Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Newsroom 1.02: "News Night 2.0"

“We don’t do good television. We do the news!”

“News Night 2.0” didn’t nearly have the emotional punch of the series pilot, but I did get something I wished for in my last blog post about “The Newsroom.” The “News Night” crew screwed up big time. And how. I think that I the News Night crew was smarter than every other news crew and always reported each story perfectly, the show would be boring. I didn’t love the reason they screwed up on this one (flighty woman can’t be trusted to do the pre-interview without her past sex life being a problem), but I appreciated that they screwed up nonetheless. I just ask that when they screw up again, can it be Don’s fault? The news issue Sorkin attempted to tackle with this episode was Arizona’s SB 1070, aka the “show me your papers” immigration law that the Supreme Court only very partially upheld (for now…I could go all con law nerd on you and explain how they left the door open to completely kill the law later, but I don’t want to bore you) last week. Other critics have criticized Sorkin’s use of Tea Party caricatures in this plot, but that didn’t really bother me because the team acknowledged there was a much better argument that could have been presented, and the reason that argument wasn’t presented was because of a screw-up, not because they wanted to show their bias.

The episode opens with Will in what looks like his home office (although it’s quite a fancy home, especially for New York City). He’s going through files on all his staffers, which at first seems a little nefarious, but it turns out that he’s just trying to learn all their names. There’s construction going on in the building, and in a typical bit of Sorkin slapstick humor, a chunk of ceiling falls right smack in the middle of Will’s desk. This leads him to wander over to the News Night office, presumably earlier than he normally would. Mackenzie is prepping for the day’s rundown meeting, and Will interrupts her in her office for the oh so important purpose of making sure she tells nobody why they broke up. Way to have your priorities straight, Will. Then Will and Mackenzie disagree over whether the broadcast should lead with more news on the BP oil spill. Will thinks it should because it will get ratings, and Mackenzie thinks it shouldn’t because there are other stories that the public doesn’t know so much about yet. At the actual rundown meeting, Mackenzie is confused by the new office e-mail system and accidentally sends a stupid e-mail to the whole staff. Then she proceeds to knock down the white board. I found this whole sequence silly, and I was left wondering what happened to Mackenzie being the best executive producer out there. The main interviewee of this newscast, by the way, is supposed to be Arizona governor Jan Brewer.

Meanwhile, Charlie is taking a meeting with CAN’s ratings guru, who is telling Charlie how ratings for News Night have gone up since the Northwestern incident and the BP spill reporting. Charlie really doesn’t want the ratings guy to continue to have his regular meetings with Will because Will is a ratings whore (although Charlie objects to that term). Charlie is worried that if Will is too concerned about the ratings, he’s just going to keep riding the BP story and not try to make the broadcast better. Later, we see that Will keeps meeting with the ratings guy anyway. They have a big argument over whether or not to include footage of Sarah Palin talking stupidly about the BP spill in the broadcast. The ratings guy thinks it would energize Republican viewers if Will aired the footage and didn’t mock Palin for it, and Will thinks that would be blatant pandering (which it would be).

Backtracking back to the rundown meeting again, Neal and Will both want to bring a guest on the show who is an undocumented immigrant who had his Washington State drivers’ license taken away. Mackenzie vetoes this, however. I think it violates her “is this the best form of the argument” rule. After the meeting, Maggie is supposed to do the pre-interview with one of Jan Brewer’s staffers. Jim is supposed to supervise the pre-interview, and Maggie kind of resents that, even though she’s only been an Associate Producer for all of a week. They do a little rehearsal, and after a rather heated argument about how we as a country treat undocumented workers, Jim says she’s ready. It turns out, though, that Maggie wasn’t really ready. Jim stops by to check on her, and a dejected Maggie tells him that they lost Brewer and the whole Arizona Governor’s Office because she has a relationship with Brewer’s press representative in college. Now the ex has decided to stick it to Maggie by keeping News Night from interviewing anyone in the Governor’s Office. Maggie tells Jim about an incident where she had to hide under the bed while her ex had sex with his ex. It would be kind of hilarious if it wasn’t so patronizing. It doesn’t help that Jim claims he doesn’t know anyone else who would have hidden under the bed in that situation.

Next we head over to another ACN studio where a reporter named Sloan, played by Olivia Munn, is taping a business report. What follows is a horribly offensive conversation where Mackenzie recruits Sloan to do a five minute economics report for each broadcast of News Night because of her legs (and the fact that she has a PhD in economics, of course). Mackenzie thinks people will actually listen to her because of her looks. I can’t imagine any highly educated woman taking kindly to the way Mackenzie phrased her goals, but for some reason, Sloan just eats it up. Sloan does, however, imply that she thinks Will is an ass and must have cheated on Mackenzie to cause their breakup. For some reason, Mackenzie gets irrationally flustered at the thought that the staff might think Saint Will is responsible for the break-up. Will somebody please tell me why Sorkin is completely incapable of writing women characters? I love everything else about his writing, but this is freaking ridiculous!

The junior producers, including Maggie, whom I have now dubbed the Ducklings, tell Mackenzie about the new guests they have lined up to replace Jan Brewer. They’re all pretty caricature-ish, including a militia member and Miss Oklahoma. Regarding the latter, isn’t Sorkin over Kristen Chenoweth yet? It’s been a number of years, and I think he’s dating someone else now. Yet it still appears that he is take pot shots at her in his writing. It’s kind of sad, really. Mackenzie is horrified, but she doesn’t think Will will fire them. Because, you know, he’s not the monster everyone thinks he is. She sends an e-mail to Will telling him that everyone thinks he cheated on her, but she actually cheated on him, and of course, the e-mail accidentally goes to the entire staff. Remind me why “I can’t use e-mail” is even a plot in a show that takes place in 2010? Anyway, Will is absolutely furious about the e-mail, and he and Mackenzie get into a shouting match that moves into Will’s office. Mackenzie rattles off some drivel about how she didn’t realize she was in love with Will until she cheated on him with her ex, and Will is somewhat placated.

As Will sits at the anchor desk prepping for the show, Maggie approaches him and admits that losing Jan Brewer was her fault. She offers to resign, but Will says he hopes she doesn’t. I think Maggie had been getting frustrated by her superiors taking the blame for her mistake (which is something I’ve experienced in my first weeks at a new job, although I’m generally grateful for it myself). When Maggie leaves, Will asks another staffer for the Palin clip, probably hoping this can help the show recover from the mess that is about to happen on the pro-SB 1070 side of the show. Clearly this won’t end well. The anti-SB 1070 part of the show, which features someone from the Council of La Raza, goes very well, but the next segment, predictably, blows. It is horrible in a kind of funny way, though. Will has to basically state every pro-SB 1070 argument for his guests. They’re more interested in gun rights and beauty pageant rules. Then he breaks out the Palin clip, and Mackenzie gets really pissed off.

After the disaster of a show, Will goes to Charlie’s office to apologize. Charlie tells Will to ditch the ratings guy, but Will seems reluctant. Then Will gets in a big fight with Mackenzie, with Mackenzie being really pissed off that he added the Palin clip (and defended it poorly) without her. Mackenzie wants to know if Will is in or out with how she is trying to reboot the show. Will wants the rest of the staff to see how Mackenzie treats him, but they’ve all already gone to the bar to drown their sorrows. At the bar, Jim starts to approach Maggie to comfort her, but Don slides in before he has a chance. Predictably, Don is an ass, and he and Maggie decide to break up. It was a very short-lived hallelujah. After Don leaves, Jim and Maggie get in a fight about Jim covering for Maggie regarding Brewer-gate, and Maggie says she wants to go make up with Don. Because all women are flighty and stupid and only like assholes. At the other side of the bar, Mackenzie receives a phone call from Will saying he’s “in.” And thus ends the second installment of News Night Middle School.

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