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Monday, August 6, 2012

The Newsroom: "5/1"

Great works of entertainment are often called thrill-rides, but if we’re talking about things like roller-coasters I think the term more accurately describes watching a show as uneven as The Newsroom. There are moments when the dialogue snaps and the sentiment soars, and you forget that Aaron Sorkin is essentially manipulating the recent past to his characters’ advantage. But there are also dizzying descents into cheap gags, retrograde sexism, and treacle.

The best parts of “5/1”, which chronicles the hectic pursuit of the truth on the night Osama bin Laden was killed, are those which demonstrate so forcefully the sheer thrill of finding something out and passing it along. The episode gives us several variations on this theme, as both out normal reporters and several others get to be the ones to break the news. It’s an emotion we can all claim familiarity with: when we get a call that one of our friends or family members is engaged, pregnant, or getting a great new job or something our first instinct is to get on the phone and spread the news. The joy on the faces of the men and women who get to tell others about the death of bin Laden is just that emotion on a larger scale.

I also enjoyed the part of this story where Charlie reflected on the responsibility of reporting the news before the White House gave clearance. I suspect many journalists will bristle at this as being arrogant and pedantic on Sorkin’s part, but I think there is some merit to at least having the discussion.

Unfortunately, even these scenes, which should be a slam-dunk from a dramatic standpoint, are often ill-served with creaky dialogue. I still can’t believe no one excised Don’s ingratiating “for you” when he told the flight crew.

That however, was not near the worst part of 5/1. Nor was the worst part the show’s unrelenting meanness toward its female characters, which here is represented by Lisa walking into a pole while looking at her phone, random party guest thinking Christian Bale is an Australian actress, and Maggie being Maggie. (Not much they can do on that last one at this point, I know.) Even having Charlie somehow know right off the bat that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a cousin in the Navy Seals was not the worst part of the episode.

The worst part of “5/1” was when it resorted to having Will being stoned just to increase the tension, only to have it play next to no role in the overall story. Seriously, a sober will, or even just a slightly drunk one, would probably have gotten out of the car to report the story just the same. And having Will inexplicably sober up enough to read touching copy about the meaning of bin Laden’s death was tantamount to having Chekhov’s gun turn out to be a water-pistol.

I suspect that Will’s impairment, however hard to detect on-air, will be the revelation that provokes his final confrontation with Jane Fonda’s Leona Langley. If I am correct, I have to say that Sorkin has perhaps out-smarted himself, as it will be tremendously hard to disagree with Leona if she were to fire Will for cause. If I were in charge of ACN I’d fire Mackenzie too for allowing him on air in that state.

As to the larger issues with the show, having Mac kowtow to Will only further underscores just how submissive and subservient she is to his needs, which could possibly sprout into interesting character growth, although I won’t hold my breath. And having Will’s pompous statements about being a “medical marvel” essentially come true only furthers the impression that Will is a kind of superhuman we’re all supposed to bow down to.

Natalie Morales’s character was a bright spot for the women on this show, as she seemed to be a real person with intelligence and real feelings. Who wants to bet she’ll be revealed as the person who told on Will for being high?

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