Monday, August 12, 2013

The Newsroom Review: "News Night with Will McAvoy" - Baba-Booey Motherf***er

Will spends an entire episode behind the desk on "The Newsroom"

This is the show I’ve been waiting to see.  15 episodes into the series and they’ve finally put together a show that abandons all the worst parts of The Newsroom and focuses on what they do best: making the news.  Gone are the love triangles and speechifying.  Instead we get an hour told subtly in real time, from the open of Will’s show to its close.  We don’t spend the entire show watching the production, as several other stories play out, but watching everybody at work, doing their jobs well (with one notable exception) makes for fascinating television that Sorkin could write well in his sleep. 

The framing of the show splits the cast off into four different groups for the most part.  Will and Mackenzie are together producing “News Night,” Jim and Maggie are stuck at a computer waiting for the George Zimmerman 911 call to download, Charlie gets a visit from a Navy spy, and Don talks Sloan off the edge following the release of nude photos her ex-boyfriend took.  The last plot point was slightly cringe-inducing, especially given two of the cast members’ experience with similar situations, but Munn and Sadoski play things marvelously.  I much more enjoy the dynamic of Don and Sloan as friends as opposed to Sloan as the smitten kitten.  And the finale in which Sloan takes her vengeance (pic of her ex-boyfriend’s bloody face and all) was probably a bit contrived, but it kept well within Sloan’s character.

Watching Will and Mac make the news is a pretty impressive feat.  Their conversations during the commercial breaks are just sparkling and, while the progression of Will’s dad from ambulance phone call to death is perhaps a bit predictable, there’s no doubting the sincerity and emotion from both Will and Mac.  We also get more of Will’s frustration with being insulted on Twitter.  Will is a prideful, prideful man with more than a little Walter White in him, though I doubt he’s going to be blowing up any nursing homes anytime soon. 

Jerry is absent this week, but we still get a good bit of movement in the Genoa story.  Charlie is visited by an old Navy source who is still a spy and is trying to wring information out of Charlie about why Jerry’s poking into Genoa.  While never explicitly saying it, he certainly implies that Genoa was not a standard operation.  I’m becoming more and more convinced that the “News Night” crew actually gets this story right, but they have to disavow it (and fire Jerry) for reasons unrelated to the actual truth of the story.  There is just too much smoke for this to turn out to be nothing.  I was skeptical at first, about how this whole story would play out.  It felt like giving us the end at the beginning was going to drain all the drama, but I’m far more invested in this story right now than in any of the personal drama.

Jim and Maggie are stuck this week, so to speak, impatiently waiting for the Zimmerman recording to download.  This gives them plenty of opportunities to talk, but it feels a little wasted as the only real character development we get is the affirmation that Maggie is still screwed up (and has pulled at least one all-night bender).  Their scenes aren’t bad by any means, but it all feels a bit shallow and is mostly setup for Maggie botching the edit of the 911 call.  Mirroring what happened at NBC News, Maggie cuts the 911 operator’s question to Zimmerman regarding Trayvon Martin’s race, making it seem like he was saying “he looks black” without provocation when, in fact, he was responding to the 911 operator’s question.  This is the good side of Monday Morning Quarterbacking the news.  Sorkin clearly lays exactly how this sort of scenario could happen and then leaves it up to the viewer to decide if what Maggie did was accidental or intentional.  Maggie obviously can’t be fired, though, like the NBC producer was in real life, so the mistake is quickly discovered and corrected at episode’s end.  It might have been nice to see her get in serious trouble over the incident, but having two concurrent investigations might be too much.

This is easily the best that The Newsroom has been in its brief history.  It seamlessly blends drama with the news while mostly eschewing Sorkin’s worst tendencies as a writer.  I don’t know that I’m exactly hopeful this will continue, but the fact that The Newsroom is actually capable of this level of storytelling is heartening at the very least.

A couple of spare thoughts –

The Tyler Clementi stuff was probably the weakest aspect of the episode since it didn’t serve any purpose other than to allow Sorkin to speechify about, well, something.

This review’s title comes from the crew’s ferreting out of an attempt to get on the air by two callers purporting to be trapped in the rubble of an explosion in Syria.  It seemed ridiculous that someone in that scenario would call a news station and it eventually becomes clear why.  Mackenzie’s quick takedown of the callers combined with another producer’s witty retort (see above) give the episode an amusing closing number. 

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