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Monday, July 30, 2012

The Newsroom: "Bullies"

There is a flaw in the conception of The Newsroom that I fear will make it very difficult for the show to attain its full potential. The show is clearly crafted so to make the characters heroes for their integrity and their commitment to getting things right, but in order to create drama, they have to fail or at least come up short in their efforts. That in turn leads to them seeming incapable of doing the jobs they are supposed to, which undercuts the whole idea of them being the best at what they do.

The amount of unmitigated stupidity displayed by the main characters in last night’s episode is startling. That anyone could write such things and still expect us to respect these characters is even more so. The most galling part is that so many of these mistakes, these stupid errors in fact and of judgment, are patently contrived and unnecessary.

Take Maggie, please. It’s easy enough to believe that someone would have filed a complaint with HR on her behalf, but the explanation for it is grossly unfair to her character. We’re supposed to believe that a twenty-something who was able to get a job at a highly-rated news station doesn’t know that Georgia is a country? We’re supposed to give credence to the idea that someone in her age bracket, in the 21st century, still doesn’t know what “LOL” stands for?

Stupid little things like this serve only to pull the viewer out of the narrative and cause him or her to spend the rest of the hour picking apart what the show is trying to do. Then when the show asks us to make a bigger leap, like believing that Sloan Sabbith wouldn’t know or care that she can’t reveal off-the-record information on the air, it becomes impossible for us to go along with the show.

Perhaps the biggest leap the show is asking us to make is also one that I am increasingly finding difficult to get on board with. The idea that Will McAvoy is some kind of living saint worthy only of admiration and awe is absolutely preposterous. As written, McAvoy is a control freak with anger issues who is dastardly manipulating Mackenzie into still feeling bad for something that happened four years ago. The show keeps telling us how special he is, how brilliant he is, and how good he is at his job, but there is a significant gap between what we are being told and what we are being shown.

The best scene in “Bullies” is one in which McAvoy gets some well-deserved comeuppance from an aide to Rick Santorum who happens to be gay and black. McAvoy pushes and pokes the aide trying to get him to condemn Santorum’s positions on civil rights for gays and lesbians, but when he pushes too hard the aide denounces his pandering condescension in an impassioned speech about his right to decide for himself what is important to him. It’s a great moment and one of the few times the show has allowed McAvoy’s real character to display itself instead of insisting on some impossible paragon of virtue.

At the periphery, there were a few other nice things going on in “Bullies”. I like Terry Crews as the bodyguard, and his repartee with the staff was rather lighthearted fun, of the type this show could use a lot more of. Dave Krumholtz was fine as McAvoy’s psychiatrist, although the framing device is a little overwrought. Olivia Munn did a great job with some problematic material, and her confrontation with Charlie was especially good.

Next week looks like the Bin Laden killing episode, which has the potential to be an absolute self-aggrandizing trainwreck. Let’s hope they avoid that.

1 comment:

  1. Agree with most of your points. I think my biggest problem with this show (which I still enjoy quite a bit) is that Aaron Sorkin expects us to believe that everyone speaks exactly the same. All of his characters have the exact same quick talking, witty and sarcastic speech mannerisms. Even the two new characters introduced in this episode, the bodyguard and the psychiatrist, talk like that to varying degrees. While it allows for some good dialogue, it doesn't help separate the characters and make them unique. Instead they're all just slight variations of the same character.