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DVD Review: “The Newsroom – The Complete First Season”

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Just in time to catch up before season two (premiering July 14) HBO releases season one of Aaron Sorkin’s (The Social Network, The West Wing) sophomore drama series The Newsroom, June 4. Available in an HBO Select set that includes Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the series, The Newsroom: The Complete First Season a must-have for anyone liking their drama politically and emotionally charged, fueled by fast-paced writing and wonderful, emotional performances. The powerful and sometimes-poignant series tackles serious issues and was for me last summer, my weekly must-see show. But it isn’t all heavy as there are moments of light rom-com, fun, and a lot of charm.
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Nominally a RINO (Republican in Name Only), Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is anchor of the fictitious cable news show Newsnight on the Atlantic Cable Network (ACN)Somewhere along the way, Will got himself more caught up in ratings and the desire to be likable by his largely conservative audience than by truthful, unvarnished news reporting. He is the “Jay Leno” of anchors.

But when he is part of a panel of news anchors in front of a college audience, Will is forced to respond to a student’s question: “What makes America the greatest nation in the world?”

In the audience, he sees a woman holding up cue cards: “It’s not” and “But it can be.” Her words inspire Will to pummel liberals and conservatives both about why the U.S. is no longer the greatest nation: what has made us great, perhaps what can make us great again.

The mysterious woman is Will’s former executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), whom News Director Charlie Skinner has just rehired in an effort to return Will to his former brilliant, provocative self. The new Newsnight will insist on reporting the news with integrity and truth (not truthiness!), where not everything is morally equivalent difference of opinion, but there are some actual moral truths and facts that no amount of spin should be allowed to deny.

The show’s 10 episodes skip through the Obama administration’s first term, beginning with the BP Oil Spill in 2010 (“We Just Decided To”), take on everything from the capture of Osama bin Laden (“5/1″) to the 2010 mid-term elections (“112th Congress”), the Egyptian uprising in early 2011 (“Amen”) and the political blogosphere.

Woven within the news stories woven through the first term of President Obama), are the inevitable relationships  headlined by the realization that Will and Mac are former lovers, broken apart several years ago, and both still stinging from it, yet both still in love with each other. It’s a sticky point, especially for Will, and the storyline takes us into both his heart and damaged psyche, humanizing him from the cynical jerk he at first he appears to be. 

The show is as much about the characters as it is about the state of the news business and politics, with the focus mostly in season on Will, who we learn much about over the course of the season in episodes like “Bullies” in particular. But we also get insight into the rest of the crew, including the show’s blogger Neal (Dev Patel), Will’s former executive producer Don (Thomas Sadoski), shy senior producer Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) who has a thing for new associate producer Maggie (Allison Pill). Jane Fonda puts in a couple of appearances as the ACN CEO Leona, furious with both Will and Skinner about putting integrity above viewership ratings.

While the series was in its debut season last summer, it came under some attack as being unfair to the cable news networks for the show’s portrayal of them, and also for its unabashed liberal bent. As for the latter, I cannot disagree. The show, with its insistence on “no-spin” that would make Chris Matthews blush, is a liberal’s fantasy series, much as West Wing (another Aaron Sorkin series) was in its day. As for the former complaint, in my opinion, the skewering is well-deserved. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been ranting about just this very thing for years (and raking in viewers).

Daniels, who has too often over the past several years, played the part of the idiot is given a lot of good stuff to play with here. He is allowed to layer his character with charm and torment, ambition and a genuine desire both to serve some greater cause and to be loved by his audience. It’s the best part Daniels has had in years (and I hope he keeps doing it for a long time to come). The show is tightly written, with intelligent, smart writing (who could expect anything less?) by Sorkin. The acting is excellent, especially from the aforementioned Daniels, Gallagher, and Patel.

As with many HBO releases, the Blu-ray set comes with a variety of extra goodies, including behind the scenes featurettes “The Rundown” (a conversation with series creator Sorkin) and “Mission Control” (about the sets), deleted scenes, audio commentaries with the cast and crew. The set also includes “Inside the Episodes,” which provides insights from the creator for every episode aired. The extras are not included on the DVD discs and require a Blu-ray player.

If you are already a fan of the series, pick up the Blu-ray set for the extras and to bring yourself back up to speed after a very long hiatus. If you’ve yet to be introduced to the show or do not have access to HBO, here is your opportunity to watch the first season from beginning to end. You’ll find it especially satisfying if you have found cable news (real cable news) either falling all over itself in an effort to grant everything moral equivalence even when it’s undeserved  Even if you are not a news or politics junkie constantly screaming at cable anchors, you can still enjoy The Newsroom for the stories, the writing and some excelling acting.

The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital release of The Newsroom, includes the episodes on DVD in two, two-sided DVDs, a redemption coupon for the digital copy (playable on any device), and a four-disc Blu-ray set. Be aware, your Blu-ray player’s software may need updating to properly display the disc menus. In Blu-ray, the series sounds great, it’s gorgeous title score come across even richer than it does watching the broadcast in high definition. The same can be said for the picture.

The Newsroom: Season One is set for release  Tuesday, June 11. Season two premieres July 14 on HBO. Season two premieres Sunday, July 14 on HBO.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.