TV REVIEW: The Newsroom - The 112th Congress

The third episode of The Newsroom follows News Night's change in direction opening with Will McAvoy apologising for previous failures and issues a promise to deliver the news that everyone needs to hear, rather than what they want. But not everyone is happy with this turn of events.

The well-constructed episode so far, The 112th Congress opens with another Sorkin-typical speech with Will (Jeff Daniels) stating that he has failed in his duty as a news anchor to report the facts rather than sensationalism. First step: taking on the Republican Tea Party over the course of sixth months, starting with Will going to Charlie (Sam Waterston) with his outrage about how his party has been tainted by its association with the right-wing group (yes we get official confirmation this week; Will is a Republican, an interesting move for the overwhelmingly Democrat Sorkin). We get Will taking on various Tea Party members in some fantastic interviews while Mac (Emily Mortimer) holds court over an energised newsroom. Cut within the six month period is a board meeting involving Charlie and an imperious Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), discussing the ratings and financial consquences of Will and Mac's mission to hold the Tea Party to account. Oh and then there's some soapy drama stuff with the ongoing flirtation between Maggie (Alison Pill) and Jim (John Gallagher Jr) while her boyfriend Don (Thomas Sandoski) is again a bit of an idiot. Mac also has to deal with Will's new array of dates that he keeps parading around the office and doesn't do it particularly well.

Starting to really hit its stride as far as the actual programme of News Night is concerned, The Newsroom brought us the take down of the Tea Party that we all longed to hear but never got outside of satirical programmes. The cross-section of interviews and reports that Will conducts are masterful and well-written with plenty of cheerworthy moments for everyone's favourite "affable" news anchor. The cuts away to Charlie's boardroom meeting also add to the drama of the situation; we're seeing the consequences play out way ahead of any of the other characters with ratings drops and threatening words all demonstrating that Will isn't going to win the vote of his superiors with his actions. We also get a little bit of Will's past history, he's a genius by all accounts, a former prosecutor with a fantastic track record and an ability to become, as Charlie states, a lawyer for the American people.

The meeting was one of the highlights of the episode, a masterclass in tension built through the bold decision to have Jane Fonda, one of the biggest names yet to appear, sit silently watching for the majority of the time. Despite a rather dodgy Jesus/Noah joke, Fonda was fantastic as a CEO keen to stay in power and desperate to do anything to keep it. With her parting threat, she could provide an intriguing enemy for the News Night team and any scenes between her and Sam Waterston are going to sizzle. Elsewhere, another highlight was the developing friendship between Jim and Dev Patel's Neal with the pair carrying most of the episode's comic relief. Patel has had little to do as Neal so far except some necessary exposition but here we're starting to see a little more of him and his various scenes with Gallagher Jr were very funny. It offers a more human side to the team outside of the ridiculous relationship entanglements that they find themselves in and seeing the pair talk about Wikileaks whilst bemoaning their ability to scare off girls was well-judged in the wider narrative of the episode, showing they've got more to say than quickfire newsroom speak.

It's important to stress at this point that The Newsroom was doing so well, really well to the point where I was actively thinking to myself "this is more like it!". I was engaged in the characters' efforts to stick it to The Man, representing both the Tea Party and their corporate bosses. I revelled in the humour and drama of the News Night programme itself and felt inwardly triumphant when Will made a crack about a misguided comment on the press. I was there, I was in it!

And then Sorkin struck again with the terrible characterisation of the women in the show. Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) gets a brief moment to shine when she notices something Will had missed during the live election coverage, only to be shouted down before she gets chance to do anything. Then, the transformation of Mac from strong, confident executive producer into a jealous harridan was an extreme jarring point because once again we see her not being able to handle her personal life when it clashes with the professional. We've had no indication that she still has residual feelings for Will despite feeling guilty about how their relationship ended three years before. We get treated to a couple of scenes in which she passive-aggressively insults Will's dates to their faces whilst his jealousy upon discovering she actually has a boyfriend is limited to a short exchange with Jim and brushed off just as quickly.

Then there's the ongoing Jim and Maggie saga which, despite myself, I'm a little swept up in, rooting for them to get together because they have a fantastic chemistry and I really want to like Jim because at times, he's adorable. Sorkin, however, is making this very difficult by continually giving him moments in which he rescues or patronises Maggie for no real reason. The scene where he gallantly sweeps to her rescue after she suffers a panic attack was excruciatingly irritating. We're told by Don (who is also an idiot here, leaving Maggie on her own with a sweeping comment about how she "thinks she's dying") that she regularly gets panic attacks yet Jim takes it upon himself to tell her exactly what she should be doing, despite the fact that she clearly knows this because she's been through it before. I was very much with her when she said "I wish your face would stop moving so I could punch it" because he was such a condescending plank in that scene. He does get points for later stating that he won't swoop in on Maggie immediately after her seemingly gazilionth break-up with Don, but the damage was done.

The Newsroom is one of the most frustrating programmes I've seen in a long time, becoming split into two shows between the compelling, absorbing drama of News Night itself and the soap opera-like shenanigans of the staffers. The panic attack scene had me a hair's breadth away from switching it off all together but the Tea Party/corporation narrative drew me back in, albeit begrudgingly. With news breaking this week that Sorkin may or may not have fired most of his writing staff, I can only hope that this goes some way to ironing out the inconsistencies for the already-guaranteed second season.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the previous two episodes here.

You can also follow her on Twitter @beckygracelea

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