Everything wrong with ‘The Newsroom’ is what makes it great so much of the time
On April 15, 2013, two pressure cookers exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon. That’s where the third and final season of “The Newsroom” started telling its stories on Sunday night.
“Boston” used the tragedy to reflect upon ACN’s own shortcomings. Will McAvoy & Co. held back on reporting the bombings and let their competitors take the lead, knowing full well that their competitors would go on misreporting for the sake of having things to tell the viewing audience. They didn’t wait on the sidelines to garner the ability to gloat, but as a cautionary measure following the Genoa mishap that plagued “News Night’s” reputation just half a year earlier.
Genoa, and the fictional news program’s shortcomings, resulted in a finer-tuned show last year. The series stepped away from the blunt retelling of current events it so cowardly reflected upon in season one, and no longer felt the need to “educate” its audience about events they were already probably aware of as viewers of a show about the daily happenings at a cable news program.
Everything wrong with “The Newsroom” has made it devilishly entertaining from the get-go, and it’s its own imperfections that make it a fascinating hour of television. You shouldn’t excuse Aaron Sorkin’s inability to write fully fleshed out female characters, though it’s worth noting the obvious efforts he’s making to fix Maggie before it’s too late, having given Alison Pill a giant turd of a storyline in an otherwise improved season in 2013. And Olivia Munn continues to shine as Sloan Sabbith, playing well off of Thomas Sadowski’s likable douche-bag of a character, Don Keefer. I have no explanation for whatever little Emily Mortimer’s still being given to do as Mackenzie McHale, our alleged female lead who has long since played second fiddle to Munn through no fault of her own. Mackenzie’s not much of a character anymore, but I don’t know that that’s really an issue considering how awful a character she had been up until this point. Mortimer gives the role her all, but it has always been Munn for whom Sorkin saves his best material.
I’m always taken aback by everyone’s need to speak out about Sorkin’s latest foray into television as this humongous disappointment. So many cable shows are about fixing the antihero, or watching the antihero continue down a deconstructive path. Sorkin doesn’t aim to do that here, and I truly believe that’s a conscious effort on his part. Will McAvoy will always be Will McAvoy, faults and all, and that makes “The Newsroom” such a unique televisual character study.** He’s a stubborn, arrogant, all-around asshole, but that’s what makes him a great character to have at the center of a show about a minuscule fraction of the fourth estate thinking they can singlehandedly fix everything wrong with the fourth estate. They barely grasp the concept of social media! Sorkin isn’t trying to do the news. He’s trying to make good television.
Sometimes, we forget that.
** If Sorkin doesn’t want us all to think that Will McAvoy is Keith Olbermann, best not to have him say things like he’s going to go do sports now.
“Boston” was good television. I’m serious. Perhaps the lesser episode count this year (Sorkin wrote just six installments to wrap things up) has helped out with some of the previous pacing issues the show has had, but a lot happened during Sunday’s premiere that I’m intrigued to see play out. Neal as the Julian Assange to an anonymous Bradley Manning-type is an intriguing idea, as is the idea of ACN struggling to stay afloat, both in the ratings and on a corporate level. I don’t know how interested I actually am in the idea of a potential ACN takeover, but I will happily watch Chris Messina, Kat Dennings and Jane Fonda recite Sorkin dialogue in the for however many weeks this story takes to wrap up.
There are elements of greatness here, and they’re trapped in a show that has yet to reach its fullest potential, and probably never will. Those elements, though, and largely fantastic cast, will keep me watching till the bittersweet end.