Wednesday, August 22, 2012
How To Enjoy The Newsroom
While rewatching the latest episode of The Newsroom last night on HBO, I had a sudden thought: Why am I watching an episode I panned for a second time?
It’s true. “The Blackout, Part II” was one of the most ill-conceived episodes of dramatic television I’ve ever watched, and it has had some stiff competition from the rest of season one of The Newsroom. And yet within its rambling, idiotic shambles of an hour there was enough entertainment value for me to justify the investment of my time. (Plus the Mets were being the Mets again.)
I wonder how many TV critics secretly agree with me. For as much as they rail about the show’s problematic and irritating character dynamics, the lack of believable chemistry between romantic partners, and the contrivance of having the show take place in the recent past, no critic I know has stopped watching or writing about the show.
But I’m sure a lot of you are on the verge of giving up, being worn down by Will’s odd penchant to reference Broadway musicals, Sloan’s disturbing weight fixation, Mackenzie’s screeching tirades, or Maggie. This Sunday’s episode marks the end of season one, and I’m sure if it isn’t very promising many of you will bail. Here then is the secret for how you too can begin to enjoy The Newsroom.
First, stop comparing it to The West Wing, and not just because the comparison would be unflattering to most dramas ever made. It’s difficult, especially because the show definitely seems to be inviting the comparison, but the key to enjoying The Newsroom is to break free from the idea that the staff at NewsNight are people whose mission is noble and whom you want to see succeed.
Second, disregard the premise and the author’s intent. Sorkin pretty clearly hates cable news and the internet, and not wholly without reason. But his grandstanding and holier-than-thou pontifications are worse than the crimes he condemns. While it is easy and justified to view Will McAvoy as a mouthpiece for Sorkin (despite the character’s strained and incredible plea to Republicanism) to do so is to make him the hero of the show by default.
Try looking at the show this way. On stage at Northwestern, Will McAvoy had a psychotic break with his previous personality, and launched into a bit of persuasive demagoguery that has swept up willing believers like Mackenzie, Jim and Maggie, who have since proselytized this religion to the others on staff. Will’s personal magnetism belies a deeply sick and twisted inner persona, which allows him to mistreat the very people who worship him. He tortures his most devoted acolyte Mackenzie by refusing to allow her to move on from their failed relationship. He plays with the confidence of his staffers by inflating and deflating them at random. He feeds his ego with their approbation, and only outsiders can see the he is a shallow figure, hubristic and monstrous, and dangerous enough to be a threat.
Doesn’t that sound a lot more exciting than watching two-year old news events covered in the most high-handed and pretentious fashion possible?