“Dang it honey, why can’t Will and Mac admit they still love each other?”
2:46 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10
After a weeklong reprieve, the show I love to hate on jogged into its final lap with the first of a two-parter set on election night 2012. Sunday’s installment—titled, what else, “Election Night Part I”—invited worries that this would be a deflating capper to The Newsroom's uneven sophomore season. I mean, is there anything more thrilling than watching some haircut read the box scores to a game you watched a year ago? I’d rather correct Wikipedia entries.
We all know President Obama handily outsourced Governor Romney’s White House dream, so where would the drama come from?
A) Blogger Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) fielding one pointless task after another? Chasing down anonymous book bidders and Wikipedia vanguards can’t be what he expected on such a big night, but hey, at least he got a semi-apology for the whole British colonialism thing.
B) News division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) scrambling through Atlantic Cable News offices begging to be fired for the Genoa fiasco? Reese Lansing’s (Chris Messina) mommy rant was worth the price of admission to that swanky viewing party, but I could do without attorney Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden) purring “liquid sex” ever again.
C) Or would it come from Aaron Sorkin returning to his show’s two nauseatingly co-dependent relationships—between Will (Jeff Daniels), Mac (Emily Mortimer) and Will’s ego; and Jim (John Gallagher Jr.), Maggie (Alison Pill) and her Joey Heatherton-on-meth haircut?
Those were rhetorical. You know the answer.
And here’s where The Newsroom wastes its premise. Sorkin sets his show about a year or two behind current events, ostensibly so he can dig into recent history and show how the media sausage gets made. Only that doesn’t really happen. This season he’s given superficial gloss to Occupy Wall Street, Trayvon Martin, Benghazi and a number of other historic mile markers.
The one real-ish event he spent any significant amount of time on was Jim’s detour aboard the RomneyBus. We actually got a taste of life on the campaign trail, primarily the unspoken agreement between candidates and reporters that trades access and free sandwiches for regurgitated talking points. Those scenes resonated. The ones that conjured African cattle raiders and fabricated war crimes didn’t.
Speaking of Genoa, I hoped Sorkin had something to say about how the media—especially those working in television—sometimes fulfill their own juicy prophecies without doing their due diligence. In light of Judith Miller’s WMD fictions for The New York Times and CNN’s more recent speculation following the Boston Marathon bombing, this is fertile soil to till. Instead, Genoa simply allowed Sorkin to reset the status quo. It’s something the team must band together to overcome, nothing more.
And I guess that’s what really grates. Ultimately, nothing on The Newsroom—no matter how perfumed with refracted wisdom—tells us anything worth knowing. At its core, the show is a will-they-won’t-they sitcom minus the laugh track.
So why should we give a shit whether the News Night team aces election night? What a low bar to clear in the first place. After all, election broadcasts reveal just how comically shallow the cable news ethos really is. Either you have Fox News stooges melting down like psychotic crybabies or Wolf Blitzer and a holographic will.i.am competing to see who’s more out of touch with reality.
Election night isn’t the Super Bowl of TV news coverage, as Will indicated this episode. It’s this industry’s snuff film: You watch it in utter disbelief that something so terrible is transpiring right before your eyes.
Last thought: Digressions saved this episode from utter disaster: financial news reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) making one on-air gaffe after another (“In fairness, he did anchor a report about the president committing war crimes and that wasn’t even true.”); producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) tormenting his anchor with silly dances; and Charlie reacting to another too-good-to-be-true news tip (“Are-ya-whathafuck?!” is my new catchphrase.)
11:03 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11
I’m not able to speak to last Sunday’s episode, as I’ve taken the week off to thumb my way out to Wyoming. But I did find this familiar face in the December 2005 issue of Smithsonian magazine.
Grade for “Election Night Part I”: I
Grade for Waterhouse ad: A+
7:24 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12
It’s Decision Day 2012, and America eagerly awaits news of President Obama’s re-election or Governor Romney’s upset. Unfortunately for them, they’re going to have to suffer four quirky news anchors and hours of obsessive, pointless poll watching, or what I like to call “poll stroking.”
If this was the moment we (the audience) were supposed to be waiting for, The Newsroom repackaged its historical reenactment in a confusing orgy of quips and emotional outbursts.
This episode proved two things for me:
1. The show works best when it’s light on its feet. With plenty of smart jokes and lighthearted dialogue, watching how the news is reported can be—dare I say—quite entertaining. When Sorkin goes light on the melodrama, his inevitably high-horsed messages are much easier to swallow.
2. Sorkin can’t decide whether he wants to critique the news or give us, as Raheem called it, a sitcom set in a newsroom.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a massively fun time with “Election Night Part I.” But there’s a striking difference between being entertained and being mentally stimulated, and Sunday’s ep failed to deliver the latter.
Ultimately, this installment’s downfall was its inability to comment on the absurdity of our election night news coverage. News Night and Co. spent two years triumphantly sidestepping entertainment journalism only to sink headfirst into its pit for one of the most important evenings of their careers.
Election night distills the insanity generated from the entire campaign season. Instead of focusing on candidates and their actual platforms, TV stations turn to discussing hypothetical, unanswerable or unnecessary questions, such as “What effect, if any, did the ‘We are the 1 percent’ video have on the Romney campaign?”
Can anybody, for the love of God, explain to me the journalistic merit of predicting poll results moments before the next news team? Does it change the outcome? Maybe we should ask buffonish co-anchor Elliot Hirsch (David Harbour), who led cameras into a room full of analysts crunching data for hungry poll junkies, and tried to pass it off as quality reporting.
And I can’t let this episode go without ranting about the nearly non-existent margin for error journalists face when reporting. Sure, Genoa was a big mistake. But does an entire news team really need to resign because of it?
When Dan Rather reported on a then-unknown-to-be falsified document about President George W. Bush’s war record, he was forced to resign. Of all the important stories Rather brought to the public, one mistake forever tarnished the man’s credibility. Really?
It seems like journalists, even more so than the public, take their credibility beyond the scope of reality. Surgeons have a higher mortality rate and their work involves taking actual people’s lives into their hands. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I was bothered by Charlie Skinner displaying an application for the New York sewage department as an award to the first person who made a mistake on election night.
Between low wages, fitful benefits, dwindling job opportunities and a severe lack of appreciation for what they do, journalists have to worry that a single honest mistake is all that’s keeping them from Skid Row.
And finally, some highlights and grievances:
-Why does Maggie (Alison Pill) hate Jim (John Gallagher Jr.)? The poor fellow pines after her politely, endured a relationship with her psychotic best friend, was humiliated on YouTube because of her Sex and the City meltdown, yet still manages to express concern over her descent into alcoholism. Now she’s giving him attitude? C’mon Maggie.
-Who buys an economist’s autograph for $1,000 dollars? I know we’re suspending disbelief, but I wouldn’t even buy Adele’s autograph for more than $30. Maybe I’m just cheap. Or broke.
-My favorite moment of the night, by far, was one we were probably supposed to take with utmost seriousness:
Will: “I’m sorry I didn’t explode for you.”
Mac: “It’s a long night.”
I’m not a pervert. I know you giggled, too.
11:34 a.m. Friday, Sept. 13
No. Please make it stop.
Grade: I (for “insane,” not “incomplete.” It never was for “incomplete.”)