Reading 'The Newsroom': 'I'll Try To Fix You'
July 15th, 2012 11:00pm EDT
The fourth episode of The Newsroom takes on a story that captivated the nation, while everyone's love lives get needlessly meddled in, and Don finally stops being a jerk. While the show struggles with its subplots, there's no denying that it knows how to do the news, even if it's news from two years ago.
The Top Story
While The Newsroom has been grounded in real-life personalities and events from the start, "I'll Try To Fix You" is the first episode where it tackles head-on a real news story that we all know well: the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
It's a gutsy move for the show to weave in actual news stories as opposed to making their own, though slightly anticlimactic given that the series is set two years ago, so we're aware of the ending before the characters are. In this case, though, it works because as an NPR report gets every other news outlet to say Congresswoman Giffords is dead, we know she survived the shooting, and we're pleading with our News Night team not to fall in line.
This is an interesting approach for Sorkin and company; previously, Sports Night and West Wing certainly referenced real people and events, but I can't recall them actually building episodes around them. The athletes and politicians at the heart of the stories were always fictional.
Will The Newsroom continue on this path? We don't yet know, but it does a wonderful job of evoking the chaos, the panic and most importantly, the passion that is involved in reporting stories of this magnitude. To quote a line from the Sports Night pilot script: "We might not know what these people are talking about, but we know that they do."
Will and MacKenzie...and Nina and Sloan and Crazy Carrie
The episode opens on New Years Eve 2010, and the News Night staffers are having an office party. MacKenzie brings Wade (Jon Tenney) only to once again bring up the past with Will, who is promptly badgered by Sloan into approaching a woman wandering alone at the party. We may as well have shined a spotlight on her. Seriously, she could not be more obvious. There's at least three feet of empty space around her in every direction.
She's Nina (Hope Davis) and she and Will trade laughably blunt pickup lines for awhile, until Will finds out that she's a gossip columnist for something called TMI and plotting to do what she calls "a takedown piece" on a Real Housewife of Somewhere for no other reason than that she can. When Nina goes in for a kiss, Will rebuffs her with his hand and lets her know, "I would have more respect for you if you were a heroin dealer." Oh, snap.
The next morning, Charlie calls Will into his office to show him a Page Six piece where it's alleged that he groped Nina, and suggests that he's asking out the wrong women. Will, undeterred, somehow agrees to a date with Sloan's friend Carrie (Kathryn Hahn) and, despite her being obviously trashed, even takes her back to his place, where they discuss smoking a joint. Classy. The date goes south when he finds a gun in her purse and decides to show her how easily the gun could be taken from her and used against her.
When he informs Sloan of the disastrous end to the evening the following day, she tells him "you haven't seen the crazy side of her," which isn't encouraging.
The third woman Will makes a pass at in the episode (which, if you're counting, is just as many ladies as he went through last week, too) asks him about the Page Six report over drinks. When he tries to explain and she starts going on about Real Housewives, he accidentally calls her a bitch. She throws her drink in his face, which leads to another Page Six item.
And as if that wasn't bad enough, having seen that second Page Six story, crazy Carrie has gone to TMI and Will is now also a tabloid cover story. Clearly, the lesson here is that Will should never again take any form of personal advice from Sloan, who still doesn't seem to have much of a function within the show either.
Oh, and MacKenzie finds out that Will agreed to have a non-complete clause put into his contract in exchange for the right to fire her that he told her about in the pilot. In other words, he was willing to put in a practical death sentence to ensure that he could get rid of her. As you can imagine, that doesn't go over well, but what else is new?
Maggie, Jim and Don...and Lisa
Also at the NYE party, Don decides that he's going to set Jim up with Maggie's roommate Lisa, over Maggie's repeated objections. Lisa, with her Rod Stewart ringtone and questionable choice of dress, is obviously not great with the opposite sex. Yet Don won't take no for an answer and somehow, Jim agrees to go on a date with Lisa.
Afterward, Maggie asks Jim about the date, and he tells her that he doesn't think he'll be seeing Lisa again. Yet when Maggie relates this information to Don, he replies that Lisa told him that she and Jim were going on a second date. Don practically dares Maggie to call Jim, and as she does so, he calls Lisa so that Maggie can hear that Rod Stewart ringtone in the background and realize she interrupted a rather private moment between Jim and Lisa.
Maggie is incensed that Jim lied to her and after a few pointed remarks thrown his way at work, the two of them have their first fight over it, with him pointing out that he outranks her and saying she should talk to her boyfriend, At least he apologizes for lying to her and says it won't happen again.
Don Finally Becomes Likeable
As you may have figured out if you've been reading along with me this season, I'm not too fond of Don. He has come off, thus far, as a jerk; it's not hard to figure out how he got along with a pre-Northwestern spiel Will McAvoy. In this episode, however, the show finally lets Don be human for a change.
When Reese (Chris Messina) is tearing into everyone and their brother for not pronouncing Congresswoman Giffords deceased, it's Don who steps up to him. "She's a person," he retorts. "A doctor pronounces her dead, not the media." It's a perfect one-liner delivered so well by Thomas Sadoski that I'll admit I clapped after he said it.
At the episode's end, Will tells Don that he's a newsman and that if Will ever says otherwise, Don has the right to punch him in the face. I'm in agreement with him there. Let's hope that The Newsroom continues to show us more of Don's colors.
Charlie has his hands full this episode. Confronting Will about being tabloid fodder, he blurts out that "Fox News doesn't own TMI; we do" - a sentence that causes him to recall his loaded conversation with Leona Lansing from last week. (If you've forgotten it, the show decides to replay that entire clip for you, making it stick out like a sore thumb.)
He realizes that the tabloid scandal is the manufactured "context" that Leona was threatening him with, and it's the first shot in her plan to fire Will. Nina has been getting her information about Will direct from Leona. Just like on Sports Night, we now have our antagonist from above.
At first, Will is incensed that Charlie knew Leona was aiming for his job and didn't tell him about it, but that doesn't last long. Determined to fight tooth and nail, he yells for Charlie and MacKenzie to join him in the studio after broadcast, and declares that if Leona wants him out of the anchor seat, she'll have to bring more than a couple of guns.
Four episodes into the season, we're now getting a better handle on The Newsroom's strengths, quirks, and its flaws. The best thing I can say about this show is that it reminds me of how excited I was to do the news. While the facts might not always be accurate (this still isn't a documentary), the emotions certainly are.
The show's at its best when it's about the news. It's less successful when we get into the characters' personal lives. This episode throws in a pair of unnecessary third wheels to make the two subplots even more of a mess. It was made clear by the second episode that MacKenzie isn't over Will and that Jim has feelings for Maggie; we don't need to have fights and/or scenes of pining every episode to remind us, especially since the show hasn't yet made either pairing that convincing.
Having said that, I do genuinely like these characters. Every time Will goes on a tear or a rant it's brilliant television, and I applaud Jeff Daniels for being able to deliver those mouthfuls of dialogue. Will is abrasive for certain, but he's not unwatchable.
On the other hand, I'd given up on Don until this episode, and I just hope that the show gives Thomas Sadoski more to do than just being the roadblock to the inevitable Maggie-Jim romance, because Sadoski seems like a good actor who just doesn't have the right material yet.
Much like the show it's about, The Newsroom is still trying to figure itself out. It's not perfect; there are things here that can be improved upon. But when it works, this is truly fantastic television. And when it's over, I'm absolutely left wanting more.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my Starpulse writer page and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credits: Vanity Fair