The Newsroom: Getting High On Your Own Supply

By Alex Navarro

Aug 07, 2012

The Newsroom S01E07: "5/1"

On May 1, 2011, two very significant things happened to me. I, like the rest of the world, learned that American forces had killed Osama Bin Laden, and I also moved from my home city of San Francisco to New York City. Literally, May 1 was my move-in date. I arrived in New York the day prior to the spontaneous celebration and emotional introspection breaking out across the city. I've arrived in places around major events before--most notably moving to San Francisco as a child just after the '89 earthquake, and moving to Boston the week the Celtics won their first championship since 1986—but this one stands out quite a bit more. By a country mile, really.

Having seen the outpourings of emotion from the entire city (as a relative outsider, no less), it was strange to watch The Newsroom attempt to recapture those feelings in last night's episode, "5/1." Aaron Sorkin has received a fair amount of criticism for his use of the real news in a fictional show, with some critics (myself included) calling it exploitative, or at the very least, jarring. It's an awkward element of the show that doesn't always fall in line with Sorkin's over-the-top writing sensibilities. It's one thing when his characters are leaning into the Tea Party extremists or tabloid news. It's another when it's Gabrielle Giffords or the architect of 9/11.

Such is the double-edged sword Sorkin wields week after week. He believes that bringing the real news into the fold makes the stories he's telling more impactful. At times I think that's accurate, but in others, it makes for an awkward, sometimes downright uncomfortable juxtaposition between the weight of the news happening in the real world, and the lighthearted, often frivolous interactions between Sorkin's characters. Such a juxtaposition was prevalent throughout "5/1," and it wasn't always made in the most artful way possible. It's perhaps telling that the most meaningful moment of the entire episode came not from one of Sorkin's characters, but from President Obama himself, while delivering the speech that told the world one of the world's worst terrorists was now dead.

Before we got to that moment, however, we had to party. Hard. The episode opened with the News Night staff celebrating one year on the air under their new edict of Doing Journalism. Man, how a year flies by, right? Actually, it's only been seven episodes, but The Newsroom's first season hasn't been afraid to burn through pockets of time like they were freshly wrapped joints.

I assure you that pot reference is there for a reason. Specifically, because Will got really high. Exceptionally high. Ten Guy high. Neal and his girlfriend (the underutilized Natalie Morales) brought Will a little gift in the form of edible cookies featuring, well, you know. Will, being the tough guy that he is, quickly downed two of them along with some Vicodin. This concerned everyone, but Will assured them he would be fine. It was easy to see where the situation was headed.

On this subject, I'd like to briefly dart sideways and just talk about Jeff Daniels for a second. Will McAvoy is written as a notorious asshole, a middle-aged crank with no patience for anyone but himself. It takes a special kind of actor to make that kind of character likable, and Daniels has been making it work. I let out an audible groan (to no one but my generally disinterested cats) when I realized this episode was going to feature Will high out of his mind. Images danced through my head of lazy pot humor and abject silliness amid this watershed moment in American history. So it is a credit to Daniels that I mostly just laughed at his behavior. He deftly walked that fickle tightrope of funny--but not crazy--drug acting, mostly displaying an inability to remember things he'd said and a total lack of reflexes. It was perhaps a bit overly convenient that he was suddenly able to pull himself together for the big broadcast, but between his gleeful ditching of Terry Crews and amusing zone-outs, I think I can forgive that.

Less forgivable was the glut of recursive Jim/Maggie/Don relationship nonsense embedded throughout the episode. I get that Sorkin needed to fill some time, since most of "5/1" really just revolved around a bunch of people in an office waiting for the president to say something. And I get that we're not going to get any real resolution on this three-way-dance until the end of this season, at the earliest. I'm just tired of this storyline. All it's managed to do is make me like Maggie less and less as a character (Alison Pill continues to do good work, but man is she having to do back flips to stay remotely likable) and like Don more. I remain ambivalent on Jim, but I did like his mea culpa after idiotically telling Maggie's roommate that he loved her. Jim's a good dude, but so is Don. Maggie's a mess, and while her roommate is sort of a dim bulb, she's also one of the more genuinely funny characters on the show. I don't even know if I'm supposed to want Jim and Maggie to get together anymore. If they don't, then what was the point of any of this? If they do, I'm just going to feel bad for the two characters I like better than the two getting together. I genuinely have no idea how to feel about any of this anymore.

At least Don got to wait all that craziness out elsewhere, albeit trapped in an airplane that was stuck on a tarmac. For as much as I didn't like the Jim/Maggie stuff this week, I did like Don/Sloan/Elliot trying desperately to figure out a way to get off the plane while also trying to figure out what was going on at the White House and not alarming other passengers in the process. Yeah, things got a little awkward later in the show. Don probably didn't need to start taking pratfalls, nor did he really need dramatic music swelling behind him as he delivered the news about Bin Laden to the pilots of his United Airlines flight, but otherwise, these bits were by far the episode's funniest.

The trouble is, they were funny moments scattered among decidedly unfunny moments. Namely, the moments when our reporting team found themselves wrestling with the need to be first versus the need to be right. Charlie's wisdom of letting the president deliver the news when he was good and ready felt, again, a bit like armchair quarterbacking a year-old Super Bowl, but he also wasn't wrong. Thankfully, nobody was screaming about ratings and such this week, though we did have one Washington bureau reporter trying to go rogue and report on tweets supposedly confirming the Bin Laden news. Oh, those rascally Washington reporters, what antics will they get up to next?

It's only troubling to me in the context of a viewer still trying to get his head around the tone of The Newsroom, which has remained consistently inconsistent since the pilot. The last two episodes have been terrific television, but this week felt a bit like a nothing episode. That's perhaps kind of an insane thing to say when you're talking about an episode that centers on the news of Bin Laden's death, but think about what really happened this week: Will got high; the Jim, Don, and Maggie show continued to go more or less nowhere; and save for a blip of a subplot regarding Charlie finding a mysterious new source at the NSA, nothing really happened to News Night. Wacky stuff happened, the news was done, and that was that.

All told, "5/1" felt like an episode that crutched itself on the real world's news, rather than simply using it for inspiration. To keep the drug references going for a moment, the news is essentially Aaron Sorkin's drug of choice here--The Newsroom imbibes it weekly to help inspire a television plot, but at times, the drug takes over. That's okay, up to a point. Big news stories are going to happen, and sometimes plots will have to be written around them. Unfortunately, I've found that as Sorkin continues to bring the real world into his fictional one, he continues to push his characters to the sidelines in the process. Interestingly, the best episodes this season have been episodes where the characters drove the news story forward, and not the other way around. This episode went the other way around, and while it was certainly an amusement at times, it never quite found a way to deliver the significance of the Bin Laden news story through any of its own storytelling. Instead of inspiring something truly exciting or creative, it just left the cast on the couch for a week, doing the same old silly stuff.



NOTES


- Will and Jim having an acoustic guitar singalong gave me terrible flashbacks to parties my parents had growing up. Granted, my parents never took edibles, but now I kind of wish they had.

- I have a hard time believing Will owns a video game system at all, let alone one recent enough to play any version of Guitar Hero. The Beatles: Rock Band on the Wii, maybe. Seems like it'd be more his speed, musically. Though I imagine the clearance rights for those songs were probably prohibitive.

- "I can play the real guitar!" is the most tragic, withered response one can give to losing at Guitar Hero. I've seen it happen many times, and it never convinces anyone.

- I was reeeeaaaalllly worried that the whole thing with Terry Crews getting harassed by the cops was going to turn into lazy racial profiling commentary. Thankfully, it didn't, and I thought the moment where Terry got to go tell the cops about Bin Laden was kind of sweet.

- I was less fond of the random other tie-ins to 9/11 the episode tried to pull together. Neal's girlfriend having lost a family member in the towers, Don dramatically delivering the news to United Airlines pilots, and a random control room guy just happening to have a FDNY hat to put on were all a bit much for my taste.

- HBO's preview of the last few episodes of the season has me feeling a mixture of things. I'm not thrilled at the thought of the News of the World phone hacking scandal getting dragged into Will's own storyline, but I certainly won't complain about more Jane Fonda.

  • Comments (57)
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  • jimman1 Aug 10, 2012

    Man how good is Sam Waterson on this show?

    "Put me right in his fuckin ear"

    "Elliot don`t ever fuckin do that again."

    "What in the name of Holy Fuck were you thinking." good stuff

  • jimman1 Aug 10, 2012

    When he confessed to Mack that he was wasted. The look on his face and the sound of his voice gave me a Dumb and Dumber flashback, just for that brief second he was Harry again!

  • DavidJackson8 Aug 09, 2012

    Alison Pill is fine, but I'm REALLY getting tired of Maggie. She needs to shape up or... I was going to say ship out, but then I felt myself starting to throw up. I hate that phrase. I also hate Maggie. I totally agree -- Lisa and Don are becoming so much more likeable.



    As for the rest of the episode, I have no problem with the use of real-life events. Considering how fast the show is moving though, I'm assuming they'll have to start making stories up soon. There's a lot of news, but they burned through a whole year in seven episodes. The Newsroom is emotionally manipulative and I tend to dislike that about the show -- I'm also getting tired of the background music to emphasize touching moments -- but honestly, they must be somewhat effective because I usually end up sniffling and watering my eyes. But maybe I'm just a sap.

  • paris_slim Aug 09, 2012

    I'm sick to death of the high school love stories. The only moment worth anything in this episode was the one line the bodyguard had, because it did what Sorkin used to do well, made a punch line out of a very serious issue. The news team isn't remotely likable (unlike West Wing which had numerous great characters), I want to poke that round eyed girl's eyes out.

    Bring back Jane! And Aaron, pull your head out please and get back to what you do best, writing killer lines.

  • dagrimmreepa Aug 09, 2012

    The fact they use real life events in the show is the most appealing part for me, tbh. It helps that I'm a very left leaning progressive and pretty much agree with Sorkin on all accounts.

  • Acrobit Aug 09, 2012

    Nooo, that wouldn't do it. I'm left enough that I hate Obama because he's a closet Republican (only he didn't jerk to the right out of fear...of himself), and this show makes me wish Sorkin had retired on a good note. It's weird that I can watch shows like Awkward., where I have to google half the acronyms that come out of their mouths, but *this* show leaves me feeling stupid after giving them my hour.



    And the real life events are almost the worst part of this show because Sorkin already proved he could do better. Obviously, I haven't quit yet, but...yeah.



    And even 10 years ago, Will would be the most fake Republican on television. I'd take him over Obama any day, as long as he didn't bring Mac with him.

  • AyeDub Aug 09, 2012

    That would do it.

  • bostonbeliever Aug 08, 2012

    As a New Yorker this episode was weird for me. It felt awkward and exploitative.

    Also, when the news hit about Osama's death, I didn't feel like celebrating. I knew that nothing had really changed. I wasn't relieved or happy, I just accepted it. How many people remembered that 5/1/2011 was the day Osama bin Laden was killed? I sure didn't. How many people remember the date 9/11/2001? Everyone.



    None of the various parts of this episode worked particularly well, and they sure didn't work well together. It seemed Will got high only because Sorkin needed to write him out of the episode, and to be honest, Jeff Daniels did not do stoned well. He had ADD, not a high.



    The Jim/Maggie/Don story could be interesting if we felt genuine tension, and it makes sense that these people who have nothing to do but impatiently sit on a huge story would start bouncing their emotions off each other. But it didn't work. I don't feel chemistry.



    Same goes for Charlie's mysterious source, who didn't actually act as a source, but only succeeded in being really full of himself. This was obviously just a set up for future episodes.



    And then that ending when they miraculously pull everything together and Will makes a wonderful speech about all the Americans who died (neglecting the 372 non-American victims) and how bright days are upon us, when that's obviously not true, then (5/1/2011) or now. Okay, fine. Yeah everyone's suddenly feeling very patriotic and proud. But Sorkin overdoes it, as per usual, and then throws in a good portion of Obama's speech, which was also unnecessary. You cut it off after Obama says "we killed Osama". Done. End credits.

  • paris_slim Aug 09, 2012

    I was a huge fan of Jeff Daniels. I'm surprised he can't do being loaded. Now I'm sorry he's in this mess. May not be his fault, but he's a fine actor and his opening bit in the pilot was a great performance. Then it continued downhill from there. He's being very poorly used in this series and I wonder if it or he has a future. And why does every series have to have a British woman in it now? Did I miss the cultural revolution? After Jeff Daniels, I think they went to a cheaper casting person who doesn't know anyone who's good. Sorry, I guess my expectations were too high.

  • AyeDub Aug 09, 2012

    I give you a thumbs up, perfect comment.

    "It felt awkward and exploitative."

    And

    "Also, when the news hit about Osama's death, I didn't feel like celebrating."

    I'm glad I'm not the only one that felt this way.



    I also totally agree with feeling in general. Bin Ladin's death is not a "remember where you are when it happened" moment in history. I'd say it happened about 9 years too late for there to be any chance at any sort of catharsis.

    For me, there's been 3 of those moments:

    1) Challenger Explosion (yeah, I'm old)

    2) O.J.'s Bronco Chase

    3) 9/11

    Feels like there is about one a decade and killing Bin Laden doesn't cut the mustard...

  • AyeDub Aug 08, 2012

    I'm amazed so many people actually like this show. Another groaner this week.



    - The entire Jim/Maggie plot continues to be unwatchable

    - I really like Jeff Daniels, but that was the WORST portrayal of someone stoned I've ever seen. Didn't buy it for a second.

    - The show continues to be emotionally manipulative...



    I definitely don't like the choice to build the show around real news events, it'd be stronger if it didn't...as it is, the show just feels like...old news...

  • BrookeDsBaby Aug 08, 2012

    I have to disagree about the news stuff. I love that they use real news stories because it not only inspires the emotions you felt when you first heard about the stories (yes that is a bit of audience manipulation but I'm fine with it) but I learn something most weeks about news stories I thought I knew a lot about. If they were running around telling "inspired by true events" Law and Order like stories, I wouldn't care nearly as much about the news side of this show which is a sizable chuck of the airtime.

  • Ka113 Aug 08, 2012

    I live in Sweden and know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the first plane. Same can't be said of Bin Ladens deadth though..

    I guess you'd need to be either an north american or have some other personal connection to 9/11 for this episode to really work. Most of it was good; loved the Obama good/Osama bad joke and I found high-Will to be pretty darn fun. But there where two scenes that really didn't sit well with me. The baseballcap in the control room felt a bit forced but the worst was when Don puffed up his chest with the heroic music while telling the captain the news. It's nice to see that Don can put someone ahead of himself for a change but that scene just didn't work for me. I'd like to again point out that I have no personal relationship to any of this..



    I've really enjoyed Newsroom so far and it's message. While it's "easy" to "bash" the US of A for a variety of faults, this show has so far stayed away from cheap shots and kept itself in the middle. Rather than pointing fingers and throwing dirt it's trying to inspire people to read up on a subject before jumping to conclusions. This is how I'd like to see the world work when my hair has turned grey (which'll be at a decently high age with my genes). This episode however dipped it's toes just slightly in patriotism.



    Biggest concern about Newsroom for me though is the real world/fake world mixing. For example.. Is there a pair of Koch brothers controlling the Tea Party?

    Gets kinda confusing when I don't know what's real and what's fake..



    Must say I HATE the intro! It's well made and all but as with just about every HBO show it's about 10 minutes to long. The music reminds me of Jurassic Park though ^^ But I'd rather have a shorter intro and get more episode out of my time. Thor bless fast-forward! :D

  • niedermayer27 Aug 08, 2012

    The Koch brothers are real, and yes they really are the driving force behind the tea party, which started as a grass roots movement, and (as usual with anything political) has been bastardized by the wealthy.



    I love the intro.

  • tnetennba Aug 08, 2012

    I disagree about the intro. A good intro sets the mood for the show. I'm really glad that True Blood and Dexter have awesome intros for example. A short intro can be nice when it's done well (Scrubs), but makes the show even worse when it's not (Falling Skies). There's no reason for a show that's longer than 30 minutes to have a short intro.



    And yes, the Koch brothers are real. (I don't think The Newsroom has done any fake news yet). If you would like to stay somewhat updated about this sort of thing, the best way is to watch the comedy shows about the news:



    Real Time with Bill Maher

    The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

    The Colbert Report

  • browningdurango Aug 08, 2012

    It's difficult to recreate the atmosphere we all felt when the news came down about Bin Laden's death; especially for those who were directly affected by 9/11. I thought Don's comment about how they are missing the story of a generation was too dramatic, since I don't think Bin Laden's death will ever match what happened on September 11. I missed the first airing on Sunday due to a business trip, but I watched the show on my laptop through Dish Online. My coworkers at Dish love to talk about every new episode, and I can't wait to see what they think about this one. It's going to be difficult to wait until June 2013 for the second season!

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