Friday, July 13, 2012

The Newsroom 1.03: "112th Congress"

“The newsroom turned into a court room, Reese, because I made the decision that American voters need a fucking lawyer.”

I have seriously got to stop reading coverage of “The Newsroom.” The doom and gloom from the “real” critics who have been fortunate enough to receive screeners and have panned the show up one side and down the other make me dread every episode because they’ve assured me in their writing that it’s so horrible. I actually kind of loved this episode, though. I’m a sucker for that feeling only Sorkin can create. It’s a mix of warm found family with impeccable competence. I think I really have Sorkin and watching The West Wing as a tween/teen to thank for the direction in which my life (outside of blogging) has gone. I work in an office where people really do walk and talk! It never fails to amuse me. The one major criticism I have of this episode, however, is that it was kind of trying to fit ten pounds of plot in a five pound bag. It covered the entire final six months of the 2010 election cycle, I understand Sorkin wanting to fast forward to a competent, harmonious workplace, but I think there was a lot of material in this episode that could have been mined in much more detail throughout the course of the entire season. I would have ended the season with election night 2010, personally.

The framing device of the episode is a meeting Charlie is having with Atlantis World Media (AWM) top brass, primarily CEO Leona, played by Jane Fonda, and her hack son Reese. They’re very upset about what’s been going on at News Night, and showing us what happened during the final six months of election coverage explains why. It all starts in May, 2010, when will gives a big, dramatic apology on the air. He’s essentially apologizing for having been a hack, and he promises to report the actual important news going forward. We see the various News Night staffers as they receive an early draft of the apology from Will, most by e-mail or on their smart phones, although it appears that Jim has a fax machine by his bed, which is just plain odd. Anyway, the staff are all invigorated by what Will sent, and they all rush into the office to help him punch it up. Don’s pretty grumbly about it, though. He’s kind of jealous that Maggie gets to work on a meaningful show while he’s producing safe crap. Will and Mackenzie try to encourage him to join the real news revolution, but Don declines because he’s worried that he will lose his job if he doesn’t bring eyes to 10:00.

AWN dissatisfaction increases when News Night doesn’t play into the Times Square bomber hysteria like every other news outlet. The team decides to only devote three minutes to it in one of their shows, and to make matters worse (from the network exec perspective), they even mention that the person who reported the bomber was Muslim. The AWN powers that be are even more unhappy when Will has a big “epiphany” about the Tea Party. He compares it to some Vietnam-related political maneuvering that happened in the 1960’s, and he thinks it’s extremely dangerous. He wants this co-opting of his political party to stop, and he’s determined to make Tea Party craziness the top story on News Night every night until the Tea Party no longer has power. We then get a few scenes that are supposed to be spaced out over the next few months of Will humiliating Tea Party-types left and right. And he’s not just humiliating them, he’s showing how this supposedly grassroots movement is actually controlled by the Koch Brothers and the rank and file don’t even know it.

Will doesn’t just turn his ire on the Tea Party, however. He also goes after Senator DeMint (in the form of verbally sparring with the Senator’s PR flack) for a homophobic comment. When the AWM brass take Charlie to task for all this, it’s an opportunity to learn more about Will, although I’m not sure if I liked what we learned. Apparently, before he became a news anchor, Will was a law school prodigy and a Brooklyn prosecutor. He’s just so selfless, that Will. Other than his temper (which seems to have abated), I’d really like to learn something negative about Will just to make him a more well-rounded character. Anyway, the AWM folks are really upset about all of this, because it’s making political types upset. Reese mentions that he and his mother aren’t invited to all the parties that they used to be. Poor baby. Charlie gets through that part of the meeting (and much of the rest of the meeting for that matter) by, predictably, drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

There are also silly trying-to-be-romantic-comedy-but-kinda-failing plots woven throughout the episode. First, we see that Will has a sort of parade of girlfriends throughout these six months. There’s the Jets head cheerleader, a neurosurgeon, and many others. Mackenzie, of course, acts incredibly stupid and catty whenever one of these women makes an appearance. The tables turn on Election Night, however, when Mackenzie brings her own boyfriend of several months to the studio to see how the show is made (and make Will jealous, too, I imagine). She really parades him around- it’s kind of crass and reminds me of how Dana’s long term boyfriend Gordon was written on “Sports Night.” The obvious romantic obstacle.

There’s also the ongoing Jim/Maggie/Don triangle of doom. I call it a triangle of doom (a term I used to only reserve for the Jack/Kate/Sawyer/Juliet mess on “Lost”) because Jim is so obviously supposed to be the good guy and Don is so obviously supposed to be a gigantic douche. It’s really not subtle at all. The one good thing about this plot in this episode is that we get some awesome Jim/Neal moments and banter and Neal tries to encourage Jim to pursue a relationship with Maggie. It starts with Neal and Jim discussing Wikileaks at the usual bar. Neal likes it and Jim doesn’t. Maggie walks in, Jim smiles at her, and Maggie makes a bee line right for Don. Who is, as always, kind of gross. Later, during a rundown meeting, Maggie has a panic attack and ends up out on a balcony hyperventilating. Jim, using his awesome former embedded reporter skills, talks her through it using way more words than necessary. As you do when your dialogue is written by Aaron Sorkin. It’s both kind of sweet and patronizing at the same time. We see Neal and Jim back in the bar, and Neal tells Jim that Maggie and Don have broken up again. Apparently this is a semi-regular occurrence. This time it seems to be sticking, though. And of course Jim gets this news within days of telling Maggie that she should pursue something serious with Don. There’s a funny bit about Jim voting against his own interest in there somewhere.

Fast forward to Election Night 2010. The Tea Party is winning like crazy, and ACN has put together a panel of their TV personalities to provide analysis. Sloan and Will are the only panelists saying anything interesting. The 10:00 guy that Don works for is being especially tool-ish. Don tries to get him to say more and produce more substance, I guess because he’s jealous that his former coworkers get to make such an “important” show, but he just gets yelled at by his boss for his trouble. Sloan mentions to Will that the election results could mean trouble the next time Congress needs to vote to raise the debt ceiling. Will starts trying to brush it off assuming that you know, Americans would realize that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t authorize new spending, it just makes it so we can keep paying the bills we’ve already racked up, and then he realizes that yes, the American public is indeed stupid enough to equate raising the debt ceiling with new spending. He tries to question a newly-elected Tea Partier about it, and his and Sloan’s fears are confirmed.

After the show, Jim’s going around congratulating everybody. He’s about to try and talk with Maggie, but she’s back with Don again in a major way. All I could think about with that scene was “eww.” The Jim/Neal banter is what made it watchable. Most of the staff (minus Maggie and Mackenie) meet at the bar after the show, and we have a lovely found family moment where they enjoy a toast. Up on the top floor, however, Charlie’s still fighting for the show’s survival. After remaining silent for most of the episode, Leona finally gets her say. And it isn’t pretty. She has to do business with all of the soon-to-be Congressmen Will just spent a couple hours insulting, and she’s not happy about it. Charlie tries to lecture her about the sanctity of pure news, but Leona’s not having it. Will’s going to have to tone it own, or she’s going to fire him.

No comments:

Post a Comment