We’re three episodes in to the second season of The Newsroom, one of the most highly anticipated and exceptionally frustrating series of the last few years. It’s super-scribe’s Aaron Sorkin’s first foray into premium cable, and because of that cache, inspired instant and passionate opinions from viewers after its debut. While some – especially the critical community – loathe The Newsroom with a broiling hatred usually reserved for shows about how funny it would be if fathers actually had to take care of their children (hilarious!), the show also has its die-hards. For me, the lives and loves of the ACN crew make up a grain-of-salt situation of a series. I see its flaws clearly, but still get great joy out of watching it.
And what’s so bad about that? I’d take a polarizing, ambitious, occasionally misguided series made by some really smart people over all the safe and boring the networks can throw at us. But let’s not rest on those dubious laurels, Newsroom. I believe that growth is possible, so long as you don’t throw up your defenses and ignore all of your critics. (I’m not naming names, but come on Aaron.) I’ve composed this list for you so you can focus on giving us more of the good and less of the infuriating. Make good TV. Just ask yourself: what would Mackenzie McHale do?
Will McAvoy is Sorkin’s Mary Sue, which gives us an extra special glimpse into his psyche AND ensures that Will gets all the best lines. The Newsroom hugely benefits from being built around this ego trip. Will is annoyingly saintlike, grumpy, self-absorbed, and a terribly compelling lead character. Only Sorkin could make us root for a newsman who truly believes that he is the only person who can lead this country in his “mission to civilize.” The character sketch is so clear in the dichotomies designed to endear him to us: He’s a loner who begrudgingly accepts the hero/father figure role of his team. He’s a registered Republican who thinks that his own party has lost its focus and its humanity. He’s the jilted boyfriend who cannot allow himself to hate the woman who cheated on him. He’s too tragically noble to be the piece of shit he WANTS to be.
Get Jeff Daniels to flawlessly deliver some of Sorkin’s loftiest speeches, and it works. Though he doesn’t have a chance against Cranston and Hamm this year, that Emmy nomination of his was well-deserved. Also, he could get it. Carry on.
You guys, Olivia Munn is KILLING. IT. I had little to no opinion of her before this gig, other than being righteously indignant at the backlash declaring her a fake geek girl simply because of her blistering hotness. But she’s made to deliver Sorkin dialogue. Her delivery – all that alternating boredom and rage – reminds me more than a little of Toby Ziegler himself, the awesome Richard Schiff. Jeff Daniels is the MVP of this show, but Olivia is the breakout.
All that glorious dialogue.
Mac: You’re going on a date with a cheerleader?
Will: Not a high school cheerleader, a professional cheerleader.
Mac: That doesn’t make it better!
Will: Can I help you?
Mac: She’s a student!
Will: A graduate student.
Mac: In philosophy?
Will: Physical therapy.
Mac: There are better ways to get back at me.
Will: I’ll put up a suggestion box.
Mac: Can I warn you about something? You’re a rich and famous person, and for that reason only, she may want to sleep with you.
Will: That didn’t sound like something that should come with a warning, that sounded like something that should come with balloons.
Mac: … I loathe you right now.
Will: You have ink on your face.
Mac: I WORK WITH PENS!
Every once in a while during my recent West Wing marathon, I’d get overwhelmed. There’d be some amazing walk-and-talk, with two characters bantering back and forth in a perfectly matched cadence, as their colleagues flew in and out of the conversation like acrobats. And it was so beautiful. No “ums,” except those that were painstakingly placed, and no gasps for breath. Just a barrage of WORDS.
It’s theater, with a dash of His Girl Friday (which, not incidentally, was based on a play.) Aaron Sorkin is a playwright and writes like one, even in film and TV. The ACN newsroom may as well sit on a Broadway stage. I love me a grand, posturing speech as much as the next guy, but it’s the dialogue of The Newsroom that creates momentum and shows off the talent of this sick cast. Is it realistic? Probably not. Is it fun? So much fun, it should come with balloons.
Sam Waterston giving us bowtie realness as Charlie Skinner.
The slow burns
The Newsroom threw all its ships at the wall in Season 1, and now we’re finding out which ones are sticking.
First, there’s obviously endgame with Will and his producer/ex Mac. Now that we’re past the convoluted backstory – intended to prove to us that Will can and does get hurt – we’ve entered the sexual tension phase. Episode 1 of this season alone brought us at least two squishy Will/Mac moments: that late night phone call (“What are you doing up this late, Mackenzie from midtown?”) and Will, waiting in the hallway during Mac’s deposition. Now that Will’s anger towards her has all but evaporated, this season is going to be about the missed connections caused by that fateful voicemail. I want Will and Mac to happen, but not until every last meaningful gaze and tragic misunderstanding has played out. I survived seven seasons of Josh and Donna (Maybe I’ll make myself a t-shirt.), I can handle this.
While I’m in it for the long haul with Will and Mac, I’m ready for Don and Sloan to be a thing. One reason that the Jim and Maggie storyline wasn’t as effective as it could have been (more on that later) is that it made no sense to anyone why Don and Maggie were together in the first place. Poor Don was relegated to being the guy who adorable, lovelorn Jim had to overcome – the guy who just couldn’t understand how amaaaaaaahzing his boring, immature girlfriend was. The Don/Sloan dynamic saved Don from being a minor villain in the ACN universe. Their flirtation is grown-up, on the same level, and comes as much from their mutual respect as their mutual attraction to each other. More, please.
Sorkin’s dorky musical theater/classic literature/classic rock references.
Charlie: You’re making the interns learn musical theater history?
Will: You’re welcome, America.
They speak to me on a spiritual level.
What’s Not Working:
Portraying complicated, career-focused women who also have personal lives.
Remember “The Long Goodbye,” that masterful bottle episode of The West Wing where CJ Cregg went home for her high school reunion and dealt with the reality of her father’s Alzheimer’s, having to accept the limits of what she could do for him as his daughter imposed by her job as the Press Secretary of the United States? Dude. What HAPPENED?
No, the problematic portrayal of The Newsroom‘s women isn’t a new topic. Yes, it’s still an important one. We’re a tough audience these days, as we SHOULD be, but some of these piles of misogynistic shit the show steps in are so large, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine how they weren’t avoided. There’s a difference between humanizing character traits and embarrassingly bad calls. I don’t mind when Mac makes a mistake sending out a Blackberry email. (I’m an iPhoner, and when someone hands me a Blackberry and asks me to do something, I feel like I’ve just been dropped into the middle of The Hurt Locker and Anthony Mackie’s warning me that cutting the wrong wire blow us all to high heaven.) But I DO mind when Sloan Sabbith leaks what she knows to be sensitive information about her employer to some guy because he doesn’t buy her reason for postponing their date. A flub like that paints her as someone who’s so insecure that she’d sell her boss down the river just to make sure a boy still thinks she’s DTF. It’s gross. If all other polite suggestions are ignored, The Newsroom must at least fix this, or all the fancy wordplay in the world won’t save it.
The Maggie/Jim drama
Snooze. We’re supposed to moon over this ship, especially since Jim and Maggie have so tragically forced themselves apart this season, but no. They’ve both behaved so badly that it’s difficult to wish them well. Yes, even sweet, adorable Jim. (You don’t know how it pains me to NOT be on the side of a character played by John Gallagher Jr. And if you’re character’s name is only two letters off from Jim Halpert’s, I’d avoid giving him the same storyline. Just saying.) Maggie’s whole “poor me” thing is especially debunked by the way she threw her best friend under the bus to hold her place with Jim. That’s why the Maggie and Lisa showdown in “The Genoa Tip” was SO satisfying. (Lisa is badass, can we have more of her, please?”) I expect that whatever befalls Maggie in Africa will chasten her, and that’s bad enough; but I swear to god, if it’s some kind of sexual assault that “punishes” her for her selfishness, I will lead the march on HBO myself.
This item has nothing to do with Chris Messina, who should be in all the things, and everything to do with Reese, who’s too mustache-twisting and sniveling to be taken seriously. Can we make him into a person, please?
I’m always happy to see Marcia Gay Harden, but what was with that season opening time jump? It’s a lazy device, creating tension by teasing the outcomes instead of building it in the action.
Sorkin’s dusty pop culture references.
Oy. What was more painful, the unfathomable amount of dialogue spent on Sex and the City (forever relevant in some ways, but a series that ended almost 10 years ago) or that the reveal of Maggie and Jim’s infidelity occurred via a YOUTUBE link? Compare those clunky allusions to last episode’s clever Don Quixote theme and see why Sorkin should stick to writing what he knows.
Also, there may still be people writing SATC fanfic, but I guarantee that none of them live in New York City.
EDIT: It’s been pointed out by several of our Twitter and Facebook fans that Sorkin wrote these scripts when he was dating Charlotte York-Goldenblatt herself, Kristin Davis. I know that, but didn’t include it in the post because I don’t think shouting out your girlfriend is reason enough to try to convince us that there’s even one person left in NYC convinced that she’s living the Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle. That is all.
What kinda works sometimes and other times fails spectacularly:
Dramatizing real news
Sure, it’s inconsistent. The Newsroom‘s fictionalization of the IRL events we’ve just lived through is sometimes exploitative and often aggravating. But consider the alternative. The re-framing of real, recent news is a far better strategy than going straight fiction. (UNLESS The Newsroom was set about 12 years ago and ACN was reporting on the Bartlet and Santos administrations. Give me that show, please.) And for every eye roll Mac gives Neal’s tales of Occupy Wall Street, we get the cathartic joy of Will telling the audience members who booed a gay soldier at the Republican Presidential debate that they “soon be in hell, though not soon enough.” It’s wish fulfillment, for us and for Sorkin, just like the Bartlet White House was. This is what he wants the media to be: a group of hardworking people and their crusading leader, who will run themselves into the ground just for a chance to tell the truth. That’s what’s irresistible about this brilliant, stupid show.
Season 2 is only nine episodes long, so we’re almost halfway to learning why the whole crew is being deposed and what Genoa and Occupy have to do with it. (Note: For a non-fictionalized account of the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and other controversial military action under this administration, check out the documentary Dirty Wars, or the companion book of the same name. Good stuff. Scary stuff.) Will Neal finally break a big story? Who will Will piss off enough to get the entire show in even hotter water? When are Don and Sloan just going to do it already?
What do you think, readers? How is Season 2 working for you?