Friday, April 26, 2013

Onion News Empire

Article first published as Amazon Originals Onion News Empire Review on TheTVKing.

Onion News Empire is the best of Amazon's new "Pilot" offerings. From the minds of the infamous satirical Onion comes a show that is part The Newsroom parody, part a lambasting of modern CNN, part political roast, part journalism criticism, and part just plain fun. Plus, though I like The Onion's shorts and former Comedy Central series, Onion News Empire boasts a casts of mostly proven actors, which helps the credibility of the franchise's latest effort, and the boosts the talent level involved.

We are quickly introduced to quite a few characters in the "Pilot." Not just introduced, but told their backstories and motivations immediately and explicitly, a play on the jarring way some characters begin on a television show. Many of those shown are stereotypes or the personification of a cliche, and all the standard news types are present.

There's: Sam West (Christopher Masterson, Malcolm in the Middle), the young upstart who has just been promoted to the big leagues and will do anything to prove himself to his more experienced colleagues; Jillian (Aja Naomi King, Emily Owens M.D.), the helpful young assistant who wants to be more, but is taken advantage of by everyone else, including Sam, her stated love interest; Cameron Grey (Cheyenne Jackson, 30 Rock, Glee), the very popular, hot reporter who is trying to hide his illiteracy; David Bryan (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development, Bent), the washed-up, self-involved veteran worried more about playing the game and maintaining his status than doing his job well; Helena Zweibel (Laila Robins, Bored to Death, In Treatment), the hard-nosed executive; and Ed Musgrove (William Sadler, The Pacific, Damages), the definition of a newsman, and the most direct mocking of The Newsroom.

Each of these personalities are so well cultivated, there is not a weak link among them. What's more, with only twenty plus minutes of screen time total for the episode, I feel like I know exactly who each and every character in the series is. This is no small feat, and it's a testament to the great work each of the performers are doing.

The writing is incredibly tight. There are at least a dozen one-liners I could pull from this "Pilot" and tweet, including bits about a very specific Ohio rape law and my favorite, a story that the nation's poor people pooled their money to buy an oil company so that the government might finally offer them assistance. There is something amusing and clever in every minute of the show, and from beginning to end, I was inspired and entertained.

The plots themselves are smart, too. Sam is assigned a crappy beat, which he turns into a big story, only to find out that it makes the network's biggest sponsor look back. So then, he peddles back and spins it, saving the day by getting into the muck. Jillian is looking after a little girl whom is kidnapped by the network to create news on a slow day, though they screwed up by nabbing a chubby girl, whom no one cares about. If these are the kinds of plots we have to look forward to, I very much anticipate some great snarky, current commentaries.

As if that isn't enough, Onion News Empire reveals a huge, sinister scheme at the end of the episode that could have deep and lasting implications for... well, who knows? But it's cool.

Plus, the sets are great, the detail is perfect, and there are visual gags sprinkled throughout, including two matching portraits in David's office. This is the total package, and the culmination of everything The Onion does best, finally delivered in one heck of a fantastic production.

In all, I can find nothing to complain about in the Onion News Empire "Pilot," and dozens of things to praise. Check out Onion News Empire, now available on

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