REVIEW: The Newsroom…Through Five Episodes

27 Jul

Wow.   There has been A LOT said and written about this show.  I see many critics and fellow bloggers ripping the show a new asshole for the misogynistic theme of the show.  And I see many Sorkin devotees screaming at the critics for not bowing to the altar of Sorkin.  Wow!!   When the word polarizing was created, I think this was the show it was created for.

There has been so much buzz about this show that I can’t believe I didn’t watch it immediately.  Actually I haven’t been around the last few Sundays, so it’s been piling up on my DVR.  But a few nights this week, my husband and I caught up on The Newsroom.  I have to say, I’m going to have a very boring spin on this…I’m in the middle of people’s viewpoints on this show.  I can see where people take major issue with the show and I can see where people love it.  What I don’t understand is the vitriol or overt praise one way or the other.

Let me start with the positive…I always like to start there.   When the show focuses more on the news stories than the personal stories, I like the show better.  It’s the strongest, most interesting part of the show.  I think if the show can tighten up some of the characters (more on that later) then the personal stories will get better.  But I like each of the characters more when they are in “work mode” vs. “personal mode”…especially Mackenzie (played by Emily Mortimer.)    I love the fast talking Sorkinese!!  I’ve missed it.  It was great on Sports Night, it was perfected on The West Wing.  I’m always happy to have it back on my TV screen.  It makes me feel so smart when I’m watching it and following it…kind of like how I feel when I wear my Harvard sweatshirt…it’s as if my IQ just went up 50 points.   The thing I like about Sorkinese is that it’s used in an appropriate setting where that type of fast talk needs to happen…in a sports production room, in the White House, in a news production room.  Unlike other shows where people are talking fast just for the sake of it (but I’ll save that for another post later) you can believe these people need to have quick dialogues because they need to make decisions even quicker.   The plot of how the news gets reported and comes together for a 1 hour show, is fascinating to me.  I know it may seem strange but I love watching the chaos of something behind the scenes come together in what appears to be an effortless 60 minutes of programming, but was anything but effortless to get there.  What stories are we reporting?   Who are our experts on both sides to debate the issue?   What happens if someone cancels?  How does the EP assist the anchor in getting to the heart of the story?    How much of the broadcast is off the cuff and how much is staged?   How does the timing of it all come together?  What happens as Breaking News is happening and how is that information disseminated and ultimately broadcast?  I love it!

So what don’t I like?  First. if you’ve read my blog before, you know I don’t like being preached at.  And there have been MANY moments where I feel like the sake of the show has been tossed out the window because Sorkin needs a few minutes on a soap box.  I hate that.  Whether I agree with the topic or not, I hate it.  It’s one thing on a show like this to have people have a slant one way or the other…I’m ok with that.  What I’m not ok with is stopping what is happening, slowing the story down, and/or throwing character development off a cliff just so the writer can propogandize (yes I just made up a word…I’m not wearing my Harvard sweatshirt right now) his/her political view-point.  When Maggie went on her rant about whether or not it’s proper to call people “illegals,” after she was finished I wanted to tweat Sorkin to say “you happy you got that off your chest?  Good.  Now can we get back to the show please?”

And since I just set up a perfect Segway to my next beef, I will mention that character development is a BIG problem with me right now.  There are some characters that I like, some I really want to like, some I don’t, and some who don’t really have a direction.  Sorkin has done a terrible job in this area.  And before all the Sorkin fans start yelling at me, since he just fired his entire writing staff and basically said that he writes everything and his team is only responsible for funneling ideas at him and nothing more, all the blame is going at his feet.   Especially when it comes to Maggie and Mack.  It’s as if Sorkin doesn’t know who he wants them to be.  I have more of a problem with Maggie on this than Mack.   I can’t tell if Maggie is supposed to be smart but goofy and emotional or really young and inexperienced or an annoying spoiled brat or frail and weak who needs someone to constantly rescue her.   Who is she?  If he can nail it down better, I think her character would be so much stronger.  I see potential in Maggie and Alison Pill is incredibly likable.   As soon as Pill showed up on-screen, I instantly liked her.  It’s how I felt the first time I saw Meg Ryan in a movie.   I’d rather see Maggie as the young up and comer who’s sharp but a little nervous and unsure of herself but incredibly passionate about her work.  I don’t like seeing Maggie fly off the handle at Jim, who slept with her roommate, in the middle of the office.  Not to mention, he’s her supervisor.   And I think I would appreciate the Maggie/Jim tension a bit more if it was more understated than in your face.  Because I LOVE the chemistry that the actors have with one another.  Plus there seem to be a bunch of inconsistencies.  To name one, when we first meet Maggie she was just promoted from intern to McAvoy’s assistant.  Then Mack shows up and now she’s an associate producer.  Ok.  In Episode 5, Maggie and Jim were editing video for a piece on the Wisconsin teacher’s protest and Maggie is running the editing as if she’s been there for years.  She and the Senior Producer are in perfect sync.    Now. if Maggie had been written as a burgeoning prodigy, this might not have seemed too strange.  Since Maggie is written as an intern/assistant/associate producer/emotional wreak, this was a little harder to believe.  I don’t know who Maggie is, neither does she, and neither does Sorkin.

As for Mackenzie, she’s another one that I don’t know what to think.  I’ve heard people criticize this whole email fiasco and the fact that she’s knocked easels over.  Hold on.  The email thing I can see a little bit.  She seems very inept when it comes to technology which I find hard to believe.  But I know I’ve hit the Reply All button when I certainly didn’t want to Reply All with what I said.   It was a mistake.  I looked at it as she made a mistake and hit the wrong button…what’s the big deal?   And as far as her knocking over easels and being clumsy, so what?  Does that mean Sorkin is writing her to be an idiot…NO.  That came later.  But I know very successful smart people who get nervous in new surroundings (which she was in) and sometimes knock stuff over.  I think this has been blown WAY out of proportion.   And if all the upset people are upset about the lack of “girl power” well then this shouldn’t have been so upsetting.  Many high-powered women, excellent in their jobs, can get their stomachs twisted a bit when you step into a male dominated environment and you want to prove yourself.  Especially when that environment is run by a blow hard prick like McAvoy.   So maybe she was nervous.  But when she got into that control room, when she’s in her zone, you can see why she’s considered the best.   What upset’s me about how her character has been handled is the fact she is written as someone who let’s her emotions for Will drive what she does…for good and bad.  She also, apparently knows nothing about the economy, how it works, and the difference between commercial and industrial banks.  And she condescended to Slone twice…once by asking her to go on the air to attract men because of her legs and again by basically asking Slone to explain to her everything she knows about the economy in a few since it can’t be that hard.  Slone only has degrees in undergrad, grad, post-grad, and a doctorate in Economics.  As Slone is explaining how the economy works to her, all Mack wants to do is cry about Will.  WHAT???    Get a hold of yourself woman!!!  I’m sorry….what is your problem Aaron Sorkin?  Would CJ Craig cry about Danny if Toby Zeigler had to explain to her how the Joint Chiefs of Staff make decisions?  Why is he turning her into one of “those” characters.  I hate it.

As for the other characters, Jim is probably the most fleshed out character at this point.  He’s very good at his job, smart, sharp, and a sweetheart.  He’s got a crush on Maggie but won’t make a move as long as she’s with Don.  As for Don, I didn’t like him at all at first.  But as we peel back more layers of the onion of Don, I’m liking him more and more.  I love when that happens and I get surprised!  Charlie seems pretty pointless to me.  I think he could be a better character but I don’t like the way Sam Waterston is playing him.

Will McAvoy.  I think it’s pretty obvious that I don’t like him but I haven’t really read or heard anyone that does. It’s one thing to be a tough, hard-nosed, difficult to manage, newsman, but he’s taking it to an extreme.  Plus, there is no explanation as to why he’s as nasty as he is.  Are we supposed to believe it’s because Mack cheated on him 3 years ago?  Because I find that hard to believe.  There has to be another reason and I want to know what it is.  It’s hard to get into a character (especially one such as his) when there is zero context.  I’m not saying everything needs to be revealed now because then there is nothing left to learn about him.   But it would be nice if we could learn a little something so we can understand where Will is coming from.

Another element that the show needs to work on….ACN always making the right call.  It’s really easy, now that we know how everything played out, to have your fictitious news team make the right decision as to whether or not to broadcast a story.  I know what Sorkin is trying to do here and I understand the message but I don’t think it’s right to use these other news stations as the example of “misguided journalism.”  I have no problem with the message being that too often people and networks are in such a rush to be the first to break news or report news, that they don’t have all the facts correct (see CNN the day the opinion of the SCOTUS came down on Obama Care.)  It should be more important to get the story right vs. first.  I agree.  However, in this case, the other networks didn’t have the benefit you have, as the writer, to know what played out and therefore, your anchor and news team can make the right call.  CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NPR didn’t have that luxury.   It doesn’t sit well with me.   I actually think it would be more interesting to see the fallout when you don’t make the right decision.  If you announced that Gabrielle Giffords had passed away when she hadn’t, what would happen next?    What would the fallout be?  So I hope moving forward, the self-righteousness of ACN News Night will be more fallible.   Not because I want to see news people reporting incorrect news, but they can’t be this perfect.

Even after I said all that, I will still watch The Newsroom every week.  I find the topic and premise very interesting.  If some the characters can be tightened up and some characters can get some direction, I think this has the potential to be a really good show.  But will Sorkin’s ego allow him to make the changes he needs to make to turn this into a great show?   Time will tell.


Posted by on July 27, 2012 in HBO, New Shows, Recaps and Reviews


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2 responses to “REVIEW: The Newsroom…Through Five Episodes

  1. Nick

    August 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Oh, where to begin…? I suppose that I am interested as to what your background is? I ask because to give a dissertation on character development and dramatic writing, one might imagine that you would have attended the ART program at Harvard. Having the expertise to break down in such detail the flaws of this show. Now I begin (with my Yale sweater on mind you) to explain that I am NOT a follower of Sorkin’s earlier work. As a matter of fact this show is my first experience of his writing so I am experiencing “Sorkinese” for the very first time. I think if you want to understand what draws people to a show like this the first thing one must consider is the social context at the time in which the show is presented. Ten years ago and ten years from now, I would imagine that this show would be less interesting to those people who enjoy it today. Having said that, I would ask that you consider the current state of the news and the packaging in which it is wrapped before it is delivered in the social context we currently find ourselves. That is the basic starting point of breaking down any story. To understand how it might affect people in the time it was written and how that might be relevant in the current time. For example how do you imagine Mash would affect a contemporary audience if it aired today for the first time? I would venture to say that a great deal of young America is unaware of the Korean war and its place in History after many of the people who lived through it also experienced the second world war.

    As for The Newsroom “preaching”…I think you miss the point. Entirely in fact. Turn on Fox News and watch. THAT is preaching. There are subjects and topics, social norms that are out of date e.g. calling an undocumented person “illegal” this is no longer ok though if you listen to the rhetoric of half the country, it seems that is the last name of every latino person in the United States. A show that is based on NEWS would in fact have some information in it which one who chooses not empathize with a differing point of view might call preaching. Not that this particular view point butts up against your own personal beliefs but its a bad example to pick if you want to create a dialogue that seems unbiased.

    Your character analysis is lacking. Mac is not intended to be your “girl power” figure. See Jane Fonda for that. Please note that one of the most critical given circumstance (a term used in text analysis) is that she has come from over seas covering the war to work with the man she cheated on, destroying their relationship, something she desperately regrets. If you had refrained from writing your presumptions for another episode or two you would have heard her explain to her ex that she has to look at will and see “the life she could have had” every single day. That would put anyone on edge in even the most basic situations. what you are asking for is clean behavior shaped by your own desires for how this person might behave in a given situation. Thats not the way human behavior works. Its messy and sometimes inexplicable. I could go on for quite some time on this but I am just lightly painting a picture here, some perspective.

    Your view on Will is even further of base. Is he nasty because she “cheated on him 3 years ago?” in part yes. Have you never been in love? Found what you thought was surely going to be the rest of your life? Then have it ripped away from you by betrayal? That would make me hurt…one of the most vital ingredients to understanding character is Empathy. “Every day you walk in someone else’s shoes, the world becomes a little better place”- Antony Bourdain. Imagine what that might do to ones sense of right and wrong, of fairness. Pile on to that he is a republican watchin the party he used to believe in be taken over by radical right wing tea party people who distort the public conversation, threatening to drive us all off a cliff. Yet people listen to them and he has done nothing prior to Mac’s return to correct the path, in fact he contributes to it. That is painful, that would make me hate myself which would make me nasty. Empathy…just watch the show, let the givens (circumstances) reveal themselves so you can better understand who these people are. That is a series, not a play. it doesn’t come all at once, you get it in incremental morsels otherwise why would you watch it anymore.

    I would love to discuss your blog point by point but I have not the time. I will close with your desire to have them make mistakes in their mission to report the News. Why? What the PLOT of this show illustrates is a group of people who BELIEVE in something so much that they are willing to risk everything to do it RIGHT. This means that you stick to your belief even when its not popular because it is the right thing to do. Something no one else is doing, so why in God’s name would you do what they are doing? The show came across the Gifford shooting and the Bin Laden reporting and in both cases the temptation to “go” with the information was there but in both cases the argument against was made strongly and they refrained from turning their back on the convictions that brought them all together. Integrity. That is what this show is searching for and by not allowing its characters to stray from their own belief I would say its on the right path to telling the story it set out to tell. Bravo!

    In closing, I am not saying you should stop blogging, I just want you to think about what you put out there. Some people don’t know if you are supposed to be an authority on these things and would believe what you say to be an authoritative criticism. I only arrived at your page because I googled to ask if The Newsroom was eligible for this year’s Emmy Awards. I don’t know why it brought me to your page. However since you seem to have a platform to express yourself, I ask that like the ACN team you take time to consider how your words and viewpoints might affect people. I find it interesting that you cite that FOX, CNN, etc don’t have the benefit of hindsight. Neither did Cronkite, Rather, or Edward R. Murrow but somehow the TRUTH got out there did it not? Not the point of view but the FACTS. Given where we are today, wouldn’t it be nice to have some facts to rely on?

    • Anonymous

      August 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      Wow, where do I begin? First off, I love your post and I appreciate the comments. I always love seeing someone else’s opinion…especially when it’s as fervent as yours. Because I love a spirited debate!!!

      Let me begin by saying, actually by asking, did you read the portion of my blog where it says “About Me?” No? I didn’t think so. If you did, you would realize that I state VERY clearly that I am not a journalist nor in the industry. I am a TV fan…with an opinion. According to you, people aren’t allowed to have those. Oh I’m sorry, only people who AGREE with you can have those. I’m of the belief that as long as people are respectful and have a factual basis from which their opinion is formed, they are entitled to it. And not that I need to justify my background to you but while I have a business degree in marketing, I have also taken classes in drama and theater.

      Before we really get into the breakdown of your breakdown of my breakdown…oh hell you get the point, I would like to ask you to re-read the title of the post. If it’s too much for you to scroll up, let me help you: The Newsroom…Through Five Episodes. Did you read those last three words…THROUGH FIVE EPISODES. So my opinion is what I have seen SO FAR. I haven’t had a chance to write about the proceeding episodes in which some of my opinions have changed. So if you are going to critique me, you should really do it within the proper of context of what I have written as to not sound so foolish.

      As for the preaching element, you miss the point my friend. Since you only chose to read part of that section, let me restate that when I watch a TV show (even one that has a focus on news, current events, politics, etc) I don’t like the writers using this forum to spew their opinions if it doesn’t seamlessly fit within the context of the scene WHETHER I AGREE OR NOT!!! I don’t say that because I don’t like or disagree with the topic. I can keep my personal political views out of my feelings for a show and look at it for what it is. I also don’t spew my political views on here because it’s not necessary and not what people come here to read about. My issue was not with what Maggie was saying. It was with the fact that she went off on a topic for 3 minutes that felt completely out of place. In any business setting, if one colleague (or superior in this case) notices another colleague (insubordinate in this case) get too emotional before an important meeting, interview, presentation, they were about to conduct, the colleague/superior would shut that person down immediately and either not have them do it or work with them on the appropriate lexicon and emotion they should or shouldn’t convey. Jim let Maggie go on and on because Sorkin wanted to get his opinion out there. That’s what I don’t like. If he could have found a way to include in an area where it made sense then it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. A good example of this was in the episode “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn” when Maggie is grilling Jim, who is pretending to be Michelle Bachman, because they are preparing debate questions. Her rant was perfectly placed and made perfect sense, therefore, I enjoyed it. See the difference? Contextual ranting…great. Soap box platform interrupting my show…bad.

      As for my character analysis of Mac, I would say your ability to read and understand what is written is lacking. That seems to be a theme here! I never said she was my “girl power” figure. I was commenting on how harshly she was being ripped by other award-winning journalists and well respected people in the journalism industry. There are OTHER critics who were disappointed in Mac’s depiction and the fact that Sorkin developed a weak female character. There were countless stories and podcasts on how Sorkin was almost misogynistic in his characterization of Mac and Maggie. I personally thought, that was a bit much. I do think their characters weren’t developed great out of the gate but I don’t think it’s because Sorkin hates women. Anyone who has ever watched ANY of his other shows (which I have) knows that isn’t true.

      I have to say, I burst out laughing when you asked if I’ve ever been in love and how painful it would be to have been betrayed by that love. Have you ever been in love with someone and walked in on them in bed with someone else? Because I have. So yes, I understand betrayal, more than you could fathom. But did I become the world’s biggest bitch and allow that betrayal to define me…NO. Did I let it fester for 3 years? NO. Was I unprofessional enough to allow that pain to incorporate into my work life and take it out on people I work with? NO. So I think to use having his heart ripped out as a reason for being a prick at work, is laughable. But what I agree with you on is that learning how upset he is seeing the party he grew up believing in being destroyed by people he believes are over-zealous and misguided, makes him a more compelling figure. It made sense to me. Seeing how upset he was with Dr. Habib after he lambasted the Santorum aide and gave Slone bad advice causing her to almost be fired for sticking with her convictions (which was probably my favorite storyline of the series so far) showed me a different side to Will. But do you know when I saw those episodes? AFTER THESE FIRST FIVE.

      I think Will came off too prickish in the beginning. Since then, we are seeing a different side (more onion peels are stripping away) and Will is becoming more layered. Some shows/writers have characters that clue the audience in much sooner as to what is going on yet still leave a good amount of yet-to-be-developed definition. Some shows/writers make you wait longer and ask you to put your faith in them. I like both ways. I personally think, that Will was SUCH an asshole, that it would have been nice to have some peek behind the curtain to his mania. Otherwise you risk losing viewers wanting to find reasons to believe in his character.

      As for my comments on ACN always making the right call, again, you misunderstand me. I want to see the mistakes because I think that will be interesting story telling and because in the real world, you don’t always make the right call. So what happens when you don’t? They debated the BP Oil scandal and whether or not it was a bigger story than it actually was. They decided it was going to be a huge story (even though conventional wisdom and their tracking board said differently) so they reported it and looked like heroes. Gabby Giffords, they chose not to report she had passed away when everyone else did. I understand the message…it’s all about integrity and doing what’s right even when it’s hard. But I think it’s boring if they are always right and everyone else is always wrong. They broke that mold, however, with Sloan and her situation with the Japanese representative discussing the radiation reactors going to the dangerous Level 7. I LOVED this story. I loved Will, Charlie, Sloan, Don, everyone. It was top notch. THAT is what I want to see. Sloan still had her integrity…she was going after a story and she wanted to get information out there she thought people should know. Her passion (and Will’s pep talk) got her in trouble. The fallout from that was awesome to watch. So in the next episode when they made the right call about Bin Laden, it was that much more enjoyable to watch. Because in the news business sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong. But again, when did these two episodes air? That’s right, after these first five I commented on!

      In closing, after all that I just responded to, I just want to say thank you. That was the best post I ever received. I loved your passion and fire. I embrace it…even though you were wrong! 😉 I really hope you come back. I don’t get to post as much as I used to because my job is incredibly time consuming. But I appreciate your feedback.

      Really the only thing I took serious issue with is your coming dangerously close to telling me I shouldn’t blog anymore. You have no right to do that. I have every right to express my opinion as do you. If we all just agreed on everything everyone said at all times, what a boring world this would be. And you say that people might take me as some sort of authority so I should choose my words carefully. Well that would be their problem, not mine since I clearly state in my About Me section that I am anything but a professional journalist. And I do choose my words carefully. I’m not reporting the news. I’m only vocalizing my opinion on a TV SHOW that reports the news.


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