First aired: 24th June 2012
Jeff Daniels – Will McEvoy
Emily Mortimer – MacKenzie McHale
John Gallagher Jnr – Jim Harper
Alison Pill – Maggie Jordan
Thomas Sadowski – Don Keefer
Dev Patel – Neal Sampat
Sam Waterson – Charlie Skinner
Synopsis: Northwestern University and at a panel on broadcast journalism Will McEvoy is having a crisis. To his left a left-leaning reporter, to his right a right-leaning reporter and a moderator asking questions that the less controversial Will is not interested in answering. After dodging a question on his personal political leanings, Will faces a question from the audience, a young woman asks “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”
Will as badgered into giving an answer by the moderator and as he tries to get out of it, he thinks he sees someone in the audience he knows, he blinks and she’s gone, then he sees her again and she’s holding a sign. “It isn’t.” Another blink and she’s gone again, now he sees her a third time and it’s a new sign. “But it could be.” Finally pressed to answer he delivers a 4 minute rant on how despite his love for the country, it isn’t the greatest country in the world. The panel devolves into chaos, the other panelists are furious with Will and then he claims that he’s been on medicine for vertigo and isn’t entirely sure what it was that he said. Roll credits.
Three weeks later and Will is back in the ACN Studio in New York. In the office, Will’s assistant Maggie is having an argument with her boyfried Don, Will’s executive producer (essentially the show runnner) over her parents wanting to meet him. They’re having this row in front of Neal, who over sees the website and writes Will’s blog for him. Will arrives in the main office to see almost no staff and is told to go and see the News Director Charlie Skinner in his office. Charlie informs Will between drinks that his protege Elliot is getting the 10 o’clock news slot. Will is happy for Elliot’s success till he finds out that he’s taking Don and almost the rest of the staff with him leaving Will without a EP or most of the team.
After a subsequent shouting match with Don, Will is informed (again between drink) by Charlie that a new EP has been found, MacKenzie McHale and Will is furious once more. He storms off to his agent’s office to get approval over hiring and firing. MacKenzie and her Jnr EP Jim Harper arrive at ACN. Mack and Maggie bond immediately, but Mack sees the cracks in Maggie’s relationship with Don and plans to aim Jim at her.
Will returns and confronts MacKenzie and it’s very clear that they were in love once and MacKenzie did something and he is hurt. He is so hurt that he’s renegotiated his contract and give back $3million to have the right to fire her on any given Friday.
News comes in of a fire on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig in the gulf of Mexico. Jim is interested, but Don is not hearing any of his concerns. In Will’s office, the argument continues. Jim gets information from sources at BP (the rig’s owners) and Haliburton (the people responsible for safety equipment) and pushes for the story to be given more prominence. All this does is anger Don, who wants this interloper who at present doesn’t work there to sit down and be quiet. Inside Will’s office, there’s still arguing going on. The fire at Deepwater Horizon is getting bigger.
Will steps back in and asks anyone who has come back who is going with Don in two weeks to go now with his thanks and two weeks paid holiday. MacKenzie is now the EP and her first show is tonight.
Everything starts moving towards showtime and this barebones crew is coming together. There’s a new energy to the place and Mack’s dream of a good and also factual news show is about to happen, well just afer her and Will bicker over the mike a bit more. With Jim’s information and the resst of the remaining team’s help the focus isn’t a rescue story, it’s an in depth look at what is potentially the biggest enviromental disaster in living memory.
The show starts and Will is being uncompromising and doesn’t allow the representative of Haliburton to get away with very much to that guy’s surprise. They are clear factual and essentially do the news the way it should be done, just because they chose to do it. Charlie pops down afterwards to toast the show, one he’s proud of and tells Will that he loved what he said at the panel. This is a new show now.
Will and Mack make a detente, they reminicing on their shared past with Mack’s family. Will admits that there was no vertigo medicine and that he said what he said because he thought he saw her in the audience. He leaves the dumbstruck MacKenzie who looks through the papers she has with her, finding the signs she showed him. She was there, she did inspire him. He didn’t think he saw her, he did, but he doesn’t know.
Notes: There is no way of avoiding that this show is highly political. It wears a more left-leaning viewpoint on its sleeve and views the recent history in that way. In the highly divided times in which we find ourselves that can’t really be ignored. There is an idealism running through it that we would read as ‘woke’ in the current political climate and I imagine that it can be off-putting if that isn’t something that you’re interested in. I am a more left-leaning person myself, but I can see how heavy-handed the politics come across.
Now we have that out of the way, I am not going to pretend I don’t have a bias here. I loved the opening 5 or so minutes. I’m showing it below because it’s a powerful bit of telly that grabs your attention and holds it.
The rant could easily apply to a number of countries, I can honestly say that most of what he said applies to here in the UK. But message aside, the dialogue here fantastic. It’s snappy, but more often than note isn’t so forced. Every character is fully fleshed out and are just ready to have the blanks filled in as it goes along. Despite the excellent cast, the script seems to be the real star of this show.
Well, since I mentioned it, let’s look at the cast. To be honest, only Alison Pill, Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterson were familiar to me as the program opened, but I saw them very much as a safe pair of hands for this show. The rest of the cast work incredibly well in a short amount of time. Daniels in particular excels as a fallen idealist that suffering a broken heart has become less interested in people and no longer cares as much about his colleagues. He is not a likeable character, but Daniels infuses him with a charm that makes you root for him no matter what. The star of the show for me though, was Sam Waterson’s Charlie. Charlie is a drinker, but a happy one and he brings Mack in simply to push Will to do what he knows Will wants to do. Waterson is funny and charming, but not in any way a comedy character or is sloppily written caricature. He is something of the heart of the show and I don’t know if it would work without him, or even how he’s standing up most of the time.
The only downside I can see is that all feels a bit wish fulfillment. Hyper competent people doing the job the way it needs to be done, ignoring the way the rest of the world is doing things. This and the idealistic nature of Emily Mortimer’s MacKenzie take some of the impact of the show by highlighting the far-fetched nature of the show.
But it is a good show, it posits the idea that anchormen and woman can be real journalists again and hold those in power to account, that if you do a factual and hard-hitting news show that will have impact. Unlike most dramas which try and have more realism to them, this one is more aspirational. It doesn’t reflect the world as it is, but pushes towards a world as it should be. Again, the should be can be looked at as political in it’s manner. But as a first episode it does the job of introducing the world and the characters’ places in it and the pacing is very good. The tension ramps up and the show starts moving quickly and it’s all very interestingly done.
It’s trying to do what the West Wing did for politics and Studio 60 did for television and it’s in places quite successful at it, provided you liked those other shows. I did, so for me this worked.
Does it work? Yes, we get a strong opening and a solid set up from the start.
Does much need fixing? Not really it’s got a clear vision and it’s showing it to us.
Does it stand up? It’s very tied to it’s setting, which is a couple of years before it’s filming and will most likely age pretty badly.
Do I want to watch the next one? I don’t, but this is a very compelling show and I will be pulled back in very soon.
Did I enjoy it? I enjoyed revisiting this show.
Overall: 4 out of 5. Very entertaining show that wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve.