Monday, September 9, 2013

The Newsroom Review: "Election Night, pt. 1" - Prelude

Will fires Mac (sort of) on "The Newsroom"

It’s impossible to talk about “Election Night, pt. 1” as anything other than the first half of a two-part finale.  Because of that, I’m finding it difficult to find anything interesting to say.  There’s no attempt whatsoever to bring any kind of closure to any of the storylines introduced here and, by the end, the whole episode comes off as just ramping up to what should be a much more thrilling conclusion. 

I don’t mean to say that this episode wasn’t bad.  It was fun (and funny), but there was very little depth to it.  And every single storyline was either an extension from the last episode or setup for next.  I appreciate what Leona is doing in keeping everybody on board and, while I think it’s the wrong decision, I understand why she’s making it and it seems in character.  That she would funnel all of her anger at Jerry and refuse to give in to even the sanest of decisions out of spite makes sense.  It’s also nice getting the other side of things from Reese, who would scrap the whole lot, if he wasn’t so terrified of his mother. 

But all of that is still in “to be continued” mode at episode’s end.  Even Will’s promise to fire Mac after Election night doesn’t feel like it’s going to take.  It’d be really nice for the Genoa storyline, which was such a colossal screwup, to have consequences beyond this season.  But it really feels like we’re going to largely get a reset by next year’s premiere.

Structural problems aside, this was an enjoyable hour of television.  I always enjoy The Newsroom the most when it’s producing the news and here we get some great stuff.  The bickering between Eliot and Sloan over who "called" a story (and Sloan’s subsequent botching of the story) was great, though Sloan’s on-air ineptitude combined with her book signing incident and Mac’s freak out at having Oxford on her Wikipedia page instead of Cambridge make this not such a great episode for the women.  The mocking of “the bullpen” and Eliot’s pained attempts to extract usable footage from a stats nerd was fantastic lampooning of the over-the-top efforts of the actual news networks.  All they needed was a holographic Will McAvoy and a giant touchscreen television and it would have been perfect.

The one story that consistently frustrated me and largely drew me out of the drama was the setup for the General Petraeus story.  You see, there is no Californian Congressman named Brody.  Nor was there a congressional candidate from California named Brody.  I understand that part of the story involved this fake person making incredibly insensitive statements twenty years ago and you don’t want to attribute fake statements to a real person.  And apparently Sorkin couldn’t find real, inflammatory statements from a real person to use for this story, but The Newsroom is a show that tenuously straddles the line between real and fiction.  Up to this point, everything we’ve been shown has been portrayed as happening in our world.  Even the Genoa story, though it turned out to be fake, is portrayed as something that could really happen.  Introducing a fake person (meant to be taken as real), muddies that line even more and, frankly, took me out of the narrative of the show for a good half hour because I was desperately trying to figure out who this person was they were talking about.  If The Newsroom wants to be fiction, that’s fine.  If it wants to be set in the real world, that’s fine to.  But it can’t just start making up Congressmen.  In that direction there be dragons.

A few spare thoughts –

I’m glad they found a way to bring back Constance Zimmer even if she is a bit over-the-top in her Romney rooting.  It’s a good character and she’s a good actress and I’ll be interested to see what sort of ammunition Sorkin gives her that she can use to “take apart” Will in the finale.

I’m also curious how the Michigan 1st story is going to pan out.  The numbers woman thinks Benishek will win 51-49 but it’s actually going to come down to less than 2,000 votes at 48.1%-47.6%.

Funny, funny episode tonight with lots of great lines
“True story.  Which is more than we can say about the story.”
“People have been fired for making mistakes less small than this.”  “People have been incarcerated for making mistakes less small than this.”
“You’re screaming names of smart people in my ear.  They teach you that at Oxford?”

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