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Recap: 'The Newsroom' Closes Up Its First Season With An Underwhelming Season Finale

Television
by Oliver Lyttelton
August 27, 2012 10:01 AM
30 Comments
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Season 1, Episode 10 - "The Greater Fool"

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...

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30 Comments

  • DAVE | August 31, 2012 6:35 AMReply

    “It’s not, but it can be”. Those where the words shown to Will by McKenzie and they triggered his speech about the state of the nation in the first episode and even though I know, the whole speech is kind of a pretentious self-quote of Sorkin to the first episode of his own series “Studio 60” (and yes, he probably originally “borrowed” the idea from Lumet’s 1976 “Network”), it got me hooked.

    I watched the first episode twice. This is something that I have never done before and don’t get me wrong I think there are far greater shows out there. In fact “The Newsroom” wouldn’t even make it into my Top 10.

    I know the show is terribly flawed, with all the poorly developed characters, their irrational behavior and the not always logical plot. Let’s for example take McKenzie, I think the reviewer is right with his criticism – how can an Executive News Producer, not know anything about economics and is in need of her fingers for simple deductions. The love-triangle between Maggie, Don and Jim (or to be more exact, since the last episode the love-quadrangle with Sloan joining the band [who really is, as pointed out many times before me, the strongest female character]) is just simply ridiculous and belongs into a show like “Glee”. But all the mistakes have been previously pointed out very wel by Mr. Lyttelton in great detail and I pretty much agree. But it seems to me, that he also is hooked. Judging from the amount of comments every review got, is seem that many people got hooked.

    So why do I watch the show?

    Because of the same reason I started watching “The West Wing” and I’m not even going to start comparing the two –because the TWW outranks the TN in every category. But in a time when the outgoing presidency of President Clinton was dominated by the Lewinsky Affair and the President who followed, was far from what I hoped for, I turned to my “Television President” every other Wednesday.
    The same goes for “The Newsroom”. In a time where the media, reports only what fits the strategies of their advertisers and where investigative journalism is nowhere to be found, “The Newsroom” in many aspects shows the world as is should be. It strives for a higher goal, creating an informed electorate and letting the viewer know not only what happened, but also how it happened.
    In the news world of today, the news are only being presented, no background is and no argument is given - it’s not like I expect everybody to be a Murrow, but I feel like there is a general lack of “Let’s-Do-The-Right-Thing” nowadays.
    Those are the great moments of the show, when the crew takes on herculean tasks, like fighting the Tea-Party, pushing the RNC for a new debate format or reporting about the blockage of raising the debt ceiling. Or even more important, is what they don’t report about: I don’t care about the launch of the new iPhone. One of my favorite moments was, Sloan’s “To give time…” speech to McKenzie.

    [To give time for the people to call their Congressman and say: "If you fuck with the full faith and credit of the US Treasury, you're fired!" To give time for the people to jam the phone lines of the District Offices, to give the people TIME to say: "I'm a fiscal conservative, and you've gotta put the pin back in the grenade right now." That's why.]

    It is that kind of passion that I miss in the world of today. Of course if anyone would give that kind of talk (with that kind of phrase repetition) in a regular office, everybody would just think of it as ridiculous.
    It’s just mostly an “I-Don’t-Care-Policy” in the offices of today and I am (and hopefully many people with me) fed up with that. We should aim for more.
    The concept of truly caring about something important, the dedication of “The Newsroom’s Staff” is what makes me watch every week, that’s why I forgive the obvious flaws and errors and the sometimes dreadful storylines.

    I watch, because “The Newsroom” shows us the errors and flaws of our real world and those unfortunately are way bigger than its own.

    So I would like to close with the cheesy line: “The Newsroom” isn't the greatest show, but it can be.

  • Ic | August 29, 2012 12:22 AMReply

    Oliver you are absolutely on point with these reviews and I'm completely baffled as to how anyone can consider this a good show. Were the posters below me hired by HBO or something?!?

  • Eric | August 27, 2012 9:52 PMReply

    Oliver, from your review I can't tell if you're more pissed at the show, or in the fact that you're stuck reviewing TV shows while more skilled reporters are out there covering real stories. On the bright side, Starbucks is always hiring. Just call it quits now and start practicing those mocha-making skills!

  • Offy | August 27, 2012 9:48 PMReply

    The only good thing about the end of the season is the end of these terrible reviews. You really are pretty dumb aren't you? You want everything spelled out for you or you can't figure out how it happened. MAybe you should switch to recapping reality TV. That seems more your speed. I'm sorry I ever followed a link to last week's recap.

  • Robyn | August 27, 2012 6:37 PMReply

    Awful review. What were you watching Oliver?

  • Abby | August 27, 2012 6:33 PMReply

    Totally disagree with this review. I enjoy the characters and the story behind each of them. I am curious to know what exactly people were expecting from this show? And more to the point, why people seem to like bashing it? There are, I've seen, much worse on television about subjects I care more about. This show is quality. And for those who don't recognize it's merits should take a closer look at the real reason why, or just stop watching it.

  • D | August 27, 2012 4:53 PMReply

    You are absolutely correct!! The show dropped the ball in the most obvious places. Half of the cast is miscast and can't carry the dialogue. Not even close to the cast of West Wing! I've found it very hard to believe that characters and the situations because I am so taken out by bad acting and ridiculous scenarios. I am really enjoying Jeff Daniels though....everyone else, even Sam Waterson are phony and pushing....meh!
    Well done!

  • Rach | August 27, 2012 3:50 PMReply

    Completely disagree with this review and rating also! I feel as if I've been watching a completely different show to this reviewer and a number of other critics who seem to be attacking it.

  • M SPINELLA | August 27, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    I disagree with your review and rating as well Oliver.

  • Thornhill | August 27, 2012 1:27 PMReply

    I think it was a commentator on Slate who pointed out at that for a show about journalism, there's almost none of it on the show. You never see the work that is involved with putting together a story from the ground up (like the film "All The President's Men" does). It's either that someone has a unique source, or the fictional staff is reporting on a big nation event.

    But the bigger problem is the premise of the show: being set in the past. We basically get Sorkin's commentary on events from 1 to 2 years ago which aren't all that different than what people like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, etc. said at the time. It's pretty ridiculous that a primetime scripted show is showing soundbites of crazy things Republicans said from 1 to 2 years ago! -- isn't old news so exciting! And not only is this old news, but Jon Stewart does this every night on is show, but when the soundbites are new. Sorkin seems unaware that there are in fact a lot of people in the media who are doing exactly what the fiction Newsroom staff are supposedly pioneering.

    In this final episode Sorkin seems to have gotten how foolish it is to provide commentary on such old events. In the episode his commentary was on voter ID laws which is something that has heated up in the last few months -- no one was really thinking about it in August 2011.

    So when you take away Sorkin's unoriginal commentary on old news, all you're left with is a rather stale workplace drama with stock characters and plot.

  • Abby | August 27, 2012 6:35 PM

    Jon Stewart in on the same channel where puppets crank call people. It's a different demographic than HBO.

  • Thornhill | August 27, 2012 6:00 PM

    @M Spinella:

    1. If there is a valid criticism of journalism today, it's that big for-profit companies have bought up newspapers, magazines, etc., in depth investigational reporting and having bureaus all over the world isn't cost effective, so you increasingly have everyone letting the AP do the heavy lifting and then just reporting on their work with their own spin.

    2. As I said in my post, everything the Newsroom staff claims to be pioneers at has been long done. For a decade now Jon Stewart has been using video clips of things politicians have said on the record in interviews to reveal their hypocrisy. When the fictional Will McAvoy delivers one of his commentaries and splices it in with video clips, that's called "The Daily Show."

    3. For all the Newsroom's complaining that good journalism isn't happening on TV, it completely misses the fact that good journalism continues to happen in other media, such as print (e.g. "The New Yorker"), and radio (e.g. NPR). Sorkin puts TV journalism up on a pedestal, but the fact is, it's not a good medium for reporting the news. The financial realities simply make it impossible to have a long in depth story. "The New Yorker" excels because its editors realize that to properly tell a story, sometimes the journalist needs 30 pages. That's not possible with TV, and it's never been.

    4. The characters claim to be most concerned about delivering substantive journalism, but that's not what they do. They just claim to report the news without fear of offending anyone. Big deal. Real, substantive journalism is something like "This American Life." Sorkin should listen to last year's episode on the Georgia Drug Court and rethink what exactly it is that he wants to say about journalism.

  • M SPINELLA | August 27, 2012 2:06 PM

    But isn't Newsroom about the news not being treated as a story? "You never see the work involved with putting together a story....." Sorkin needed to lay a foundation for character development and for the future path the show would follow. Would it not stand to reason that this would require plotlines concerning previous news? Finally, I totally disagree with your comment about "...a lot of people in the media who are doing exactly what the fiction Newsroom staff are supposedly pioneering." You seriously believe that?

  • Martin C | August 27, 2012 1:40 PM

    I think you have totally missed the angle of the show. And the topics the show is covering are hardly in the distant past. All of the issues are still very relevant, if not more relevant, today. The voter ID law for example: we're gearing up for an election and seeing the GOP push for, and enacting, stricter voter ID laws, not to mention extending voting hours in red counties while restricting them in blue counties. All still very relevant today. The show also serves as a snapshot of the politics and journalism in this country today and hopefully future generations will look back on it with horror.

  • M Walker | August 27, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    I disagree with this grade and review as well.

  • Phil Edgar | August 27, 2012 12:54 PMReply

    "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". 'Some other guy' are you serious? It was Charlie Skinner. I, like the majority of the others disagree with your reviews. I also find it difficult to consider you credible with comments such as 'some other guy'. Were you sleeping during the episode?

  • Martin C | August 27, 2012 12:59 PM

    I think he meant the building security guard that let them into Will's apartment. He was half asleep though :-)

  • GDay | August 27, 2012 12:46 PMReply

    I don't understand your motivation, Oliver. I, too, agree with the other posters here. I can't remember a time when I looked forward with such anticipation to the next weeks episode. Fantastically entertaining.

  • Martin C | August 27, 2012 12:27 PMReply

    I found The Newsroom to be an exceptionally high quality and thoroughly well written show, with some of the best performances of the year. Nothing else on TV comes close. You stated that the Tea Party story line is 'not good drama' and that 'the characters are all fucking idiots.' Couldn't disagree with you more. This season started stronger than any show I've ever seen and maintained its velocity right to the end. The finale was fantastic. I hope the show resonated better with viewers than it did with a lot of the critics out there. The negative critic reviews of the show, like the one above, boggle my mind. My advice would be to get back on your med's and come join us back in reality before season 2 kicks off.

  • Jeremiah Tranchina | August 27, 2012 12:26 PMReply

    What show are you watching Oliver??? Were you asleep while you watched or was your viewpoint based on some drug induced coma? Regardless, Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom ended with such force, passion and truth, it may actually go down as one of the greatest episodes of a any TV show OF ALL TIME. It is only partisan because you don't like the result but it is nothing if not fair to this one thing that we like to call "facts". I am personally a "reformed" republican for the exact reasons that were described in this episode and we all should be eternally grateful to Sorkin for his brave portrait of what we ALL wish news would be more like. Anybody that calls Fox "News" is simply living in a bubble...the same bubble that will unfortunately be keeping shows like the Newsroom outside of it. Bravo!!!!

  • Scott Kennedy | August 27, 2012 12:19 PMReply

    I also couldn't disagree with you more. The Newsroom is simply the best show on television right now, and people who are not watching it are missing out on what real writing and drama is like.

  • Mary Tossell | August 27, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    I couldnt disagree with you more Oliver. This view of a Newsroom often says what we would like the news to say. The blasting of the Tea Party, Religious Fundamentalists and the weak Politicians who dont stand up to the sheer ignorance was nothing short of brilliant in my opinion. The Newsroom may have its cringe worthy moments, but the lofty heights it reaches well surpass the momentary weakness. I am so pleased its been picked up for a second season despite critics who I feel just dont get it. Only problem is waiting till next June to see more!

  • gary mcgillicuddy | August 27, 2012 11:28 AMReply

    I must totally disagree with this opinion. The Newsroom, while still developing characters and finding its stride, is refreshingly intelligent and almost alone in this regard on TV today. There is no other drama that tries to be a mirror of current events. I dont believe Sorkin's goal has ever been to change the minds of TEA partiers but rather state plainly the other side's perspective which unfortunately the other side rarely does.

    As for the development of personal relationships, it is actually refreshing to see the characters bumble in this regard. They are bright professionals who are often clueless from the EQ perspective, this makes the more real. It is for me one of the best qualities of the show that it is not neat. Life is messy and the show tries to capture this in an endearing way.

  • Liz | August 27, 2012 3:45 PM

    My main problems? Poorly written characters, a grossly condescending attitude toward its audience, and a bizarre, inaccurate view of how the news actually works (such as these hard-hitting journalists getting all their good stories not by doing research and spending hours trying to dig up sources but by simply having close, personal ties to seemingly every newsworthy figure both in and out of the country). I am most definitely on Sorkin's side when it comes to politics, but I don't think that's grounds for considering a show good, and that's where a lot of the show's fans seem to disagree. It's just not a dramatically sound show.

  • Martin C | August 27, 2012 3:07 PM

    Well you did name a few intelligent shows but they pale in comparison to The Newsroom. So what's your problem with the show?

  • Liz | August 27, 2012 1:54 PM

    An intelligent TV show? How about:

    Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, The Hour, Justified, Parenthood.

    So, Martin C, please tell us why each of these shows is not intelligent. Remember to show your work.

  • Martin C | August 27, 2012 1:45 PM

    Good lord, someone just compared The Good Wife to The Newsroom. Let's hope Glee doesn't get political next season ಠ_ಠ

  • No | August 27, 2012 12:38 PM

    "There is no other drama that tries to be a mirror of current events." Not even "The Good Wife," which has tackled Twitter-online media-attack culture, right-wing talk show hosts, philandering political husband, grand jury abuse, government restrictions on due-process, government secrecy, etc.? You have high standards, Mr. McGillicuddy.

  • Martin C | August 27, 2012 12:30 PM

    Liz, I'm dying to know what you consider an intelligent TV show. I wait with baited breath for your examples.

  • Liz | August 27, 2012 11:43 AM

    "refreshingly intelligent and almost alone in this regard on TV today."

    I've noticed that people who tend to say this sort of thing don't actually watch television. Seriously, this is not even remotely the "sole" intelligent TV show on the air (and that's even if you think it's intelligent at all).

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