Aaron Sorkin hasn't changed -- TV has changed. Watching the first few episodes of "The Newsroom," which premieres on HBO this Sunday, June 24th at 10pm, it's striking how consistent the series is with what Sorkin's done before on "Sports Night," "The West Wing" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and how old-school and straightforward that looks compared to a current crop of shows that includes "Mad Men," "Girls," "Community," "Louie" and "Breaking Bad."
In an age of moral ambiguity, Sorkin's characters are all about "fighting the good fight," a phrase that the hero of "The Newsroom," anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), actually uses to describe what he's up to in the fourth episode. Installments tackle Big Themes about How We Live Today (or How We Lived Yesterday, since the series is set in the near past), and the characters talk about them, caps intact, about what's right and what's wrong and what needs to change.
This isn't such a bad thing, though "The Newsroom" sometimes turns the sanctimony up to 11, at which point it becomes deafening. Sorkin's shows have always been a warm, fuzzy fantasy about work as salvation and sanctuary, about places staffed with clever, competent, fast-talking people, people who actually struggle over ethics, people with little to no personal lives to speak up outside the all-consuming office. Yes, they suggested, the behind-the-scenes of "Saturday Night Live" and the White House and "SportsCenter" are as smart, lively, close-knit and nerdy as you'd hope.
"The Newsroom" falls somewhere between "Sports Night" and "The West Wing," using a setting like (and characters right out of) the former while getting to take on the heftier themes of the latter. Will begins the show by having a "Network"-lite breakdown during a forum at a college, in which he's snapped out of his professional lethargy (his inoffensive, middle-of-the-road approach has led one reporter to call him the Jay Leno of news) by a girl's question about why he thinks America is the greatest country in the world. In short -- he doesn't, but he thinks it was once and can be again. The controversy and energy he shows leads his boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) to engineer a shake-up of Will's nightly show "News Night," bringing in the idealistic Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), Will's ex, as the new executive producer.
Mackenzie's very much Dana Whitaker to Will's Casey McCall, and she brings with her young producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.), who plays Jeremy Goodwin to Alison Pill's Natalie Hurley equivalent, the two forming a tenuous connection complicated by the fact that the Pill's character has a dislikable boyfriend named Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) who also works in the news division.
There's also Dev Patel as Neal Sampat, the blogger and internet researcher, Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith, the show's financial analyst, and some others hurrying around in the background -- and Jane Fonda shows up for an episode as Leona Lansing, the owner of the network who's not pleased with what's happening to "News Night."