Monday, August 19, 2013

The Newsroom Review: "One Step too Many" - The Beginning of the End

Jerry does a bad, bad thing on "The Newsroom"

Let’s get one thing out of the way to start.  This week’s episode more than any before showed exactly why it was a terrible idea to have the new guy Jerry be responsible for the story that will bring down (?) “News Night.”  And the biggest problem isn’t that Jerry is the culprit, it’s that there was a perfectly good member of the main cast in a situation to do the same.  Maggie is clearly messed up from Africa, she deceptively edited a recording last week (whether intentionally or inadvertently was left up in the air), and they could have easily given her a reason to be upset with the military (who abandoned her at the school).  She was also, as was mentioned in the episode, involved in the Genoa investigation pretty much from the beginning.  There was absolutely no reason to bring in an outside interloper to muck up this investigation (which I’m still not entirely sure is bogus, despite Charlie’s pronouncement in the closing deposition) when there was a perfectly valid reason for an existing character to do it except that Sorkin loves his characters too much to let them make mistakes.  Todd VanDerWerff, riffing off a statement made by Andy Greenwald, points out that Sorkin is a writer who actually doesn’t like conflict among his characters, which is why he so often brings in outside characters (Jerry, Reese, Leona) to introduce the conflict he can’t let his main characters create.

I’m zeroing in on this one, seemingly small issue because it is a non-minor flaw in what has otherwise been a pretty terrific storyline, culminating this week with Jerry’s unforgivable act of manipulating the recording of his interview with General Stomtonovich.  As played, it’s not a bad piece of writing, but it lacks the gravitas that would come from a trusted character making the same decisions.  I don’t know if we’re supposed to sympathize with Jerry’s argument that the media is ignoring the Obama administration’s treatment of human rights (drone strikes, etc.) in situations when they would have excoriated the Bush administration, but it just rings hollow when he’s faking recordings, even though his case seems strong.  Put Maggie in the same situation and make it a story about the soldiers who left her at that school and you have a much more visceral story, one that gives its characters complex motivations rather than just rendering them dupes of the interloper.

The frustrating part is that, one massive misstep aside, the Genoa portions of “One Step too Many” made for a pretty fantastic hour of television.  Mac and Charlie track down an absent-minded general who confirms that Genoa happened (including the “it happened” line from two weeks ago).  Unfortunately, he won’t say so on the record, leading to Jerry’s aforementioned editing.  I’m really skeptical that Sorkin’s going to find a plausible way to walk this story back, given that we’ve still got a half dozen sources all saying the same thing.  Unless this turns into another “very strong tear gas” situation like the real Operation Tailwind, he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.

I could talk about the rest of the episode but, honestly, it wasn’t that great.  I’m more convinced than ever that this show would work better as a 40-45 minute series with commercial breaks.  That way, we’d trim all the fat (like anything involving Jim and Hallie and the extended anti-Republican rant that had no thematic purpose in the episode) and keep the tonal dissonance (like the transition from the Red Team meeting to Jim and Hallie Skyping)  to a minimum.  The opening and closing scenes of this episode were incredible and, limited to the Genoa investigation, it would have been nearly perfect (Jerry issues aside).  But with so much extraneous bulge added in, it just wasn’t quite what it could have been.

A few spare thoughts –

The decision to show Maggie cutting her hair in “Unintended Consequences” but then have it normal in subsequent episodes was a mistake, not because the timeline is confusing, but because we’re far enough removed from her Ugandan excursion (more than five months now) that I’m beginning to think the haircut is unrelated to Africa and something even worse is going to happen to her in the future.  I don’t mind some shows giving me a constant sense of dread, but this is not one of them.

So who lit the bajillion candles in Jim’s room while he and Hallie were at dinner?

“Why does a politician take polls?”  “To find out what people want him to say the next day.  Are you comfortable with that analogy?”

“It couldn’t matter less but Santa has nine reindeer.”  “Rudolph!”

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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