TV

The Newsroom 2.8: Drunk On Sorkin’s Election Night

Pissed at the way our election went? Here's one that turned out okay (and didn’t give a senate seat to a motoring enthusiast party).

Warning: this is a recap. Recaps contain spoilers.

Election Night, 2012. Obama vs Romney. Mac vs Will. Charlie vs Reece. Jim vs Taylor. Don vs Shifty Jerry Dantana. Aaron Sorkin vs legibility. Maggie vs hair. Neal vs the internet. Sloan vs speaking coherently on live TV. In all cases, it’s a Newsroom showdown for the ages… And weirdly enough, it’s funny. Really funny.

Well. At least until Will fires Mac.

The Newsroom has long suffered in comparison to great TV by being so hung up on what it is: another vehicle for Aaron Sorkin to tell us what’s bad about things he doesn’t like. It has struggled to feel natural; the show’s concern with pointing out the great fallibility of society, the absurdity of politics and self-serving, two-faced politicians has also deprived it of much of its humanity, relatability and weirdly enough, tension.

Yeah, we kinda like the characters, but how much are we really invested in a group of people who believe they’re smarter than everyone else, who don’t seem to be overly interesting, or even remotely like people you’d hang out with? Not much, is the answer. And that’s why it’s struggled to elicit real tension and make for compelling viewing: we’re not invested the way we are for truly great TV (hi, Breaking Bad!).

This episode — ‘Election Night, Part One’ — is all about the way the characters relate to each other in the moment. It’s executed as a self-contained flexing of limited storytelling: just the election night, nothing else. No more flashbacks. Just people doing their jobs, and being themselves. And the results, coupled with Sorkin’s writing hitting an ideal balance between serious and lighthearted, made for great TV.

There were more laughs in this episode than the entire series to date, and it’s exactly what The Newsroom needed. It’s a show that too often spends its time entirely po-faced, cold and self-important, reveling in how smart it assumes it is; in other words, head, meet arse (thanks again, Leona Lansing). Lightening the mood helps immensely.

After a season of set-up — the Genoa story, the unraveling legal knot of Shifty Jerry Dantana, Maggie’s hair looking like that of a high school punk band’s bassist with a tube of Fudge in 1999 — this is the opening part of a great pay-off.

Screen Shot 2- I found the Fudge at my friends house

Maggie: “I got Raspberry Beret… My friend did hers in Purple Haze.” Jim: “No. It looks good…”

Amid the frenetic reporting, live coverage, dramatic music, calling of exit polls, voting swings and state acronyms, it’s election night at ACN (duh), and with Shifty Jerry Dantana’s lawsuit about to go public, everyone either wants to be fired or is trying to avoid being fired.

So the laughs are more than welcome. There’s Marcia Gay Harden self-identifying as “liquid sex”; Will appointing himself “in charge of morale” (the quip that keeps on giving); Charlie, Charlie and more Charlie; Jim interacting with Republican PR mouth Taylor Warren; and even Stone Face Elliot chips in with a couple of gems (“Is there an ancient grudge between your families?”, and the entire office walk-through segment). Don taking shots at Shifty Jerry Dantana and Reece’s mummy issues also bring the chuckles.

Screen Shot 3 - Liquid Sex

Liquid sex.

Adding to that, it really is as though someone whispered to Sorkin, “Hey blud, you know we’re on HBO, right? You can swear as much as you want and no one cares! Go nuts with the eff-bombs.” There are more ‘fucks’ in this episode than the rest of the season combined.

And y’know what? That actually makes everything far more believable. It’s real world stuff. Of course there’s truckloads of swearing in a newsroom. Anywhere with intense deadlines will host the odd shouting match, profligate use of f and c-bombs, and more alcoholism than a convention involving retired AFL players.

Outside of the witticisms and snappy one-liners, there are the usual ‘big’ issues at stake: trust, credibility, morality and the American way. Having lost grip on each with the Genoa snafu, ACN responds by living up to that great American dream/reality of delivering super-fancy election coverage. As Charlie says, “If a news outlet doesn’t have credibility, it doesn’t matter what else it has.” Take THAT, Fox.

All that adds up to — especially when Charlie barks about the US election being the envy of the world (Whoooo! ‘MERICA!) — is that we’re seeing the ‘media reflecting democracy’ flag being flown by Sorkin. The Newsroom’s bread-and-butter, in other words.

Screen Shot 4 - MERICA

‘MERRRRICA!

It’s also actually really interesting to watch the characters simply do their jobs while providing an interesting look at the art of spinning value out of nebulous information — via the isolation-booth tally room — and it’s a terrific look at the prism through which we view politics and how it’s reported. (As evidenced by Hallie, who’s with Romney and it’s a ‘party’, and Jim who has the cold-hard data to say it’ll be anything but.)

But. Can we go back to the Sorkin/women thing again? Giving Sloan lines like “Look at my face, does it seem like I want to be sassed?” and her being worried she’s POSSIBLY obliquely hurt some anonymous book-buyer’s feelings — ON ELECTION NIGHT — with the coy “but this is important” line to Neal is head-smackingly terrible. That it’s the motive for her ‘hilarious’ incompetence during the live election broadcast is insulting.

Screen Shot 5 - Sass mouth

“You givin’ me sass mouth, boy?”

That, and Mac’s inability to cope with THE INTERNET, is yet another weird example of Sorkin’s handling of the ladies and the idea of them being professional (and we know how he feels about the internet). Mac (still) has the potential to be the strongest female character on the show; she’s the only/ideal foil for Will. Instead, Emily Mortimer is written as a ticky-tacky neurotic whinger. Same with Sloan, a sexy, super-smart… naive ingenue? What the hell is that about? And Maggie’s hair: Jim better ask about it, right?

Screen Shot 6 - Mac Looking Sad

Mac’s sad. As usual.

C’mon. The biggest problem the dudes deal with? Jim clanged the abbreviation for Mississippi and Michigan. Y’know, something work related. It’s okay though, he’s got a hot Streep-spawn girlfriend. Neal’s got all these ‘babes’ hassling him to do stuff and he feels uncomfortable. Don’s being personally sued by Shifty Jerry Dantana for a gazillion dollars. Charlie is trying to be honorable and take a bullet, thus restoring ACN’s credibility. Reece is struggling with the limits of his power and convincing his mum he’s not gay. Will is still being hassled by Mac about how she cheated on him while just wanting to host the election coverage. Dudes just can’t get a break, huh?

Screen Shot 7 - Fuckin Shifty Jerry Dantana

Fuckin’ Shifty Jerry Dantana.

Yergh. The only female characters that seem to be fine are the ball-busting ones: Jane Fonda’s Leona, Marcia Gay Harden’s lawyerly Rebecca, and acerbic female Republican No. 1 (until there’s more to Taylor than that and giving Jim shit, Sorkin should just name her thusly). Even then, when Taylor bleats about “Liberal media bias”, not only are we meant to roll our eyes, but she’s put back in her place by Stone Face Elliot. Narrative belief only stretches so far, and it’s still off-putting that Sorkin uses his female characters’ trivial problems as narrative conflict devices to such a degree.

So. Just when everything has gone to shit and Will has given Mac her wish and fired her in the best scene of the episode (“I was a good guy… *chokes* I was a good guy.”) and setting up a painfully obvious ‘she’ll be back’ story, the ACN team have a sweet hook-up to get the inside running on the General Petraeus resignation scandal. Posing the question: just how many sweet hook-ups can one newsroom have?

Screen Shot 8 - you better get this right

You better get this right, Sorkin.

Now we’re in deeper than the furrows on Jeff Daniels’ brow, and following Charlie’s ‘I MEAN, WHAT THE FUCK’ or whatever it is he yell-mumbles in the middle of the newsroom, the scene is set for the season finale. ‘Have at Will and point out everything wrong in politics and redemption via Petraeus’ is the obvious option. It could be great. It could be belaboured and obvious. In Sorkin we must trust.

Screen Shot 9 - Whattttt the farrrrffggghhhhhh

Whattttt the farrrrffggghhhhhh!

Jaymz is a New York-based writer (originally from Melbourne, and the former Editor of triple j magazine), super-yacht enthusiast, hi-tech jewel thief and Bengal tiger trainer. He enjoys wearing monocles, finely spiced rum, constructing pillow forts and zip-lining from Hong Kong skyscrapers. You can find him on twitter via @jaymzclements  

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