Out of the box
It’s a good job that the cyber waves became so efficient over such a short span of time or I would never have been introduced to my favourite television network.
It is with a slight bit of shame that I confess I don’t count any of the local stations on my list of favourites. Highly unpatriotic of me, but there you go. I refuse to taint my ‘home entertainment’ time with politically correct choices.
So, my favourite network is HBO, hands down. I’m not saying that every series produced by this network is a masterpiece, but it sure is as entertaining as they get. The first HBO drama I ever followed was in 2008, with the supernatural series True Blood.
From the opening credits – a nightmarish, edgy kaleidoscope of images set to Jace Everett’s Bad Things – I was hooked. The series is now in its fifth season. Of course, as is the wont of these long-drawn-out dramas, that initial edge has been diluted by one too many a plot convolution. However, it remains miles better than some of the other junk that is available.
HBO has the uncanny knack of turning whatever it touches into gold. Think Boardwalk Empire (not as successful as AMC’s Mad Men but still pretty iconic) and the surprise of the television-viewing decade – Game of Thrones – which wound up its second season recently. Who would ever have thought that such a complicated fantasy storyline, with so much gore and sex, would have become a mainstream hit? Certainly no half-baked efforts from HBO.
The furore over Game of Thrones was particularly mystifying because the actual books have been in circulation for quite a while. Yet, while enjoying an incredible niche following with the fantasy crowd, they were not exactly fodder for your average bookworm. All it took was the glamour (and the lack of squeamishness) of HBO, and the rest made ratings history.
More network love
As I write this, I’m about to embark on another adventure courtesy of HBO.
Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom is now more than halfway through its first season and judging by the amount of attention it is getting online, it was time to start the streaming.
Sorkin, of course, is the genius behind The West Wing, the late 1990s political drama that is quite possibly the best of the genre ever.
Other notches on his belt include The Social Network and A Few Good Men (the play on which the film is based). TV and film buffs tend to sit up and take notice whenever Sorkin comes up with something new, even if it’s just for the pleasure of picking holes in it while explaining exactly why it’s rubbish – and while still following it and helping hype it up, of course.
This is exactly what is happening with The Newsroom. Fifty per cent of reviews on the internet slam it, while the rest praise it to high heavens, which is a common enough reaction to Sorkin.
There was only one thing for it; I had to hunt it down for myself. The HBO series (and, in case you missed my last column, the mere fact that it’s HBO is enough to intrigue me) is still in its infancy – the seventh episode of Season 1 should be running just around now. It has already been renewed for a second season.
After watching the first three episodes – at one go, I was that psyched and the characters are that addictive – I place myself firmly in the pro camp. I love the series and can’t get enough of it. Maybe it’s because it is set in a newsroom; plot and characters will obviously strike a special chord with those of us who work in the media. It shows what the profession can be like, it glamorises it to high heaven (or hell) and gets you all excited and happy to ‘be part of it’.
But a media background isn’t necessary to get you hooked. The episodes are very heavy on current events – and by current I mean those that happened two years ago, as the series is based in 2010 and it actually reflects the international breaking news of the period, which is a feat within itself. These are then ‘soaped up’ and dramatised to get the non-journos just as excited.
The pilot episode is particularly brilliant; the action kicks off with the 2010 BP oil spill that left 11 dead and an environmental disaster as oil flowed unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico for about three months. Hardly the stuff that pulls in the high ratings in TV drama, you’d think. You’d be wrong.
Sorkin cracks it and so far, episode after episode, he shows no signs of messing up. Not that the show hasn’t attracted more than its due share of criticism.
The most unfair comments are those that draw comparisons between The Newsroom and The West Wing. Yes, the former can be described as a soapier, lighter, less ‘intellectual’ version of the latter.
But why should it be really? As a stand-alone, it is a 100 times more valid than any other drama offering currently airing, so there really is no point in drawing unfavourable comparisons to Sorkin’s previous work.