A year or so ago, I picked up my copy of Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s dishy book on the 2008 presidential election, which I like so many others had bought and eagerly consumed when it came out, and started lazily flipping through it. I couldn’t put the damn thing down and blew right through it again, in a matter of hours. There’s something terribly addictive about revisiting current events when you know how it’s going to turn out, especially when you know you’re going to be satisfied by the outcome.
I say all this because I turned on the first two episodes of The Newsroom’s second season and was scandalized by how much I was enjoying it. The show falters miserably when it gets away from the news. I can’t stand it when Will’s sitting around being a misery guts, as he is for most of these two episodes. But honestly, if Maggie, Don, Jim, Sloan and whoever else is tangled in the show’s horrible romantic spider web all stood up and declared themselves celibate in perpetuity, we might have a halfway watchable show on our hands here.
“The Genoa Tip” spends its 55 minutes baiting Will to get back to what he does best: be a sanctimonious news genius who always bellows the right opinion on everything on his TV show because he has the brilliant hindsight of a Time Lord and the constitutional devotion of a George Washington robot made of eagles and flags. There’s all kind of injustice going on—Troy Davis is about to be executed in Georgia despite most of the witnesses in his 20-year-old case recanting their testimony, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki got blown up by a drone strike without a trial, and Occupy Wall Street is heating up as the NYPD starts arresting protesters on fairly specious grounds.
But Will sits in his office, grumpy because Charlie removed him from the 9/11 coverage. Oh, what a grump Will is, too. He’s the most irritating kind of grump—the know-it-all, who rolls out a bunch of perfectly valid reasons for why he’s being a dick to you, but really it’s just because HE’S A SAD OLD GROUCHYPANTS. Don gets the brunt of this, trying and failing to argue for coverage of the Troy Davis case which he sees as an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Will clearly agrees underneath, but knows there’s little to be done and thus plays devil’s advocate, saying he shouldn’t interfere in case that’s worked its way through the legal system properly and due process has been served and so on and so forth.
Watching these debates can be an utter headache from a character perspective. Don is suddenly the world’s pre-eminent Troy Davis expert, and Will is armed with information to counter him just so Aaron Sorkin can hash the whole thing out in front of us. It’s nice to see it all broken down so clearly, but I can also read newspaper articles about the damn thing. The same goes for the al-Awlaki killing, which is the battle Will decides to fight: He’ll demand the Obama administration release the memo giving it legal grounds to declare a U.S. citizen an enemy combatant without trial.
There’s a bunch of mildly interesting but fairly stolid debate about the whole topic before it’s used as a button for the saga of Will shaking off the cobwebs. I suppose we should be happy it only took two weeks for him to get back on his feet. One of the hugest problems with the first season of this show was how gruesomely long it took for the News Night team to coalesce around Will; getting us back anywhere near square one in that area is dull, dull, dull.
It’s also nice that the Occupy things builds up pretty quickly. Midway through the episode, MacKenzie plays an Occupy video to a laughing newsroom as Neal holds his head in his hands, but by the end of the episode, the cops are arresting protestors for wearing masks and Will is marching down to the precinct to bark in a cop’s face and deliver a vintage Sorkin zinger after going on about Davis and al-Awlaki. “Obviously what I'm doing is dealing with the easiest one!” Plus, maybe this is where my nostalgia is kicking in the hardest, because although the whole Occupy thing was recent, it sometimes feels like a distant memory, and it’s fascinating to remember how it unfolded.
We also get a glimpse at Will’s first time on camera, after the September 11th attacks, when Charlie put him behind an anchor desk because no one else was available in studio, and I guess he did such a good job that he became the Jay Leno of news or whatever everyone called him in season one. Of all The Newsroom’s hindsight nonsense, this made me the most uneasy, just because it’s weird to see an idealized, scripted version of what one would have wanted an anchor to say as the attacks unfolded. “I'll be with you all night, I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right here,” he tells the audience, and Daniels sells the line very sincerely, but I could have done without the whole thing. It’s not hard to convince me that a character has profound, deep feelings about September 11th, and the moment is just too cheesy for its own good.
That was a serious paragraph I just had to write, which sucks, because mostly this show is really very silly and should just be consumed as pricey-looking junk food. It’s ridiculous preachy garbage but it can be totally fun to watch when it isn’t etching a heavenly glow around Jeff Daniels and cut to Coldplay songs. But please, I have to beg, put an end to this Maggie/Jim/Don/Sloan/Lisa (did I miss anyone?) crap.
It’s especially infuriating because in this episode, Don is fighting the good fight re: Troy Davis and Jim is out on the Romney trail keeping his head down. They have one awkward, manly phone call about the whole thing. Meanwhile, Sloan and Maggie are consumed with the incriminating YouTube video (which, if I never ever see that thing again, it’ll be too soon) and Maggie’s finest piece of reporting this week is hunting down the person who posted it using Foursquare. Sloan assists her by offering a free retweet. It all happens in an Astoria laundromat. I just wanted to barf all over the screen. Later, Lisa reveals to Maggie that she knows everything, hugging her with utter malice and issuing devastating judgments with a glass of wine in her hand like she’s Michael Corleone. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I do know that this show can treat its female characters a lot better.
There’s also lots of foreshadowing about Genoa and Maggie’s harrowing trip to Africa, which I do not care about. The whole in medias res framing device is already dull because we know everything’s going to go wrong. It’s just a fictionalized version of The Newsroom’s whole hindsight thing, and I adore Hamish Linklater (get the man his own TV show already) but just get the horrible stuff over with already.
- I’d like to go on record saying that the new credit sequence is fine but I already miss the ridiculous old one, which if memory served featured Edward R. Murrow placing a golden crown atop the head of Will McAvoy.
- Grace Gummer pops up as a fellow Romney reporter who Jim flirts with. At one point she doesn’t help him set up his camera and points out that they’re competitors. Look, in my day job I’m just a lowly city journalist and I’ve never tailed a presidential campaign, and obviously you get to whatever you need to do first, and there’s lots of stuff you wouldn’t do for a rival journo on the beat. But I also don’t know how many times I’ve helped someone with a camera or check a quote or whatever. It’s a fairly chummy world.
- I want to set every single sneering Sex And The City reference in this show on fire.
- The “IRONY!” thing can go too far on this show, but I thought the mockery of the Occupy video was true to life. No one took those dudes seriously until the cops started hassling them.