Review: ‘The Newsroom’ – ‘5/1’

Senior Television Writer
08.06.12 101 Comments


A review of last night’s “The Newsroom” coming up just as soon as I go to WebMD to look up some symptoms…

Last week’s “The Newsroom” panel at press tour turned into an agree-to-disagree moment between Aaron Sorkin and the show’s detractors, particularly on the question of the way the show depicts its female characters. One of the reasons I find press tour sessions like that so valuable is that, depending on what the showunner says, I can either give myself license to keep hanging in there and wait for the show to improve, or license to bail, knowing that he or she doesn’t think anything needs improving – or, at least, that we don’t agree on where the improvements should be. (It’s the reason, for instance, I more or less dropped “2 Broke Girls” after the far more contentious panel with Michael Patrick King in January.)

But I was already sticking with “The Newsroom” in spite of my various objections, because even when Aaron Sorkin lets his worst tendencies fly, he still writes snappy dialogue, and he’s still capable of crafting beautiful emotional moments – of which “5/1” featured several, in the scenes where characters got to tell people in some way tied to 9/11 (the pilots, the cops, Kaylee) about Bin Laden’s death.

And I will say this, in the interests of absolute fairness: though I disagree with Sorkin that the men and women have been portrayed as equally buffonish over the course of the season so far, “5/1” gave us an hour where Will was a repeated screw-up deserving any and all mockery, while Mac was unquestionably in charge from beginning to end, and at no point did anything necessitating an apology. So that’s a start.(*)

(*) For that matter, I appreciated how last week’s episode (which went unreviewed while I was busy at press tour) finally let Will recognize how much of a bully he can be, even if the structure of the hour was lifted wholesale from a “West Wing” episode, and even if that flashback to the ugly interview still made sure to give Will the last word (because even when he’s being a bully, he’s still right).
On the other hand, Maggie remains unsalvageable as a character, and all of the romantic comedy business involving her and Jim and Don and Lisa makes my teeth hurt. (It’s a situation where even the characters – whether regulars like Sloan or strangers like the other passengers on the plane – are complaining about how stupid this all is, and yet Sorkin can’t stop himself from doing it because he finds it all charming and/or funny, of which it is unfortunately neither.) That doesn’t seem to be going away, and while Sorkin has effectively written romance before (“The American President,” for instance), for the most part that material has never been a strength even on his best shows (let alone the horror that was Matt/Harriet and Danny/Jordan on “Studio 60”). And the longer, commercial-free structure of a cable show has let Sorkin indulge both that material and other questionable running gags (Will being baked) in a way he wouldn’t have been able to on “West Wing.”

But Don stopping his tantrum when he made the connection between these pilots and the ones who died on 9/11 got me. Kaylee trying to avoid ruining the party got me.(**) Charlie addressing the staff, and Will (improbably) getting his act together to refer to the events of 9/11 got me.

(**) More Natalie Morales, please. This should be a rule not only for Sorkin, but the TV business as a whole.

It may be just my associations with the day itself (just as my memories of watching the real Gabby Giffords coverage played a large role in how I responded to the end of the fourth episode), but at the same time, it would be so easy for this material to feel like shameless trading on a national tragedy, and it didn’t. So good on “The Newsroom” for all of that. And that’s why I’ll be sticking around, even if Mac goes back to groveling at Will’s feet next week, even if it takes Jim seven more seasons to break up with Lisa and start dating Maggie, even if the show never fixes the various things I consider broken about it.

What did everybody else think?

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