by Lady Sharon
Editor's note: Tea With Lemon was at an advanced screening of Aaron Sorkin's new drama, The Newsroom, which premieres this Sunday night on HBO. Please welcome guest recapper Lady Sharon. Warning: this recap contains spoilers!
|Hey good lookin! Whatcha got cookin? A new show, |
you say?!? Shazam! Photo: source.
I own a “Santos/McGarry” t-shirt (The West Wing's my fav). And I religiously visited his short-lived Facebook page, where he responded to almost everyone who asked him a question about writing or making it in Hollywood, sharing many behind-the-scenes golden nuggets along the way.
While I may not necessarily agree with his politics or opinions, in my mind, the man can do almost no wrong artistically. After watching The Newsroom pilot, I want to discuss it, revel in it even, and squeal about it like a giddy teenager. I may let a few squeals slip here, and some West Wing comparisons, too.
So be warned.
The Newsroom had plenty of the Sorkin-style signtures: shotgun-style dialog, witty banter, competent and dedicated characters, current storylines, and a world we can escape into where heart and honesty still exist in people.
The show opens with Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, as an inert and almost irrelevant cable news broadcaster, at a college lecture. He’s not really into the gig: boring question-cliché answer-rinse-repeat. Then the moderator pushes him for an answer on why America is the greatest country in the world. Flustered, he thinks he sees a familiar woman in the audience hold up a notepad that says:
“It’s not. But it can be.”
This sends him off the deep end. He goes postal on the sophomore girl who asked the question and flings a stream of statistics at her on why America isn’t the greatest country in the world.
Hey, sorority girl… I’m gonna throw down on you!
This scene set the tone for Will’s character, started the show off with a bang, and quite frankly gave me the chills. Squeal!
So Will is an expert. Smarmy know-it-all? Expert? Both. Another staple in many Sorkin stories. Like him or not, Will is supposed to be this knowledgeable and this arrogant. And there’s undeniably something intriguing about that.
Maybe it’s because I saw this pilot in the theatre and his face was 8 feet tall, but I found myself drawn to it and thought, “If Will wasn’t such an asshole, he’d almost be good-looking.”
Then there’s Sam Waterson as Charlie Skinner, the president of ACN news. He’s left to manage the fallout when, after Will’s nutty, most of the staff of Will’s show News Night jump ship.
Predictably, I liken Charlie to The West Wing’s Leo. But unlike Leo, Charlie drinks. Quite a bit. Yeah, he’s still the wise, guiding father figure with a lame/cute parable up his sleeve. But boozin’, he’s less polished and more prickly than Leo could ever have been. That’s a new twist on an old character, and he’s hard not to like.
So Charlie brings in a successful executive producer - also Will’s old flame - to executive produce News Night. Welcome Emily Mortimer as MacKenzie MacHale. (We now learn that THIS is the woman Will thinks he saw in the crowd at the lecture.)
Her Mackenzie is strong but feminine, and the show portrays her as one of the few people who can stand up to and deal with Will.
I like Sorkin’s strong women, The West Wing's CJ Cregg being tops. But I don’t completely buy that MacKenzie can put Will in his place. Something about her just didn’t completely sell me. I suspect this is due in large part to the first interchange that Mac and Will have.
|Because I work in PR and Marketing, I walk around all day pretending |
I’m The West Wing's CJ. But for reals, I’m totally normal. Photo: source.
Yeah, yeah, she said some smart things, wasn’t afraid to get in his grill, and she recited lines from The Merchant of Venice and Don Quixote. (Or Man of La Mancha?) But the exchange got caught up in itself and the show almost lost me there.
MacKenzie brought with her, her own senior producer Jim Harper, played by John Gallagher Jr. He’s tres cute in this show! Squeal. Jim is experienced but awkward, and that combination is very attractive. If he wasn’t tripping over himself or luggage left in the hall, he’d rule the roost.
Jim gets a big win in this first episode by having an inside source on some huge breaking news. He convinces everyone, Will primarily, that this news is newsworthy and they run with it. Yay, Jim! I want to see much more of this character, his backstory, and him succeeding on News Night.
One of the people who stayed with Will out of loyalty is the blonde, somewhat naive, female assistant, named Margaret (Maggie) Jordan, played perfectly by Allison Pill. She got the job by pretending she already had the job. (West Wing: Hello, Donna Moss!)
MacKenzie admires Maggie’s loyalty and on first sight promotes her to associate producer. Shazam! Maggie also gets another big win in the first episode, landing a killer source that is willing to go on the air and answer questions from Will.
There’s a super cute moment when she gives out a little too much information to MacKenzie on where Will is. It’s one of those crazy classic Sorkin lines that has only one word (“yes”) but has a dozen meanings, and Allison nails about 10 of them right on the head. I want to see much more of her. She’s cute, likeable, and there’s so much they can do with her character, learning the ropes of news television, learning hard life lessons, etc.
Here's to hoping they don’t jump the shark and rush the potential romantic angle they’re setting up between her and Jim... or lead her down the love triangle black hole by keeping her current boyfriend, Don Keefer, in the mix. Thomas Sadowski plays Don, the previous executive producer of News Night who left in the mass exodus.
Listen. Aaron. Dude: DON HAS TO GO. His character is like Mandy from The West Wing, who was just too routinely sour to be entertaining, or Ellis from Smash, who was just too undermining and weasely to be at all likeable. I was dying to see Don kicked off as soon as he started being a jackass to Maggie and Jim.
Do yourself and me a favor, Aaron. Kill off Don before he drags your show down the tubes! You’ll have to do it eventually. And I know you can create much more interesting and enjoyable conflict elsewhere.
|Down with Don! Photo: HBO.|
It’s interesting that Sorkin set it in the past and uses real events. I suppose it’s intended to draw us into the show with events that we have a basic knowledge of and have (strong?) feelings toward. This would perceivably make us already invested in each plotline right from the start. But I don’t know that will actually accomplish the goal of the show…
Sorkin calls The Newsroom an “idealistic, romantic and optimistic take on television and the news business.” That’s one of the things I love about him, he always strives to see the best in the world and he portrays that in the stories and characters he creates. I can see that here.
But, does repackaging all the polarizing tragedies, successes and dramas of the recent past just make us relive it all and get re-polarized? Aren’t we supposed to find in this show a place where the news is created by people who refuse to show the “leading bleeding” news because they refuse to be handcuffed by ratings and advertisers? I thought so.
Yet Sorkin uses “leading bleeding” news (like BP and the capture of Bin Laden), and hyped up dramas (like the Casey Anthony trial) each week as the basis for his plots. Something is just inconsistent about that.
|I’m a lover not a fighter! Wha….?!?!? Photo: source.|
Will tells Mac a moving story of the first time he met Mac’s dad, and how though he was nervous, the two men ended up having quite a few beers together. Little squeal.
Then he confides in Mac about his moment of vertigo, and confesses that it was because he thought he saw her in the audience. He quickly hops on the elevator and the doors close before she can answer him.
Fade out on MacKenzie pulling out a pad of paper showing the exact notes Will thought he saw. She was there! SUPER SQUEAL!
This is another wonderful and classic Sorkin moment. It shows the audience the bond that the two main characters have, even though they don’t recognize it themselves.
It shows that underneath the cold exterior of a hard-boiled man there are at least traces of a soft and fuzzy underbelly...
That when capable people unite under a common cause they do have potential to succeed...
And that at the end of the day, we can all come together, and acknowledge that “there’s a lot more that unites us than divides us.” – Sam Seaborn, The West Wing.
It gives us hope. And squeals. The Newsroom is another Sorkinian gem.