'Girls', 'Newsroom' spark debate

Actor Jeff Daniels star of "The Newsroom" speaks during the HBO presentation at the Cable...

Actor Jeff Daniels star of "The Newsroom" speaks during the HBO presentation at the Cable portion of the Television Critics Association Summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

I couldn't be less in the target audience for one. I couldn't be more in the target audience for the other.

Yet on a personal level, a similarity has emerged between two recent HBO offerings: Girls (the former) and The Newsroom (the latter).

I didn't foresee either show being as debate-worthy as they've become.

My general responses to Girls and The Newsroom haven't changed substantially. But people who are familiar with both shows really like to dissect them, and I must admit, I didn't see that coming.

I started to think about this at the Television Critics Association tour, as stars of other shows repeatedly were asked what they have been watching on TV lately. Many of the replies were along the lines of, "I'm loving Girls," or, "I think it's really brave what Lena Dunham is doing."

Dunham is the 26-year-old creator and star of Girls, which wrapped up its first season last June on HBO Canada and has been renewed for a second. The one time I saw Dunham in person, she was charming and hilarious. But I found her show to be ... well ... I guess the word I'm looking for is uncomfortable.

My reaction to Girls was paternal, which honestly never has happened to me before. I felt sorry for these young women. Their worlds are dreary. They have delusions of grandeur. The 20-something guys in their lives largely are idiots. And there were many scenes with humorous intent that I found cringe-worthy. I had to turn away sometimes.

As for The Newsroom, which currently is in the midst of its first season on HBO Canada and already has been renewed for a second, it had a prickly panel at the TCA tour. Star Jeff Daniels barely spoke during the session as reporters peppered creator Aaron Sorkin with queries, ranging from tone and intent to specific complaints that all the women in his show are dumb (every character is flawed, Sorkin countered).

Now, doctor shows drive doctors crazy, and lawyer shows drive lawyers crazy, so it isn't surprising that The Newsroom drives journalists crazy, be they of the written-word or TV variety. But some critics charge that other critics are picking on The Newsroom because it makes journalists look lazy and compromised. While there may be an element of truth there, I submit that's not the heart of it.

What bothers me about The Newsroom is its naive assertion that all you need to fight the system is pluck.

Consider that in the real world someone as bold and old-fashioned as cable-news president Charlie Skinner (played by Sam Waterston) just doesn't exist. Those types of guys took buyouts 15 years ago. And without Charlie, the noble quest of Will McAvoy (Daniels) and MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) wouldn't be possible.

But both Girls and The Newsroom prompt heated discussion. I am somewhat surprised. At first blush, I didn't see either show as particularly deep.

So credit where credit is due. Getting anyone's attention in the TV landscape of 2012 is a victory.

 


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