It’s been a year since Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) inspired the turn-around for News Night and there’s a party at Will’s (Jeff Daniels) apartment. He took a vicadin and two pot brownies for medicinal purposes. Charlie (Sam Waterston) gets a tip from an unnamed source (and with the aid of The Rock, he figures everything out) in order to establish credibility. The Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie (Alison Pill) relationship continues its drama, but there’s some evidence that there’s an imbalance in who likes who. The President is going to address the nation with some news relating to national security. The media, including the team, scrambles around to figure out what the news is and when they can announce it.
This is one of the funniest episodes since the first. Because there’s one piece of news and it’s about as unpredictable as a sub-10 second 100 meters, so there’s room to have fun. But the fun is second to sentiment in magnitude. The military, police, fire department, and airline staff are all called forward to get a preview of the President’s news. Their responses all strike me as accurate—a confused smile. No tears of delight or catharsis, just mass cheering. Everyone looking to another asking how they should respond. If you watched the news alone, I wonder how you responded to the news. There’s also a dig at Geraldo that’s pretty funny.
Finally, there’s a cliffhanger—a subtle one, but big enough to show us the fun to come. The only question is whether the win is going to be too easy for Will and company.
In other news…
I saw in the paper that there was some controversy about The Newsroom. There were unfounded claims that Sorkin had fired his entire writing staff for the second series (which has already been commissioned by HBO). He didn’t fire anyone, apparently. Also in the story was the harsh criticism the show had attracted. I was a bit surprised by that, so went over to Metacritic to find that the show has a mediocre 57. Then I looked at the criticisms and I wasn’t at all surprised.
The commonest o’ comments rated from about 50 down (and 50 up) were “sanctimonious,” “sermon,” “smug,” and “exhausting.” The first three are basically the same thing. Let me break it to you, a person that has an opinion and feels strongly about them doesn’t make that person smug or sanctimonious–superiority is the key. Specifically for this show, the characters accept that there are other opinions and reasonable people can disagree but lying isn’t allowed. Is that smug? It may take its position as superior, but when that’s obviously true it doesn’t seem to fit the connotation. Is this a double-down on “smart is smug” coming from The New Yorker?(!!!)
One comment I could not understand from The New Yorker: “The Newsroom treats the audience as though we were extremely stupid.” The context is that Sorkin’s fans think that people didn’t like Studio 60 because they don’t “get it,” but in fact there are three things that Emily Nussbaum didn’t like (presumably)–if you’re confused by the structure of that sentence, it’s because I’m describing the logic of the offending paragraph (and the logic is a bit spotty).
“Characters describe events we’ve just witnessed,” she complains (I think). Why is that a problem? Because it’s sanctimonious historical fiction. There’s that word again. Example. The Koch brothers and their political involvement (which was actually broken by print/online journalists) she says is fictitiously broken by News Night. It’s a seemingly fair point. The show is essentially about the failure of modern journalism and the News Night stories, because they’re covered, imply that modern journalism covered it incorrectly or not at all. Maybe she just thinks that the audience is extremely stupid since even on the slightest reflection, any viewer would realize that Sorkin wouldn’t know it if the media hadn’t picked it up. Now, if you think the device for hampers the show for some reason (very possible), I’d like to hear it. But thinking that it’s a way to grandstand history strikes me as groundless. A motive as petty as that, if it isn’t reflected in petty material, ought not to be assumed by a neutral viewer.
I liked this comment from The Washington Post: “Sorkin’s writing lapses into self-parody, leaving savvier viewers to marvel at how quickly the show goes awry.” Apparently, dialogue cannot run over three sentences without becoming a lecture. I kind of like a full opinion to come out of a character’s mouth–and if it were pithier, wouldn’t that too be complained about? Pointing out a phenomenon is not the same as a criticism. “Do they do it well?” is the question–perhaps Stuever thinks it isn’t done well (as implied by “self-parody”) but I didn’t see . His thoughts: “By episode four, you can feel some tardy recognition of the overwriting, some adjusting of the show’s knobs. The haranguing soliloquies are reduced by 30 percent and become slightly more like the romantic banter we crave; some villains are established; some wan love connections are presented for our consideration.” Well, I can see what level you’re looking for. Ah, and I see that Dallas is on your guide of what to watch this summer. I think that’s called burying the lead. In any case, the show is written, filmed, and edited before the first episode airs, so if they felt knobs needed adjusting, they would have adjusted throughout.
One more dig on the Post: “The men talk like Sorkin writes; the women talk that way, too.” Since Sorkin is the only writer, I would be rather surprised to see them talking any other way.
Here’s some analysis from The Miami Herald (the lowest rating):
“Monstrously misconceived and incompetently executed, powered by a high-octane blend of arrogance and contempt, The Newsroom is an epochal failure, a program destined for television’s all-time What Were They Thinking? list. Not since NASA’s first Vanguard rocket blew up on its launch pad in 1957 will Americans have seen anything crash and burn on television with such hellish spectacularity.”
I like the last sentence the most because the spectacular inaccuracy of the prediction just obliterates any authority he might have had. Contempt the show certainly has, but for liars, rationalizers, and those who sit back and watch. Why shouldn’t Sorkin have contempt for them? Mr. Herald probably just disagrees and can’t get over that disagreement to watch the show–“a ceaseless rant against Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, the Koch brothers, Allen West, Fox News, Michelle Bachmann and anyone or anything else to the right of political center.” That says it all, right? In fact the show gets between 1.6 and 2.3 million viewers a week–about half a million less than Real Housewives of New Jersey. If you don’t think that that cast of cranks needs taking the air out, then brother you’ve got some crazy needs looking into.
He found the line “I’d rather do a good show for a hundred people than a bad one for a million” to be insufferably self-righteous. Apparently this is because he thinks that it is Sorkin who is claiming that good is unpopular and vice versa. I wonder what Mr. Herald has been watching for news these days. He finds the line “Who are we? We’re the media elite” to be a kind of eye-rolling silliness. To me, the line gives me chills of hope. The hope is that there are parts of the media that are elite, brainy, knowledgeable, and believe strongly that the audience needs to be informed of the strengths and weaknesses of arguments that they can formulate better than a talking head for-hire. “What arrogance to think anyone can state better than the person who holds the opinion dearly!” I imagine them saying. Bollocks. Sometimes, people really are smart.
I agree that the show has been rather one-sided, at least as of the sixth episode (the seventh being non-partisan (except for the dig at Geraldo)), but that’s because the crazies are on the right right now. If this were the 70’s, there’d be plenty of reports about the left and their stupidities. Should he comb through the papers to find liberal/Democratic foolishness in the name of balance? That would be the rankest hypocrisy against what the show stands for. McAvoy wants to debunk inaccuracy and unfounded arguments—that’s not opinionated.
So, with those reviews in mind, I saw the show tonight in semi-amazement. Watching a show like this and considering it other than one of the best shows on television strikes me as dramatic over-criticism. Look at a list of the top rated shows this year. To call it bad is unsupportable. To say it isn’t your taste, that the language feels unreal, or it isn’t your brand of humor is acceptable. Weaknesses of particular episodes are fair play. But that’s not what the criticism sounds like—it sounds more like they said what they felt obligated to say. Smart is smug. Wit is contrived. Elite is bad. Up is down. Cats and dogs, living together, mass hysteria!
You might be interested to know that better Metacritic score include: NY Med, Cougar Town Season 3, Smash, On Death Row, True Blood Season 5, 2 Broke Girls, and Bevis and Butthead Season 8.
There’s also been some criticism of the portrayal of women in The Newsroom. A Google search shows most hits concerning coverage of the criticism rather than the criticism itself. But I’ve looked at two examples. One from The Huffington Post and one from the ominously named Vulture. Both concern the fourth episode, “I Will Try to Fix You.” (My review.) I’ll point out at the start that the portraying females disagree with the claim, but what do they know? Women, eh?
Since the Vulture article is more to the point–titled “The Newsroom Is Incredibly Hostile Toward Women” (link title newsroom-aaron-sorkin-women-hostile-misogyny). I can oppose this article almost line for line. Excerpt:
What the show’s fourth episode drove home was that within the Aaron Sorkin world, there’s no insult more grave than being a woman. “I’m concerned about the rest of us being turned into a bunch of old ladies with hair-dryers on our heads,” Will snapped at one of his dates on Sunday’s episode. That’s his nightmare, his fear: that our culture has become too invested in gossip or reality TV, which are feminine concerns. Later in the episode, Gabrielle Giffords gets shot. Thank God something important happened — like six people dying — so the noble staff ofNews Night With Will MacAvoy could cut in to the nightmarish senselessness of a fashion TV show.
The hair-dryer…is metaphor or analogy?…apparently grates on Margaret Lyons (of New York Magazine). “‘Fix’ seemed to be about how fashion is dumb and news is smart, how gossip is a social cancer and cable news is noble, that everyone else is an idiot and Will (and sometimes Charlie) is brilliant.” I think Sloan and Mackenzie are also brilliant, so that’s just inaccurate, but the first half of the sentence struck me as “True, yes, I agree, not exactly noble.” Is it that I’m just so in the tank with Sorkin? Are there people who don’t think gossip is a social cancer? Lyons says that this plays out as women=dumb, men=smart. I think it more accurately is described as regular cast=smart, outsiders=dumb. The gossip columnist, Maggie’s roommate, and the Congressional aid are all enemies of the show’s ethos not representatives of a gender. “Thank God we have menfolk for the serious stuff.” I think Sloan, Mackenzie, or Maggie all have the right perspective on serious, frivolous, and worthwhile.
There’s talk of Sorkin’s knack for calling people girls as an insult–the hair dryer, a male character’s anger at his male colleague’s failure to remember an anniversary as “woman”-ish, Sam Seaborn’s shellacking from Ainsley Hayes as being “getting beat, by a girl!” One by one. Hair dryers being a place where gossip is traded is a cliche that emphasizes the local and frivolity of gossip. Failing to remember an anniversary is also a cliche of male insensitivity turned, in this instance, into an ironic joke–the irony being that the first man should be as insensitive (negative thing) as the other. Third, getting beat by a girl is also a cliche used ironically. What makes the last point triply ill-founded is that Sorkin wrote the part of the woman who upsets expectations by not being a dumb, shrill harpy like Anne Coulter–that is, sometimes people can be a woman, pretty, smart, and disagree all at the same time.
One point that I do agree with is that you can’t just say you love women. Sorkin made a similar sort of point when he said that the women on The Newsroom aren’t just alluded to as good at their job, but are consistently showing us just how good at their job they are. Even Maggie who, up until the first episode, had been getting Will his coffee.
The feminist utopia version of Newsroom isn’t the one where the female characters are Perfect and Powerful. It’s a version where the female characters aren’t completely othered at every moment; where their motivations make as much sense as male characters’; where they’re given the same opportunities to be perfect and imperfect, powerful and disempowered, as right, wrong, scared, and brave as their male counterparts.
Who is othering these women? Are motivations confused and irrational for women only? I think not. This article didn’t have the benefit of seeing the Sixth Episode where Will’s weaknesses and wrongness are put on full display–best episode yet, by the by–so I can’t use that against her. But I can say that four episodes isn’t enough, considering the obvious power and intellect of the female cast, to claim that Sorkin or The Newsroom is misogynistic. That is, unless you think that gossip is for women and not a social cancer.
The Huffington Post article, written by Jack Mirkinson, also calls out some misogyny. First, Maggie becomes unhinged whenever Jim is with someone else. I agree that that fits into a narrative of women-as-hysterical, but let’s put that in the maybe column. It’s only a maybe because this is a television show and some drama is required. Second, Will’s dates all throw drinks in his face which might seem like Will is a jerk, but really reinforces “how noble and smart Will is”. Agree, because he is.
“After all, as MacKenzie says, they’re just a ‘Netflix queue of crazy divorced women with digitally remastered breasts.’ So, y’know, not there to be respected.” Respected as humans, yes, given the benefit of the doubt so as not to annoy the over-sensitive, no. Beautiful women may well have many fine qualities, but the revolving door of his dates and uniformity of superficial qualities does support the quip. Is a dumb beauty below Will’s dignity? Yes. Not because he’s better than them, but because he’s better than that. He’s not a chauvinist, so he shouldn’t act like one. Is this not obvious? Who is rationalizing harder, me or Mirkinson/Lyons (who makes the same point)? Will’s specific dates/female interactions end horribly because “he’s ‘a mission to civilize,’ and who could find fault with that?” I really don’t know.
A later date is crazy. “Then there’s his third date, who he calls a “bitch” and “mean and insensitive” for also being interested in the Real Housewives.” I like this sentence because he’s being so willfully obtuse. She isn’t mean and insensitive because of her (implicit) incidental preference for the Real Housewives, but because of the bloodthirsty manifestation of her interest. Also, the show is dreck and it hurts me to know it exists and is watched. “What delightful commentary by Sorkin on the state of American womanhood.” Tell me, is it more sexist to portray some women as cohering to stereotype (and others as very much not) or to think that Sorkin’s portrayal of three women is a comment on American womanhood? There’s a leap in the second thought that these portrayals may arguably be a valid comment of an entire gender.
This is really a part of a longer conversation of what is and what isn’t sound feminism. I don’t suggest I am the final arbiter on this, but there’s a fine line between crypto-sexism and not-actual-sexism, and many tend to see crypto-sexism everywhere. Because obviously, this isn’t patent sexism. Nobody on the show says that women are inferior or should shut up because they’re a dumb woman. Instead, we have to search for clues and perceived patterns of sexist assumptions. How can we talk about this if men are assumed to be irrational (sexist) if they take an opposing view? (Some irony there.) Can I say that women are more interested in gossip, for example, without being a sexist?
I wanted to see a gender breakdown of ratings for these shows, but failed to find one. But I did find out that “demo” is short for demographic (presumably of 18-49 year olds) as opposed to demonstration.