Episode 1: We Just Decided To
Cable news host Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) returns from vacation to discover that co-worker David Harbour (Elliot Hirsch) steals away Will’s producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadowski) for his own news show. Will’s boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) calls in a former executive producer Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) to lift his flagging ratings. Can Will’s new team act on a tip about the Deep Water Horizon oil spill?
The first thing that is laudatory about this episode, is the writing. Right away, there’s rapid-fire, whipsaw dialogue that demands the viewer pay attention. There is an implied understanding that the characters have some history together, this is how people speak when they know each other, unvarnished, no niceties. When the news team learns they can scoop competitors on the BP oil spill, the dialogue absolutely crackles with the excitement of nailing down the details of the story.
The acting is superb. Daniels, Mortimer, and Waterston lead a great cast, but this is truly an ensemble show. Everybody on the show makes a contribution, and it’s the totality of their efforts that makes the show worth watching. The inferred romantic entanglement between Mortimer and Daniels adds another layer of intrigue around the show.
Episode 2: Newsnight 2.0
After a ratings bump due to their coverage of the Deep Water Horizon spill, Reese Lansing (Chris Messina), president of Atlantic Cable News, wants wall to wall coverage of the spill. Mackenzie wants to move on to the Arizona illegal immigrant law. But Maggie Jordan (Allison Pill) screws up the pre-interview, and Will ends up interviewing a beauty queen, a gun enthusiast, and a professor from an online university.
Another great episode, great writing topical issue, great interplay between the characters, I’m loving this show. The humor makes a difficult topic easier to contemplate. I’m sure cable newsrooms mess up bookings all the time.
Episode 3: The 112th Congress
Will starts the newscast with an apology, for his lethargic newscasts up to this point. Will then starts going after Tea Party candidates. Reese Lansing and his mother Leona (Jane Fonda) discuss the change in tone in Will’s newscasts after Mackenzie takes over as executive producer. Also, Maggie has a panic attack.
I like this episode a lot, because under all the bluster about the Tea Party, this episode asks the question, who is a news organization beholden to, its audience or corporate stockholders? I don’t think enough real newsrooms ask that question. There is some comic relief, and another relationship possibly brewing in the newsroom.
Episode 4: I’ll Try To Fix You
Will goes after the NRA, Leona pulls strings behind the scenes. Will goes on a series of embarrassing dates while Maggie gets on the relationship rollercoaster with Don.
For the first time I started to see kinks in the armor of this show. I noticed a weak attempt to make Will seem omniscient, I don’t mind anyone spouting on any political issue, I quite enjoy it, but don’t make a character appear to have supernatural powers, it is not ingratiating, it does not humanize the character. The relationships have turned juvenile. Olivia Munn’s character is supposed to have two degrees in economics, but is a moron on everything else. Allison Pill’s character seems like Janel Maloney’s character from The West Wing, but with a flaw.
Episode 5: Amen
Neil Sampat (Dev Patel) finds a stringer named Amen (Amin El Gamel) to cover the unrest in Tahrir Square. Will prepares to report on the connection between Gov. Scott Walker and the Koch brothers. Gossip columnist Nina Howard (Hope Davis) reports that Mackenzie might have a conflict of interest.
The Tahrir Square aspect of the show was powerful. The Scott Walker Koch brothers portion of the show seemed sloppy and ham handed, maybe because it’s two years old, or maybe because I’m a political junkie and know all about the Koch brothers. The gossip columnist angle is getting old, who cares about a news anchor or a producer? I’ve never heard any gossip about a cable news anchor or a producer and I never will. Another thing about this show is, there are too many people going out with each other in the newsroom. That stuff happens very rarely in a traditional workplace, yet, everyone is dating everyone in this newsroom. I don’t mind one romantic subplot, but two or three? Olivia Munn’s character was actually talking about economics, but then stopped to talk to Mackenzie about her relationships with men. Stop dumbing it down, people can handle an economics lesson on Glass Steagall without watering it down. Even with all that was wrong with this episode, the ending was touching.
Episode 6: Bullies
Will takes on an opponent of the Islamic community center, and then goes toe to toe with a Santorum spokesman. Mackenzie pulls will off the air after a death threat, and gives him a security guard, Lonnie Church. (Terry Crews) Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) talks to a Fukashima plant spokesman about the meltdown in Japanese, and suspects the interpreter is playing down the seriousness of the post tsunami damage.
I liked the exchange with the Santorum spokesman, it felt like some honest emotion was on display, and not Will getting on his soapbox and lecturing someone. I don’t like how Sorkin juvenilizes the Sloan character, that is really disturbing to me. She has an important storyline and if he’s trying to show a character arc, he fails, because no one is as infantile as he writes Sloan. There are many examples of male characters talking down to her and I resented it. I didn’t need to know that much about Will, TMI as far as I’m concerned.
Episode 7: 5/1
Charlie gets inside information about a big breaking announcement from the White House, and the Newsnight staff assembles in teams to try to discern the story, and source it. Will is in an altered state, but wants to report the breaking news anyway. Don (Thomas Sadowski) Sloan and Elliot (David Harbour) are stuck on a plane while the news is breaking, and Jim (John Gallagher Jr. picks 5/1/11 to break up with Lisa Lambert. (Kelen Coleman)
It’s a powerful episode, cheapened a lot by Sorkin’s insistence that the newsroom is full of breakups and makeups while major news is breaking. Can we please have one unfiltered moment of realism and feel the full impact of that moment without delving into everybody’s personal life? I used to think the relationships were a pleasant diversion, but now all that relationship talk actually takes away from really important stories, and really good writing. It doesn’t help that Will is stoned while the story is breaking, more uncalled for comic relief.
Episode 8: The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn
Charlie urges Will to fight for the ratings he’s losing to Nancy Grace by covering the Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner stories. Will hires Mackenzie’s ex-boyfriend, Brian Brenner (Paul Schneider) to write a piece on Will. Leona and Charlie battle on how Leona is using the gossip magazine against Will. Sloan battles to get a few minutes on the air to talk about the imminent government shutdown.
This is an interesting episode, about the battle between ratings and informative journalism. Also I learned something, that people like the Weiner accusers have agents that book them on these shows, I didn’t realize that these sensational stories have become a cottage industry of their own. There was the obligatory relationship entanglement. But I was glad to see Sloan actually have a serious scene, not watered down by some silly girl talk. Good acting by Olivia Munn, who has become one of my favorite actresses on the show.
Episode 9: The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debates
Will and his team pitch their ideas for a new debate format to representatives of the Republican Party. Neal has an idea to produce a story about internet trolling, starts out by trolling Sloan, and finds another story. Lisa is a guest on Will’s show because she knew Casey Anthony. The whistleblower that first contacted Will in 5-1 has some issues in his background that makes questions arise for the Newsnight staff.
I like how the mock debates storyline played out, but I think the trolling storyline was manipulative writing by Sorkin, objectifying Munn while pretending to chase a real story. It’s also pretty obvious what the season one cliffhanger is. The two love triangles are about as clunky as the worst romantic comedies.
Episode 10: The Greater Fool
The Newsweek story on Will is released. The whistleblower gives Charlie an ultimatum. Neal gets the green light to go after his story full force.
The secret to having a second season is not resolving anything. What I thought was the cliffhanger wasn’t at all, instead there was a cliffhanger fakeout. One of the love triangles becomes a love quadrangle, satisfying no one. And by the way, saying you’re a Republican is not the same as being a Republican. That is my major problem with the show. Will is not a convincing Republican.
Overall, it’s a good show. I do like when Sorkin talks about real issues, I don’t like how he uses Daniels’ character to get on a soapbox and lecture people. I also don’t like Sorkin’s overreliance on the office romance to lighten the mood after discussing a thorny political issue. Let’s have the discussion about the issue and then move on to the subplot, he diminishes the debate by introducing people’s personal lives in the middle of a serious policy discussion.
I also don’t like how Sorkin writes women, as weak whimpering people, who don’t have an original thought and need a man’s approval for fulfillment. The modern woman is a lot more complex than that, and maybe if Sorkin had a co-writer for this show, some of the writing could have been more balanced.