Monday, July 15, 2013

The Newsroom: "First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers"

The cast of "The Newsroom"

As the immortal Dennis Green once said, “They are who we thought they were.”  For better or for worse, The Newsroom in season two is exactly what we thought it was.  There are a few subtle changes, but the things that were great about this show last year are still pretty great and the many things that were bad are still pretty bad. 

So let’s start at the start.  HBO shows use their credit sequences as mood setters better than any other network on television.  The Newsroom credits last year opened with a montage of classic news anchors and newsrooms going about their daily work.  Clearly, Sorkin believes that Will McAvoy is the spiritual successor to Edward R. Murrow, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and others like them.  It screamed of pomposity.  Every time I watched those credits it was like Sorkin was trying to tell me “You are about to watch great men do great things.”  The new credits (and better, piano-based theme song) are designed to show off the everyday workmanship of news making and work better because they emphasize what’s best about the show: watching people who are good at their jobs do those jobs well.

The opening sequence (after an in media res framing device that I’ll come back to later) was really a fantastic piece of filmmaking.  A fact-checker dropped the ball on a pre-produced piece and the reporter states that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with rape, when he’s actually only being investigated (no charges were ever filed).  Unable to run the story as is, Mackenzie gets the reporter on the phone at a restaurant and has him recite the correct line over the phone while the board operator switches back and forth between the piece’s audio and the telephone.  It’s a thrilling piece of work and, as usual, when the show focuses on these behind the scenes things, it’s really great.  Also great is Jeff Daniels singing “Friday” while the pre-recorded bit is airing.  It’s such a small touch, but hilarious all the same.

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.  Will’s “American Taliban” crack has had repercussions for AWM.  They’re being locked out of Congressional hearings, in this case being kept out of the SOPA discussions which, unfortunately, is just Sorkin’s way of getting in yet another dig at the internet in the form of media piracy.  If he can ever figure out how to tell a story without getting up on his soapbox first, this could be a much more enjoyable show.  Alas, he can’t, and it’s not.

If you thought the romantic subplots in season one were the greatest thing ever, well, they’re still here.  If, like me, you thought they were terrible, well, they’re still here.  Jim is still freaked out over Maggie so when a spot on the Mitt Romney campaign opens up, he hightails it to New Hampshire.  Don and Maggie are living together until the end of the episode when Don is emailed a YouTube video of Maggie yelling at the Sex and the City bus from last season’s finale, because of course there’s a YouTube video of that moment and of course somebody finds it and of course they email it to Don.  The whole thing is ridiculous because, let’s not forget, Don was a colossal jerk in season one.  That’s why we were to supposed to root for the Jim and Maggie pairing.  To now frame this breakup as somehow Maggie’s fault just doesn’t work.  Oh, and the fantastic Sloane (who I would have nominated for an Emmy is being pulled into the vortex of stupid that is this storyline as she is completely awkward around Don.  The writers have just never given us any reason to care about these relationships at all and any plot involving them just falls flat.

The main plot for this premiere focuses on the military’s use of drones and, specifically, whether civilian casualties in a drone strike are acceptable.  It’s actually a pretty nuanced discussion, though it’s mostly used as a means to introduce new producer Jerry (Hamish Linklater) and his expert for the subject, Cyrus West (Benjamin Koldyke).  It’s Koldyke who hints to Jerry of a much larger story than the drones, which brings us back to the beginning.  The episode (and I’m assuming future episodes) is framed by a lawyer interviewing the "News Night" crew about a story gone colossally bad.  Many of the details are left fuzzy, but apparently at some point in the future, “News Night” is going to run a story about the US military using nerve gas in combat.  They’re going to run this story over the objections of the Department of Defense and the story is going to be wrong.  We open the episode with Will giving his account and close with Mackenzie giving hers.  It seems like it could be a really interesting storyline, it’s just unfortunate that it has to be the new guy who is apparently going to make the huge mistake, as Mackenzie tells the AWM lawyer that if it weren’t for Jim leaving to cover the Romney campaign, this never would have happened.  I’m eager to see more, but it looks like they’re going to dole this out just a bit at a time.

If you were hoping that Sorkin would take the criticism to heart in the offseason and come back with an entirely revamped show, well I’m sorry to say that’s not happening.  The Newsroom is what it always was.  The parts that were fantastic are still fantastic and the parts that were terrible are still terrible.  I guess your level of enjoyment is going to be based on how much you value the good stuff compared to the bad stuff.  Personally, I can’t get enough of this show.  I see its flaws and I know its problems, but I’ll never tire of the production material or little details like Will singing “Partyin’, partyin’, Yeah!  Partyin’ Partyin’, Ho!”  The Newsroom still is the Best Bad Show on Television.

A couple of spare thoughts:

Neal is on to Occupy Wall Street early.  When this story becomes interesting, I’ll let you know.  Right now it’s just a means for Sorkin to Monday-Morning Quarterback OWS and tell them what they should have done all along.  

Aaron Sorkin is still incredibly demeaning to women.  Not only does Charlie call Sloane “Money Skirt” and the new intern “Sorority Girl,” but Mackenzie gets to insult the Washington team in a meeting while they’re on speaker phone because she doesn’t realize they’re on speaker phone.

Apparently Sorkin is getting his research from Wikipedia now because there’s an entire section in the “Pulitzer Prize for Drama” article on the musicals that have won.

“Because we’ve never gone wrong getting our enemies wrong.”

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tyler - found your blog through

    Agree wholeheartedly with your review. I love Sorkin's programs, but just wish he could insert a strong woman character into The Newsroom.

    JoAnne Galloway and CJ Cregg are great examples that show he's capable of it, but man if those aren't the exceptions rather than the rules.

    Hopefully we'll see Maggie on her assignment abroad get a chance to show some spunk. Or maybe he will take the opportunity with Sloan he's got and increase her screen time.

    Other than that, the opening scene in the control room blew me away and like the one good golf shot during a round, will keep me coming back next time.