Trying to Tolerate The Newsroom, Week Five

Sam Waterston, right, poses with Newsroom Executive Producer Alan Poul.

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

I made a mistake last weekend. Seeing that Larry David’s Clear History was premiering on Sunday night, I assumed HBO was kicking back its marquee dramas for a week. As a result I missed the fifth Season Two episode of The Newsroom, “NewsNight with Will McAvoy.” On Tuesday I corrected course, watched it, and asked the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com’s Garrett Quinn, a former radio host and frequent political correspondent, to help me discuss the episode in a truncated fashion.

Neither of us hated the episode. That’s a TTTTN first, and it owes either to Garrett’s love of dialogue, his appreciation of download time jokes (we spent many minutes in January 2012 waiting for his videos to go online so we could keep driving to Ron Paul events), and the fact that this self-contained season reboot wasn’t all that bad.

Garrett Quinn: I hate to admit it, but I think I am starting to like the show. At least, the second season seems less sh***y than the first.

Dave Weigel: Oh no, I think I agree. This episode skipped forward six months, and started … not even a new plot, really. It just informed us that these characters, in a vacuum, were interesting. Interesting enough to watch a small morality play about.

GQ: Yeah, the whole season has felt like that. At first I was like, what the hell? But now it’s coming together. The liberal Sorkin preachy bull isn’t as in your face, too.

DW: In this episode, less than ever. So, in our reality, NBC News cut the George Zimmerman audio tape and excised the 911 operator asking what race Trayvon Martin was. It took weeks to correct. Here, the media immediately realizes the mistake. That’s actually a pretty defensive  take on the MSM—they meant well!—but it’s an admission of wrong.

GQ: You knew that was coming with the way the played out the download, which was the other thing I found unbelievable about the show. Even when servers are slammed, it shouldn’t take THAT LONG to download a four-minute audio clip. This was our first taste of how ACN & Co. will handle the Zimmerman/Martin story. They only briefly touched on Occupy, so it will be interesting to see how much time they dedicate to another major news story from the not-too-distant past.

DW: So far, they’ve retconned it so that they’re avoiding the liberal media’s mistakes, which they didn’t do with Occupy. Did they flash-forward just to avoid how the Occupy story totally petered out? When did it peter out in Boston?

GQ: There wasn’t a whole lot of coverage of raids or anything of that nature. It went on until early early-to-mid-December in Boston, and it ended with a whimper.

DW: So they skipped the whimper? That was nice of them.

GQ: The cops just waited them out and then on a cold night said, “OK, time to go,” and by then the movement was losing steam. Also, the Sloan Sabbith photo thing seemed like it was loosely based on what happened to Olivia Munn in real life. She went through a similarly embarrassing scandal when she was dating the new Captain Kirk.

DW: I was unaware of this Olivia Munn scandal. She’s the one cast member who totally takes me out of the show.

GQ: Yeah, I forget exactly when the photos were leaked and if it was related to a hacking or something, but these weren’t blurry photos like other scandals. I was surprised they touched on that with her character, given what happened to her in real life.

DW: That was another tone shift in this episode—after being harpies or jokes for four weeks, the women get to take some of the initiative. Well, two of them—Maggie’s still useless in a dramatically useful way. Still, though, Mackenzie and Sloan get to show up men who disrespect them! The writers have heard the critics.

GQ: Yes, and then there was the woman who shamed Will on Twitter for being a dick in public. Maggie is a mess, though, and now, apparently, an alcoholic.

DW: And Sloan was rescued by Don, the brave and careless douchebag, so that’s not exactly feminist heroism either. Actually, I’m not sure, piece by piece, why I found myself enjoying this episode. I suppose it just hit beats that were guaranteed fun (ha ha, she hit her sleazy ex in the crotch!) and played with the failures and indignities of reporting.

GQ: I think this was the first episode of the entire show that took place in Linklater-like real time and over the course of a single News Night broadcast. So the long download time did work as a nice vehicle for the story. I have had more problems uploading stuff than downloading.

DW: Extremely minor technical problems have been a source of drama here, as in real life. I’ve spent a solid amount of time yelling at Firefox to stop “not responding.” In real time, it would have been less interesting than this. But I suppose I should take pride in this episode, because the subplot about World Net Daily was obviously inspired by the “Friends of Hamas” story that failed to take down Chuck Hagel given its obvious fallaciousness.

GQ: Did that mention on HBO do as much for their traffic as one of their umpteen Drudge links?

DW: Oh, I’m sure it didn’t. I don’t think Sorkin appreciates how the parallel universe of conservative media survives. Drudge links provide great amounts of traffic, and by extension viability and credibility. This is referred to obliquely, but the ACN crew doesn’t seem to understand how this side of the media works.

GQ: What’s a better fake name: “Righteous Daughters of Jihadi Excellence” or “Friends of Hamas”?

DW: The first one. I’m jealous.

GQ: They still haven’t run a correction on the original story.

DW: I’m fine with that. It’s funnier that way. Still, I have to ask this. You’re the only person who’s talked to me who likes the show. Why? What’s wrong with you?

GQ: I wouldn’t say I like it, I’d say I don’t hate it as much as I did last season. I think the show has really turned down the Sorkin fantasy world nonsense that permeates everything else he does. I did cringe during the primary coverage, because the whole “I am gonna be a hero and get kicked off the Romney bus” bit was so dumb. But their Occupy episodes weren’t horrible. I’d say I am still hatewatching the show but with a little less hate this season. This national security story is getting the slow-reveal treatment. They’ll have to cover more of the campaign down the road, right? It won’t be central but it will be there I imagine.

DW: Do you actually want more coverage of the election? That was 12 of the worst months in American history.

GQ: Oh hell no, but do you really think we’ve seen the last of Jim’s campaign gal pal? Maybe they meet at the convention or something and Maggie finds out and that’s what sends her to dye her hair. Like, it’s the final straw that drives her crazy.

DW: No, I assume she’ll show up pregnant in the season finale. And Maggie dyed her hair because the kid died in her arms! She’s since traded hair dye for vodka.

GQ: This jumping back and forth has screwed everything up. How far in the future is her dyed hair?

DW: It does that. I blame Billy Pilgrim.

GQ: We’re in March 2012 now, right?

DW: Yes. That’s enough time to get blond again.

GQ: I wonder how much of this national security story will borrow from scandals of the last decade and how much of it will be made up out of thin air. So far I am digging these Cigarette Smoking Man-type characters that are appearing in Sam Waterston’s office.