The Newsroom — Character Evaluation Post

I’ve been dreading this assignment all semester long, because apparently I’m supposed to write 500 words on one single character from The Newsroom, when one of my major gripes about the show is that I don’t like the characters and that they don’t change in significant ways and just repeat themselves over and over again to the point where they are utterly predictable. You know, that whole definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? That’s basically every character. Until maybe the season finale when a couple of them tried something different just because someone must have sent them a memo that it was the season finale and they should stop pulling the same old crap.


I can just picture it:


Network executive: “Y’know what we were thinking would be great? If you could have these characters behave in a way we haven’t seen before. Like, have an arc. Make progress.”

Aaron Sorkin: “Like what?”

Exec: “Well, you could have Maggie stop being an annoying wide-eyed idiot who’s in denial about her feelings for Jim and have her break up with Don for good this time?”

Sorkin: “Hmmm. I see what you’re saying. Maybe the denial part could change a bit. But we can’t have her break up with Don. She’s far too insecure to leave a man, and besides, we need to have that in place for next season or I might have to come up with an entirely new storyline for her.”

Exec: “Ah. Flawless reasoning. Well, maybe then you could have Jim stop being such a sad sack and actually try to move on with his life?”

Sorkin: “No, don’t you understand? Sad sackiness is Jim’s entire appeal. He has like nothing else going for him. Ladies love sad sacks. Take that away and he’ll be just another boring dude.”

Exec: “Well, I’m sure you know what the ladies like; far be it from us to question that. So never mind Jim and Maggie. How about Mac? Do you think maybe you could have her work on getting her meltdowns under control?”

Sorkin: “But that’s what makes her relatable to the viewers. No one can empathize with a coolly professional, endlessly competent woman — it’s all her constant screw-ups that earn sympathy, and her hysterics are adorable.”

Exec: “But do you really think it’s realistic that a person so prone to hysterics in stressful situations would have been able to earn two Peabody awards for work in Afghanistan?”

Sorkin: “Hmm, what did you say? Sorry, I was counting my money.”

Exec: “Maybe her hysterics are a manifestation of PTSD. That could be explored, right? In therapy? You like putting characters in therapy, right? Will MacAvoy in this show, Josh Lyman on The West Wing. . .”

Sorkin: “I suppose. Maybe next season. But Mac in therapy would take time away from Will’s therapy screen-time, and Will’s the main character so we can’t have that.”

Exec: “But it would be a great excuse to have more David Krumholtz on the show!”

Sorkin: “Can’t argue with that. Ladies love David Krumholtz.”



Basically, the only character that seemed to have a substantial arc was Will. Two basic arcs, personal and professional.

Professionally, he started off in the first two minutes of the show being blandly inoffensive, then exploded and we saw his true opinions on the state of American journalism, then was convinced by Mac to become a crusader for the Greater Good of News. This held true for the entire season, where every episode was essentially more of the same of this idea of Better News, whether that meant bashing the Tea Party or insulting people for watching trashy reality TV, until the season finale, where Will was forced to doubt the effectiveness of his actions for this cause. That lasted about half the episode before he returned with renewed conviction. The finale also contrives to show him that he is having his desired effect by bringing back a character from the beginning of the show who has now been inspired and fundamentally changed because of Will’s proselytizing. So this arc was designed to test Will’s beliefs and reaffirm them. Kind of like high school was for me, not a transformative experience but more of a, “Yup, I was right all along. Glad I never have to go through THAT again.”

Personally, he started off insisting that whatever he and Mac had in the past was completely and utterly over and that he hates her to the point of taking a pay cut in order to ensure that he can fire her any time he wants, although it is obvious to the viewers that he will never fire her and that he has unresolved feelings for her that he sucks at dealing with because he’s a repressed, arrogant jerk who will never admit to weakness, and forgiveness is weakness. Will thrives on self-righteous anger. I am of the opinion that if no one in the world ever did anything wrong or stupid again, Will would implode for sheer lack of anyone to lambaste and feel superior to. I can’t say I don’t understand that — life is easier when you feel like you have a better handle on the world than the people around you — but it’s not pleasant or entertaining to watch, at least not in the way it’s been portrayed here.

Will makes incremental progress on his relationship with Mac throughout the season, progress that is so incremental that it often seems completely frustratingly absent. It’s clearest when Will confronts his psychiatrist, David Krumholtz, toward the end of the season and demands, “Why can’t I forgive her?” At that point, he had heard enough apologies and been around Mac long enough to know that he still has feelings for her and she still has feelings for him and that they might still be able to have a relationship, and part of him wants to forgive her, but he can’t. And by the end of the season, it’s unclear if he has still not forgiven her or if he is simply too proud to tell her.

So sad, y’all. And yet I completely lack sympathy for Will. I’ve talked about this with my brother and we can’t figure out if it’s the writing or the acting — is the character just so fundamentally obnoxious that no matter what Jeff Daniels does as an actor, he can’t make him sympathetic? Or is Daniels’ completely warmth-less performance partially to blame? Or maybe it’s because I just can’t stand Mac and can’t root for anyone to be with her.


The crux of the matter remains this: as with the rest of the show, the characterization contains a lot of interesting ideas. Sorkin is an incredibly talented, smart, articulate, witty guy — let that be stated for the record. But in this show, his ideas, in plot and character, never cohere into a satisfying and entertaining whole. As Alan Sepinwall of puts it: “I understand wanting to believe in the message here. I just wish I didn’t dislike so many of the messengers.”


REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 9 — “The Blackout, Part 2: Mock Debate”

At last, the eagerly anticipated conclusion to last week’s episode! (And by “eagerly anticipated,” I mean not. At all.) Let’s see if our intrepid crew will continue to be forced to report the news in ways they don’t like, and if I will magically start to care…


—   Quick recap: A) Will’s hired Mac’s ex to write a story about the show. B) the network is pressuring the show to report more tragedy porn, and they’re going along with it because they want to be able to do a mock debate later and they need to be in good standing with the network or they might not get the chance. C) Charlie has a Secret Contact at the NSA who says the world is ending because the government has too much power. D) Anthony Wiener scandal is in full swing (no pun intended). E) Before they had a chance to tape a tragedy porn show, the power went out, hence “blackout.”

—   Power is still out.

—   Mac is being sappy and speechy about how this was GOD’S PLAN because he doesn’t want them to report on Casey Anthony and Anthony Wiener, and getting all crazed and excited about making the show with a desk and a couple of microphones and BEING A TEAM AGAIN, and then the power goes back on. Boo hoo.

—   Jim says to the crew during taping, “hey, you don’t have to watch this,” but obviously everybody WANTS to watch it. It’s like what they say about gossip: it’s something nobody claims to like, but everybody enjoys.

—   Sloan is still upset about the tabloid stories taking time away from her reporting on the biggest economic crisis of her lifetime, even though I still don’t have a handle on what that is, and since it already happened and the world seems to still be functioning, I don’t really care.

—   Neal still wants to do that story on internet trolls, because that’s somehow more newsworthy than tragedy porn, and asks Sloan’s permission to slander her online in order to build his troll credibility. She says yes, because she thinks it’s a good story too, wonder of wonders.

—    Convo between Mac and Brian-the-reporter-ex about Will being lonely. Don’t care. If he is, he deserves it because he did it to himself.

—   Will has flowers in his office, Mac pays them entirely too much attention. Yawn.

—   Mock debate practice. I’m failing to see why anyone other than SNL would think this is a good idea.

—   Jim’s ex-girlfriend and Maggie’s roommate Lisa, a fictional character, was magically Casey Anthony’s classmate in high school. I’m sure her insights would be super informative, seeing as she’s FICTIONAL. This is totes realistic. Ugh, I wish the show would just make up everything instead of shoe-horning fictional people into real world situations. That’s why The West Wing worked better.

—   Maggie and Jim are harassing Lisa at her workplace. Classy. Jim pulls the “we have no choice this is super important” card and Lisa finally gives in.

—   Jim awkwardly tries to ask Lisa out again. Stop it, Jim. She’s way too good for you.

—   Don dates around when he and Maggie break up, but doesn’t tell any of the women about the existence of the other. Don, I hate guys like you. Go away.

—   Cut to Will in his therapist’s office. Yay David Krumholtz! I don’t care about Will or his issues with betrayal but YAY DAVID KRUMHOLTZ.

—   Yes, Will, you are right, blaming the cheat-ee instead of the cheater is not the right way to go. But the show is making it sound like it is. Stupid show.

—   Will can’t understand why he can’t seem to forgive Mac for cheating on him. Therapist Krumholtz says it was because it was betrayal, and Will is super sensitive to betrayal.

—   Neal tells Sloan all the various ways he slandered her while trolling economics threads, and she’s glad someone is working on new stories. THIS IS NOT NEWS, SLOAN. Maybe it is to Sorkin because he’s kind of new at the internet thing, but this is tiny and unimportant and silly.

—   Jim’s research on Secret Contact Dude turns up sordid stuff about the guy, hurting his credibility.

—   Maggie and Mac agree that it doesn’t matter what Lisa says on the air as long as she actually shows up, so they’re gonna ask really lame questions.

—   SO PROUD of Lisa for continuing to reject Jim. Guy did not want you, he doesn’t deserve you, keep him in his place. You rock, girl.

—   Uh oh, Lisa’s on the air speaking out for the reasonableness of abortion in cases when the mother doesn’t want the child and can’t raise it. Apparently people are super sensitive about this and everyone is covering their faces in horror.

—   Someone threw a brick through her shop window. Would that really happen in New York? Down south, sure. But we’re pretty liberal here, right? I’m not gonna question it. Could totally happen in some neighborhoods, I suppose.

—   Showcase of the Mock Debate format. Seems all right, although I’d think a real debate with the actual candidates would be more accurate.

—   The boss guy doesn’t seem happy with it, though…

—   He thinks the format is just embarrassing to the candidates and refuses to allow it. All that tragedy porn coverage for nothing.

—   Oooh, now he says he wants the old Will MacAvoy, not the guy Mac turned him into. That’s gonna push some buttons.

—   Will apologizes to everyone for losing the debate.

—   Mac defends Will to Brian-the-reporter-ex by saying he’s better than Brian because he’s never sure about anything, he STRUGGLES with things, and then slapstick humor Will-can’t-put-on-pants joke comes to back her up. But no, Mac, Will is just as obnoxiously self-assured and self-righteous as Brian is. Maybe he has a few things he doubts, but I would never say he’s not sure about ANYTHING.

—   Mac is turning into a hysteric. Again. Ugh.

—   They’re finally doing the show how they want — ignoring the big attention-grabbing stories and leading with Sloan and the Debt Ceiling. Wonder if we’ll actually get to see her explain it.

—   Neal hasn’t gotten troll credibility. Sloan jokingly says, “too bad you’re not the guy who left the death threat for Will,” and now we know what Neal’s next move is gonna be.

—   Mac looks out at everyone and sees they’re all happy and getting along. This is making her sad for some reason?

—   And now she’s giving Jim horrible advice about refusing to move on and instead going after people who’ve rejected him.

—   Jim shows up at Lisa and Maggie’s apartment. I think we’re supposed to think he’s going to ask Lisa again, but I bet he asks Maggie, right there in front of Don.

—   And Lisa answers the door and Jim clearly wants to talk to Maggie, but Lisa — NO NO STOP IT LISA YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG DON’T GIVE IN NOW — thinks he’s there for her and has decided to say yes, and kisses him and leads him out even though GAH he obviously doesn’t want that anymore.

—   Don is the only one with half a brain in this scene who realizes Jim wanted Maggie. And now he’s going to come clean about the other women and hopefully they’ll break up for good.

—   Neal is pretending to be the hacker who posted Will’s death threat, and one of the other trolls says it wasn’t Neal because it was HIM. Saw that coming a mile away.

—   And Will is on relationship advice websites reading about trust while melancholy music plays.



Final Thoughts:


I have very little to say about this episode that isn’t in the above live-blog. The episode just doesn’t come together as a unit. Sure, there’s a linear storyline involving the compromising of values in order to get the debate, and ultimately not getting the debate, and going back to reporting the news the way they want to. And there are little B plots and C plots about trolls and the Secret Contact.

But then there’s all the non-plot stuff, the relationship drama, which could really be happening in any episode, regardless of the plot, because there is nothing particularly plot-related about the development of these love triangles. And there is no unifying theme between any of the disparate events of the story. It just feels like a bunch of random stuff that happens to be happening to these same people. Say what you may about cheesy Grey’s Anatomy voiceovers — at least they manage to pull everything together and make you feel like you watched a well-constructed whole instead of just a mess.

And of course, having another Mackenzie freakout does nothing to help the cause. And nope, we didn’t get to see Sloan explain about the debt ceiling. Why am I not surprised.


Rating: 2.5/5

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 8 — “The Blackout, Part 1: Tragedy Porn”

Blaaaaaaaaaaaargh. Hello, internet. Forgive my sluggishness this morning. I iz tired.




—   Looks like they’re going to pick up on the “the network hates Will and wants to make up a reason to fire him even though he’s getting all the ratings.” Huzzah.

—   An intriguing episode title. Too bad I have no confidence that the show’s cynicism will tell me anything my own cynicism doesn’t already.

—    Will is doing a print interview with a reporter named Brian, so that his self-righteousness preaching can have yet another outlet. This will not upset the network. Nope. Not one bit.

—   It has become genuinely difficult for me to pay any attention to words coming out of Will’s mouth, because he is so unbearable smug and obnoxious about everything. In real life, I would just want to walk out of the room, but I can’t, because I have to watch the frigging show.

—   They’re talking about Will being a Republican, which is just so ludicrous because Sorkin gives him the most preposterously liberal positions on everything, and then labels him a “sane Republican” as if that will make it easier for people to swallow. Maybe if a Republican/Conservative was writing the show. But this way? Nope.

—   The network is chewing out Will, Charlie, and Mackenzie for not covering the Casey Anthony trial. I vaguely remember hearing about that. Not the kind of story I pay attention to, because yes, it is *ding ding ding* Tragedy Porn. Yay, I figured out the title! Two points for me.

—   Of course they need to report the Casey Anthony trial. It’s what most people want to hear about. If you don’t report it, viewers are going to change the channel, or worse, lose faith in the show’s credibility because it doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the biggest story in the country.

—   The reporter is snooping around the office, and he’s not very subtle about it.

—   They’re making fun of Michele Bachmann. Again, one of those people that no one cares about but the show feels a need to eviscerate anyway.

—   The reporter is the guy Mac cheated on Will with. Oh god the drama. I really could have done without that. I find it ironic that Sorkin is so against tragedy porn in the news but has no problem with it on his show.

—   Now they have to report the Anthony Weiner scandal. Yay, more tabloid worthy news!

—   Will says they have to report the Weiner story because in order to bash the Tea Party, they have to seem balanced. HAHAHAHAHA balance. If ANYONE is under the illusion that this show is balanced, they need to just go away.

—   Maggie is mocking Michele Bachmann for being a loony. This would be more compelling if she weren’t so whiny about it.

—   They’ve brought in Don to consult on how to report Casey Anthony. Or to give him something to do.

—   Charlie’s going to meet with his ~sekrit contact~ and it’s awkwardpants.

—   Secret contact tells Charlie about something called Global Clarity, an illegal eavesdropping system, which as far as I can tell, is not a real thing, because all internet search results for it are Newsroom related.

—   For a show that purports to hate fear-mongering, that was the most fear-mongering scene I’ve ever seen on TV. “They’re gonna listen in on all your communications and it will be the end of the world as we know it!!!!!”

—   Don explains the obvious, how the coverage of Casey Anthony is emotionally and not factually based.

—   They suspect that Secret Contact Dude may have just been setting Will up for a fall, so they assign Jim to investigate him to make sure. I wish I could say, “Now, Secret Investigator Jim, that’s a show I’d watch” but I really wouldn’t, because Jim is so bland and boring.

—   Mac is venting to Reporter-Ex-Brian that she’s living 30 feet from the life she could have had if she hadn’t been so stupid. Well, Mac, forgive me for not feeling so bad for you about that, because I cannot relate at all to someone who wants to end up with Will. I think you dodged a bullet, woman.

—   Neal wants to report about internet trolling, and Mac is all for it, despite this being the LEAST NEWSWORTHY STORY of the episode.

—   Will is going back to his shrink! Yay, we get to see more David Krumholtz! And he points out Will’s self-destructive behavior. Too bad Will is just going to continue being a jerk.

—   Some bimbo showed up to get her fifteen minutes of fame by ratting out Anthony Weiner with tweets he sent her, “because the world needs to know what kind of guy he is.” Lovely.

—   Charlie confronts Leona in a pointless scene that just repeats everything we already know about the network wanting to fire Will.

—   Sloan is still ranting about the debt ceiling, but the show has still never explained WHY she’s ranting and WHY it’s such a disaster and WHY it would cause a global economic meltdown. The way it’s portrayed, this is just drama for the sake of drama. More fear-mongering, etc. Ugh.

—   Mac is agonizing over having the bimbo interviewed for the show, and asks for a sign that she’s okay, and the lights go out. And there’s the explanation for the first part of the episode title.





Final Thoughts:

This episode was really dull for me. It retread a lot of previously done territory about Will’s position with the network and the show’s idealism vs. the reality of the TV news business. I am so sick of hearing about it, and seeing them being forced to compromise their ideals is nothing new; they’ve been compromising since the very beginning when they screwed up that very first show with the interview that went terribly wrong and had to rely on Will basically spoonfeeding his opinions to the viewers even though the show had outright professed to NOT want to do that. So forgive me if I am unmoved by the situation in this episode. It’s just the same stuff all over again, on a bigger scale, and it’s not even good stuff.

And then there’s the show’s blatant hypocrisy and double standards about what is worth watching — evidently it’s okay for the SHOW to be melodramatic and focused on petty relationship struggles, because that’s “entertainment,” but the news is obviously different because the news shouldn’t be entertainment. What the show fails to grasp is that it’s undermining its own message by using the same emotionally manipulative techniques that it accuses the news of using. It’s saying higher standards are important, and then proceeds to scrape the bottom of the barrel with tawdry relationship drama, as if it doesn’t trust the viewers to keep watching unless it pulls all those lowbrow tricks out of its bag. Result is that I feel cheated and condescended to, and wish the show would just be more intelligent and more interesting without trying to play to the lowest common denominator.


Rating: 2.5/5

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 6 — “Bullies”

So this review might wind up shorter than the average, since I’m supposed to be cleaning for Passover but instead I’m watching a TV show I don’t even like, because it’s homework. Oh well. Hopefully my mom won’t yell at me too much.


—   Will just forgot his own name on the air. I’m only laughing because it’s about time His Pompousness got taken down a peg.

—   Will is in therapy. Good for him. All the characters in this show need to be in therapy, but at least it’s a start.

—   He’s been paying for appointments every Wednesday for four years even though he never shows up. Well, that’s just lovely for all of us poor folk to hear.

—   Turns out his therapist died a couple years ago, and his son took over, and Will didn’t have a clue. Awkwardddd.

—   Yay for therapist calling Will on his crap. About time someone did.

—   Wait, there was a death threat? When did that happen? And what took so long? (I only partially mean “What took so long for someone to want to kill Will” — I also mean, why did they wait until 8 minutes into the episode to reveal it? Suspense? It doesn’t feel like a big reveal; it just feels like I missed an episode or something.)

—   Now flashback to explain, because everyone knows a non-linear storyline is always better than a linear one. ALWAYS.

—   Will wants commenters on the website to de-anon. Dude, have you HEARD of the internet? It doesn’t WORK like that.

—   Oh, great, more old news. This time about the community center that was being built in lower Manhattan, more commonly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” even though it wasn’t actually a mosque and wasn’t actually at Ground Zero. Look, I get that this was a big deal way back when. But nobody cares about it now. The most recent article I found (December 9th 2012) says that the place is struggling with funding and may be converted to condominiums.

—   Okay, that was kind of satisfying, smacking down that lady’s arguments about “creeping Islam” and calling her out on her hypocrisy by pointing out all the garbage people have done in the name of Christianity.

—   And there’s the death threat. They know his address. That’s always creepy.

—   Other storyline: coverage of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Sloan speaks Japanese. Of course she does — since we know nothing about her, they can keep giving her a bajillion superpowers and we’ll just swallow it.

—   More displays of Maggie’s professional incompetence. Since it’s been a couple of episodes since we’ve had some of those.

—   Don forgot to get someone to replace his anchor on his show, and now is recruiting Sloan at the last minute. Equal opportunity incompetence! Huzzah!

—   Sloan gets her chance to be deeply unprofessional, asking Will’s new bodyguard if she can touch his pecs.

—   Will just called her an accomplice to drug dealing, because she doesn’t throttle her guests until they give her answers on the air. Is it her job to get people to incriminate themselves and possibly lose their jobs?

—   At least he recognizes in hindsight that that was a stupid thing to say.

—   Oh, no. Sloan’s interrogating the Japanese spokesperson herself, ignoring the translator, and now she’s revealing what he told her off the record, how the radiation levels are higher than they’re admitting.

—   Charlie’s right — Sloan’s gonna have a heck of a time ever getting anyone to talk to her off the record again.

—   Poor Sloan; she looks like me when I’m trying not to cry. But yo, basic rules of journalism . . . off the record = OFF THE RECORD.

—   Don lifts her chin up, instead of saying “chin up.” Are they gonna become a thing, now? Finally break up Don and Maggie for good? Please god yes. I don’t actually care about either couple, but something new would be better.

—   Will has daddy issues and a tragic backstory! Why am I not surprised? That’s just such a cheap way to gain sympathy. Sorry, Sorkin; it’s blatantly manipulative.

—   The therapist IS David Krumholtz! Pretty pretty Jew boy. Love the curls. (That’s been bugging me the whole episode; I’ve never seen him in a serious role so I wasn’t sure it was him.) Wonder if he’s also supposed to be cleaning for Passover right now 😛

—   Don sees Jim and Maggie laughing. Jealous Don Alert!

—   And Mackenzie just discovered that Will almost took a job in LA, which she thinks means he was going to ditch her, so she’s yelling at him. I bet he was going to propose, and I bet he’s still got the ring to prove it.

—   Yup, there it is. Naturally he keeps it in the office instead of at home, because that would make SENSE.

—   Oh, he was lying about the ring. He just got it to screw with Mac. Figures.

—   The spokesperson who talked to Sloan off the record just lost his job. Could have seen that coming.

—   Sloan rejects Mac’s offer to help. Which is smart, because I don’t think we’ve ever actually seen Mac solve a single problem.

—   This interview with Sutton Wall is the most compelling scene in the entire series so far, because for once, the people who disagree with Will aren’t being portrayed as evil or stupid — Wall (a fictional black, gay, former deputy chief of staff to the widely renowned homophobic senator Rick Santorum, inspired by the real-life Robert Traynham) gets to stand up for himself and make a nuanced, passionate argument that is contrary to Will’s. This is a lot more like West Wing Sorkin than Newsroom Sorkin.

—   Will acknowledges that he bullied Wall. And this is obviously what’s causing him to lose sleep.

—   Don asks Sloan of all people if Maggie’s interested in Jim?? Sloan and Maggie barely interact! Also, that’s a continuity fail, because I’m pretty sure most of Don’s actions in the series so far have been motivated by the fact that he already figured out that Maggie’s interested in Jim.

—   They can fix the whole Sloan mess if she goes on the air and lies about what happened. Moral of the story: It’s never okay to lie to the public, except when it is.

—   Ha, the insomnia was actually caused by the bacon sandwiches Will eats before bed. Therapist tricked him into opening up. Not sure that’s legal, but this is TV therapy.



Final Thoughts:

The gimmicky flashback nature of the episode was weird at first, but I got used to it, though I think maybe it should have started with Will in the therapist’s office or waiting room, so that it would be obvious we were entering in the middle of the story and that when the death threat was revealed, it wouldn’t seem so jarring and make me feel like I should rewind and see if I’d missed something.

The jokes in this show by and large still fail to make me laugh. But I enjoyed David Krumholtz as the therapist, and I’m glad to see that IMDB shows that he’ll be in more episodes.

Overall, this episode was very focused on Will and is essentially a character study about what he likes, dislikes, and what gets under his skin and why. I suppose it’s not bad as far as character studies go, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if I actually liked Will to start with and so this wouldn’t feel like a last-ditch attempt to get me to like him. (He’s tortured! He’s conflicted! Love him!) I can’t think of a single character on the show that I like enough to hear all about their psychological demons. None of them interest me enough.


Rating: 3/5