The Newsroom Recap: (Tea) Party Foul

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Just as News Night finds its footing this week on The Newsroom, the suits upstairs demand that Will and company bow to the corporate overlords. No reason that shouldn’t go smoothly, right? Let’s roll the tape and review the major developments of “The 112th Congress.”

SORRY ABOUT THAT | The hour opens with Will delivering an on-air apology to the American people for holding nobody accountable for anything in the pre-Mackenzie era. The speech is long, eloquent and classic Sorkin; it’s right up there with President Bartlett’s “10-word answer” debate retort or President Shepherd’s “I am the American president” press briefing. Will’s recitation is intercut with flashbacks of him writing his mission statement and sharing it with his staff — the episode’s first (but certainly not last) use of this device. Will namechecks Mackenzie and praises her abilities before reassuring the viewers that she and he will bring them the news that matters. “Who are we to make these decisions?” he asks defiantly. “We’re the media elite.” Ooh! Journalism burn!

TEA-D OFF | First on Will’s accountability list: the Tea Party. Over the months leading up to the 2010 congressional elections, we see Will repeatedly confront party representatives about all the old chestnuts: gay marriage, government spending, whether or not Obama is a socialist, yadda yadda. It’s fun to see Will so fired up, but the necessary exposition takes too damn long. “Get there!” Mackenzie yells at Will during his meandering explanation of why he doesn’t like the Tea Party. It’s a light moment and an on-point critique; I’m not sure that this kind of talky boil-down is going to work on a weekly basis. Anyway, on the morning after the election, Charlie is called into a meeting with Atlantis Cable Network owner Leona Lansing (played convincingly by Jane Fonda), Reese (the ratings guy Will met with last episode, who happens to be Leona’s son, president of the company and an even bigger jerk than he previously appeared) and a few others. Bottom line: Leona “has business in front of this Congress” and relationships with some of the deeply pocketed people behind the successful campaigns. So Will will lay off the Tea Party peeps who are now members of said Congress, or Will will get fired. Charlie, who to this point has been not only protecting but egging on his newly awakened news anchor, has no drunkenly witty retort. (Pretty sure that’s a first.) The meeting frames flashbacks of the News Night goings-on; again, it works here, but isn’t something I think will serve the series well if used week to week… though God knows I wouldn’t want the task of making newsgathering – an important but ultimately not captivating activity – visually interesting.

LADIES, A MOMENT? | From the top down, News Night’s female staffers have me perplexed. Is Mackenzie a kickass veteran producer unafraid of her peevish boss and capable of transforming a toothless broadcast into something amazing? Or is she a daffy ex-girlfriend who can’t handle seeing Will date cheerleaders and brain surgeons (yep) and goes as far as bringing it up during a pitch meeting?  (Though I did have to laugh at Will’s dry response to her “warning” about how his fame and wealth would make young women want to sleep with him: “That didn’t sound like something that should come with a warning. That sounded like something that should come with balloons.”) So far, Mackenzie’s much more likable than Dana, her parallel in Sorkin’s late ’90s Sports Night – last week’s email snafu notwithstanding. But good God, woman, get a hold of yourself! And something tells me your new boyfriend, Wade, isn’t going help with that process. At least with newsroom newbie Maggie, the silliness is a little more understandable: She’s young, and her frequent looks of “how the heck did I ever get this job?” – as well as her slight resemblance to Kristen Bell – have endeared her to me. But her on-again, off-again thing with Don needs to be finished, pronto; even when I was working my first retail job at 16, I knew engaging in a sloppy workplace make-out session with my boyfriend wasn’t the most professional move in my playbook. And though I didn’t love Jim’s condescending ministrations during Maggie’s panic attack, the way John Gallagher Jr. said, “You’re safe. You’re awesome,” saved the scene and made me want to see them as a couple.

PREPARE JAZZ HANDS  | Sorkin’s fond of musical theater references, so let’s wrap up by listing them: Will brings up Audrey 2, the murderous Venus fly trap from Little Shop of Horrors; 10 o’clock anchor Elliot tells Don, “I am not the one who wants to be a star, Mama Rose”… then awkwardly explains that he was alluding to Gypsy; and Jim says that Will’s description of karaoke bar Hang Chew’s make it sound like Brigadoon.

Now it’s your turn. How do you think Leona’s threat will play with the News Night team? Did Neal’s “technology is the future!” conversation strike you as a little dated? And did Sloan’s prescient mention of the debt ceiling change your mind about her worth to the News Night team? Hit the comments and sound off!


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