By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com August 27, 2012 at 10:01AM
And so here we come to the end. "The Newsroom" arrived nine weeks ago with high expectations -- the return to TV of Aaron Sorkin, the man behind one of the best network TV series ever, "The West Wing," and a fairly fresh-minted Oscar winner for "The Social Network" script. The pilot was problematic, but not without promise, but over the run of the series, Sorkin's indulged many of his worst instincts in a show that's been frustrating and occasionally borderline terrible. Every so often, it feels like it might recover with a better episode, before plummeting back down again (with last week's episode something of a nadir for the series).
It seems fitting, then, that season one of "The Newsroom" ends with a whimper. It's an episode that wasn't as egregiously awful as previous lows, but still failed to match Sorkin at anywhere near its best. Kicking off with the writer's favored flashback structure -- a dramatic event (in this case, Will McAvoy announcing that the top story is about a woman named Dorothy Cooper), before flashing back to a week before to see what led up to it.
Will is in a funk thanks to the hostile New York Magazine cover story on him that Paul Schneider's character had been writing, and he's found by Mackenzie, bodyguard Lonny and some other guy, passed out on his bathroom floor, bleeding internally. As it turns out, he's been self-medicating, causing an ulcer, but his brush with death hasn't exactly pulled him out of his slump. He tells Mackenzie that he's considering not returning to work once he recovers.
But there might be worse to come. Tabloid reporter Nina (Hope Davis) meets with Mac, and with a compassion that seems to have come from nowhere given the outright villainy of her character before, tells her that she's got a source that Will was high when he presented the news the night Bin Laden was caught (which was indeed the case), and if she can find a second, then she'll run the story, and Will will surely be fired.
Salvation, of a sort, arrives with Solomon Hancock, Charlie's NSA source. He's told that they can't run with the story, because he'll be seen as an unreliable witness, and refuses to give Charlie evidence of the TMI hacking, before jumping off a bridge a couple of days later. But not before sending Charlie... something. Will and Mac realize (it's never exactly clear how) that Nina's source must be Mac's hacked voicemail, and take their theory, and Solomon's envelope, into a meeting with Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) and her son Reese (Chris Messina). As it turns out, they have no evidence, but Reese admits to hacking nevertheless, and Will's job is safe, for now, with Leona now seemingly on board with News Night 2.0.
Which is a good thing, as Will -- inspired by his nurse, whose great aunt is being disenfranchised by voter registrations laws -- is giving both barrels to the Tea Party. As ever, it's not that Sorkin doesn't make a strong case, it's more that he's preaching firmly to the converted, and doing so without the wit of, say Jon Stewart, who serves much the same purpose, but is much funnier, and fairer. For all of the high-falutin' talk of changing the face of journalism, this is simply the reverse of the kind of partisan screed you get on Fox News, and wouldn't change the mind of a single Tea Party type. We appreciate Sorkin's argument, but it's not good drama.
Of course, all the political stuff is high art compared to the show's romantic entanglements, which has been dragged out to ten hours length principally because the characters are all fucking idiots. Will and Mackenzie are drawn back together when she admits that she was in the audience for his speech that sparked off the whole series, inspiring him to better things (which honestly makes so little sense for someone to do). But they're still unable to make anything happen, even if they're clearly still hung up on each other. Looks like we get another ten hours of this!
Meanwhile, what was once a love triangle between Maggie, Jim and Don has become a love pentagon, thanks to the addition of Maggie's roommate Lisa, who's dating Jim, and Sloan, who confesses from nowhere to Don in this episode that she likes him. Things reach something of a peak after a mind-bogglingly awful "Sex & The City" homage/parody, as Maggie screeches at a tour bus about the "realities" of being a single girl in New York, and how she's in love with her best friend's boyfriend, only to discover that Jim is on the bus (don't ask). The two finally kiss, but because everyone in the series are romantic martyrs apparently allergic to doing the smart thing, she moves in with Don, and he stays with Lisa. The romantic machinations have at no point been inspired by organic motivations, but more because Sorkin needs to stretch this out for as long as possible. It's an element that continues to be near-crippling for the show.
There's a good series buried within "The Newsroom." The actors are mostly pretty good, even when their material is dreadful. Sorkin's dialog is zippy, occasionally funny and always musical. It's been capable of gripping behind-the-scenes drama in places. But the first season has been so tone-deaf, so misjudged, that that good show is trapped under a hundred feet of horseshit at this stage. We'd like to be optimistic enough to think that things will improve come season two, that Sorkin will take heed of some of the criticisms, work out how to fix things, and come back with a show that lives up to its potential. But whereas we approached the start of season one with fevered anticipation, we'll come to season two with real caution. [C-]
Season One Grade [C]
Bits & Pieces
- "Adventureland" and "Superbad" helmer Greg Mottola returns to direct for the first time since the second episode, and mostly does a decent job, although the montage scored to The Who was kind of awful.
- It slightly rankled us, as Londoners, to hear last summer's riots referred to as "austerity riots." There's a small degree to which that was the case, but it's pretty sloppy reporting from Jim to paint it entirely that way, given that they kicked off after a police shooting, rather than because of cuts.
- The Neal Sampat: Boy Reporter storyline, the worst plot the show did in its first season, turned out to go absolutely nowhere. The plus side, at least, is that Terry Crews, one of the best things on the show, gets to stick around.
- Speaking of the best things on the show, Olivia Munn and Thomas Sadoski have continued to be "The Newsroom" MVPs, and given that we've commented on their chemistry before, the idea of them hooking up does at least make a degree of sense.
- Given how good she's been on the series, we can't help feeling that a show focusing on Jane Fonda's media-mogul character would be far more dramatic and compelling than the one we've got. Sadly, it's unlikely to happen...