Exhilirating and compulsive, each episode of new Australian drama The Newsreader will leave you buzzing.You’re going to want more and more, until it’s 4am and you’re overcome with regret knowing you’ll pay for that undisciplined binge in a couple of hours when the real world beckons.
Alas, you’ll be spared such a fate because the six episodes of The Newsreader, premiering on the ABC and iview on Sunday night, will be doled out week-by-week. Perhaps the programmers knew the cocaine-like rush from watching the series and they’re saving us from ourselves.
Created by Michael Lucas and directed by Emma Freedman, The Newsreader is buoyed by a talented cast including Anna Torv, Sam Reid, William McInnes and Michelle Lim Davidson.
Australia doesn’t make a lot of prestige TV drama, and it’s always hard to define what it is but you know when you see it, and The Newsreader is it.
Set in 1986, the series revolves around a TV newsroom caught up in a very dramatic year with the Challenger explosion, Lindy Chamberlain’s release and exoneration, Haley’s Comet, the Russell Street bombing, the AIDs crisis and the Chernobyl disaster.
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From the beginning, the series is pumped with breaking news adrenaline, racing against the live deadline through the corridors of the TV newsroom. There’s a frenzied energy here and the filmmakers use it to fuel the series’ momentum, but they also know when to take the foot off the pedal.
Dale (Reid) is an ambitious but not ruthless rookie reporter and producer eager to make his mark and land a spot on the anchor desk. On the desk already are veteran newsman Geoff Walters (Robert Taylor) and Helen Norville (Torv).
Helen has a reputation for being difficult, and she’s told as much in a screaming match with the news director Lindsay (McInnes). Sledged for demanding the news assignments she wants, Helen is made to feel she’s “hard work” and, worse, won’t be wanted anywhere else because of it.
As much as Helen embodies a challenge that women in her time, before her time and still now experience in the workplace, her character is more nuanced than mere symbolism.
As skilfully portrayed by Torv, Helen suffers from anxiety and insecurities, but she’s also shown to be extremely good at her job, with excellent news instincts. There are hints of something in her past but Lucas’ writing just as easily suggests that her neuroses stem in part from her workplace.
She is a fascinating character study, and so vividly drawn.
That’s just one character in a strong ensemble. Others include Davidson’s Noelene, a junior newsroom assistant desperate for a shot at producing but who’s very aware that her Korean background and the fact she’s a woman means every move she makes has an added layer of jeopardy.
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Audiences will get a kick out of The Newsreader’s production and costumes design, from its rotary phones and VHS sticker labels to the boxy cars and the garish blouse patterns. The era-specific references to Margaret Thatcher, Ansett and Paul Hogan will also evoke nostalgia.
But it’s the writing and the performances that make The Newsreader distinct, and even though it’s set 35 years ago, it still feels urgent. Its battle lines are today’s battle lines. The ethics of chequebook journalism, the divide between “hard” and “soft” news, and the thorny dynamics of workplace relationships are still present.
With intrigue, machinations and jockeying for power and position, the newsroom environment is frequently a narratively rich starting point, but it’s only when you have compelling characters you have a great TV show.
The Newsroom is an exceptional TV show.
The Newsroom premieres on ABC and iview on Sunday, August 15 at 8.30pm
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