HBO's new breakneck-paced series The Newsroom is the must-see TV series of the summer. Starring Jeff Daniels as Will MacAvoy, the affable (at least as far as his viewers see) "Jay Leno" of cable new anchors.
The series starts with a brilliant opening. Caught in the crossfire between two other, more opinionated anchors on a panel before a live college audience, Will sits in between, trying to tune out the acrimonious debate until the moderator insists he give an answer to a co-ed's question: "What makes America the greatest nation in the world?"
Taking his cue from a woman in the audience holding up handwritten cards reading, "It's not" and "But it can be," Will finally lets loose with a blistering attack on liberals, conservatives and why the U.S. is no longer the greatest nation: what has made us great, perhaps what can make us great again.
His rant goes against everything that has made him a success, and when he returns to his newsroom at the fictional ACN news network, Will's world turns on its head. His show, Newsnight will never again be the same.
Beneath that bland, blond news anchor, breaths a brainy, incisive journalist, and hard-drinking News Director Charlie Skinner (the always watchable Sam Waterston) brings in Will's old executive producer Makenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer, Hugo) to lure it to the surface. The problem is that the EP has an intimate personal history with Will, with a presumably bad breakup, and he is incensed that his boss would hire her without his approval.
Will is a jerk, he's abusive to his staff (when he doesn't treat them dismissively entirely), comfortable with the status quo as long as his ratings remain in the stratosphere. But I get the impression that his mood has much to do with an internal dissatisfaction at what he has actually come to represent within the spectrum of TV journalism.
Set in 2010, the first episode revolves around the breaking story of the catastrophic BP oil spill, which barely registered as a blip on the news radar as it began to unfold. Good fortune (and good sources) provide Newsnight enough insider insight to scoop the other networks, and as with other intense, truly breaking news, the evolving story makes all involved rise to the occasion. For Will, it's a cathartic experience.