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The Newsroom: The Complete First Season (2012)

HBO Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/11/2013

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/5/2013

The term "Ripped from today's headlines!" is often used to hype things like LifeTime movies and I think that most see it as a cheezy selling ploy. These movies are often docudramas based on a specific event or a trend which has been in the news, and they typically come across as opportunistic pieces which play fast and loose with the facts. But, what if someone could find a way to use actual headlines and current events and create something is not only topical, but entertaining and compelling? Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winning writer Aaron Sorkin has found a very clever way to do this with his latest series The Newsroom.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is the anchor for the primetime news program News Night on ACN. While at a forum at Northwestern University, Will has a meltdown which is broadcast nationally. When he returns from a sabbattical, Will is shocked to find that his boss, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), has hired a new executive producer for the show. Will isn't against the idea of having a new EP, he simply doesn't like the fact that it's his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). MacKenzie, who has brought along her right-hand man, Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), feels equally awkward, but she's excited to be working on such a big show. Once emotions die down (somewhat), Will and MacKenzie decide that they want to change the direction of News Night and make it a more hard-hitting news program. With the help of associate producer Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) and researcher Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), Will begins to create a new brand for himself, where he focuses on facts and educating the viewer. This leads to grumblings from ACN management and death threats, but Will begins to enjoy his new voice. If only the constant office politics weren't so distracting.

We've certainly seen TV shows about TV shows before and The Newsroom actually marks Sorkin's third time exploring this arena, as he had previously brought us Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Nor is The Newsroom the first show to be about a newsroom (see Lou Grant). However, there are two things which Sorkin has done which set his show apart from the others.

The first difference is a plot device which is revealed in the first episode. The Newsroom takes place in our universe, and more importantly, the show is happening in the recent past. Why is that important? This allow News Night and Sorkin to focus on actual events which occurred in the U.S. and around the world. This gives the show a two-tier effect. When a news story is revealed, we see how the characters are reacting to the event, while we are simultaneously remembering our reaction and the actual news coverage from the time. Even after this is introduced, it's still amazing to see how the show can slide in these actual events and suddenly change the emotional depth of the show.

Something else which The Newsroom does which is unique, at least to me, is that all of the characters are intelligent. So many shows have gone the route of having at least one character who is slow, but not here. These are all professional newspeople who must be able to think on their feet and it's very refreshing. This makes the political discourse on the show feel real. Even if you don't agree on the views here (and the show is very opinionated), it's hard to argue with the fact that Sorkin's famous dialogue sounds like the kind of things we would want those in the media to be saying.

The Newsroom also gets a boost from a great cast. I've always liked Jeff Daniels and it's great to see him out in front here. Will can be a jackass at times, but we can't help but admire his convictions. Emily Mortimer is very good as a women with power in a room full of shouting men. Allison Pill has played many quirky girls in the past, but I like seeing her tackle this more straight-forward role. There's also an extended cameo by an Oscar-winning actress of whose presence on the show I was unaware.

Despite the fact that HBO is a pay-cable channel, it's original programming still gets a lot of press and even those without TVs have probably heard of Sex and the City, Entourage, and True Blood. So, why no love for The Newsroom? This show really took me surprise and I found myself swept up in both the drama and the intelligent look at politics. Again, many of the subjects here will be polarizing, and I have to assume that the views which we are hearing belong to Sorkin, but it's a revelation to see a show which actually has its own voice.

The Newsroom: The Complete First Season has a Sasquatch fascination which I hope comes back in Season Two on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of HBO Home Entertainment. The four-Disc set contains all ten episodes of the show's first season. The show is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The show is shot in a very naturalistic style -- the colors look good (but not garish) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as is the depth. The transfer rivals HD broadcast quality. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The newsroom scenes and the street scenes provide some impressive stereo effects which show nice separation. These same scenes also have a few well-placed surround effects, giving us the impression of being immersed in the action. I didn't note any significant bass effects outside of the music.

The Newsroom: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Disc set contains several extras. Each episode has an entry of "Inside the Episode" which is a brief (average 3 minutes) featurette which gives an overview of the episode's story and offers brief interviews with the cast and crew. There are several AUDIO COMMENTARIES spread over the four Disc set -- "We Just Decided To" from Aaron Sorkin, Executive Producer Alan Poul, and Co-Executive Producer & Director Greg Mottola (Disc 1); "The 112th Congress" with Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels, and Sam Waterston (Disc 2); "I'll Try to Fix You" featuring Aaron Sorkin, Emily Mortimer, and Executive Producer Alan Poul (Disc 2); "Bullies" with Jeff Daniels, Olivia Munn, and Alan Poul; and Audio Commentary on "The Greater Fool" from Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, and Alan Poul. There are five DELETED SCENES which are on Discs 1, 2, and 4. Disc 4 also contains the final two extras. "Mission Control" (5 minutes) shows us the research and work which went into creating the show's main set. We see blueprints and some behind-the-scenes views of the set under construction. "Roundtable" (26 minutes) is a discussion with Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, Alan Poul, and Greg Mottola who talk about specifics of the first season, including what went into the show and their personal reactions to it.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.