The Newsroom: Happy New Year!

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The Newsroom S01E04: "I'll Try to Fix You"

I don't know if I'm going to be able to accurately articulate the reasons why I enjoyed "I'll Try to Fix You" so much. I don't know, because I'm not sure I've sorted them out myself. The only thing I know is that this week's Newsroom episode is going to be a divisive one. It's either going to reinforce a great deal of what you liked, or perhaps didn't know you liked about the show, or it's going to put you off it entirely, without much wiggle room in between. We've still got six more episodes to go in Season 1, and already we're reaching a kind of critical mass. Praise be to Aaron Sorkin, at least he doesn't aim to waste your time.

"I'll Try to Fix You" was the character-focused episode I'd been waiting for, and in roughly equal measure, I loathed and loved the result. It solidified several different character arcs, completely bungled at least two of them, and managed to exploit a fairly horrible news story to once again herald the show's own sense of self-righteousness. At times I was appalled, and yet strangely captivated.

Things kicked off on New Year's Eve, 2010, at the News Night New Year's party, and even Will was there, making some fumbling attempt at connecting with his staff, and even finding time to have a reasonable conversation with MacKenzie's new boyfriend. Elsewhere Neal was hamming it up with drunken proclamations regarding the validity of Bigfoot, and Maggie was trying to get Jim to stop working during the company Christmas party, which led to the inevitable wayward glances and lip-biting routine. Enter Don, who pretty clearly knows exactly what's developing between Maggie and Jim, and who made a move to try to separate the two. Namely, by aggressively working to set Jim up with Maggie's crazy roommate, whose most noteworthy trait is her Rod Stewart ringtone.

And that wasn't the only awkward hook-up of the night. Will got his own when Sloan suggested Will pursue a mysterious, lonely looking blonde woman prowling the party. That woman turned out to be a gossip columnist (who is played by Hope Davis) for TMI, which yes, is a tabloid that sounds sort of like TMZ except different. They hit it off, only to suddenly find the party derailed seconds before midnight because, of all things, Will thought it was kind of shitty that it was her job to write "takedown" articles of lame reality TV stars. Will's sudden empowerment as a real Journalist seems to have turned him into something of a judgmental ass, and he called her work shameful. And she threw a drink in his face... a fact, among other, less true statements about Will's evening, that landed them in the tabloids the next day.

Will was embarrassed, but he wasn't about to let the incident ruin his dating life. Over the course of the episode, he went on more dates with lovely, utterly scold-able women. When he found himself taking a friend of Sloan's (Katherine Hahn) back to his apartment, he discovered she's a gun owner when he found a pistol in her purse. This, of course, caused Will to lecture her on the subject of the dangers of firearms while deftly unloading her gun in one swift motion, and, hilariously, pointing the unloaded pistol in her face. Her response: "Is it weird that this kind of turns me on?" See if you can guess if any of this ended up in the tabloids.

Later still, Will found himself out with another woman at a restaurant, where he began to explain his now-infamous exploits on previous dates, including the reality TV debacle. This, of course, led to the woman rambling aimlessly about everything she knows about The Real Housewives of New Jersey. If you guessed the scene was going to end with another drink in Will's face, you were correct.

I'm focusing on Will's story arc so much because this was the first time we really spent a good bit of time with him since the series' opening salvo. I still don't feel like I have a great idea of what it is that makes Will tick, but as the episode went along and put him through his ridiculous paces, I found myself enjoying the time spent with him. Jeff Daniels is a terrific actor, and while the situations Will keeps finding himself in are patently ridiculous, Daniels is good enough to sell the wacky, over-the-top goofiness that he keeps finding himself surrounded by. He's equal parts straight man and crusading lunatic, a tough balance to nail that Daniels makes look pretty easy.

It's weird, because I feel like I should have super-hated all of what I just described, as well as the episode's continued "will they/won't they" antics with Maggie and Jim (who ended up sleeping with Maggie's roommate and lying about it). And yet I didn't, and the only reason I can think of as to why is that "I'll Try to Fix You" finally found a consistent tone. It just so happens that that tone is batshit insane.

I've spent many a week thus far lamenting The Newsroom's tonal issues, namely its inability to decide if it's going to be a show about Serious Journalism, a zany sitcom, or some unholy hodgepodge of the two. For the first 50 or so minutes of this week's episode, The Newsroom finally kept a consistent tone. It happened to not be the tone I was hoping for, necessarily, but you know what? If Sorkin just wants to make a loud spectacle out of his fictional cable news series, then so be it. I went into The Newsroom thinking I was going to maybe get some heady, clever commentary on the state of TV journalism, but instead we're getting a show that has no real interest in heady commentary, so much as it wants to shout at you at the top of its lungs about everything wrong with the world of journalism. I said last week that Sorkin doesn't often deal in subtlety or subtext, and this week's show was as bright and shiny an example of that as you're ever likely to find.

Which is fine. If Sorkin wants to Kool-Aid Man his way through the collective cable news wall and scream to the world (through the mouth of Jeff Daniels, mind you) that everything we know is wrong in the most plainspoken, utterly obvious way possible, then I can get on board with that. After all, I am a Sorkin fan. As much as I'd hoped for a show that would appeal to a broader audience than the Sorkin faithful, something that wouldn't just be Sorkin telling me what I already know in rapid-fire fashion, I realize now that The Newsroom probably won't ever be that—at least not this season.

By the time the last ten minutes of the episode rolled around, we hadn't done much real "news" stuff, outside of Will picking apart the Tea Party's argument that Obama wants to take away people's guns. So, in order to fill that gap, we suddenly found everyone in the office on a Saturday—the exact Saturday that just so happened to be the day that congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. Suddenly, all the relationship drama and hand-wringing over Will's tabloid exploits gave way to a long, frenzied montage of the team trying to confirm Giffords' status while various outlets reported on erroneous sources claiming she was dead, all to the oppressive tune of Coldplay. Yes, the way this week's episode proved the News Night's team's superiority over all mainstream journalism was to point the finger at real cable outlets for reporting incorrect info about a woman's life... while simultaneously exploiting her tragic circumstances for the show's own sense of superiority.

If this is how it's going to be week after week, then I'm glad Sorkin has decided to just go the angry old man route and turn the show into his weekly complaint list. If he's going to make everyone a wacky caricature, then he might as well go for the gusto and just keep that zaniness up front. As awkward (and frankly, kind of horrible) as the Giffords stuff was, up to and including Will's fire-breathing at the very end, I genuinely believe "I'll Try to Fix You" was the best example yet of what The Newsroom is, and probably will be from here on out. Whether that's a positive thing or a negative one, at least we know where we stand.


Random Thoughts:

– Last week's threatening by Jane Fonda didn't even come up this week until the very end of the episode, when we learned that TMI is owned by the same parent corporation as ACN, and that Will's sudden appearance in the tabloids might be part of a larger agenda to unseat him. So, yes, the network is going to be portrayed as a bunch of cartoonish villains who don't "get" what Will and Charlie and MacKenzie are doing, and who just want the status quo.

– I really, truly have no idea if I'm supposed to hate Don or not. I really don't. He obviously knows there's something developing between his girlfriend and Jim, but frankly his reactions seem totally normal for a man who knows something like that. His bit at the end leads me to believe he'll somehow end up back on News Night before the season is over. The question, of course, is whether or not Maggie will still be with him by then.

– What the hell is happening to Dev Patel? Neal seemed like an interesting character once, but as soon as he launched into his Bigfoot routine this week, I just wanted him out of the picture entirely. That the Bigfoot thing became a recurring gag of the episode was torturous.

– While we're on the subject, I cannot believe that Sorkin used "the Bigfoot presentation" as his excuse for why the whole staff happened to be in the office on Saturday. Like, Neal's going to, what, send out a mass email saying he wants to meet on Saturday, and everyone isn't just going to tell him to go to hell? He's not anyone's boss. Why would you even show up for that?

– Last Neal thing: Can we stop having Will placate him at the end of every episode? First it was the immigrant worker story, now it's Will pretending to be interested in Bigfoot. Is Neal an 8-year-old child? Are we to believe that Will is just trying to help his self esteem? What in the holy blue hell, is the point of this character?

– I was genuinely digging Olivia Munn this week. She had some good lines, and some good back-and-forth with Daniels. If you'd asked me at the beginning of the season whether I thought Munn would be playing one of my favored characters on the show, I'd have called you a liar and then kicked you in the shins, just for emphasis.

– Between the Radiohead montage of a couple of weeks back and this week's Coldplay segment, I'm starting to think that Sorkin hasn't updated his iPod in a while.


What'd you think of the episode?

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