The West Wing vs Newsroom….

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…

5 thoughts on “The West Wing vs Newsroom….

  1. Nathan Zamprogno

    As a ‘West Wing’ devotee, I too had high expectations for ‘Newsroom’.
    I found the premise of using real-world events as the material for the stories rather than made up ones (Equatorial Kundu? Qumar? Please…) made for a more authentic narrative; less ‘translation’ necessary about what the Moral Of The Week was. Strangely, this is what people cite as a flaw; the supposed ‘preachiness’ of the series. No! If only more TV had this kind of narrative purpose. TV that uplifts, challenges and educates instead of merely entertaining (and indeed, which can educate *while* it entertains, not unlike Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’) is what we need more of. Something that stokes, rather than anaesthetises political debate.

    Another alleged flaw, making Will McAvoy a card-carrying Republican, seems to me as an important and conscious subtext. For instance, I find it interesting that you felt the need to disclose your politics as left of centre as a context for your review, as though admitting that left-of-centre people would be a more natural constituency for the supposed Right-bashing that Sorkin engages in. And yet, here’s me, a fairly strong Conservative, right next to you in the bleachers, cheering just as hard. Why? Well, *all* politically interested people should lament the mediocratisation of politics, and especially the kind of religiously bigoted, reality-denying worldview that populates the right. My job, as a member of that putative Right, is to fight against Australia going down the same path, and thus for me, McAvoy is a beacon.

    I think the show has legs, and we’ll all be watching with interest when the new season begins in a couple of weeks. We should avoid the temptation, like you have, to measure this first season against the whole (or near-whole) corpus of West Wing.

  2. souljourneygirl

    I agree, there’s no way one season can stack up against seven, and I hope Newsroom builds as it goes. Still, the connection I felt to the characters even after just one season was much stronger with West Wing than Newsroom. I actually liked the format too, and thought the use of real events was interesting. Overall though, I didn’t feel it stoked political debate. I can see how you identify with the Will character – I did particularly like his comment about believing tornados were caused by weather and not gay marriage – i wish there were more Wills on both sides. But you have to admit there were some lazy plot conventions! I am looking forward to season two – hope it doesn’t disappoint.

    1. Nathan Zamprogno

      One thing I forgot to mention was that I introduced this series to my girlfriend by watching the movie “Good night and good luck” first, which was a great story about the journalist Edward R Murrow and his stand against Joseph McCarthy in the early days of TV. The contrast was very apposite. You need to see it to understand that the tradition of journalism really being the ‘Fourth Estate’ (or is it the ‘Fifth Estate’? That would make a great argument) and is a necessary organ for a healthy society.

  3. souljourneygirl

    Yes indeed, have always been a passionate believer in the fundamental necessity a free press is to society. I am often lamenting the state of journalism at work 🙂 I haven’t seen that movie, but am sure I would love it. Will report back once I do!

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