“The Newsroom” recap: The Blackout, Part One: Tragedy Porn

In case you haven’t been following Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, here’s some backstory: America put itself in the hands of corporate charlatans who lied a lot about everything to justify sociopathic behavior, and enough people thought that was OK because institutions they count on to be watchdogs of bad intentions, lying and horrible outcomes stopped watchdogging after being consolidated into media conglomerates who prioritize the will of advertisers who much prefer a citizenry stupid enough to be advertised to.

That established, Olivia Munn, who plays Sloan on The Newsroom, needs to be better at what people supposedly do on HBO shows, which is act well enough to make us forget you are acting. Not doing this becomes problematic in Aaron Sorkin shows, which are tough to watch without being constantly reminded Aaron Sorkin is writing it. It becomes a crash-of-metal when there is a crisis in the Newsroom wherein all above backstory stuff starts pressing in on our intrepid protagonists and Sloan, a hot economist for some reason working at a cable news channel, is at-bat for this week’s Capra Moment™.

The crisis occurs because anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and EP MacKenzie McHale’s (Emily Mortimer) experiment in doing-good-news, the so-called News Night 2.0, is suffering for their choice to not cover the Casey Anthony murder trial. Ignoring babykilling idiots means News Night, amid the Dog Days of 2011, is losing big viewers to shameless competitors. This gives smarmy corporate boss Reese Lansing, son of conglomerate chair Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), reason to admonish McAvoy, McHale and news division chief Charlie (Sam Waterston), re-gearing the semi-intriguing arc introduced in Episode 2: Leona, disliking news that fact-checks charlatans, has enacted some subterfuge via sister publication TMI to destroy McAvoy’s reputation and thus end News Night 2.0.

So a compromise must be made because, as A) a big drop in ratings is basically a greenlight to fire McAvoy, and B) a fifth-rated news show will likely not land a Republican presidential debate, which McAvoy wants in order to loose a bold “new debate format” he thinks will remap human consciousness.

So, past dumbass contrivances like McAvoy dangling a feature story about News Night 2.0 to the ex with whom McHale cheated on McAvoy six years ago, this week’s story floats a fairly intriguing breakdown of the broader price of Casey Anthony-glomming. To the staff’s chagrin, stories of import to the public interest are axed, including Sloan’s thread of the Tea Party congress’s chicken-playing with the national debt ceiling. Then word of congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting bubbles up, meaning News Night 2.0, once compromised, must compromise further with the worst angels of lowest-common-denominator.

Staffers meanwhile work on Debate 2.0, which — via a cute tangent wherein Sorkin Archetype 4 suggests psychotic Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is psychotic — we discover to be revolutionary insofar as it will “compel candidates to tell the truth and make them responsible for their own rhetoric by asking tougher questions than a match.com profile.”

Charlie meets with his prospective would-be Deep Throat, an NSA wonk privy to a vast, active warrantless phonetapping program gaily operating since the Bush administration voided the 4th Amendment. “I fought the Soviets,” Deep Throat Guys says. “The way that government made people live their lives was a very good reason to fight them. After 9/11, we started doing the exact same thing.” The illegality of this based-on-real-stuff program, understand, means it still exists by dint of its existence not being made public by people whose job it is to do so.

The closer-to-home reveal, however, is that, somehow, this tech is being used — in a mirror of Rupert Murdoch’s sweeping News Corp. scandal — by Reese and TMI. Advantage Charlie. He meets on the street with Leona to offer the cryptic warning, “You don’t want to do this.” She says McAvoy was warned to stop covering newsish news that inconvenienced her wealthy cabal-that-prefers-people-stupid, shrugs off the hint and gleefully renews her threat.

After seeing a Casey Anthony-coverage ratings-rebound, McHale and McAvoy are about to bite down hard and tape an interview with one of Weiner’s Twyst-partners, a pretty dimwit seeking (sigh) tabloid stardom, when Sloan again accosts McHale seeking airtime for some Wall Street reactions to Tea-Party-debt-ceiling-chicken.

“These are not liberals,” Sloan says. “These are hardcore Wall Street guys, who, whatever the world may think of them, know what they’re talking about and so do I . . . The Barclay’s guys say, ‘This debate is detached from reality.’ My Goldman sources says, ‘If the House Republicans continue this debate, I hope they’re willing to mark the end of the dollar as the global reserve currency.’ [Similar things] That’s why the Dow’s going to close down 230 points today… Just the doubt. Just the possibility that the House majority might commit the most self-inflicted damage to the country since the secession of the South…We should’ve been featuring it weeks ago. Give time for people call their congressmen to say, ‘If you f— with the full faith and credit in the U.S. Treasury, you’re fired.’ [Same stuff said in different ways].’”

This is a salient thing. How do you stay on the air covering stupid crap that nobody should care about without fanning a culture in which people prioritize stupid crap, especially when doing so is exactly why 75% of the country never understood the debt-ceiling showdown or the facile conservative jihadism that informed it? But one has to be really good at one’s job to sell a Sorkin speech as one’s own, and, wow, Munn, who can be funny, goes hellbent off the rails. It’s like she’s trying to play “impassioned” with all the verve of a sketch on SNL, where people long ago stopped trying to hide the fact they are reading cue-cards. So I go from sharing flustered outrage at the-dumbing-down-of-America to wondering how bad the takes were they didn’t use.

Then a blackout hits the building before the Weiner-banging dimwit can do her interview. McHale quips about God having comic timing.

New episodes of The Newsroom air Sunday nights at 10/9CT on HBO.
Photos and video: HBO

 
 

This entry was posted in Drama, Recap, TV News & Program Updates and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.