by M. R. Brown
"Fourteen months ago you went on the air and called the Tea Party the American Taliban.”
“The Taliban resented it.”
Much of the allure to viewers of HBO and Alan Sorkin’s latest brainchild The Newsroom is its behind-the-scenes drama at a cable news channel and its intelligent, insightful dialogue. What most critics see is a show’s slapdash attempt to come off as the last bastion of hope for what journalism should be. Critics panned the first season for its poorly written female characters and for its pretentious and conceited writing, alongside this misjudged view of the journalistic field.
Season 2 returns to much the same. In some ways, very little has changed. Maggie (Alison Pill) cries–which is by now as much a drinking game as Leslie Knope eating waffles. Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) talks down to his crew as though her were Sorkin himself at a writer’s table. And Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) steals sideways glances at Maggie but can’t stand the sight of her and Don (Thomas Sadoski) together so he forces his way to a separate branch far away. If it sounds like the plot line from The Office, it’s because it is the plot line from The Office.
The episode opens on McAvoy in a year later flash-forward legal counsel meeting where he recounts the events that lead up to a falsely reported and overblown story about something titled Operation Genoa. Maggie enters the room, with a strapping little red haircut, and we find she plays a vital role in the whole case.
Return to August 2011 where the newsroom is as we once left it.
As brilliant as McAvoy’s morality speeches, Neal’s (Dev Patel) conversations with an Occupy Wall St. organizer in the park or Sloan’s (Olivia Munn) pressing need to shine a light on drone strikes all are, they are simply hindsight masked as intelligence. It makes the uninformed play the fool and Sorkin rise above as the voice to what real news should have been covering.
But it was. Only, the general public doesn’t invest in reading or watching enough news coverage as a team of full-time researchers at Sorkin’s beck and call. Few could.
Sorkin has openly admitted in an interview with Vulture that writing the show as a means of looking back on events “give[s] me the chance to have the characters be smarter than we were, which is kind of fun.”
But it’s not fun. Sure it exposed the many banes of giant news providers, but at the same time it’s crushingly hard to watch. Conversations are muddled in preachy twang and little action moves through the episodes. It’s overpowering drama, only of language rather than emotion.
The scenes involving Occupy Wall St. organizers seems nearly impossible to have ever been spoken. It’s clear, concise and sharp as a tack. The group predicts the media of mistaking its message for neo-hippy, which it may have.
But it didn’t, really. There were, of course, terribly produced stories about the movement that shied away from its core beliefs, but plenty of media covered the movement’s important message. The public failed to carry it for eternity.
Though the show’s style may be seen as representing past events in a serialized television format, rather than documentary, it’s hard to separate that The Newsroom‘s entire premise is that of an in-depth look at hard-nosed journalism. Bad journalism is one that trades fact for sensation.
However muddled the end result, it is positive to find some enlightening clarity of recent years’ events and the moral scope its shined through could be pointed from a much more terrible lens. The Newsroom will continue to find strength in these downtrodden television days of summer.
“For the record, I compared the Tea Party to the Taliban and we were attacked by Al Qaeda.”
“I don’t want to ask people to make that distinction on the 10th anniversary.”
“No, we’ve never gone wrong getting our enemies mixed up.”