‘The Newsroom’: Obama Good. Osama Bad.

Sam Waterson in HBO’s “The Newsroom.”

We’ve established that TV is more interesting when people aren’t perfect. Last week, The Newsroom doled out character flaws, ethical questions, and genuine plot. This week, not so much.

To be fair, the problems with this week’s episode were new ones (progress!). New problems go as follows: lack of plot movement and episode structure.

The first problem is simple enough. We’ve been doing this Don-Maggie-Jim-Lisa dance all season, and frankly, it is getting ridiculous. Give us something! Have someone get drunk and cheat or at least say things that are wildly inappropriate. I’m not asking for Jim and Maggie to get together; I understand denial of fulfillment is what makes great TV romance. But I am asking for something new. Elliot, Sloan, and an entire airplane flight of strangers are tired of hearing the whining story of Jim, Maggie, and Don, and so are we! Sorkin has been soft-tossing us the same crap for weeks now. Come on, Coach, give us the real stuff, we can handle it. It has to be coming soon, right?

Pretty soon your bickering is going to have to result in compelling onscreen chemistry.

Maybe not too soon though, because now that Lisa has the decency to break up with Jim, he thinks she might be worth dating. Saw that one coming. Such are men, Lisa. It doesn’t make a ton of sense that Lisa would break up with Jim for Maggie’s sake and completely drop that notion a minute later. Really, who is Lisa? What was the point of having her overhear Jim calming Maggie out of a panic attack? That clearly has not swayed her away from Jim at all when it probably would any normal, decent friend. All we are given about Lisa is her “sexy sexiness.” As a character, she’s a huge letdown and waste of time. What this story needs is something interesting, and Lisa is not interesting enough to stay in the picture.

The other problem with this episode might be a unique situation unlikely to happen in the future, as no other episode will likely feature the night Osama bin Laden was killed.

That night is something I’ll always remember. As a child of September 11th, I ate up the sentimental Facebook statuses of that night–the feelings of shock, then wonder, then pride that swallowed me up. It was the week before final exams of my sophomore year of college, and swells of kids poured out onto the campus. They collected in a massive mob to roam the quads shouting, “USA! USA! USA!” It went on like that for hours–pride in our country, retribution for what had been done to us, emotion over what we had lost. But mostly what I remember is the shock that it had happened–the surprise that something so big could have suddenly ended. I suppose it might have been akin to what previous generations felt when a war ended.

This episode did a disservice to itself, its audience, and that night by revealing what THE NEWS was in the very beginning. As the staff tries to work out what the big reveal could be–obnoxiously and unrealistically quickly, I might add–the audience already knows. I can’t imagine how much more effective it would have been to keep the shock for the end, to realize that it was bin Laden’s death with the staff and then have it revealed as it was on that very night. If done right, this episode could have made me gasp.

This episode could have done more is what I’m saying. It could have paid better tribute to that night.

I did like the inclusion of Kaylee, Neal’s girlfriend and stoner girl extraordinaire, whose dad died in the towers. With 9/11 packaged so tightly with bin Laden, many of us felt vindication, but for others his death meant unearthing old sadness. I liked Kaylee’s quiet escape to the terrace, the way Sorkin had the show’s two most likable characters come out to her aide only to realize there was nothing they could say. They had work to do before the broadcast and no words to help her. The camera stayed on Kaylee before we went back inside with them, lingering on her shoulders, hunched over the railing, the New York skyline looming oppressively behind her. That was a poignant moment and skilled writing. Something I would like more of from The Newsroom in the future.

But hey, what I (and the rest of the critics) think doesn’t matter, because Obama loves The Newsroom.


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