a big Sorkin fan then I think you’ll love The Newsroom as it contains the fast-paced dialogue, inspirational speeches and the aforementioned thoughtful music that have been synonymous with all of his shows up to this point. However if you’re not then you may feel this could lapse into self-parody with some of the characters feeling eerily similar to those that Sorkin has presented before for example Maggie seems to be a carbon copy of The West Wing’s Donna as she’s harassed assistant who has romantic problems while you do wonder how Maggie exactly got her job as she seems fairly incompetent. Thankfully The Newsroom has Jeff Daniels front and centre and is able to deliver most of the speeches that Sorkin throws his way plus he’s able to portray a once-affable figure who has a tough exterior but is still suffering from his break-up with Mac. Emily Mortimer brings a feisty energy to Mac however I struggle to believe that this glamorous girl ever spent countless years in worldwide warzones while there’s not enough chemistry between her and Daniels to convince me that they were once were a couple. The one-upmanship between Mac and Will has elements of screwball comedy to it which aren’t always successful but obviously the main question going forward will be if this couple will get back together and will the unresolved feelings between the pair be resolved? The other romantic subplot is the love triangle between John Gallagher Jr.’s earnest Jim and Thomas Sadoski’s cynical Don who are both fighting for the love of Alison Pill’s homely Maggie. So far our own Dev Patel does little as Neil other than remind us we are in the 21st century by occasionally mentioning the Internet though there was only one mention of how Twitter was reacting to the news which doesn’t seem to ring true even in 2010. The biggest theme of The Newsroom is the lack of integrity in today’s news as Will is the man looking to return to a more old-fashioned way of reporting while Sorkin insinuates that current affairs programmes such News Night pander towards the lowest common denominator. Despite not being initially bowled over by The Newsroom there was enough here to like with the performances on the whole being top notch and the majority of the writing playing to Sorkin’s strengths even if I do think he should cut back on the corny monologues. Overall this is a well-acted piece that is a little bit too over-Sorkined but definitely shows enough promise to improve over the coming weeks.
Onto the only thing in this week’s edition that is brand new though in fact it is looking at historic artefacts that being ITV1′s Britain’s Secret Treasures. This seems to be a cool history programme as it is co-presented by funky history presenter Bettany Hughes and the opening credits sees a camera swooping over the UK accompanied by a few bars of Coldplay’s Vida La Vida. This opener also puts the emphasis on this programme being patriotic as Hughes’ co-host is British institution Michael Buerk with the pair constantly mentioning ‘The Great British Public’ who here have submitted items they have found in the back garden or at the beach that they think will be of some historical significance. After they’ve received all the entries Hughes and her less-photogenic colleagues sort them into a more manageable top 50 list with guest hosts taking it in turns to meet the people who found the items in question. One of the issues I had was the shifts in tone between the artefacts so for example at No.50 was a slave-shackle found by Winchester-based landscape gardener Jeremy who was interviewed by former captive John McCarthy for whom the item was very relevant and the piece got more serious when McCarthy went to search for the history behind the shackle. In comparison at number 49 there was a very light piece about a five year old called James using his father’s metal detector to find Tudor coins in the back garden something I’m sure his dad is incredibly miffed about but at least they got to sell them onto museums and provide a little money for James’ future. Elsewhere there were stories about Party King Charles II and Anita Rani using the discovery of some medals from World War II to talk about her grandfather who also served during the conflict. Britain’s Secret Treasures was an odd curio of a programme that lurched from on man relieving traumatic experiences in the Middle East to two men trying to make mini-cannons before Anita Rani made it into a Who Do You Think You Are? style endeavour. While the McCarthy stuff was interesting and Buerk provided a stoic presence overall Britain’s Secret Treasures attempts to make history seem cool fell flat and most of the segments just came across as filler pieces from The One Show.
Finally this week another Sky Atlantic show and in the mould of Alan Patridge and Walking and Talking this is another British comedy programme that only can be seen if you pay for it. Adam Buxton’s Bug essentially televises the comedian’s live stage show in which he mostly stands stationery behind a laptop airing music videos and reading the YouTube comments that have been left. This does sound like a bit of a daft idea but anybody whose listened to Buxton’s radio show alongside his erstwhile comedy partner turned film director Joe Cornish knows that he’s the master of silly comedy and is able to point out with ease the ridiculous nature of these comments. In the episode I watched Buxton’s main video of choice was that of OK Go’s End Love which featured the band in day-glo outfits being chased around by a swan. Donning a variety of different voices Buxton then set about reading the most entertaining comments including those both praising and insulting the video while at the same time pointing out any mistakes in the spelling or grammar. In addition he also promotes new artists who have released fairly funny music videos online as well as showing a music video he has made each week with this week’s theme being sushi. As a long time Adam and Joe fan it’s fair to say that I was looking forward to this however of the two Buxton doesn’t seem to have the best of luck previously starring in the awful BBC sitcom The Persuasionists. Bug though is a joyous slice of silliness pointing out the hilarity of people who have nothing better to do with their time than criticise others on the Internet, and while I’m well aware that’s what I do I am at least paid for it, but he does it in a way that never feels particularly judgmental. Overall this is a light-hearted programme that though repetitive is extremely funny and good-natured but just don’t expect any clever jokes or topical humour as at the end of the day Bug is a fairly daft show.
Are you a Sorkin fan? If so did you enjoy The Newsroom? Did Bug bug you? And did you find Britain’s Secret Treasures nothing more than a poor man’s One Show. Leave Your Comments Below.
Next Week: Bert and Dickie, Ab Fab and Twenty Twelve.