‘Press’ is entertaining, but feels about 20 years too late

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 - 10:10am

Charlotte Riley in 'Press'

Charlotte Riley in 'Press' Buy this photo
Netflix

In PBS’s “Press,” a cheerful yet outdated melodrama set in contemporary London, two British newspapers — The Post and The Herald — find themselves engaged in a war where the journalists that cheat and lie the most appear to be the victors. While the offices may be close in proximity, their journalistic practices and financial conditions differ significantly. 

The lowlife Post is led by uber-confident editor-in-chief, Duncan Allen (Ben Chaplin, “Kiss Me First”), who was once an impressive and ethical journalist. His profession and unnecessarily high opinion of himself, though, have eroded these attributes in favor of seeking sensationalist stories.

Holly Evans (Charlotte Riley, “Dark Heart”) brings us inside the left-leaning, award winning, serious reporting Herald that prides itself on exposing corruption and hypocrisy. She is a humorless investigative journalist who marches on with the hunch that a new injustice is always around the corner. She represents what Duncan used to be — she abides by the highest journalistic practices, but lacks the cut-throat attitude of Duncan. 

Duncan, however, is not the one calling the shots for The Post. George Emmerson (David Suchet, “His Dark Materials”) is the CEO of World Wide News, the company that owns The Post. Emmerson is not motivated by financial gain, but is instead determined to wield his influence around the world.

The central focus of this six part mini-series is the differing practices of journalistic integrity of these respective papers. The result is continuous action that is impossible not to become entrenched in, even when the practice is as simple as reminding us that it’s wrong to steal. Holly represents the heroine: She fearlessly fights her way through the cruel and dark tabloid world, full of reporters who blackmail parents of kids who have committed suicide with threats of humiliating publicity if the grieving parents fail to meet interview demands. 

While it’s an entertaining show, “Press” comes up short in being mostly about print media, as if the Internet is not central to contemporary London journalism. The setting might be off by about two decades, but it doesn’t hinder the pacing or quality of the show. On the flip side, “Press” brings in real-world issues such as declining sales, press regulation, difference between public interest and interest to the public and whether or not something that is in the public domain is fair game.

Beyond its lame attempt at being relevant, “Press” also fails to humanize its characters, as most of them lack personal lives. Even Duncan, whose screensaver is a picture of his wife and kid, prefers to spend every second creating stories that will ruin other people’s lives and, consequently, his own in the process. Maybe because “Press” is a mini-series with a tight narrative, there is no time to explore the lives of the characters outside of work.  The only reason it’s problematic is because the characters have been framed to make it seem like journalism is the only thing in their lives and they all have absolutely no interest in anything else.