Tag Archives: HBO

The Newsroom Briefing: We Got Em

“5/1” took place on May 1st, 2011.

I had forgotten the significance of the date 5/1. There are many dates we all have in mind: birthdays, anniversaries, Super Bowl victories, holidays, and dates of historical importance. I had forgotten that 5/1 was the follow up to 9/11. It’s the date Osama Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces.

“5/1” began with a Charlie taking a mysterious call from someone who informed him that he’d be getting an email from the White House press secretary in an hour and a half. That someone didn’t identify himself, but right on que, Charlie got that email. Charlie, along with the rest of the “News Night” staff was at a party at Will’s apartment. They were celebrating the one year anniversary of “News Night 2.0.” Although we’re only seven episodes into the series, a year has passed. Mackenzie is still the EP, Will’s still busting balls for an hour a night, and relationships are continuing to progress.

Right now, there are two shifting plot lines on the show. There’s the Love Front, which covers the Will-Mackenzie struggle and the Jim-Maggie-Don love triangle. There’s also the Corporate Cold War, which deals with the political games News Night and network CEO Leona Lansing are engaging in. There were minor developments on each front tonight. Don is over-analyzing every aspect of his relationship with Maggie out of paranoia, Maggie continues to hide her feelings for Jim, and Jim keeps pursuing Lisa, because he’s not the homewrecker type.

Near the end of the episode, Charlie got a call from that someone again. He revealed that he works with the NSA, and has been tracking ilegal electronic monitoring within the network. Could Lansing be tracking Will to try and find a smoking gun to fire him? We’ll see.

Although “5/1” dealt with the most important news story since 9/11, this episode was by far the driest. Reliving coverage of important news events with The Newsroom has proved to be less than exciting. Were it not for the strong characters Sorkin has crafted, the show would be more of a dud than advertised. “5/1” didn’t get entertainment points, but it certainly got nostalgia credits.

I can remember where I was for only a few specific events in recent memory, and all of those memories start with 9/11. In fact, I can only remember a few things prior to 9/11. It’s like that when my adult consciousness began. During 9/11, I was in elementary school gym class, and a school nurse came out and whispered something in my gym teacher’s ear. She shrieked, started sobbing uncontrollably, and ran into the building. That was the first and last day she was our gym teacher. I always assumed she knew someone in the towers. I was only in 3rd grade, and it’s taken many years to fully understand what happened. I don’t have any emotions registered from 9/11, since I was so young, and so naive to the severity of everything.

I remembered where I was on 5/1 too. I was in my kitchen, and I stood the whole time. I remember thinking, “Oh cool,” but nothing more than that. In many ways, my generation will deal with the aftermath of 9/11. In US history class, we always analyzed the economic, political, and social ramifications of watershed event. I can only imagine what students will draw from 9/11 decades from now. We’ll probably go down in history as the first post-9/11 generation to emerge. We were old enough to remember, but young enough to not feel the tragedy, unless a close family member or friend was lost. Seeing an actors portrayal of how people reacted on 5/1 was weird. Men shook hands and hugged, adults cheered, and everyone had a look of relief on their faces. Charlie told everyone to “take three seconds” and remember where they were on 5/1.

“5/1” was an episode of emotional remembrance. Everyone knows someone who was affected by 9/11. We all have different degrees of separation to that point, but we all know a victim.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Notebook dump: Why did that wrinkle of Will being high while broadcasting the news have to be added in? Kind of random. For someone who ate two weed cookies, he was pretty responsive. That was more unrealistic than Jim’s girlfriend having the foresight to break up with him before Jim did with her. What girl gets into a man’s head like that and does that?

The Newsroom Briefing: Bacon Makes You Stay Awake

“Bullies” happened during the April 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

Six episodes into The Newsroom, and it appears that Will McAvoy is beginning to wrap his head around, well, his own head. “Bullies” took place from the luxurious leather chair of Will’s psychologist, who he’s had appointments with the past four years, but has never kept. Meaning, he’s been paying a psychologist for an hours worth of time every Wednesday, but never seeing him.

Playing character psychologist, it’s easy to see why Will does that: he feels better about knowing help is there, but he doesn’t have courage to face his problems. Will’s a man who suffers from anxiety and depression, which has led to his long-running bouts of insomnia. He does a hell of a job of masking it externally, and coddling himself internally. Until this episode, of course.

The episode was a series of flashbacks that Will recalled from his shrink’s office. In one flashback, while on-air, Will bullied a gay Black aide for former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, after Santorum had repeatedly voiced his lack of respect for the gay community. It led to the man taking over Will’s own air, lashing out at Will for defining him by only his race and color—a powerful moment where Will’s own crusade for the truth at the top of an all-protecting high-ground crossed moral grounds. In another flashback, Will gave a pep talk to Sloan, who had been tapped to fill in for Elliot for the 10 pm broadcast. Will berated her for letting her guests get off the hook too often, and not asking tough follow-up questions. Emboldened by his speech, Sloan went rogue on air while interviewing a Japanese plant worker about the reactor meltdown, which then led to Charlie getting frumpy at her (despite all of the yelling, Charlie’s hair didn’t move one inch. Remarkable), and Sloan making the best cutie-pouty face I’ve ever seen. We’re not any closer to getting Sloan half-naked (damn you, Sorkin), but watching her speak fluent Japanese was a weird fucking turn-on. Who’s with me on that?

But what would an episode of The Newsroom be without a little love? Don, growing concerned about the way Jim and Maggie interact in the office, went to Sloan for advice. He’s finally catching up to the rest of us. Mackenzie, who found out that Will had almost moved to LA in 2006 to host a late-night show on FOX while they were dating, stormed into Will’s office. Apparently the LA move would’ve meant an end to their relationship, and therefore no marriage. While Mackenzie ranted on, Will unlocked a drawer in his desk, and presented Mackenzie with a Tiffany ring that he had bought for her in 2006. This did nothing but upset Mackenzie even more. The thought that they could’ve been married had she not cheated on him ruined her day. Oh, what could’ve been. As it turns out, Will anticipated all of this (somehow), and had just bought the ring that day as, in his words, a “prank.” His psychologist described it as “not normal.” He’s got that right. It was no prank—it was another Will McAvoy mind game to win Mackenzie back. After claiming that he’d return the ring, the closing scene showed Will ripping up the receipt.

Will’s determined to be with Mackenzie again, but he’s too stubborn (not strong—stubborn) of a man to beg for her. No. She cheated, so she’s coming back to me. “She make me beg for it, till she give it up.”

“Too busy thinking about my baby.”

After a few weeks of corporate struggle, it all took a backseat to Will’s sleepless mind. The themes of love and workplace stress are nothing new to Will, but his guilt about Sloan and the Santorum aide interview caused everything to come to a T. The psychologist ended up prescribing a sleeping pill, but only after telling Will to stay away from his nightly eating bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches before bed—bacon contains tyramine, which is an amino acid that releases norepinephrine, a stimulant that keeps people awake. Tyramine is also found in ham, cheese, sausages, tomatoes, peppers, fish, smoked meats and chocolates. It’s about midnight my time, so I think I’ll go with a bowl of cereal as a snack instead of chocolate ice cream this time. I’ll be up thinking about Olivia Munn’s pouting face all night if I don’t.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Newsroom Briefing: Coach McAvoy

“Amen” was set during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

Aaron Sorkin has written sports movies before, the Olympics are around the corner, and this is a sports website. I want to say that because I’m addicted to sports, I was able to see how the entire episode was just one giant sports team metaphor… But Sorkin made it so painfully obvious that by the end of the episode, “Coach” McAvoy might as well have had a Gatorade cooler dumped on him.

The entire episode was built on the concept of coaching, and what coaches do for their players. They’re supposed to mentor their players in the game and in life, and pass down whatever knowledge they have. They’re role models and authority figures. In “Amen” Will, Maggie, Don, Gary (I was going to say “The Token Black Guy” but IMDB and my senses know better), and Sloan were the coaches. Here’s how the teams broke down compared to past coach-athlete tandems:

Maggie-Jim
Maggie, concerned for her own Valentine’s Day with Don, planned the perfect one for Jim and his “girlfriend”/her roommate Lisa. Jim, reluctant to force love upon a girl he’s been on four dates with, is apprehensive. Maggie persists, as she’s already booked reservations at Lisa’s favorite restaurant, bought her a charm for her bracelet, and picked out some lingerie to top the night off. Instead of Maggie balking at Jim and Lisa’s relationship, she’s now embraced it so she doesn’t have to deal with Lisa’s “I’m Single Why Don’t Guys Like Me?” routine. Think Mike Shanahan and Jake Plummer in 2005. Shanahan created an offense perfectly tailored to Plummer, but Plummer still shat the bed in the biggest game of the season. Jim ended up forgetting about his perfectly planned Valentine’s Day and his date with Lisa.

Don-Elliot
While Elliot was in Cairo reporting on the Egyptian Revolution, Don ordered him to leave his hotel do some on the ground reporting. Elliot was subsequently beaten and bloodied by a mob. Once Elliot returned, Don wanted to put a bruised and maimed Elliot back on the air to show the human interest side of reporting. Don wanted to prove that not all journalists are in Ivory Towers with typewriter. They’re on the ground, putting themselves in harms way for the news. At one point, Don even told Elliot, “You’re benched.” Sorkin was really trying to drive the sports metaphor home I guess. This one has Dusty Baker-Mark Prior written all over it. Dusty rode Mark’s prodigious 22 year old arm 225 innings in 2003 while trying to win the pennant. Prior averaged 113 pitches per start, including 126 PPS in his September starts and another 120 PPS in the post season. Since 2003, he’s never thrown more than 166 innings in a single season, and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, all while struggling with elbow, shoulder, groin, and achilles injuries. Both Don and Dusty rode their guys too hard, got them hurt, and wanted them to return early from injury to prove something.

Gary-Will
Yes, even Will McAvoy got a little coaching advise here. The gossip magazine TMI had been attacking Will for his crazy dates, and were now prepared to go after Mackenzie. Her boyfriend was planning on running for Congress, but he never told her, instead using Mackenzie to get him on News Night to raise his own profile. TMI slammed the News Night crew for that, and were now preparing to go after Mackenzie for almost getting her team killed while reporting in Pakistan, and Will for hiring his ex-girlfriend to be his executive producer—a conflict of interest to an outsider. Gary, who used to work at TMI, told Will that the magazine could be paid off to not run the story. Think Michael Jordan’s first retirement. Jordan retired so he could play baseball, but that’s not what really happened. Why would Michael Jordan, the most pathological winner of all-time, walk away from basketball at his absolute peak to go 0-3 with 3 strikeouts and ride minor league buses in the hopes of making to the majors? Saying that he “lost the desire to play the game” is absolute bullshit. Months before he retired, it came out that Jordan had been gambling millions away, which depending on the gambles, could’ve been a violation of NBA rules. NBA Commissioner David Stern probably told Jordan to retire for a year or so, and let the controversy die down so Stern wouldn’t have to hand down a crippling suspension. Walk away, and your problems will be solved. In Will’s case, he could’ve secretly paid TMI, and his troubles would’ve been solved as well. He either paid the secret price (Jordan’s faux retirement in this case), or dealt with the harming media blitz to himself and News Night (Jordan’s suspension/black-eye for the league and himself).

Sloan-Mackenzie
Mackenzie needed to learn about economics for a panel she was invited to speak to about the media and the economy. Sloan, who’s News Night’s economics analyst and someone who could be a millionaire on Wall Street, was enlisted as Mackenzie’s economics coach. Mackenzie didn’t know the difference between an investment bank and a commercial bank before Sloan coached her up. After some coaching, she was an amateur on the Glass-Steagall act. This one has Happy Gilmore-Chubbs all over it. Happy, who couldn’t even make a putt before Chubbs came along, had to get better at golf to win the Tour Championship. Sloan was Mackenzie’s Chubbs, except Mackenzie didn’t accidentally kill Sloan with a dead crocodile head.

Will-News Night
At the beginning of the episode, a mini-argument broke out in the conference room about the movie “Rudy.” Jim had never seen it before, so Will explained the plot: a kid works hard to get into college, then works even harder to make the football team’s practice squad. Every week, he dreams of being named to dress for the game on Saturday, and every week for four years he gets disappointed. Rudy gets his ass kicked in practice, but he sucks it all up for the hope that he’ll suit-up one day. Before the last game of Rudy’s senior year, his name doesn’t get called to dress. One of the last scenes shows every player on the team handing in their jersey to their coach, because they want Rudy to take their spot on the team. Yes, the plot of “Rudy” was actually explained on The Newsroom.

At the end of “Amen,” the same exact thing happens with Will and his staff, but checks replace the jerseys. His show had acquired a freelance Egyptian nicknamed “Amen” to report on the ground in Cairo. While on assignment, Amen was abducted, with his captors demanding $250,000 for his release. Corporate was unwilling to pay, so Will stepped up and paid the ransom. His reason? “He’s one of our guys.” Mackenzie got the entire office to write checks to Will to help contribute to the ransom, and in “Rudy” fashion, they lined up and dropped the checks on Will’s desk, with “Coach” written in the memo of each check.

Will has been a staunch defender of his staff, and showed that fire in his monologue to a TMI reporter who demanded money in exchange for not running the story on Mackenzie. Will said: “Come after me all you want Lena. Come after me everyday, look through my garbage, invent things out of thin air—that’s what you’re paid for. But you touch my staff, and you’re walking into a world of hurt. I have an hour of primetime every night and I will rededicate my life to ruining yours.”

There’s a cross between Bill Russell’s dedication to the team, Jack Twyman’s care, and Michael Jordan’s commitment to vanquishing opponents in Coach McAvoy. We’re all waiting for him to buckle his broadcasts under the pressure of Leona Lansing’s juggernaut, but it appears that Will has no plans to—he believes in his cause and his teammates too much.

Between all of the coaching and the bizzarre array of injuries (Elliot’s mugging, Don’s shoulder sprain, Jim’s concussion, and Neal’s broken fingers), “Amen” should’ve been named “Hail Mary”—a play that only Will McAvoy’s team could draw up.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

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