TV REVIEW: The Newsroom - I'll Try To Fix You

After the bombshell last week that Will's job hangs in the balance, it's New Year in the News Night office; Neal is inexplicably trying to convince everyone that Bigfoot is real, Don decides to set Jim up with Maggie's roommate and Will has a run-in with a gossip columnist.

We're four weeks into The Newsroom now and there is something that is really starting to grate on me. No it's not the treatment of the female characters, though we are again on slightly dodgy ground, and it's not the way in which we get perhaps the most heavy-handed news sequence yet. It's the theme music and the title credits sequence. I just don't think it works. It's over-long, insipid and lacklustre whilst we get images of news anchors from the past alongside our heroic reporters of the future. Maybe it's inspired by the music from America's existing news shows? After all, we all know that they're more about the emotion than it is about introducing the news, as Bill Bailey pointed out. It's a small niggle but I'm hoping a second season overhaul might result in some more inspirational music. Perhaps with trumpets.

The show itself continues to the be the one of two halves that remains frustrating to say the least. First up, the good stuff of which there is plenty this week as we get some classic lines from Will. His scene with Charlie about a New York Post article about Will's near-tryst with a gossip columnist (Hope Davis) is full of great lines - "Did you read the New York Post?" "No because my eyes are connected to my brain" - and a real Sorkinesque feel that has sometimes been missing. And the other half of the frustrating rears its ugly head as the episode again loses momentum with the more soapy elements; Don sets Jim up with Maggie's room-mate Lisa, much to her dismay, and there's also the moment Maggie discovers Jim is sleeping with Lisa, despite telling her that this isn't the case. There are two things I don't understand about this sequence of events: 1) Why on earth is Maggie still with Don? He's a plank. 2). In what twisted little world does Jim live in to think it's "sort of" ok that he lied to Maggie? I get he's saying that he lied to her because he likes her and didn't want to hurt her feelings, but that doesn't make it ok, it makes him a coward and an idiot. And, while I'm on this train of thought, I'm going to do a Spanish Inquisition speech; there are THREE things I don't understand about this sequence of events so 3). Is there any way that Maggie would get away with speaking to her boss in the real world the way she speaks to Jim here? No. Sorkin, sort it out.

Ok, with that particular bug-bear over, back to the good stuff of the episode - It's also becoming clear to me that Will is not, as we've been led to believe, the Bartlett of this administration, but the Toby Ziegler (I can't help comparing it to The West Wing, it invites it continually). He's grouchy and bad-tempered, yet ultimately, you can't help but like him as this episode demonstrates brilliantly. The 'fix you' of the title refers to Will's "mission to civilise" which has to be one of the most condescending statements ever uttered by a television character and sums up Will's character perfectly; he's spent so many years being told he's fantastic so naturally he believes he is. Thankfully, he doesn't get away with it, receiving a considerable amount of alcohol to the face as a result. The effect on me was so powerful that even I had to stop myself reaching for my cup of tea and lobbing it at the screen. Now some reviews that I've seen have cited this as a flaw in the episode, that a character could be so patronising was a reflection on bad writing rather than three-dimensional characterisation but I thought it was a great development for a character I've had little reaction to so far. Yes, he's a little annoying and suitably noble but the depth of feeling I've experienced for Will has come nowhere near the sympathy I have with Maggie or my begrudging love of Jim. This was the highlight of the episode for me because, now that I've started to care more about the characters, I'm starting to care more about the show. Yes it's still got its problems but I do think it's starting to get there.

Now I've often said that The Newsroom feels like two halves because you get the good, as previously mentioned, but then you get it balanced with the bad. If you've been following my other reviews, you know that I've been having issues with the way women are portrayed in the show. I said earlier that it isn't as bad this week but it's still there, lurking under the surface like the potential misogyny it is. Displaying an extraordinary lack of awareness, especially considering just how often this criticism has come up, Sorkin recently defended his portrayal of women, rather naively saying there is nothing wrong with it because they are all 'strong' and 'intelligent'. I'm sure they are because we've heard other characters say so, especially in the case of Mac, but he just hasn't shown it yet which is the crucial point. If he starts doing that, we'll start getting more three-dimensional characters and, providing they're given decent storylines to boot, he may see the critics starting to quieten down on the issue. This week, some reviews have cited Hope Davis' character as another thorny characterisation. Perhaps oddly, I don't have a problem with the journalist or the viewers of reality television programmes being women in this episode because, sad but true, this is the case in most situations. What I do have the issue with was the gun totin', crazy stalker date that Will brings back to his apartment. Again Sorkin resorts to stereotypes for the female characters seemingly without putting a lot of thought into it - we've had manic jealous ex-girlfriend, the panicky girl in the corner needing to be rescued and now your standard everyday bunny boiler. What's next? A pregnant woman suffering from violent mood swings and irrationally bitching at everyone because of, you know, hormones? Please God, I hope not. 

My main problem with this episode was the final moments in which we got the soaring chords of Coldplay (which I despairingly anticipated on reading the episode's title) and the news team, conveniently assembled on a Saturday, reporting on the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. The hotly-debated issue of gun control, particularly in light of recent events, has never been more present in the media and it was this that formed the main focus of News Night reporting. Unlike previous real life news events, like the BP oil spill, the use of this one struck me as both heavy-handed and a little insensitive, particularly when you consider that the Tucson shooting was only last year. It felt like a cynical attempt at the tear ducts, combining an emotionally charged event with inspiration power chords in order to provoke a reaction. Granted it did this, but I'm not sure I reacted in the intended way; it made for very uncomfortable viewing and it was almost a relief when the episode ended.

The Newsroom continues to be an interesting watch, primarily for the continually fluctuating reactions it provokes. I honestly feel as if I've been put through an emotional ringer every episode, experiencing everything from outrage to cheerful glee and straight back down to a weary despair. It's compelling television and is becoming more so by the week. I just really want the bad half to be brought up to the level of the good because then it will be one cracking hour of drama.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the previous episode, The 112th Congress, here.

You can follow Becky on Twitter here @beckygracelea

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