‘The Newsroom’ Misses Its Blackberry

“But he’s not an ass,” MacKenzie protests over and over again in The Newsroom’s second episode, Emily Mortimer doing her very best in her charming British accent.

Did you hear that, audience? Aaron Sorkin wants you to know that Will McAvoy is not an ass, despite whatever the first episode may have led you to believe. Never mind that in the first episode, Sorkin made a point of letting you know that Will shaved $3 million off his salary in order to be able to fire MacKenzie whenever he wanted. Never mind that his entire staff left him for a later show because of how demeaning his treatment was. Never mind that all the writing in the first episode directly pointed to the reality that Will is, in fact, an ass. MacKenzie tells you he’s not, so he can’t be.

And just in case you don’t believe him—if you’re still under the impression that Will is an ass—Sorkin wants you to know that he only is that way because MacKenzie cheated on him after two years of him being a perfect boyfriend. Because obviously that’s how things go in real life.

John Gallagher, Jr., Emily Mortimer, and Alison Pill in this week’s episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom.”

I’m not sure what Sorkin is trying to accomplish by making MacKenzie the one who cheated in the previous relationship. Some of the internet’s crusaders will tell you it’s because Sorkin hates women and likes to portray them as the downfall of Great Men (and Will is clearly a Great Man). I’m not sure if that’s true. It’s possible that Sorkin wanted to humanize Will as a man who was truly vulnerable after that first episode, but if that was his goal, he went about the reveal in the wrong way. The writing and Jeff Daniels’ acting only allow for Will to be angry and childish—there is no visible hurt in his actions, only vindictiveness. The most touching moment in the whole episode is when he defends MacKenzie to Reese, the sleazy ratings guy.

I find The Newsroom interesting. It’s compelling and dramatic, but then again, so was Gossip Girl once upon a time. That doesn’t make it good television. For one thing, Sorkin seems to have lost his subtle touch. Sure, he’s still got that whippy dialogue down. People are exchanging words, rapid-fire, left and right. It was actually funny to watch Andrew Garfield stutter through non-sentences in The Amazing Spider-Man after I enjoyed him shooting through lines so quickly in The Social Network it was like he had Tourette’s (“Don’t fish eat other fish? The marlin and the trout!”).

But things are written with a heavy hand. MacKenzie underlines “you” and “me” in her email just so that we get it. Sorkin seems a little over-obssessed with making sure his audience gets it. He, like Will, seems to think that we’re all too dumb to understand, and that’s The Newsroom’s biggest mistake.

Although I’m glad MacKenzie is being given her flaws. Her purely facts approach to News Night 2.0 is just awful. Sure, content should drive ratings, but human interest can be interesting without being sensational. She has things to learn, too, besides just being able to effectively run a meeting. Her three “I’s” are also idiotic.

And then we have the Don-Maggie-Jim love triangle, which might as well be Roy-Pam-Jim from The Office, the early years. John Gallagher, Jr. is certainly channeling his best Jim Halpert for Jim Harper. Was that deliberate? Maggie is a more caffeinated, neurotic, and ambitious Pam, but she’s the cute, approachable girl who doesn’t have it all together. Notice all those hot women hitting on Jim at the bar, trying to get him to take shots? But he just doesn’t care, because Maggie is his kind of girl.

Maggie is maybe the realest character in the show because it is effortless to follow her behavior and motivations as a young girl out of college. Her relationship with Don, her self-pity, her nerves, her anxiety, her lingering resentment of an ex-boyfriend, her desperation to prove herself—it all rings true to me. Although I also cannot say why she is being so mean to Jim. That’s not something a Maggie would do. Right now, the girl is a bit of a doormat. Why she would choose to be a bitch to her direct supervisor is beyond me. But they’re adorable, no? Like a new Jim and Pam.

Not your best effort this week, Aaron, I’m sorry to say. Everything was overdone, much like the manner in which MacKenzie swatted the phone from Gary Cooper’s hand, then stomped on it, then doused it with coffee. You don’t need all three, sweetheart. One will do just fine.

And no matter what else happens on this show, Dev Patel as Neal is perfect.

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