Recommended: The Newsreader on The Roku Channel
What's The Newsreader About?
It’s Broadcast News on the barbie: In 1986, journalists working for Australian TV news have their lives upended while covering some of the decade’s most momentous stories.
Anna Torv is involved! The star of our old favorite Fringe (and of Netflix's Mindhunter) plays a TV newsreader with a reputation for being difficult — i.e., she stands up for herself in a world where 40-something women are still referred to as “girls.” Torv, a Melbournite, does more than bring the usual steely determination to the role of a female ladder climber in a man’s world. She also brings vulnerability, while mostly keeping it concealed from her colleagues.
The other cast members aren’t well known outside Australia. Sam Reid plays a reporter who hopes to become an anchor. His character becomes intertwined with Torv’s early on, but just when you think you know where it’s heading, The Newsreader has other ideas.
William McInnes, a burly actor better known as an author and “Australia’s favourite storyteller,” is terrific as the newsroom boss who aggressively wrangles the oversized egos that roam there.
The Newsreader is the third show for Australian TV that writer Michael Lucas has had a hand in creating. It’s also by far the most serious. The tone of the series is surprisingly understated, given the explosive news stories being covered and the volcanic personalities at the TV network.
That tone owes in part to Emma Freeman (Stateless, Clickbait), who directed all six episodes. Her use of close-ups not only takes us back to the days of ’80s filmmaking, but also quietly draws the intensity out of Torv and Reid as they negotiate their relationship amidst the turbulent times they’re covering for TV.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
Beyond retrodrama completists, who else should immerse themselves in 1980s Australia, besides Australians? Well, consider that The Newsreader bowled over critics in its home country and was rated one of 2021’s best international TV shows by Variety. And it’s done it by handling universal topics in a low-key, immersive storytelling style that fans of thoughtful drama should enjoy, regardless of their country of origin.
The show does a decent job of airlifting the uninitiated into a time when everyone turned to TV news for the latest on Australian/world events. That said, viewers might be clicking through Wikipedia pages to learn more about, say, the 1986 bombing of the Russell Street police headquarters in Melbourne or the wrongful conviction of a New Zealand woman named Lindy Chamberlain. Turn on the subtitles to navigate the regional patois and slang. (“Autocue” is Aussie for teleprompter, for instance, and when correspondents speak reverently about 60 Minutes, it’s their version of 60 Minutes airing on their ABC that they have in mind.)
Like the upcoming HBO series about Julia Child, there is far more racial and gender diversity in The Newsreader than actually existed in the TV business back then. But whether to be historically accurate or not is a devilish dilemma that is usually best settled on the side of diversity.
Pairs well with
Julia (begins March 28 on HBO and HBO Max), another understated series about making television, will be your next historical binge after The Newsreader.
TOPICS: The Newsreader, The Roku Channel, Anna Torv, Emma Freeman, Michael Lucas, Sam Reid, William McInnes