I watched the Political Animals premiere last night and fell for it. Partly because I'll follow Ms. Weaver anywhere and partly because it's a good, promising show. And I think there is a good object lesson with The Newsroom. PA isn't out to reinvent the wheel, or "civilize" or condescendingly save us from ourselves. It's out to be a TV show about politics and power, the draw of it, and it's limits. It's about how we hurt the the people we love the most the worst, and how we're drawn to what we know is no good for us.
And by not setting itself up to be better than the chaff that the unwashed masses watch it's one of the better shows on TV right now. It's human, it's got a heart without being sentimental, and that's important. The Newsroom has sentiment, but it's bitter sentiment that won't forgive characters, or really people who Sorkin doesn't like, for being human and therefore flawed.
That was the main pleasure of PA is seeing how messed up, lonely, and self-destructive its characters were, but the empathy the narrative treats them with. In fact the only real weak spot, the hateful Blogger, was the only thing that felt like something that would belong on The Newsroom. And even so I'm willing to take a chance that she'll be shown to have layers too.
The Newsroom wants to show us how we should have done things. PA is willing to be adult enough to admit that we make a mess of things, and smart enough to know that sometimes our messes lead us to be the people we wouldn't have been otherwise. The Newsroom is ultimately a very naive show that honestly thinks that with the "right" people in charge things would be better. PA shows that the right people are in charge now, and that's partly why we're constantly in trouble.
And yet there is a strain of hope running through it. The real kind, not of montages set to Coldplay songs, or improbably articulate off the cuff lectures, but of wary smiles, and of gritting your teeth to work with people you don't like. That the system may be hopelessly hobbles, but that turning your back on it, or spinning out a "if only" fantasy, isn't the right response to it. That it is only by living the mess, every single day, do we get those moments of a briefly glimpsed better world. And it is those glimpses that keep us going.