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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Newsroom: "I'll Try to Fix You"

All drama is manipulative to some extent, but the question posed by last night’s The Newsroom is whether real-life tragedy can and should be used to create relatively minor drama in the lives of fictional characters. In other words, was it out of bounds for Aaron Sorkin to use the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, and her unlikely and inspiring survival, as a way to pit Will and his staff against their corporate overlords?

It’s a debatable point, but such usage was perhaps inevitable right from the point it was revealed that the pilot episode was taking place on the day of the BP oil spill. The Newsroom is going to continue to use historical fact to inspire its fictional drama, and that is going to result in some tension. If nothing else, this might show the wisdom of setting the West Wing is basically an alternate timeline occurring somewhere around the Nixon resignation.

I found the sequence of events starting with the news bulletin to be moving, but maybe I’m just that easy. Sure, it lends more ammo to those who critique the show for its perfect foresight-as-hindsight, but knowing that Giffords survived the assassin’s bullet, and that Will and Mac and the others were right to wait on reporting her death, lead to a swell of emotion when the truth came out. The Newsroom continues to be at its best when its characters are at their best: at work, getting the story.

For the moment, the on-air stuff seems to be just about one-third of the show, where the other two-thirds are split between the threat to Will and the show’s new direction posed by Leona Langley and her son, and the personal lives and romantic entanglements of the main characters. The former is becoming more and more promising, as Charlie’s realization of the lengths the company is willing to go to get Will in line is a fine moment, and sets the stage for many more like it.

The relationship stuff, however, feels like it belongs on a different show, perhaps one that even reality TV fans would like. This week, Will lashes out at Mac for moving on, Charlie tells Will to make a run at Mac instead of sleeping around, and Mac still feels bad for how she treated Will. Meanwhile, Don wants to get rid of the competition by setting up Jim with Maggie’s fashionista roommate Lisa, who despite even thinking herself too dumb for Jim winds up sleeping with him. Jim lies about this to Maggie, but Don knows the truth and rubs it in Maggie’s face, causing her to make the private public in a horrifically unprofessional manner during a staff meeting.

Ok, I’m out of breath. It strikes me as really funny that Sorkin rails against the manufactured drama of reality TV (a point I’m entirely sympathetic to) but can only generate personal drama between his characters in the most heavy-handed ways imaginable.

Still, there is a lot to be entertained by, and I’m enjoying this re-imagined version of the recent past enough to keep going along for the ride.

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