December 15, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “The Newsroom”


As tonight’s series finale of THE NEWSROOM served to remind us, Aaron Sorkin isn’t one to shy away from sentiment, and one would like to think that on some level he was touched by how many of us celebrated the news that his series was going to return for a delayed third season.  Even after two years of flawed, ornery, and not infrequently infuriating episodes, we believed that The Newsroom–with only 6 hours to fill, with a definite ending in sight, with all the accumulated, detailed criticisms that had come its way–would somehow become the show we’d dreamed of it being from the time it was announced that Sorkin and HBO were joining forces on a new TV series.

Of course, it wasn’t to be.  Like that scorpion riding on the frog’s back, Sorkin can only be who he is, especially when there’s no other strong producer or director in a project’s mix, and Newsroom Season 3 was as sanctimoniously judgmental, flawed and uneven as the seasons before it, filled with sloppy plotting, a terror and fury directed at the internet that resembled what villagers in Salem felt about witchcraft, and a bewilderingly ambivalent attitude toward women as characters and as the receptacles of rom-com narrative tropes.  All of it culminated in last week’s climactic hour, which set that hated internet on fire with a male character’s assertion about refusing to believe in allegations of campus rape absent a criminal conviction, and with the sudden death of beloved character Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), President of the show’s news network ACN.

Tonight’s finale, written of course by Sorkin and directed by Alan Poul, was by comparison quite mellow.  It was largely a series of flashbacks–an origin story, if you will–framed by events surrounding Charlie’s funeral.  Even though Charlie had barely died, he was as present in this final hour as he’d ever been, hiring Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) to be the new producer for Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) slumbering News Night and observing Will’s need for an incitement to bring him back to journalistic life.  Charlie’s actions in the previous few episodes, apparently caving in to villainous new ACN owner Lucas Pruitt (B.J. Novak) while secretly hoping his subordinates Mac and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) would undermine him, still didn’t make much sense, but we knew his heart was always in the right place.

The actual plot events of the finale were all positive.  Will discovered that Mac was having a baby (cue the sit-com cliches with Will blundering into revealing the pregnancy almost instantly to everyone around him); Pruit’s convenient PR issues about underpaying female employees and employing hookers allowed Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) to talk him into promoting Mac to Charlie’s job instead of firing her; Mac then promoted her number 2 Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr) to her old job.  (Don was offered the job, but turned it down to stay in his lower-paying, lower-profile gig because it just felt right to him, and because that’s what Sorkin heroes do.)  Jim and Maggie Jordan (Allison Pill), finally a genuine couple after 3 seasons of dancing around each other, were already out passive-aggressiving each other after just 3 days together, but decided they would make a long-distance relationship work if she took a job in DC, and the show’s only really enjoyable couple, Don and financial reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), were still bantering like crazy.  Even Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) returned from his exile in Venezuela as a newly saintly avatar of websites that truly report the news.  (Sorkin couldn’t resist one parting shot at less responsible internet practitioners, as Neal’s first act upon returning was tearing into the blobby guy who’d taken his job.)

It was a pleasing end if not an exciting one, optimistic rather than obsessed with sticking it to whomever met with Sorkin’s disapproval.  The acting, as has been the case throughout The Newsroom‘s run, was impeccable, and Daniels in particular was allowed for once to be more charming than pontificating and pompous.  Even at its worst, The Newsroom almost always gave these fine actors fun, smart dialogue to play with, and they and Sorkin did each other proud.

Aaron Sorkin has intimated that The Newsroom may be his last TV project for a while (although he’s also backed off that sentiment), and certainly he can make as much if not more money writing one feature film per year, with his much-buzzed biography of Steve Jobs next up.  His absence, though, would be a shame:  for all Newsroom‘s shortcomings, Sorkin is a prince of TV, much more likely to find meaningful outlets there for his long-form, dialogue- and issue-heavy speciality than in movies, which these days are mostly concerned with not alienating teen audiences.  There was a scene in tonight’s finale where Charlie, recruiting Mac for News Night, tells her that a racecar driver is only as good as his car, and vice versa.  For some writers (not all), there’s a similar truth:  Aaron Sorkin’s best work has come when he’s been partnered with a David Fincher, a Rob Reiner, or a John Wells.  Unfettered control is seductive, for obvious reasons, but it doesn’t get the best out of Sorkin.  Teamed with his own Mackenzie McHale, he still has the ability to deliver greatness.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."