Spoilers Ahead. If you haven’t yet watched the series finale of The Newsroom, entitled “What Kind of Day Has It Been?”, you might want to come back here later.
Finally, we can stop watching The Newsroom out of genuine love and appreciation or for the oodles of good snark material it provides us. Those of us who’ve soldiered through 25 episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s occasionally excellent, but more often unforgivably silly almost-prestige HBO drama can now go back to our lives. We won’t have Will McAvoy’s personal “mission to civilize” or Sorkin’s sometimes painfully off-putting sanctimony to kick around anymore and maybe in some way we’ll be the lesser for it. There could come a day when critics and audiences reevaluate The Newsroom and see something we all missed the first time around, but considering how Sorkin managed to blow a couple of great storylines, some powerful forward momentum and a rare showing of critical goodwill early in this truncated season, allowing his show to devolve into a couple of the dumbest hours of TV this year, it’s hard to imagine anyone saying it was unfairly maligned during its run.
I asked more than once whether The Newsroom was a good show with some bad moments or a bad show that happened have occasional flashes of brilliance. Now that it’s wrapped and we can look at Sorkin’s creation as a whole, I think there shouldn’t be any question that it was the latter. The Newsroom was in some ways the most infuriating show any network has given us in years simply because there was always a truly great series trying to crawl out from under its own weight. It just wasn’t able to.
Sorkin ended the run of his latest TV drama the same way he ended the first season of every one of his past shows: with the question, “What kind of day has it been?” That was the title of this week’s series finale, one that served as a perfect hour-long microcosm of The Newsroom as a whole. The episode had some really great little moments tucked into what was a pretty clever bit of revisionism, as Sorkin, through a series of flashbacks, showed us how the dearly departed Charlie Skinner put the team together that would ultimately become the staff of “News Night.” We got to see how it was actually Charlie who undertook the mission to create a more ethical and eminently noble newscast and how he got the ball rolling with the hiring of Mac, who then hired a distraught Jim with the idea of remaking ACN’s flagship show into something respectable. Other behind-the-scenes flashbacks included some clues into how Sloan always felt about Don and — in what was probably a sly shot at the early critics of the show’s pilot episode — the revelation that Jenna the “sorority girl” who asked the seemingly naive question that launched Will on a tirade at a speaking engagement was really just looking for something to be optimistic about. (Also, we find out why Mac was able to use that question to push Will into finally taking a stand as she sat in the audience at the appearance.)
One of the prevailing themes of most Sorkin shows and absolutely of The Newsroom is that the characters are unfailingly decent, or at least Sorkin believes they are. At the end of The Newsroom we find that this decency is rewarded in every way possible. Maggie truly does come of age and complete her story arc as she intends to interview for a job as a field producer in DC, despite Jim offering her a senior producer job on “News Night.” They plan to keep their relationship going because Jim admits he’s in love with her. After a come-to-Jesus talk with Leona Lansing, Lucas Pruit apparently agrees to give Charlie’s position to Mac, this less than an hour after Mac finds out that she’s pregnant and Will is finally going to get to be a better dad (hopefully) than his was. Neal returns from South America to, quite frankly, not a lot of fanfare or thanks, but what he does get to do is scold and overturn the carts of the internet sleaze merchants who’ve sullied the temple he worked so hard to create.
Basically, everybody lives happily ever after, except of course for Charlie — but he’s honored as the strong-willed, decent patriarch of ACN that he was. To its credit, the series ends exactly as it should, with its final few moments taking place back in the titular newsroom as life goes on and the crew prepares for another broadcast. The show was always at its best when it concerned the work these characters do and so they all get to go out as the all-too-human professionals the show has cast them as over two-and-a-half seasons. A little credit to Sorkin, because for just a second there at the very end, during the closing montage as the staff of “News Night” counted down to air — proud yet wistful looks on their faces — I felt a twinge of sadness. During those fleeting moments when The Newsroom was good it was very good. And as someone who produced cable news for years, I always did respect Sorkin’s dream of what a news broadcast could and should be. As the show ends, “News Night” begins. We’re just not there to see it.
For all its flaws, if you immediately switched the channel from HBO at the end of The Newsroom over to a real cable news outlet — really, pick any one — maybe you’d miss not necessarily the show itself but what it was at least trying to do. Like Don Quixote, Aaron Sorkin failed on his mission, but maybe that mission was a noble one.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.