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"The Newsroom": The Complete First Season Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

The Newsroom: The Complete First Season Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack box cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Newsroom: Season One (2012)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Aaron Sorkin / Executive Producers: Alan Poul, Scott Rudin, Aaron Sorkin

Writers: Aaron Sorkin, Gideon Yago / Directors: Greg Mottola, Alan Poul, Alex Graves, Daniel Minahan, Jeremy Podeswa, Joshua Marston, Lesli Linka Glatter

Regular Cast: Jeff Daniels (Will McAvoy), Emily Mortimer (MacKenzie McHale), John Gallagher Jr. (Jim Harper), Alison Pill (Maggie Jordan), Thomas Sadoski (Don Keefer), Dev Patel (Neelamani "Neal" Sampat), Olivia Munn (Sloan Sabbith), Sam Waterston (Charlie Skinner)

Recurring Cast Members: Chris Messina (Reese Lansing), Jane Fonda (Leona Lansing), Terry Crews (Lonny Church), Kelen Coleman (Lisa Larkin), David Harbour (Elliot Hirsch), Hope Davis (Nina Howard), Paul Schneider (Brian Brenner), David Krumholtz (Dr. Jack Habib), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Solomon Hancock), Jon Tenney (Wade Campbell), Natalie Morales (Kaylee), Alison Becker (Sandy Whiddles), Riley Voelkel (Jennifer Johnson)

Secondary Cast Members: Adina Porter (Kendra James), Chris Chalk (Gary Cooper), Margaret Judson (Tess Westin), Wynn Everett (Tamara Hart), Thomas Matthews (Martin Stallworth), John F. Carpenter (Herb Wilson), Trieu Tran (Joey Phan), Charlie Weirauch (Jake Watson)

Notable Guest Stars: Jesse Eisenberg (voice of Eric Neal - uncredited), Cornell Womack (Daniel Mendoza), Paul Willson (Dr. Dwayne Sotter), Marshall Bell (Ross Fernholm), Megan Park (Gwen Valley), Philip Baker Hall (Bryce Delancy), Matt Long (Brad), Kathryn Hahn (Carrie), Merle Dandridge (Maria Guerrero), Patrick Fabian (Tony Hart), Amin El Gamal (Kahlid Salim), Damon Gupton (Sutton Hall), Eve Gordon (Phyllis Greer), Yuki Matsuzaki (Daisuke Tanaka), Christina Kirk (Flight Attendant Cox), Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Jane Barrow), Adam Arkin (Adam Roth), Jake McDorman (Tate Brady), Angela Sargeant (Nurse Cooper), Kenneth Choi (Dr. Lee)

Running Time: 588 Minutes (10 episodes) / Rating: TV-MA

Blu-ray: 1.78:1 Widescreen; DTS-HD MA 5.1 (English), DTS 5.1 (French), DTS 2.0 (Spanish)
DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish)
Blu-ray Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish
DVD Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Complex Chinese, Korean, Thai
Video Extras Subtitled in English, French, and Spanish; DVD Closed Captioned
Season 1 Airdates: June 24, 2012 - August 26, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $79.98 / Blu-ray Release Date: June 11, 2013
Six discs (4 BD-50s and 2 DVD-18s) / Digipak and Folder in Cardboard Box
Also available in standalone 2-Disc DVD ($59.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video: SD, HD

Buy The Newsroom: The Complete First Season from Amazon.com Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD / Instant Video: SD, HD

Although he has six highly-regarded, high-profile screenplays to his name, including the Oscar-winning The Social Network and nominee Moneyball, Aaron Sorkin seems most at home on television. Episodic programming provides the necessary time for the sharp, wordy dialogue that made him famous and excuses the expectation for anything more action-packed or cinematic than that.
As a creator/showrunner on network television, Sorkin experienced success on the long-running, oft-decorated "The West Wing" as well as the kind of acclaim that could not sustain more than a season ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") or two ("Sports Night"). "The Newsroom" moves Sorkin away from the conventions, commercial breaks, and weekly viewership demands of the networks and to the respectability of subscription cable, where awards, critical praise, and loyal fanbases most often gravitate these days.

HBO feels like a good fit for Sorkin. Not because it enables him to include the occasional profanity (which he does), but because it encourages longer and less rigid runtimes, plays to a mature and sophisticated audience like the ones he's always attracted, and doesn't require an overwhelming number of episodes. The first season of "The Newsroom" consists of just ten episodes and though their longer runtimes add up to something like thirteen one-hour primetime commercial TV timeslots, the focus is more on spending time with characters and less on offering viewers a specific reason to tune in each week.

Reporting on Navy SEALS' raid on the fortress of Osama bin Laden, stoned "News Night" anchor Will McAvoy has off-camera signs in front of him reminding him "Osama Bad" and "Obama Good."

"The Newsroom" takes us behind the scenes of "News Night", an hour-long weeknightly primetime program on fictional cable network ACN (Atlantis Cable News). Its anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) has the reputation of being smart and talented, but difficult to work with. When much of his staff and his executive producer of thirteen weeks up and leave for a new 10pm series, Will is forced to reunite with his ex-girlfriend, British expatriate MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), a reporter who's spent the last 26 months embedded with the US Army in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Instead of scripting current events, the series makes use of real news stories from the recent past. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is revealed to be a breaking story in the great pilot episode and subsequent ones follow through with other incidents and sentiments from 2010 and 2011. That makes this a slight but effective period drama, whose topics gain from the bit of perspective we now have toward them.

With episodes ranging from 52 minutes to the pilot's 72, there is plenty of opportunity for supporting characters to be defined and developed. By the end of the second episode, you're familiar with a dozen staffers by face, title, and full name. There's so much dialogue and screentime to go around each episode that we come to know and care for all the characters on hand. They include Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), Will's assistant and associate producer who is in a relationship with his departing executive producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), but catching the eye of MacKenzie's dependable senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.). Will's boss, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), is a seasoned newsman, a Vietnam veteran, a functioning alcoholic, and an avuncular authority figure who stays in the loop and goes to bat for Will when necessary. Photogenic, educated economist Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) joins the series in the second episode, earning a five-minute financial segment on each "News Night" broadcast. Rounding out the credited regulars is tech-savvy blogger Neal Sampat (Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel), the show's young go-to Internet guy who harbors producing aspirations.

Executive producer and ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) oversees and advises Will via earpiece from the show's control room. Bow tie-wearing boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) has Will's back with the bottom line-minded higher-ups.

"The Newsroom" is gripping television drama, full of Sorkin's taut, smart, biting workplace banter. The dense dialogue is not realistic, as characters gracefully extemporize with every clever reference they might later think of in deep, extended reflection. Full of random facts, musical theatre analogies,
and the kind of "Sorkinisms" that went viral last summer, the series finds everyone at their most articulate and witty all of the time. The fast verbal volleys sometimes require a moment to digest.

The cast deserves ample credit for making Sorkin's elevated dialogue feel natural. Daniels is an inspired choice for the lead role. He has the look and feel of a well-informed newsman, but he also has no difficulty with more comedic exchanges. That is an area where the show struggles, as Sorkin every so often tries to drop a broad gag into this environment of diligence. The show's long opening credits, whose Thomas Newman theme you can expect to hear at September's Emmys, establish that environment, painting television news as a noble profession and important, storied tradition. It's easy to get onboard with the show-within-the-show's idealism and determination to defy the shallow content born out ads and ratings driving the media.

Some levity and romance seem essential to any scripted television series with hopes of success, but they dumb down "The Newsroom" on occasion. Sorkin has a knack for capturing human behavior and foibles, but he is unable to bring much sophistication to an early Jim and Pam-type romance that he develops into a love triangle, rectangle, and, by season's end, a strongly-suggested pentagon. Women characters are not a forte for Sorkin. Mortimer is sort of believable as a workaholic unwilling to get over her one true love. On the other hand, Munn simply is not a good fit for the show and seemingly only on hand to provide a needed additional female voice and attractive cast member. The latter's relevance seems open to debate, since as an Aaron Sorkin show, this one contains no sex or violence, just a lot of talking, almost all of it in work clothes, even at the obligatory after-hours hangout ("Hang Chew's").

Though the series aspires to nonpartisanship and even makes Will McAvoy a registered Republican, the liberal leanings are impossible to miss. Fox News is laughed off, Geraldo and Nancy Grace are jokes, and video of Rush Limbaugh prompts one regular to injure his fist in a lethal punch to his computer monitor. The show gives us great insight into Sorkin's tastes and political views. He writes every episode, only once sharing credit with staff writer and MTV News alumnus Gideon Yago. Sorkin has donated money, time, and talent to the Democratic Party over the years and the affiliation does shape the series in pronounced ways. For instance, the Tea Party becomes a primary target for Will, to the concern of the influential business-minded powers that be (recurring Jane Fonda and Chris Messina). Will's ax to grind with the Tea Party is clearly Sorkin's and it's not particularly timely or compelling. Fortunately, when the series wades into overdramatic waters or strikes false notes, realism usually creeps back in be it in the form of an actual news story and simply genuine clips from cable news.

Eloquent, impassioned speeches flow while we see a staff work so very hard for their modest audience, a subject that is seemingly paralleled in real time. Although a nightly cable news show would love to attract the nearly two million U.S. viewers "Newsroom" drew on a regular basis, that still amounts to just a small fraction of the audience "The Big Bang Theory" earns each week and "The West Wing" consistently hooked. Renewed after only two episodes had aired, "The Newsroom" struggled to maintain its audience throughout the summer, but it will soon return for a second season.

The Blu-ray release of The Complete First Season, which per HBO policy also includes DVDs and a code for a downloadable iTunes digital copies and UltraViolet, only places 2 or 3 episodes on each Blu-ray, keeping the disc count and average bit rate high.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) sheds his label as "the Jay Leno of news anchors" by speaking his mind at a college appearance. CEO's son Reese Lansing (a recurring Chris Messina) informs Will of his program's ratings.

Disc 1

1. We Just Decided To (1:12:44) (Originally aired June 24, 2012)
After spilling his feelings in a rant at a college appearance, the ordinarily tight-lipped Will McAvoy finds most of his staff jumping ship for another program. Forced to confront his painful past, Will reluctantly accepts MacKenzie McHale as his new executive producer, but takes a pay cut to rework her contract.

2. News Night 2.0 (57:37) (Originally aired July 1, 2012)
Jim takes the blame for Maggie after her botched pre-interview leaves Will with a pitiful trio of guests to discuss Arizona immigration reform. After being apprised of ratings, Will sneaks a Sarah Palin reference in past MacKenzie.

Will makes a negative impression on Nina Howard (Hope Davis), the editor of the tabloid TMI!, at a New Year's party ringing in 2011. "News Night" blogger Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) uses his Internet expertise to land the show a Cairo correspondent in "Amen."

Disc 2

3. The 112th Congress (58:42) (Originally aired July 8, 2012)
In an editorial, Will apologizes for his show and his industry's failings. He then proceeds to rail on the Tea Party, to the concern of the parent company's powerful CEO (Jane Fonda) on the ominous 44th floor.
The Newsroom Atlantis Cable News Mug The Newsroom Mission to Civilize T-Shirt
The Newsroom News Night Hoodie The Newsroom News Night Distressed Hat
Meanwhile, Will's dating choices bother MacKenzie.

4. I'll Try to Fix You (59:33) (Originally aired July 15, 2012)
On the eve of 2011, Will runs afoul of a gossip columnist (Hope Davis) and repeatedly winds up in tabloids for his dating faux pas. Don sets up Jim with Maggie's roommate. The episode ends with the Coldplay song whose lyrics supply the title and breaking news on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' shooting.

5. Amen (54:26) (Originally aired July 22, 2012)
"News Night" simultaneously covers a revolt in Cairo and Wisconsin teachers protesting a budget repair bill that aims to bust up unions. Neal gets a soon endangered young Egyptian man to be the show's correspondent. In addition, Sloan gives Mac a crash course in economics, Maggie has Jim take her roommate on a Valentine's Day date, and Will considers buying tabloids' silence on Mac.

As these control room monitors show, Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) is a little too aggressive towards her guests, a spokesperson for Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, while filling in for Elliot Hirsch on ":Right Now."

Disc 3

6. Bullies (57:54) (Originally aired July 29, 2012)
Battling insomnia and facing a credible death threat by online comment, Will reluctantly opens up to his therapist's son/successor (David Krumholtz) regarding a tense interview with an openly gay Rick Santorum aide.
Also, Sloan fills in on Don's 10:00 show and betrays ethics with her aggressive bilingual interview of a spokesman on the radiation leaks of Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

7. 5/1 (52:49) (Originally aired August 5, 2012)
Mysterious breaking news calls everyone away from a Sunday night party at Will's place. As the signs point to the capture and death of Osama bin Laden, an accidentally stoned Will has to fight disorientation to report the once-in-a-lifetime story. Meanwhile, Don, Sloan, and Elliott are stuck on a plane on a LaGuardia Airport tarmac.

8. The Blackout, Part I: Tragedy Porn (57:32) (Originally aired August 12, 2012)
After losing half of its audience to Nancy Grace, "News Night" reluctantly opts to open with coverage of the Casey Anthony trial and address Anthony Weiner's Twitter gaffe. Will gives the reporter with whom Mac cheated on him (Paul Schneider) a trial period to write a behind-the-scenes article on the show. Charlie meets with an NSA whistleblower with bombshell news on illegal wiretapping.

Maggie (Alison Pill) and Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) visit Lisa at her workplace to beg for her to appear on their show. In the Season 1 finale, a hospitalized Will (Jeff Daniels) isn't sure he wants to return to his job, if he even still has a job to return to.

Disc 4

9. The Blackout, Part II: Mock Debate (55:15) (Originally aired August 19, 2012)
Maggie's roommate Lisa, a high school classmate of Casey Anthony, reluctantly agrees to appear on "News Night", then uses her interview to voice a controversial point-of-view. Neal continues to look into online trolling as his potential first story. And, in the end goal for their week of compromise, the show's staff tests out a new presidential debate format with hard-hitting questions and greater moderation in a performance that costs them the chance to host a Republican primary debate.

10. The Greater Fool (1:01:12) (Originally aired August 26, 2012)
Bouncing around chronologically, this season finale shows how Will, hospitalized in the wake of a hatchet piece in New York magazine, rebounds with the issue of photo ID voter laws. In addition, with Will's job in question, Charlie brings forth accusations of wiretapping against the company's executives.

Continue to Page 2 >>
Video & Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

Buy The Newsroom: The Complete First Season at Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video: SD, HD

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Reviewed June 7, 2013.

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