The Newsroom S01E02: News Night 2.0

On this week’s show: The team decide to focus on Arizona’s controversial SB1070 immigration bill while the other less worthy shows focus on the oil spill. Mackenzie sends an email with revealing details to everyone in the company and Maggie screws up and loses the big interview while Will tries to work out if he wants to be a moral centre or a ratings whore.

Review: I’m not a big fan of writing in the first person. Writing reviews isn’t about me, it’s about the shows.What I want to do is present the cold hard facts about a show. Obviously it has my own slant on it, but by  my reckoning I am a smart and informed viewer of much television so at least my opinion will be well informed and hopefully articulate.

So what’s my point? Oh yes, I have a point, it may even be about this show I haven’t started reviewing. Mackenzie has come back from Afghanistan and wants to make news, you know real news, with interviews with the most informed people. She wants an end to pointless shouting arguments and a beginning to informing and educating. She wants to take out the emotional response.

And just like my reviewing – this might be the point coming up now- I’m just not sure that it’s just not possible to separate the emotions from the facts. Journalism should of course be informed and educational and the arguments should take the best form possible and the news should of course try to remain impartial. But we are human and we create a narrative and just because something elicits an emotional response doesn’t mean it isn’t part of the story. Is a fire a chemical reaction or the destruction of a  lifetime’s worth of possessions and memories.

News can be emotionally manipulative but there is always a human interest, and human interest doesn’t have to mean fluff. I think that’s the point, someone tell me later.

That debate aside this was compelling viewing. I was gripped, the dialogue flowed, the pacing was far surer than the pilot and the ensemble properly had a chance to interact. The leads are now in place and interact rather nicely. After last week’s dream news broadcast where anything fell into place, the team are tested with a disaster show and prejudices are tested.

In an effort to seem more human, Will has been learning the entire staff’s names. Mackenzie outline her vision on a whiteboard for the project called News Night 2.0. Being all real and full of integrity she would of course never use PowerPoint.

The introduction of Chris Messina as Reese Lansing , the slimy ratings expert is most welcome. He represents the devil on Will’s shoulder in contrast to the angels of Mackenzie and Charlie. In many ways the entire drama of the show is motivated from the battle between integrity and commercialism.

However there are some definite flaws. Much of the plot revolved around hard as nails,war veteran can’t operate email and sends details of her personal life to the entire company. It’s a lazy early nineties sitcom device and she just shouldn’t be that dizzy.

In general I’m not sure the audience really needs the soap-opera elements. They should really be allowed to arise naturally while the rest of the plot plays out. This has a full 60 minute run time, unlike traditional network television which works out at 42 minutes a go. It might work out a lot better if they were forced to cut out the excess time and just run a tight show. Sports Night came across as a lot smarter than this in a sitcom slot.

Just two episodes in there are an awful lot of conveniences. Maggie screws up because the spokesperson doing the pre-interview because that was someone she used to date in college and she can’t resist a barbed comment.

Last week Jim got his contacts because of people he knew. People in the media have contacts and sources so these people don’t have to be sourced from convenience. There are ways to tie drama into the characters without having them be connected. Perhaps the problem in the setting on 2010 to tie into real life events. That seems somewhat unnecessary and restrictive. Sorkin built a beautiful fictional world with The West Wing. Who wants reality? Reality only limits writers.

And speaking of contacts, Newsnight clearly has none because the best they can do when Arizona governor Jan Brewer cancels her appearance are an internet academic, a runner up in a beauty context and a militia border patrol man showing with a pet gun. Who said Sorkin can’t write a convincing Republican?

In a side plot Mackenzie hires the unconvincingly named Sloan Sabbath (Olivia Munn) to spend 5 minutes a night explaining the economy. She’s hired because she’s a professor of economics and also because she looks like a lingerie model. You don’t just have to be beautiful to work on News Night, you also have to be qualified.


Many internet commentators are claiming sexism with both Maggie and Mackenzie far too scatterbrained and emotional, leading to big mistakes. It’s an easy reading to make but I prefer to see how the entire cast screws up over the course of the season. Individual characters don’t have to represent an entire gender but there’s enough reason to observe and see if it becomes a trend.

In some ways the reasons for Will’s  abrasive character are revealed as we discover Mackenzie cheated on him, broke his heart and then left for Afghanistan. However they rather make sure we all know how wonderful Will is really because he doesn’t fire Maggie when she should have been. His humanity is hammered home when he gives anonymously gives money to an illegal immigrant whose job was threatened following an interview in a local magazine.


It all ends with a montage over High and Dry by Radiohead. I wish to ban musical montages closing episodes. It’s become an increasingly cheap way to evoke a mood. Still it fits with Mackenzie’s speech asking Will to be the “moral centre” of the show. In the end he agree’s to fight the good fight. Journalists really are heroes.

Most shows don’t suffer this much analysis but Aaron Sorkin is a high profile writer and great things are expected. Every show should be allowed a season to find its feet and while enjoyable when viewed, under scrutiny, there’s much room for improvement. Most HBO shows have a strong identity. Aside from some swearing, The Newsroom feels like it could be on any network. Much like Will McAvoy, it really needs to find its voice.


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