Monday, July 29, 2013

The Newsroom Review: "Willie Pete" - Jim is Spartacus

Jeff Daniels preaches to the choir in "The Newsroom"

Another week and yet more evidence that The Newsroom is slowly finding its way around to becoming a halfway decent show.  Unfortunately, the characters are all working in different circles and on different projects right now so the latest episode felt a bit scatter-brained.  It probably would have been better if it was twenty minutes shorter and dropped the C, D, and E plots.  Still, it’s an improvement over last year if not an improvement overall.

Back again to drive the A-plot is gossip columnist Nina Howard with the scoop that Will didn’t actually have the flu during the 9/11 broadcast.  While the conclusion to this storyline is pretty anticlimactic (Nina agrees to bury the story after Will tells her the truth), we do get the always pleasurable “Will acting like a maniac” scenes as he runs around ACN, threatening to do terrible, terrible things to the person who leaked the story.  It’s a look we’ve seen on Will before, but Jeff Daniels plays frantic and angry so well that it’s fun to just sit back and watch, especially when Will isn’t even the focus of the scene, we just see him running around the bullpen in the background, yelling at people.  Ultimately, Reese Lansing is discovered as the leak, which serves only to allow Sorkin to make another “old people don’t get technology” joke as Charlie’s recording of Reese’s confession (regarding the phone-tapping) has been erased.  This seems like it should matter, but Reese had already made it clear that he has no intention of letting Charlie and Will hold anything over him.  I’ve been somewhat surprised by Chris Messina’s presence this season, given his regular role on The Mindy Project, but it is nice to have a consistent, competent adversary for Will, even if he is stereotypically evil.

There are a couple of stories jockeying for B-plot position, but the far more interesting of the two is Mackenzie and Jerry trying to track down leads in the Genoa investigation.  Again, this show is always at its best when it is showing journalists gathering and producing the news and, in this case, we get Jerry and Mackenzie interviewing “Eric Sweeney,” who confirms not only that the military used sarin gas in the operation, but that they also used white phosphorous rounds during the extraction.  This leads the team to try to track down any civilians who might have seen the incursion.  For some reason, this involves Twitter, an Urdu translator, and a fax machine (a Carnac the Magnificent setup if I’ve ever heard one).  And if you think waiting for translated Tweets to come through a fax machine should look boring, well you’re right, but Sorkin and phenomenal director Lesli Linka Glatter make it work.  The result is a series of Tweets outlining the real time use of white phosphorous (the eponymous “Willie Pete”).  We know this story is going to blow up in their faces sometime soon (and I’m glad we do, otherwise this plot would be incredibly confusing), but I’m stumped as to how that’s going to happen.  Jerry and Mackenzie seem to be covering all their bases and, if this story does turn out to be wrong, that means somebody has gone to a lot of trouble setting up a very elaborate ruse.

In other, less important news, Jim is still on the campaign trail, trying to Spartacus the other campaign reporters into writing “the real news.”  He succeeds only in getting himself and a couple followers tossed off the bus in rural New Hampshire.  Well done, Jim.  I really don’t get the point of this story.  It’s not like anybody really believes that the news coming from the campaign trail is that important.  It feels like Sorkin just preaching to the choir again.

And speaking of preaching to the choir, or perhaps just spiking the football, Will’s weekly rant is on the booing of a gay American serviceman during a Republican debate.  Again, it’s not like he’s wrong, but the whole bit feels like Sorkin just beating a dead horse.  I get that he wants to make a point of how terrible Republicans can be when they’re trying to appeal to the religious conservative base, but I don’t think this is as strong of an argument as he thinks it is.

So this week’s episode wasn’t as good as the previous two, and it exhibited a fair amount of narrative confusion.  But I still feel as though The Newsroom is moving away from the more troublesome aspects of the show while accenting what it does well.  If we can just get everybody back together and eliminate some of the extraneous plot threads, I think we’ll really have something here.

A couple of stray thoughts:

The OWS story is still a bore as Sorkin feels content to spend ten minutes telling us what they’re doing wrong rather than actually showing us what’s going wrong.  I feel like there’s a common storytelling cliché in there, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Lots of good physical comedy this week as Don falls off his broken chair…twice and Maggie completely loses it after discovering the potential side effects of her malaria medication.  The latter bit would have been dreadful were it not for Allison Pill’s exceptional comedic chops.  In fact, Pill’s performance was the only thing keeping the scene from winning our award for Most Ridiculous Female Stereotype of the Week, which instead goes to…

Mackenzie’s $1400 shoes.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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