I know even as I start writing this, that comparing these two shows is a little unfair. Mostly because I can’t help comparing one season of Newsroom to my experience of The West Wing which is seven seasons rich. So for the most part I will try and contain myself to the first seasons.
So here we go 🙂 and warning – spoilers ahead.
I watched Newsroom over the past week or so – and while I liked it – really. really liked it – I just felt it fell short of The West Wing in a few key areas.
Firstly, characterization. The West Wing characters were ACTUALLY real people. They lived and breathed through the script, and made you feel like you really could open a door in the White House and find Josh and Donna bantering over take away Chinese containers. When I watched season one for the first time, I was sick in bed and watched it in very quick succession. One thing that struck me was that the characterization didn’t falter, not once. The characters just kept growing and our experience of them kept deepening.I felt there were a few off notes in Newsroom, and that some of the characters, like Maggie, became caricatures. She is clearly a Donna-type character, but it fell a little flat. It might have been the acting – Janel Moloney is a brilliant actress and managed to capture Donna’s charming naivety without overdoing it – and I don’t think the same can be said for Alison Pill, though she was likeable. Overall, I don’t think the cast lived up to The West Wing cast. I also felt apart from the main few characters I didn’t really know the others – for example, at the end when Sloan announces her interest in Don, that was a huge surprise, and I felt no emotional connection to the relationship at all. It just felt forced. Whereas with The West Wing, I felt that every single character was fully developed, even if they only had a few lines in an episode.
Coming back to the two main leads – while I felt like I certainly got to know their characters throughout the season, I don’t feel as though there was much character growth in terms of the relationship dynamic. At the beginning of the season they’re at odds and Will can’t forgive Mac, and we kept coming back to that again and again. It grew a bit tiresome. (To be fair, if I am limiting this criticism to West Wing’s first season, the same could be said of Josh and Mandy).
Secondly, I felt it was a bit too “preachy”. As a passionate “lefty” I am always on board with a bit of Republican-bashing (just kidding). Lots of what he said through Newsroom needed to be said, particularly about Tea Party politics. But I felt by making Will a Republican it gave Sorkin a false license to just bash away at right-wing politics, which became a bit mind-numbing. I think the dialogue lacked the crispness and complexity of The West Wing.
Thirdly, I think Sorkin was a little sluggish with some of his plot conventions. The missent email (way overblown by Emily Mortimer), the getting high-on-air, the blackout – they have been done before – and better – in The West Wing. I think this is lazy writing on Sorkin’s part.
Probably what I loved most about it was that same sense of passion that The West Wing had – we can do politics better. We can do news better. We owe it to ourselves to have intelligent and articulate debates and dialogue with smart and informed people.
So I did like it – but couldn’t help feeling a slight nagging sense of disappointment.
I’d be interested to know what you think…