Review: ‘The Newsroom’ – ‘News Night with Will McAvoy’

Senior Television Writer
08.12.13 38 Comments


A review of last night’s “The Newsroom” coming up just as soon as I scroll past “This Week in Nip Slips”…

I was too busy with press tour to write about last week’s tin-eared, stereotype-laden trip to Africa (the sort of episode “ER” was doing better, and with far more nuance, a decade ago), but “News Night with Will McAvoy” was a significant step up from that. Where the reach of “Unintended Consequences” far exceeded its grasp, “News Night” kept things simple – even the real-time gimmick of spending an entire episode in the production of an episode of Will’s show didn’t really call attention to itself – and for the most part, avoided the landmines Sorkin usually lays out for himself.

Take Maggie, for instance. Though there’s some confusion about the timeline of her haircut – Todd VanDerWerff’s theory is that the haircut scene at the end of “Unintended Consequences” takes place much later than the rest of that episode – overall this is about the best she’s ever been written on the show, and the first time I didn’t feel sorry for Alison Pill being stuck with this horrible character. Maggie screws up (in a story inspired by NBC’s real coverage of the Zimmerman 911 tape), but it’s an understandable mistake under difficult circumstances, and we see her being perfectly competent earlier in the episode. And when she makes the pro-“slut” argument to Jim while discussing Sandra Fluke, she doesn’t seem irrational, doesn’t seem like she’s picked the absolute wrong moment to take a stand and express an unpopular opinion; she’s someone who has thought out her position and is stating it while stuck waiting for an audio file to download. (Even if it seems wildly improbable, even under the circumstances, that it would take that long in 2012 to download any audio file.)

Or take Will grappling with his father’s heart attack, and then death. This is very familiar territory for Sorkin, whose heroes inevitably have daddy issues (in fairness, this is a Quality Drama trope in general, not just confined to his shows), but the way it played out through Mac and Will’s conversations during each break did an excellent job of illustrating the depth of their friendship and Mac’s value as a producer, better than the show for the most part has to date. An excellent outing for both Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer.

There was a minimum of lecturing on how year-old stories should have been covered, a couple of amusing payoffs to subplots (the crew member played by Chris Matthews’ son yelling “Baba booey, motherfuckers!” at the pranksters, Sloan punching out her ex-boyfriend and snapping a photo of his bloodied face), and even some of Sorkin’s usual bugaboos (Will being hurt and offended to be accused – on Twitter, no less – of sexism) flowed relatively seamlessly into what the characters were going through this week.

Too much has happened over the first season-plus for me to really like more than a handful of the show’s characters (and sometimes, efforts at character rehab backfire; I liked Don a lot more back when he was the obnoxious “News Night 2.0” skeptic), but if Sorkin can reel himself in like this on a more consistent basis, the performances and the dialogue would be enough to keep me satisfied a while.

Not sure if I’ll be reviewing every episode going forward, but what did everybody else think?

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