It’s appropriate that the episode of The Newsroom that makes me put my foot down is the Rudy episode. There are lessons in character and story development to be gleaned from that (or any) movie. Aaron Sorkin, you have written movies! Good ones! Academy Award-winning ones! Why is this not translating?
The Newsroom ceases to be inspiring when nothing ever goes wrong and mistakes are never made. In “Amen,” the most recent episode, Elliott gets beaten up as a result of Don’s tough love bullying; Maggie cuts open Jim’s head with the glass door (twice); Neal punches his computer after losing his Egyptian Twitter contact called Amen; Don hurts himself against Reese’s door–and everything comes around in a full circle of guilt and injury. But people getting physically hurt is not a substitution for true inner conflict, moral gray area, or hard decisions. They aren’t a substitution for real consequences. And real consequences is something that this episode of The Newsroom sorely lacked.
Let’s take a look at Rudy, since Will McAvoy so clearly wants us to. Rudy, a movie that is near and dear to my heart since I was basically conditioned to be a Notre Dame student, is about a small kid from a blue collar family who dreamed of not only attending Notre Dame, but playing football for them. He struggles to achieve that dream. He faces rejection three times in the movie (not including applying in high school) before the school admits him. He gives up things. He has weak moments, and then his janitor friend has to shout at him to make him refocus on his dream. There are ups and downs, you see?
Here, we have no downs. Only ups. Amen goes missing, but this is an extremely expected and heavy-handed plot device. The foreshadowing is through the roof. But not only is this development not a surprise, it’s also not really anyone’s fault. No one in the newsroom acted wrongly to make Amen get taken–not even Mac when she asked him to remove his bandana on air.
However, the speed and ease with which the staff can band together to find him (was there no news to produce this episode?) and then wire some of Will’s endless supply of money to free him is completely ridiculous. The good guys can’t always win, Sorkin. If things always pull through, if our heroes are always morally on the straight and narrow high ground, don’t they cease to be relatable? Where is the conflict? Where is the rejection, the weak moments, the mistakes? In other words, where is the show?
This show, so far, is about the white knights of evening news, swords drawn, plan flawless, ready to save both journalism and America. Nothing stands in their way except for the dumb, commercially-obsessed Americans whom they must educate! Mistakes are for the other Americans, not the journalists of News Night.
This episode was full of opportunities to develop and humanize Sorkin’s characters. Amen could have been killed. Will could have lost his money in the wire transfer if the Egyptian military played him and refused to release Amen. The news could have bombed because clearly NO ONE was producing it. But no. There were no consequences. There were no lessons. Only a big hug between Will and MacKenzie that felt hollow, and a rapid return of Amen to Neal’s computer screen. Even the shattered computer screen didn’t face consequences.
You want Americans to be smarter, Sorkin? Stop writing to them as if they are idiots. This show could be intelligent, morally-challenging, enthralling…but right now it remains a series of sad, tired devices with no actual stakes.
Rudy, you are not, sir.