Aaron Sorkin’s, “The Newsroom” is one of the top drama shows around at the moment. There’s this myth of a 70’s, “Golden Age” of television but the quality on offer to the discerning viewer in our era trumps that rose tinted vision of the past.
In the recent past we have had, “The Smoke” set in a south London fire station, the ITV crime drama, “Broad Church”, as well as, “The Widower” starring Hull’s own Reece Shearsmith, plus Sheridan Smith in, “Mrs. Biggs” and “Cilla”. Then there was the female written, directed and acted cop show, “Scott and Bailey”. BBC Two has similarly given us Belfast set, “The Fall” with Gillian Anderson (although her face seems permanently set in a puzzled look due perhaps, to an over abundance of Botox) plus Keeley Hawes in, “Line of Duty”. All are free to air.
Jeff Daniels, fresh from his success in the media set film, “Good Night and Good Luck” which is set in the McCarthy era, plays journalist with a conscience Will McAvoy who along with partner McKensie McHale (Emily Mortimer is the compulsory Brit in a US drama series) assembles a team of producers and investigative reporters who seek to shine a light into the shadows of US current affairs.
The stories are real (the Bin Laden shooting, the midterm elections and the Boston Marathon attack) but show how the delivery of the news can be debased and twisted to suit the agenda of the network pay masters, and to chase ratings.
As you would expect from the creator of the hit White House based show, “The West Wing” the dialogue is snappy and the characters sassy.
The liberal, progressive agenda that Sorkin pursues is not hidden, but he does dish it out to the elite east coast Democratic strand as well as referring the GOP’s nutty faction as, “Tea Party Taliban” and this is not a preachy show.
The tensions are played out via hugely intelligent and well argued quick fire interactions between highly eloquent characters.
This week instalment, “Oh Shenandoah” caused Hadley Freeman of the Gruniard to get herself in a state of righteous indignation over a rape storyline. This issue in itself is an absolute hornets’ nest, and it takes a brave writer, especially if he is a man to take it on.
The premise is that a female student at an Ivy League school is raped by two men known to her, as a result of alcoholic intoxication. The police and the DA’s Office feel there is no case to answer due to vexed question of consent. The girl waives anonymity and names her assailant by setting up a name and shame website. ACN, the news network where the drama is set have been taken over by a new owner who demands modern, viewer driven content. He wants to put the girl and her attacker in the studio in a head to head debate.
Don (Thomas Sadoski) is a principled producer in his mid 30’s who still believes in the values of quality, non tabloid journalism and is repelled by the Jeremy Kyle slide that ACN is following to get a bump in the ratings.
In an absolutely riveting piece of television Don explains to the student just how the US judicial system is set up to make rape a virtually impossible crime to prosecute. He also suggests that name and shame websites are basically unconstitutional as well as morally repellent. It is so obvious what Sorkin is driving at and I viewed this as extremely pro women by pointing out that the reason that the student was forced into a potential tabloid gawpfest was due to the inherent failure of the law to protect victims of rape.
Freeman however wrote that Sorkin was in trouble as he appears, “to suggest that women who report sexual assault should shut up”. I fear that in her rush to judgement and by writing an oh so clever imaginary conversation involving Sorkin, she has completely missed the point. Which was to my mind that he was trying to create a discussion of why men and women are forced to shut up about being raped, and that he is holding up a mirror to America (and other countries including the UK) regarding a rape culture and how it treats sexual assault victims.
But the fact that the “Newsroom” produces such strong responses and meaningful discussion about issues that really matter is a testament of just what a great and watchable show it is.
This is its final season but it will be watched over and over as an example of what television setting the agenda is capable of.