What has everybody across the entire globe shouted to the heavens about The Newsroom? That it’s a show that is at its best when it focusses on its characters reporting the news. And I mean, really reporting the news, not getting tips on stories by, to quote an old Spongebob Squarepants gag, “knowing this guy, who knew this guy, who knew this guy, who knew this guy, who knew this guy, who knew this guy’s cousin…” Such contrived coincidences are fine the first time, alright the second, start to seem suspect the third before it reaches the point where it just becomes ludicrous. Maybe that’s how the news is reported, I don’t know, but in TV it makes your characters seem like walking deus-ex-machinas when it comes to whether they’ll get the big breakthrough on a story or not.
That’s one of the reasons why I kind of liked “The Genoa Tip” as we actually got to see some genuine reporting going on. We saw characters push for stories, we saw them try and suss out leads on stories, we saw Jim Harper valiantly attempt, and repeatedly fail, to ingratiate himself on the Romney campaign bus. We saw Don and Maggie throw themselves into their work instead of endlessly pine for each other like I was terrified that they’d spend this week doing. Will’s crisis of faith in his ability to be a good anchor developed naturally. Jerry fought hard for the right to chase the Genoa story. These were all things that I liked as they were professional characters doing professional things and not letting their personal romantic plot tumours get in the way of that. That, shockingly, took up 50% of the episode! A Newsroom record!
Unfortunately, the other 50% of the episode was a painful mix of those old Newsroom standbys, sexism, preach-ifying and the world’s most boring love rhombus. These scenes were mostly less painful and irritating than last week’s, but they were still there and they still continue to be a major problem. Fortunately, the material surrounding it was far better this week which almost managed to offset those terrible sequences leading to a solid hour, if not a great one. But we’re getting there! Slowly but surely!
Let’s start with the good. Will’s continued crisis-of-faith continues to be well done. It’s nice to see that being taken off of the 9/11 coverage actually seems to have affected him, it gives legitimate consequences to stuff that everyone on this show does, feeds back into this thing called “legitimate stakes”, the kind that can trash people’s careers not their relationships. Yes, I do have a problem with how the backstory reveal (that Will actually anchored the 9/11 coverage for 16 straight hours despite only being ACN’s legal expert because everyone else was incapable of reaching the studio) was done (a standard flashback caused by Will reflecting would have felt far more natural and come off far less stupid) but at least it explains precisely why Will is so down about this development. I’m willing to let it slide far more than other far more nebulous character reveals – have we all forgotten Neal’s 7/7 connection from back last season? Good, just checking.
Jim, meanwhile, continues to valiantly cover the Romney campaign trail despite pretty much everyone not wanting him there. Romney’s campaign manager is still unhappy about having to accommodate a journalist who works for a show that slandered his boss for a straight hour and who is clearly still a threat to Romney’s chances by asking too many of what he perceives to be the wrong questions. Consequently, he’s constantly setting Jim up in the worst possible places and repeatedly shooting down his requests for a 30 minute sit down with Romney himself. To make matters worse, Jim’s attempts to connect with his fellow journalists keep backfiring as they have to take the time to remind him that they’re rivals competing for the best scoop. I have an issue with just how green the show is making Jim, and I have a horrifying feeling that Hallie Shea is going to bed Jim in short order because those are the kind of screwed up priorities that The Newsroom has demonstrated in the past, but I don’t have an issue with this plotline. Again, legitimate stakes and punishments and all that jazz but also this is the kind of behind-the-scenes of news reporting that we were expecting when this show first started and it’s good to see Newsroom finally follow-through on it in a half-decent manner.
Don and Maggie, when the show wasn’t forcibly dragging them back into the black hole of suck that is this show’s romance subplot, spent most of this hour throwing themselves into their work. Don pushed insanely hard to try and get Will to advocate, on air, the Troy Davis appeal, as the man’s execution date drew ever closer, to such an extent that it started to affect his usually flawless professionalism. This is the kind of plotline that I’m surprised the show hadn’t addressed sooner, what happens when you become too personally attached to a story you know that you can’t ethically report on, and though the material was often lacking, there were often many points when it became clear that Sorkin had just had his soapbox shined and he was dying to take it out for a spin, Thomas Sadoski sold the holy hell out of everything he was given. He was phenomenal here, portraying Don as a man on a mission who really didn’t care about what lines he was crossing (threatening to expose the swing voter’s identity is a really dick move) which did a great job of offsetting how this entire plotline kind of came out of nowhere.
Elsewhere, Maggie threw herself into her and Greg’s Africa story and her attempts to sell the story to Mackenzie even after she’s been repeatedly shot down for depressingly valid reasons; if the story doesn’t involve Americans, then the American public don’t care. Her reasoning for being so desperate to go on the Africa trip, she feels utterly useless at home in the office and wants to become an expert at something to impress Mackenzie, is an excellent piece of positive character development, sending her off for legitimate reasons instead of the Don/Jim nonsense (though I have a horrible feeling that that’s going to feed into her reasoning in some asinine way, like it did Don’s). It’s high time that Maggie stopped being a terrible character and that the show gave me legitimate reasons to like her other than Alison Pill’s excellent performance (and there is only so long that my love for Alison Pill can carry a character). “The Genoa Tip” started to accomplish that…
…only to pull a reverse-Mackenzie from last week because dear lord, everything to do with Jim, Maggie and Sloan that didn’t involve work! Whilst Will was off having existential crises, Jerry was hunting down leads for the main plot, and Don was acting as an expertly performed mouthpiece for Aaron Sorkin, Sloan and Maggie were trying to get Maggie’s freakout video taken off of YouTube before Lisa, Maggie’s best-friend, room-mate and Jim’s girlfriend – oh sweet Christing Maker, this plotline is so frakkin’ awful – could see it. So, they track down the woman who uploaded it, via 4square (this episode’s incorporation of social media was just embarrassing across-the-board), to a Laundromat and then proceed to have the single most unintentionally awful and painful scene I have witnessed on TV all year. For five, long, torturous minutes, Sloan, Maggie and The Worst Person In The World (she probably has a name, but she’s a blogger and the scene works so hard to paint her in a negative light that I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how the script credits her) held an interminable conversation that was sexist, biased against the Internet and all bloggers – Sorkin, it’s been about a decade; get over that negative review that Television Without Pity gave The West Wing – and tries to paint Sex And The City fans as terrible people. During that scene, I wanted to crawl out of my skin and die, it was that abysmal.
Less abysmal, but still bad, was the Maggie/Lisa confrontation that, whilst still excellently acted from both actresses, continues to showcase Newsroom’s complete and utter refusal to just drop terrible ideas and let them die. Look, the video is still there! The blogger went back on her word because she’s too star-struck and a terrible person and stuff. Both parties are letting stupid things get in the way of their friendship – I may just be a jaded individual who has never experienced true happiness, but I really doubt that what Maggie feels about Jim constitutes as love seeing as they both can barely stand each other in all of their appearances so far. Lisa ends things with Jim, which should kill this storyline but you just know, you just know, that it’ll continue to fester on the show, like a disgusting, puss-filled boil. Everything away from Maggie’s relationship stuff was great and a huge improvement for her character, her and Sloan’s conversation at the beginning of the episode seemed to set up a nice dynamic for the two that’s about to get smothered in the crib by packing Maggie off to Africa, but everything to do with her relationship stuff continues to be the worst thing on cable television by a good country mile (I assume, being British and all).
Finally, there’s Neal. Poor, poor, poor Dev Patel who continues to be wasted by this programme. This week, Neal is humiliated in front of everyone and subjected to an extreme ribbing session because the Occupy Wall Street protest he attended to report on turned out to barely be more than a giant picnic. Then he’s tricked into attending another rally and just so happens to run into one with police brutality (what are the chances!) whereupon he is arrested because… New York City cops ain’t too smart, I guess? Will then has to come and bail him out whereupon Will has a mini-breakdown in front of the processing police officer. Now, that scene is fine, everything else is terrible. Yes, Neal’s attempt at recording footage is industrious of him, but his role this hour was almost exclusively spent being put through a giant humiliation conga. He’s shat over so much that it feels like the show is trying to discredit him as a character. I’m not talking something like Meg from Family Guy, I pray that I never have to talk about another show “pulling a Family Guy” on one of its characters, but it’s almost that sort of treatment. He’s insulted and made fun of and shat upon by all of his colleagues, and then, when he does get the scoop of a lifetime, the universe metaphorically kicks him in the balls and Will, great God of The Newsroom-verse Will, has to bail him out. It’s kind of sad, really.
I should mention in closing that I did rather enjoy this episode to a degree, it’s probably one of the show’s better hours (hence the grade), but there were still a tonne of flaws in this episode. It’s a step in the right direction, overall, though. Limiting the truly awful stuff to one especially awful scene instead of spreading it out evenly over the hour (like the world’s least appetising sandwich) and moving the focus towards actual news reporting is a good start on The Newsroom’s road to being the show that we all want it to be. Now maybe if it can trim out the truly awful stuff altogether, I can start awarding this show grades that don’t equate to “it’s one half very good and one half the worst show on TV”!
- …OK. Still yet to be arrested by the authorities for this. Good sign! Hopefully the same will occur next week and I won’t be writing my review of that episode on the walls of my prison cell in my own blood.
- Mackenzie did pretty much nothing this week. She shouted a bit, worked out a bit, had her big moment stolen by Will suddenly snapping out of his crisis-of-faith, and tried hijacking conversations about professional topics to talk about Will. In short, it was like we were back in Season 1 except with more working out.
- On a related note, Atlantis Cable News now has a gym because… somebody really wanted to see Olivia Munn and Emily Mortimer in gym gear, I guess? …women and their gym routines and stuff? Yeah, OK, sure, whatever.
- I’m starting to take bets on whether Gary ends up dying in Africa or not and that being or not being the thing that caused Maggie to shave her hair to that of an overly fashionable drug addict from 1972. Place your bets, folks!
- I very much enjoyed that scene where every single news reporter shouted at the guy who tried to tell them about the outcome of a hostage crisis because they’re all reporters and it’s their job to know this stuff. More scenes like these please.
- “If it goes to voicemail after two rings that means that they don’t want to talk to you.” “OK, I have to retrace my entire life now.” Between this, the closet conversation and her continued pining for Don, Sorkin seems on a mission to destroy Sloan Sabbath as a character. UUUUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHH!!!
- Romney’s campaign manager is not amused by Jim’s insistence that banning him from the bus would lead to bad press. “As a Republican campaign, how would we ever have any experience with bad press? How would we ever build up our immune system?”
- “Why are we here? Where’s Radiohead? Radiohead aren’t performing here!” Poor, poor, poor, poor Dev Patel.
- “Prison. It changes a man. It really makes you think.” “How long were you there for?” “An hour and fifteen minutes. But time moves so very, very slowly.” That’s the kind of joke that How I Met Your Mother could pull off effortlessly and here it bombs completely. I will now take your theories as to why that may be.