Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Newsroom 1.05: "Amen"

“I’m just a middle-aged man who never lived up to his potential. You don’t want to be on the wrong end of me if I ever do.”

Sorry, “real” critics. I’m still liking “The Newsroom” as much as you tell me it is inferior television. A commenter on Alan Sepinwall’s blog recently really hit the nail on the head. Because “The Newsroom” is a product of HBO nd Aaron Sorkin, the expectation was that it would be “the greatest” and “life changing.” It is neither of these things, and I think that disappoints some more established media outlets who had wanted to be able to hype this up. Instead, it’s committed the crime of merely being a very good show, an enjoyable way to spend one evening a week. And I’m okay with that. I love what Sorkin does enough that I don’t need this show to be “life changing.” I’ve got “The West Wing” and “The Wire” for that. I just enjoy basking in the Sorkin-ness for an hour a week. Well, I enjoy basking in the good aspects of Sorkin-ness. I enjoy the sharp dialogue and the workplace found family. I don’t enjoy the misogyny. But Sorkin’s been in the game long enough that when you watch his work, you should pretty much know what you’re going to get.

This episode focused on the Arab Spring, specifically the revolution in Egypt. I kind of which the narrative had continued long enough to cover the February 20th movement in Morocco, but I don’t think many people other than Moroccans and Morocco geeks like me even know what that is (it was Morocco’s fairly tame attempt at getting in on the Arab Spring which resulted in the King allowing for a reform of the country’s Constitution). Egypt was much more dramatic, which is probably why that’s the focus of this episode. Anyway, Elliot, ACN’s 10:00 anchor (Don’s boss) is holed up in a Cairo hotel room. Don is really frustrated that they can’t get any real footage of the protests for safety reasons. Elliot is just as frustrated, but he really has no choice other than keep broadcasting from his hotel room. Maggie interrupts this with news that teachers and other union members are protesting Scott Walker’s attempts to bust the public unions in Wisconsin. She thinks it would be dramatic to intercut footage of these protests with footage of the protests in Egypt. Oh and Maggie keeps accidentally hitting Jim with a glass office door, to the point where he needs stitches. That whole thing was just eyeroll inducing. The Wisconsin stuff does lead to the team investigating a Citizen United/Koch Brothers connection and Will giving a monologue on the air about how state government employees are underpaid. So as a state government employee (guess I ought to include a disclaimer that everything written here is my own opinion and not that of my employer), I appreciated the love from Sorkin.

After Elliot’s super boring broadcast, the News Night team has a big meeting and decide they need to find a “stringer.” Meaning an Egyptian reporter who can reasonably safely get footage of the protests and blend in with the crowd. Will and Mackenzie are called out of the meeting by Charlie because of yet another TMI story. This one concerns Mackenzie more than Will though. Guess that’s a change of pace. This particular story is about Mackenzie’s boyfriend, Wade. Apparently he’s seriously considering running for Congress. He’s even had conversations with the DCCC about it. Mackenzie had no clue he was that serious about it, but the TMI article insinuates she has been having him appear on News Night repeatedly in the past few weeks to raise his profile for the campaign. Let’s set aside the fact that a story would this would not at all be on the radar of a gossip mag (the Washington Post, maybe). Mackenzie is really upset that Wade was considering Congress without telling her. She has come to the realization that Wade was probably just using her for media exposure.

Meanwhile, Neal says he thinks he’s found their stringer. The prospective is an Egyptian youth who goes by the handle “Amen” on Twitter. Neal sees a lot of himself in Amen. This gives us a little opportunity to learn about Neal beyond his love for Bigfoot. It turns out that Neal was right in the middle of the 7/7 Tube bombings in London. Of course, Neal being Neal, when things all went crazy, he started filming. He definitely sees Amen as the same type of personality. To add even more urgency to the situation, Don breaks into the conversation to announce that Elliot tried to film outside the hotel, got beat up, and now he has to come home. After she’s learned about Amen, Mackenzie pulls Sloan into the most superficial meeting of all time. She tells Sloan that she will be appearing on a panel about how television covers economics, but she knows nothing about economics, and she needs Sloan to teach her. I just found this little subplot to be pretty pathetic. I can’t believe that someone who has been a serious journalist for as long as Mackenzie would not understand one word of Economics. Sloan thinks this is just as pathetic as I do, but she’s going to try and help anyway. When they do actually go out to discuss basic economics, the whole thing just turns into a Will cry fest.

On the morning show, the male half of the anchor duo actually brings up the stupid TMI story. The only thing less plausible than a gossip mag running a story on journalistic ethics is a daytime magazine show doing the same. The female anchor just looks uncomfortable and tries to get her partner to stop, but he just keeps going, earning a fat bonus from Leona, no doubt. Charlie places a phone call and finally gets it to stop. Later, Wade stops by the show, and Mackenzie actually end up breaking up with him. I was so very happy about that. Unfortunately, even if Mackenzie is done being stupid, Will isn’t. One of his producers tells him that Nina at TMI is known to take protection money to keep people out of her publication. When he’s warned about a new TMI story about Mackenzie that is about to be published, Will actually meets with Nina and is close to writing the check for the protection money. Of course, Will changes his mind when Nina has the audacity to say “we’re both journalists.” Never insult Will’s journalist pride if you want to get money out of him.

Before I get into the real meat of the episode, let’s talk briefly about one more silly, pretty darn stupid romantic subplot. Maggie is worried that Lisa is going to cramp her Valentine’s Day style, so she gives Jim marching orders to keep Lisa occupied and happy. Maggie’s got a romantic night at the Four Seasons with Don in her future, and she doesn’t want anyone or anything to ruin it. Chaos breaks out at the office (more on that later), and Lisa shows up looking for Jim. She is extremely pissed off that he stood her up on Valentine’s Day of all days. Never mind that a crisis is brewing in Egypt. The one redeeming bit of this plot is that Maggie starts giving this huge speech about how Valentine’s Day isn’t important (she’s trying to get Lisa off the warpath) just as Don walks in with a bouquet of flowers, wondering what he did wrong. Lisa eventually accepts Jim’s apology, and all seems to be well for now. Except, of course, it isn’t, because we know Sorkin’s plan is that Jim and Maggie eventually have to be together.

So, now as promised, the meat of the episode. Neal and the rest of the News Night team have a Skype chat with Amen. He agrees to help, although he hesitates a little when Mackenzie informs him that he will have to reveal his actual name for the broadcast to be credible. His name is Kahled, by the way. They do a successful broadcast, but then Kahled has a new, extremely dangerous idea. He says that what has happened in Egypt is more military coup than revolution. He wants to go to the Ministry of the Interior to get footage of the military burning documents. This is an insanely stupid idea and can’t possibly end well. I’ve been to the Ministry of the Interior in a MENA country, and those guys don’t play. Not surprisingly, soon after Kahled was going to try to get that footage, Neal loses contact with him. Just as that’s happening, Elliot makes his triumphant return. Don wants to put Elliot on the air all banged up to make a point, but Charlie puts the kibosh on that. Neal and Don are both really upset about Kahled going missing (Don mostly because of residual Elliot guilt), and they both end up physically hurting themselves over it. Neal breaks a few bones in his hand after punching a computer monitor, and Don injures his shoulder trying to bust down a door. Kahled is finally located. The military has him and is definitely open to a bribe to let him go. Will ends up paying for Kahled’s release out of his own wallet, earning him a kind of overly sappy standing ovation from the rest of the News Night team.

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