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'The Newsroom' Episode 2 Review and Recap: 'News Night 2.0,' One Strange Step for Womankind

Television
by Beth Hanna
July 1, 2012 11:00 PM
9 Comments
  • |
HBO Emily Mortimer in "The Newsroom"

Best laid plans go awry as the newsroom staffers attempt an upgraded show, and as "The Newsroom" writer Aaron Sorkin gives us female characters with some serious mood swings.

What happened:

After the successful coverage of the oil spill, the "News Night" team is trying to usher in a new era for the show. As Mackenzie puts it, "We don't do good television, we do the news." During a meeting she unveils an easel with her three points for good news coverage, which the staff accepts despite her idealistic, grade-school approach.

We discover that Will and network higher-up Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) have daily advice sessions "about numbers." Reese wants Will to stretch out the oil spill coverage for as long as possible -- it's ratings gold. He also points out that on conservative websites, Will is respected because he doesn't take cheap shots at Sarah Palin. After Palin's idiotic remarks regarding the oil spill, Reese wants Will to refrain from lampooning her. Will declines to lead with the spill coverage -- "News Night" is now focusing on Arizona's SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration act -- but considers the suggestion about Palin.

In this scene we see Will's conflict between his old and new way of doing things. Like Mackenzie, he wants "News Night" to have a different direction. But he's also an incessant ratings pleaser, and rich because of it. He tells Reese: "I still want your advice every day."

Mackenzie convinces economist babe Sloan (Olivia Munn) to make the step up to primetime and join Will on "News Night." Mackenzie knows the TV game -- her show needs a smart, qualified news anchor "who doesn't look like George Bernard Shaw."

Through a series of missteps, Maggie loses the show's most important guest for the evening, Arizona governor Jan Brewer. Instead the show must go on with a motley crew of pro-SB 1070 guests: A blatantly racist self-published academic, a pageant queen (one breath away from saying "like such as") and a militia man who insists on keeping his rifle in the frame with him. Will must carry the episode. Importantly, Will ends the show with an awkward explanation of Palin's "Dutch and Norwegians" remarks about the oil spill.

After a rough night, the "News Night" staff goes to a bar down the street. Maggie gets drunk. So does Mackenzie, depressed by Will's cowardice. Will calls her to tell her he's "in": He made a blunder with the Palin apologizing, but he's now committed to "News Night 2.0."

Crazy, stupid love:

I'm trying to like the women on this show. And in truth, Mackenzie and Maggie are likeable when they're proving themselves as intelligent, capable newsroom employees. But Sorkin writes his female characters to vacillate so wildly between two stereotypical ends of a spectrum: The "career-oriented" end, and the "romantic relationship" end.

We've been told that Mackenzie has stab wounds on her stomach from her tough, cutting-edge reporting in Afghanistan, but apparently she can't figure out how to send an email to the appropriate recipients. Twice in this episode she sends a message to the entire staff when attempting to send a personal email to Will. The second email is the most damning, revealing gossip about Will having cheated on her. (Which is backward -- Mackenzie cheated on him.) Mackenzie discovers her mistake, and goes batshit frantic in front of her colleagues, caterwauling at everyone to erase the email she sent, and even breaking someone's smartphone.

When Mackenzie approaches Will after his Palin remarks, and puts him through the ringer for ratings whoring, it's a satisfying moment that's completely undercut by her other actions throughout the episode. It's hard to take a person's reproving seriously when we've seen her hysterically stomp on a co-worker's phone like she's a misguided rom-com heroine.

I like the scene between Mackenzie and Sloan, because it's two women talking honestly about career moves. Sloan is a prime candidate for "News Night" because she has brains and great legs. There's no shame in this, and the reasoning behind Mackenzie's offer is accepted by both women with matter-of-fact efficiency. Then Sloan brings up Mackenzie's past relationship with Will, and before you can say "character inconsistency," Mackenzie is flailing and squawking like a chicken with no head. Only two seconds earlier she was a shrewd TV producer -- what happened?

Maggie loses Jan Brewer as a guest because she had an embarrassing college relationship with the Brewer point person, Glen Fisher. Jim takes the fall for Maggie, telling Mackenzie that he bungled the phone interview. Maggie calls Jim on this later at the bar: "Why do you think I need protecting?" She interestingly points out that Jim may have a "girl in distress fantasy." But Maggie is completely wasted on martinis when delivering this line, which muddles the potency of her observation. The Maggie-Jim dynamic thus far consists of Maggie constantly bumbling, and Jim constantly calm and in control of his emotions.

Romance can certainly confuse a workplace, and a woman is no less smart or capable if she betrays tumultuous feelings about romance. But there's a difference between realistic emotional fluctuations, and bipolarity played for laughs. The characters on "Newsroom" have potential for interesting nuance, and the actors are estimable. Let's see this game stepped up.

Other interpretations or ideas? Thoughts about the episode?

9 Comments

  • Diane | July 4, 2012 7:34 PMReply

    I can definitely see why people are saying this show is stereotyping the two main female characters on the show. I also agree that McKenzie has some character inconsistency. I didn’t actually catch the first 2 episodes live but I watched the recordings on my Hopper. I’ was happy when my coworker at Dish suggested the upgrade, and the show, because then I was able to start watching in my kitchen and continue watching in my living room. Thank goodness!

  • Marin | July 3, 2012 10:33 PMReply

    I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I enjoyed all the craziness, and I don't have any negative views about the female characters: for Maggie, she made a mistake that cost the show and now she learned not to do it again, a very human moment. As for Mackenzie she's spontaneous, energetic, and lol funny; she made me laugh so hard when she accidentally sent that mail and tried to keep everyone from reading it, and to me it didn't take away anything from her, hell I've made similar mistakes where I accidentally sent a message to everyone instead of my friend. Sh*t happens, and that's what this episode was about, that sh*t happened and now they have to own to the consequences of their mistakes. And the writing is just so well done, and everytime I watched the pilot, I always found some new dialogue that I didn't notice the first, second, or third time I saw it. That's how good a show can get, when everytime you watch it again, you can find something new that you didn't notice the first time, and right now it is my fav. summer tv show. So with that I expressed my opinion about this show. I love the characters, the set, everything really.

    Oh and Olivia Munn was just awesome, she deserves credit where it's due, and btw, gossip in the workplace can spread like wildfire, I know that because I work and the moment when something personal about someone is heard about, even though it's not true, it just goes from person to person, and eventually just about everyone has heard about it, so for me it wasn't awkward how Sloan knew about the relationship between Will and Mac, even though she got it wrong.

  • Grenke | July 2, 2012 5:05 PMReply

    From experience comes patience and Aaron Sorkin, regardless of his tendency to fill up on dialogue, is an experienced writer. He writes with patience and with our (the viewing audience) patience in mind.

    It's hard to believe that the obvious allegory was lost on the viewers (even Ann). The characters in this episode are developing inconsistently just like "News Night" itself. This episode was intended to represent the unpredictable inconsistencies in anyone and everyone the same way anything can happen anywhere in the world. However, when all those inconsistencies cross paths it's extremely hard to make it work. This came together all at once when Maggie's past experience with an "ex" affected the outcome of the broadcast. That was the chorus folks!

    If you re-watch the episode and you look at the symbolism and strong allegoric plays, especially with the "News Night 2.0" white board in comparison to each character individually, you'll find that Mr. Sorkin gave you the symbolic blueprint of what was to come. Not only for "News Night" but for the characters as well. He wanted you to feel like "The Newsroom" show needed to step up by the end of the episode. He wrote it this way to make you feel what the characters in the show are feeling; that feeling of "we need to do something. Now."

    It worked.

    The characters are adjusting, just like the viewers are adapting to the show and how they interpret the characters and their relationships.

  • Jeremy | July 2, 2012 4:45 AMReply

    I honestly felt like I was going insane while watching this episode. I had no idea why Mackenzie, who was flawed, yes, but had such strength and dignity in the first episode, was flailing around being completely incompetent and insecure all in relation to how she felt about a man. I felt bad for the character. I also felt bad for Emily Mortimer because she's so much better than the scenes she had to play.

    Same for Allison Pill. I get the Maggie's still trying to find her footing in the newsroom. We saw that in the first episode, but we saw her occasional gracelessness handled in a very elegant manner. Her she was shrill, on the brink of insanity, and I honestly couldn't understand what I was seeing.

    It all felt so thankless on these actresses parts, especially considering how well established the characters were in the pilot.

    Olivia Munn came out looking the best here, and that's not something I was anticipating at all.

  • Maurice | July 4, 2012 11:22 PM

    I'm not certain there is any overwhelming 'punishing' of the female characters, and certainly not the actresses. To pull off these fluctuations is certainly a testament to their cabilities more than anything else. As to the characters, are they any more afronted than the near schizophrenic male lead character's bounces from idealistic to outlandish? How about the young Indian character/actor constantly pointed to as 'the IT guy'? The alcoholic old man constantly looking save news while threatening to beat up any man half his age who thinks to disagree with him?

    Sorkin has no more desire to make a 'realistic news broadcast' than John Stewart does w/ the daily show. Equally, he is not interested in making a neat character building story arc with a lofty crescendo for the characters and a walk away 'good feeling' any more than Quentin Tarantino.

    Almost everything in his writing is a criticism of something, but many times it isn't the directly obvious thing. Tons of symbology and secondary effects are applied constantly. The 'chaos' is just another tool towards that end. It is a style very different from the majority of what we see and one tends to either love it or hate it often times.

  • Lars | July 4, 2012 12:11 PM

    I have the same thoughts! I thought I was watching a new character played by Pill. All of a sudden she's this career-driven woman who doesn't take no for an answer even though she's still inexperience. The fluctuation is just too fast. Yes, she can change, but not after one episode in which she is described as lacking self-confidence and vulnerable .

  • Beth Hanna | July 2, 2012 11:43 AM

    @Jeremy -- I completely agree. I understand that Sorkin is going for a slapstick/screwball thing, but unfortunately it's punishing his female characters -- and, like you say, the actresses playing his characters. I know for genres like this everyone always refers back to "Broadcast News," but it's understandable why: James L. Brooks and Holly Hunter were able to create a female character who was facing a genuine romantic dilemma in the workplace, and they didn't compromise her intelligence or apparent sanity in any way. I wish that was the case for the female characters in "The Newsroom."

  • Bill | July 2, 2012 12:34 AMReply

    How long will it take for Maggie to start sleeping with the new guy. Episode 1 had a couple of moments. Episode 2 sucked. I think they are already jumping the shark with the lame email stunt and the knocking the phone out of the guys hands, pouring coffee on it stunt. Is using the phrase jumping the shark , jumping the shark?

  • Beth Hanna | July 2, 2012 11:48 AM

    @Bill -- The coffee-stomping-cellphone thing was very bizarre. A show definitely needs a successfully established heightened reality to pull off that kind of eccentricity, and it just wasn't working -- especially in the second episode of a first season.

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