Category Archives: POP CULTURE

The Newsroom Briefing: Page 6 Is Actually Located On Page 10

“I’ll Try To Fix You” was based on events from December 31st, 2010 to January 8th, 2011.

In Will McAvoy’s “Mission to Civilize,” he cost himself a couple quality sexual partners and a couple thousand dollars worth in clothing, but gained the notoriety that comes with leading the gossip headlines for a full week. Mackenzie, who has made her love for her new boyfriend clear, lead Will to attack the dating pool.

Instead of taking out would-be models half his age, Will tried women his own age in “I’ll Try To Fix You.” The result of a weeks worth of dates: one armed and jealous woman now on his trail, two drinks dumped on his expensively tailored suits, and three gossip features on his adventures. Each time, Will was set-up with women who were smitten with him—they’d sleep with him and would love a call back, no problem. Will, however, got a YOLO talk from Charlie, prompting him to dig deeper into these first encounters. He tries to “civilize” all his dates, trying to turn them into female Wills, leaving no room for his date’s interests, however idiotic and horrible they may be. He acts like an old, grumpy man on his high horse instead of a womanizer who wants to get laid. As a 40-something male, he knows time is running out to find companionship. In another 10 years, the sex won’t be worth the dinner bill, and pure female companionship is all he’ll have to go to sleep with at night. Mackenzie has been able to move on, but Will hasn’t, causing him to liken his broken heart to a honey-glazed ham being cooked at 400 degrees and served over a bed of rice. His heart, of course, being the ham. Vivid and yummy.

Elsewhere in the newsroom, which apparently doesn’t have soundproof glass, more burgeoning love unfolded. Neal, despite his crazed Bigfoot obsession, managed to snag a cute girlfriend. By the end of the episode, Jim did as well. At the office New Years Eve party, Don, sensing competition for Maggie from Jim, set him up with Maggie’s single (and busty) roommate. Maggie was uncomfortable with this from the outset. Jim and Maggie had settled in as mutual work crushes, and Maggie took for granted that she could always turn to Jim for a healthier relationship should Don not work out for the billionth time. Now, she’s lost that security and faces the possibility of waking up to a half-naked Jim cooking breakfast in her own apartment for her roommate (guaranteed that’s a future scene). (We’ve now managed to see Jim with his shirt off and Maggie’s roommate in only a bra, but Olivia Munn continues to dress like Katie Couric. Sorkin, you’re breaking my balls here man.) The love game of chicken continues.

Oh, and some actual news ended up being reported somewhere in the episode. Will ripped conservatives for lying about Obama’s stance on gun control and the reported costs of Obama’s trips to India. The big, breaking story at the end of the episode was prefaced by a meeting between Will, Charlie, Dom, and Mackenzie to discuss how to deal with Will’s damaged image thanks to the gossip pages. While hashing out the facts of Will’s nights, Charlie came to the realization that the outlets exaggerating Will’s dates were all owned by Atlantis Media—the news channel’s parent company.

Last week, Atlantis CEO Leona Lansing threatened to fire Will if he didn’t tone down the perceived “liberal rhetoric” of his show, which had come to odds with her political and corporate business affairs. To justify the firing, she planned on “creating context” to make it seem as if Will gave her no choice. Generating a public bashing of Will, involving headlines like “MY NIGHT WITH WILL McAVOY: SEX, DRUGS AND GUNS!!” would give her ample ammunition to fire him.

The end of the episode saw the drama that unfolds in a newsroom when breaking news hits. This time, the 2011 shooting of Senator Gabrielle Giffords was the story. Naturally, the battle of journalistic integrity vs. ratings came to light. While FOX, MSNBC, and CNN were all reporting that Senator Giffords was killed based on an NPR report, Will and his team stood firm, waiting for a hospital source to confirm her death. Lansing’s son, an executive at the network, stormed onto Will’s set demanding that he declare her dead for a ratings boost. In the end, Will was vindicated when a doctor at the hospital told Maggie that Senator Giffords was indeed alive. Will’s rightful defiance of corporate authority got his blood going enough to yell “I’m not fucking around Charlie!” Lansing wants to take down Will McAvoy, but he’ll continue to give her the finger until something momentous causes him to get cold feet. Will may not be fucking his dates anymore, but he’s set on fucking Leona Lansing and her media machine for now.

Notebook dump: Will McAvoy is filling Dr. Gregory House’s vacated role as television’s Sharp Tongued, Witty Asshole Who Makes Us All Smirk When He Speaks. The happenings of a newsroom haven’t been as dramatic as House’s medical offices, but so long as there’s enough Will McAvoy, there will be viewers.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Newsroom Briefing: The Corporate Reality We—Including Will McAvoy—All Face

This episode, “The 112th Congress,” took place during the last 6 months of 2010.

In 4th grade, I remember getting into an argument at the cafeteria table with two of my other friends. I was losing. It didn’t even turn into a shouting match where whosever voice is loudest wins. I was just not convincing anyone. The topic at hand: “Who’s more political, Justin or Maya?” It’s an adventurous argument for 4th graders to have. If you had asked my 10 year old self what “political” meant, I would’ve probably told you it’s whatever Keith Olbermann had said on the previous night of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” (Maya was the smartest and prettiest girl in the class so I was never going to win anything over her—even if she wasn’t even arguing for herself). I grew up watching Olbermann’s nightly newscast on MSNBC. I was so captivated by his convictive rants that I decided that in 5th grade I wanted to work in government.

As I got older, I became more interested in things like SportsCenter, a woman’s butt, and Kanye West. My political tinge faded. I used to be engaged in my father’s hyper-political dinnertime conversations. Now I just complain, “Dad can we go one fucking dinner without having a political debate?” and go right back to hypothetically answering 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” in my head. If I didn’t smell good would you still hug me? Depends—are you Kate Upton? I tune out most political conversation these days.

Now, I’m a 19 year old student who faces a six-figure student loan debt once I get out of (notice how I didn’t say “graduate”) college. Occupy Wall Street began 15 minutes away from my dormitory, but I didn’t care. The man who I’ll probably vote against in my first election this November is more likely to lower my parents taxes (we’re not middle class but we’re not eating out every week either) to help me pay for college than the man I’ll vote for. I’m a disillusioned member of the electorate who is more likely to watch a Knicks game than a Presidential Debate, because I know that no matter what, things are swayed in the United States by those who have money, no matter how moral or immoral the cause. The Newsroom reminded me of that tonight.

The episode began with an on-air editorial comment by Will. He basically called every news broadcast he’d done in his career a sham, and outlined the new, progressive, honest, factual, “News Night.” Following “The Apology,” a 6-month span of News Night events was chronicled. Instead of injecting fear mongering tactics in their coverage of the 2010 Times Square Car Bombing attack that was thwarted, News Night decided to play down the potential threat, and play up the fact that the system worked to prevent the bombing. Instead of pandering to the conservatives who had been boosting News Night’s ratings, Will launched an assault on the Tea Party. A Republican himself, Will was determined to expose a newly radical Tea Party for infecting his party and radicalizing the centrist Republican base. While he did all of this by simply laying out the facts—I’ve never seen a drama lay out so many statistics—he began to agitate the powers that be.

Elsewhere, Don’s and Maggie’s relationship kept getting played out like that one couple from high school who everybody loathed. They’d break-up, and get back together (repeat 12x), until everyone got sick of them. By the end of the episode, Jim (who has been chasing Maggie), and Neal literally got sick at the sight of Don and Maggie kissing after apparently breaking-up AGAIN the week before.

On the other side of the newsroom, the romantic battle between Will and Mackenzie raged on. Will kept asking his dates to meet him at the office, sparking jealousy in Mackenzie (Will’s first date was a New York Jets cheerleader. When Mackenzie questioned the intelligence of Girl #2, Will responded with: “Neurologist at Columbia Presbyterian. Chief of Surgery. That would make her a brain surgeon. Literally, a brain surgeon.” Blow job joke #1 recorded). After being guilt tripped by Maggie into apologizing to Mackenzie, Will stopped short after she brought one of her dates to the office in retaliation. Let the Love Games begin.

Spliced in with scenes from that 6-month span was a meeting between Will’s boss Charlie Skinner, and the CEO of the network Leona Lansing. During that 6-month stretch of news, Will kept asking Charlie whether the higher ups were okay with the new direction. As Charlie’s meeting with Leona proved, they weren’t. As Charlie put it: “We stand for something. It’s a moral obligation—get used to it.” Apparently, a moral obligation doesn’t have advertising dollars to dole out. Because of Will’s crusade against the “witches” in Washington, corporate and political powers punched back against Atlantis Cable News instead of turning the other cheek. The corporation that was friendly with the network had been exposed by News Night for bankrolling the Tea Party, and the newly elected Republican Congressmen who regulate media and communications were bashed by News Night repeatedly for months.

The Newsroom is 98% based on reality (some news stories are stretched a bit for drama, but it’s still based on real events), reminding me of how hopeless I, along with many millions of Americans, feel about our present situation. Corporations fund the media and politicians, and in return, everybody circle-jerks each other and there’s no cheating involved. That leaves everybody else in a state of insubordination, which is the opposite of how a Democracy is supposed to work (hence the “99%” and the “1%” are born). (Let me step down from my barely political high horse for a moment.) In The Newsroom, “News Night with Will McAvoy” is the Private Eye who’s photographing the immoral circle-jerking, and publishing the photos on a blog for free. But in “The 112th Congress,” that Private Eye got kidnapped for all his good work by the people he’s photographing, and faces a choice: either stop, or get killed. At the end of the episode, Leona Lansing orders Charlie to reign Will back in, or Will gets a pink slip—a black slip actually, as a clause in his contract would legally bind him to stay off the air for 3-years if he were to get fired (Funny how Charlie wanted to prevent the next “McCarthy” from being elected to Congress through Will’s Tea Party witch-hunt. In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy persecuted members of Hollywood who were suspected communists. Nobody was ever proved to have ties to the USSR, but his public hearings caused these people to be blacklisted from all lines of work, ruining their lives. In this case, Leona would’ve practiced her brand of McCarthyism on Will).

With Leona’s own “You’re either in or you’re out” ultimatum delivered to Charlie (we’re averaging about one ultimatum a week on this show now), Charlie, Will, and Mackenzie are all in the firing line. The romantic and corporate trenches have now been established for the rest of the season. It’s time for things to get ugly. Let the battles begin.

Notebook dumps: When will News Night allow Olivia Munn’s character to live report the rising price of car washes in only a bikini? Also, Sam Waterson has the best non-Drake bushy eyebrows, as well as the best bow tie since Andre 3000.

Just LOOK at those bad boys.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Newsroom Briefing: Will McAvoy vs. Will McAvoy

The Newsroom picked up the pace in it’s second week. It was dramatic, had moments of humor, and some great characters were unwrapped. There were no bullshit speeches or overwritten dialogues this week. Prompted by this good episode, I’ve decided to write Newsroom recaps every week, or until I decide the show isn’t worth the time to write about. Whatever comes first.

This episode was based on events in the world from April 23, 2010.

We all know somebody like this: A person who’s grumpy, unfriendly, and condescending to everyone, but actually quite caring, sensitive, and oddly insecure deep down. You don’t simply “know” a person like this to be in touch with all of their external and internal modes of thought and reason—you know them as well as you know your telephone number. After “News Night 2.0,” Will McAvoy became just as transparent as our telephone numbers.

Will began the episode by internalizing profiles of every person in his office. He learned names, titles, previous accomplishments, and inter-office feuds. He wasn’t shy to share his newfound knowledge either—he began the morning pitch meeting by declaring, “I learned everyone’s names last night,” followed by, “Seriously, I know everyone’s name… I care. I’m nice.” Will then spent the entire meeting by listing facts about people in the room, and calling them by their first and last names with perfect pronunciation. Instead of subtly and gradually having people find out that he had taken the time to learn about them like a normal person would through casual, energizing conversation, he wanted his office to immediately feel indebted to him for his little personal homework assignment. (Aside from employers armed with resumes and freshmen in college researching their new roommate through Facebook stalking, who actually reads P.I profiles on people to get to know them? The impersonal but not really impersonal Will McAvoy does.)

The one person on the planet who knows Will like a telephone number is his ex-girlfriend, and new Executive Producer Mackenzie McHale. After offering Sloan Sabbath (FINALLY we get some Olivia Munn action)—economic analyst at the network—a small nightly segment on the show, Mackenzie dove right into her about how the office views Will. Sloan told her that the general view was that Will is an ass who cheated on Mackenzie three years ago. Mackenzie fiercely defended Will, saying that he has the “heart the size of a Range Rover.” Later, Mackenzie would again try and defend Will in a staff meeting. After nobody would believe her, she hurriedly try to email Will about his perception in the office. That email was accidentally sent to the entire company, exposing some very delicate details about their relationship. The lowdown: Mackenzie actually cheated on Will.

After that bit of gossip was thrown out there, the two sides of Will McAvoy kept popping up. Maggie was convinced she would be fired after botching a pre-interview with the Governor of Arizona’s office, leading to the Governor choosing to take her interview on a new immigration bill to a different network. Mackenzie was adamant that Will wouldn’t fire anyone, which quelled nobody’s fears of a pink slip. Even after Maggie confessed to Will that she was responsible for the Governor, and offered her resignation, Will showed as much compassion as publicly capable from him by saying, “I hope you don’t do that. I hope you stay here.”

But to stay “true” to himself, Will tortured Maggie by driving the mistake into hell on purpose. The Governor was replaced on the show by a prejudiced academic from the University of Phoenix, a red-neck border patrol officer, and a beauty contestant. He kept pressing and pressing for non-answers from this horribly unqualified panel, turning the segment into a laughing-stock. To punish Mackenzie, because, well, in his mind everything is her fault—he defended Sarah Palin’s famous Holland-Norwegian misquote against Mackenzie’s script, just to satisfy his conservative viewers who were driving his ratings. For a show that vowed to “drive ratings through content” and not “content through ratings” while under Mackenzie, this was a blow.

After the show, Mackenzie offered Will an ultimatum: either he was in 100% with he changes for the following show, or out, implying that she would leave. At the end of “News Room 2.0,” Will would find his mind and his heart. He decided that he was “in,” and even did a good deed (before the Karma Police would nab him). In that ill-fated morning pitch meeting, Neal Sampat (played by Dev Patel, who’s spent more time looking annoyed/worried in the background of dialogues than acting), proposed to interview a man who’s drivers license was revoked in his state because it was discovered that he was an ilegal immigrant. He couldn’t drive to his job or pick up his kids from school because of it. In the closing scene, Will called Neal and ordered him to tell the man to take a taxi to for his job and kids—Will would foot the bill. Neal insisted on posting the act of charity to Will’s personal blog, but Will wanted the whole thing to be done anonymously.

In “News Room 2.0” we were introduced to a man who gloats and frustrates others for the wrong reasons, but does the right things in secrecy. He hides behind his veil of arrogance, while inside he’s exactly the man Mackenzie wanted everyone to think he is—he just doesn’t want everyone to think that way just yet.

Will told Mackenzie his decision and Neal his orders over the phone. He had memorized Neal’s personal telephone number from the profiles. Will learned about his co-workers, and we learned about Will. Whether his co-workers will get to know the real Will is a different story for a different newsroom.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Making Sense of HBO’s The Newsroom

HBO’s newest series, The Newsroom, debuted last Sunday. Slammed by critics in the pilot’s run-up, viewers were in one of three mindsets before watching: a) I’m going to exaggerate every hateful feeling towards this show because it can’t possibly be good after all of the awful reviews, b) I liked The Social Network, or c) Game of Thrones isn’t on anymore, it’s a Sunday night, and I’m bored.

Aaron Sorkin, who has been riding a screenplay hot-streak (Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball) since The West Wing ended, is The Newsroom’s creator, executive producer, writer, costume designer, key grip, and set caterer. (The last three aren’t true, but seriously, every piece of HBO promo for this show has Sorkin’s name and/or face attached to it. Also, Sorkin apparently made everyone involved with the show sign a contract vowing that they won’t change a word of his script. No improv allowed. Talk about an ego trip.) Sorkin has become a household name for movie goers for his snappy writing, dramatic overtures, and complex characters.

With the first episode of The Newsroom, everything that Sorkin has become known for displayed itself. The show began with news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) participating in a panel at Northwestern University. Flanked by two of his news anchor peers—a stereotypical condescending liberal know-it-all to his right, and a flag-waving, pompous conservative to his left—McAvoy snaps after a student’s question causes him to break from his introverted character. The question, “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” brought McAvoy over the edge (he had previously responded with “the New York Jets,” but the moderator wouldn’t let him get off that easily), starting a long diatribe of UN rankings pointing to why the United States isn’t the greatest country in the world. McAvoy lists about ten different statistics, each building momentum to, “So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” Within that first scene, all three of Sorkin’s calling cards popped up: a head-turning monologue, a stunning climax to a moment, and the introduction to a complex character who has kept his feelings to himself his entire career.

It was a stunning start. But when every single scene seemed to repeat that same formula, the episode became annoying. About half-way through, Mackenzie MacHale (played by Emily Mortimer), gives a speech to McAvoy in an effort to convince him to hire her as executive producer for his news show, in turn letting her the change the direction of the program. She uses America as the crux of her argument, spewing an idealistic, cliché-filled rant capped off by this mushy-gushy line: “America is the only country on the planet that since it’s birth that’s said over, and over, and over, that we can do better. It’s part of our DNA.” Ironic that a woman with a distinct British accent was chosen to deliver that line. At that point I turned the episode off, only to return to finish it a day later. I’m sure even the U-S-A chanting Americans with Reagan-Bush bumperstickers on the back of their Ford F-150s wanted to throw-up at the corniness of that entire spiel.

In Charlie Wilson’s War, Tom Hanks played the charming Senator Wilson. In The Social Network, portrayals of Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker handled most of the dialectic quips. Moneyball had the baseball version of Charlie Wilson in Brad Pitt’s iteration of Billy Beane. All three of Sorkin’s recent screenplays had one or two characters dishing out verbal mayhem—in The Newsroom, someone in every scene is fighting for some sort of public speaking/debate award. It’s enjoyable, but overwhelming. Is overwritten the right word?

The Newsroom isn’t a show that should be left for dead after one episode though. The strength of the series is it’s historical setting. It’s based a few years in the past, allowing Sorkin to write around major news events. The first episode dealt with the BP Oil Spill, and commercials for future episodes drop hints that the Bin Laden death will be covered. Insight into how a busy newsroom would handle year-defining stories will undoubtedly make for great drama.

Despite the reviews, The Newsroom’s first episode has got to be considered a success. I hated some parts and loved others, and because it was the first episode, I can’t place a definitive judgement on the series yet. In short, I’ll be tuning in again. Sorkin has won this week. Good thing I have a clause in my viewing contract that allows me to fire The Newsroom next week.

In a related note, GQ editor Sean Fennessey lost 3,700 followers on Twitter for a pro-Newsroom tweet. C’mon folks, it’s not THAT bad.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49