What have we learned from Season 1 of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom? What we were supposed to learn was that some things matter and some things don’t. We know from the Real Life The Newsroom mirrors that America has been ushered off the rails by information gatekeepers who have undertaken a slow-creep away from measuring the truth of cartoonish official stories and toward prioritization of superfluous wank. This yields an apostasy from reason wherein society loses the capacity to solve problems because it actively prevents too many people from understanding what the problem, in fact, is.
An important thing, for example, would be what Episode 10 opens with, an African-American woman in Tennessee who, based on a raft of actual contemporary stories, has been denied her constitutional right to vote. This singular act, being repeated in Real Life over and over again via so-called voter ID laws in Republican-helmed states, obviates the grandiose promise of the republic, e.g. people ostensibly having a hand in their own fate. The erosion of that by corporate machinations enabled by docile conglomerated media was the seed of The Newsroom’s first episode, where central TV anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) upbraided a “sorority girl” who asked him a glib questions about what makes America “great,” inspiring a Youtube-moment rant that jumpstarted his career.
Episode 10 brings it full-circle within the wake of a cover story in New York magazine that McAvoy himself initiated. The story was to be an all-access rundown of McAvoy and exec producer MacKenzie McHale’s (Emily Mortimer) “News Night 2.0,” their attempt to make the news into an actual truth-metric. But, titled “The Greater Fool” — a Deus-ex-Machina-planted economic term referring to the end-investor who believes in a higher real value to a thing — the story foments McAvoy’s prescription/booze-assisted trip to the hospital, where he mulls quitting.
News Night 2.0 has not been welcomed by media conglomerate jerk/mogul Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), who with company president and smarmy jerk son Reese has tasked ACN sister medium, gossip magazine TMI, with digging dirt on McAvoy for fuel to fire him. TMI’s editor meets with McHale to offer a heads-up that she has a “source” indicating McAvoy was drug-addled the night of the Obama-gets-bin-Laden broadcast. The Newsroom kids figure out the “source” is the illegal wiretap of a call from McAvoy to McHale the night of the broadcast, obtained by TMI via some Trojan Horse Reese has with the NSA’s vast Bush-era matrix of wiretaps. But NSA-vet would-be Deep Throat Guy cluing in news division chief Charlie (Sam Waterston) on this is compromised, a vetting turns up, and Charlie tells him he is too impeachable a source to peg a story to, and that was his quid pro quo for bringing the goods on TMI’s chicanery.
McAvoy, in hackneyed, self-important Sorkinian fashion, says he wanted the New York story to be his “young boy” whom Arthur sends out to spread the dream of Camelot at the end of the musical. But instead it turned out to be a hatchet-job, critical quotes from his peers particularly depressing him. “Were any of them quoted by name?” Charlie demands. “Anyone that doesn’t have an axe to grind with you? The rest were pussy-ass coward-ass pussified pussies.” Waterston remains awesome.
“It just doesn’t matter,” McAvoy says.
“You’re right,” Charlie says. “It doesn’t . . . You wanna hear something that does?”
Charlie ushers in surly and convenient Nurse Cooper, who relays the tale of her great aunt Dorothy, “96 years old and has been voting for 75 years, now the state of Tennessee is saying she can’t vote. I want to know what you’re going to do about that. I want to know why I don’t see it on the news. Why did my aunt become less of an American because she doesn’t own a car?”
McAvoy gets off his ass, calls for, ahem, his armor and heads to the Newsroom. The troops rally for a final exactly-the-same-newsgathering-rallying montage — to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”? Really?!? — about an actual horrible thing being underwritten by a Real Life jerkwater corporate frontgroup that genuinely doesn’t want students, minorities and the elderly to vote in America. This is important.
It is so important that a montage will do so we can trudge long and hard through Sorkin Archetypes’ musical pathos, starring SA3, SA4 and SA5 (whose roles you can review here, if you want, I’m sick of all of them). Sorkin, via SA4, manages to launch a welcome tirade against the bourgeois Harlequin-Romance vapidity of Sex In the City and in the very next breath validate it with a kiss of SA3 so painstakingly telegraphed people saw it coming across the prairie in the 1880s. SA3 not only begs off pursuing it but continues to lie to his current amor, SA4’s roommate Lisa, to respect SA5’s imminent asking SA3 to move in with him, in spite of the fact that, out of the blue, SA5 has a surreptitious thing going for Sloan (Olivia Munn), after she, of all people, reveals in the third-act-of-a-romcom-iest monologue ever the reason she’s single is that he, SA5, never asked her out. Though she is a freakishly hot funny brainiac, it was him or nothing for Sloan, because in Newsroomarnia, insular monogamous predestination reigns. When McHale reminds SA3 of her admonishment to gather rosebuds while he may, SA3 says he “accidentally gathered the wrong rosebuds” — which, in addition to invalidating Lisa’s existence, says he is a cretinous mystic unworthy of narrative fiction and perhaps love.
Sorkin undersells the human potential he champions by pandering to tropes, boiling down the complexities of coupling to obsessive-compulsive disorder, compounded by everyone being “noble” to the point of repression so clenched it makes Downton Abbey look like porn.
Quality television runs on conflict and tension, but this is just pointless cowardice and boilerplate pseudointellectual navel-gazing, bearing as much bourgeois emptiness as Sex In the City, yet worse because it tries so desperately to be the tonic to the bourgeois emptiness of Sex In the City.
If all the glib isn’t glib enough, McAvoy recognizes a new intern candidate McHale is interviewing. She is the “sorority girl” he dressed down in his Youtube moment, newly graduated form Northwestern. He breaks in on the interview and asks why she is applying. “I watched the show and I read the New York magazine article and I know what a ‘greater fool’ is,” she says. “And I want to be one.”
“She’s the kid at the end of Camelot,” he says. “Ask me your idiot question again.”
“What makes America the greatest country in the word?” she says fearfully.
“You do,” he says. “Hire her.”
Some things matter, some things don’t. Charlie is right about that, and Aaron Sorkin craps all over his zen.
I cannot wait for next season, which I say with some dry irony.