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Saturday, 24 of August of 2019

The Newsroom – “The Greater Fool”

“Hell hath no fury like the second-rate.”

Charlie convinces Leona to let News Night do the show they want to do.

I really hope “let’s do the news” is a euphemism.

It’s not unpopular to dislike The Newsroom. I struggle to find people that truly, honestly, uninronically enjoy it. I’m not alone in wishing Mac has a revelation that maybe while her newsroom is experiencing important current events that it’s not the time to pester Will into admitting he still has feelings for her. I’m certainly not alone in suffering the pageant of pedagogy pushed onto the audience once a week that wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t make me want to roll my eyes so far into the back of my head that they might actually get stuck. And I certainly am not alone in wishing Seal Team Six had taken out Maggie instead.

But, honestly, what is it about this show that raises the ire of so many people and why do they continue to watch it? I would understand if the people lifting pitchforks were those of a right-wing persuasion, particularly those that voted for the political figures that Sorkin often uses as emotional bait throughout the series. But they would just stop watching. Why aren’t we so smart? Why do we continue to endure the misogyny, the melodrama, the one-liners that would make a girl from Rosewood groan? What is it about The Newsroom that keeps getting us to come back for more?

It certainly isn’t any subtle hint of reality and “The Greater Fool” has a doozy of an example. Picture this: in a surreal scene where there are Sex & the City bus tours in the wee hours of the morning (because New Yorkers in the affluent neighborhoods where Carrie Bradshaw flaunted those Jimmy Choos would stand for that) and Maggie gets splashed by one of those buses just like her patron saint in selfish unlikeablility, we get a small treatise on how SATC doesn’t accurately represent the single woman in New York. (1) Maggie isn’t single (she’s with Don), (2) nothing in her charmed existence at News Night would indicate the cutthroat reputation of New York City because, at any other news organization, she’d probably be fired immediately for incompetence and readily bringing up her business during meetings in wild non-sequitors, and (3) how in the heck did Jim get the night off to do the late-night HBO property tour while Maggie had to painfully look up religion quotes from Founding Fathers all evening?

Which — sidebar — how hard could that be? I feel like the internet has been doing that research for her for years. Hey, Maggie: let me Google that for you.

It’s been a trademark of Sorkin’s series all season to nevermind with the possible reality of life in an actual newsroom, and, instead, set up these characters of variable charisma for slapstick and romantic drama. Sometimes there’s no real set-up at all. Sloan and Don? What the eff is that? This series has been the slow erosion of the only character that didn’t live in flittish girlishness, one who peaks at the violent remix of “does my butt look fat?” during the Blackout episodes and finishes with the smooth, gentle settling at rock bottom with Don. We should probably face facts that Don is the least desirable of the eligible bachelors in the newsroom (“eligible” being a transient and loosely-defined term in this office): Jim at least has a charm about him, Will has power, Charlie has all the handsome bowties. Even Neal is able to pull Natalie Morales. Don is markedly the only character on this show with penis that isn’t a villain but still occupies the abject space of this show’s morality. He might as well be clucking with Maggie and Mac around the studio. Sloan — just like how anyone that hangs out with the Bravermans on Parenthood will become a blubbering mess in three episodes or less, so, too, does everyone with a vagina turn into a caricature of femininity.

Speaking of Charlie, my kingdom for a Sam Waterston/Jane Fonda sex scene. That was a decent play by the three stooges of news, snookering the head of a major media conglomerate to play ball their way using her son as a pawn (though, if this was a different show, I would definitely need to check if that poorly-referenced stew recipe was written in Mona Code). It didn’t exactly take much convincing, either. Because everyone is on their side, even when it doesn’t really benefit them or it even costs them.

And now I think this is where we get into why people keep watching this show every week. It can’t possibly be for the intra-office drama or the not-nearly-compelling incidents that happen outside of the studio. That’s the stuff of sit-coms slumpies are loathe to watch. I think there are a lot of reasons to watch, actually, and it all starts with community.

Despite the accusations of a liberal media, the loudest voices in political punditry tend be right-wing demagogues who are divinely-gifted with the talent to rally a base and cunning to bring in audiences and ad dollars. Fox News continually destroys the ratings, talk radio is dominated by the voices of the GOP, and the ones that would unabashedly side with liberals are either on a two-bit cable channel run by a company that’s driving the longest-tenured broadcast network into the earth and a comedian who, despite bias, attempts to maintain an equal opportunity in who to pick on. Media may in fact be liberal but the conservative voices bellow just as loudly.

I thought about that while I watched Will McAvoy call the Tea Party the American Taliban. The Newsroom is the unashamed (and equally irresponsible) voice of the left. It is a show that flaunts its intelligence and couches its politics in (at times, biased) logic for a country that tends to believe in and vote according to its collective heart. With the words that popped up on the screen that described angry, militant organizations abroad and those at home, I was reminded of Bill O’Reilly. Will mentions a couple of times that he is a Republican and his broadcast is laced with a respect of Sorkin’s opponent (the ones left behind in a party that seems to have forgotten that intelligence in politics is not a bad thing). But the term “American Taliban” is just as inflammatory as the language of those he accuses of being reckless. We are a people that celebrated in the streets when a man was killed by an army. Certainly, he was the figurehead of an organization with designs to the demise of Americans, but calling someone an al Quaeda soldier, a terrorist, a member of the Taliban, is to make them less than human and okay to eliminate. The logistics of turning the terminology around in order to draw the metaphor and make people think gets lost before the dismantling of their humanity.

So even if this is your Rush Limbaugh because your politics line up better with the conversation News Night is premise to introduce, it’s also just like everything you hate about Rush Limbaugh.

But the message is one that people can cheer for, a small crack in the door of media that unashamedly circumvents popular notions in current events for ones that are measured, biased, and benefit from hindsight. It has a niche. It’s probably why you’re reading this review, because it affirms what you already think, believe, and fear. But then why am I watching this show and pretending to throw up every ten minutes?

The thing is that the choir Sorkin is preaching to also tends to be too smart for the sermon. The base humor and relationships of the series pale in comparison to the valiant attempts at “setting the record straight,” which in turn don’t hold a candle to what we thought this show was going to be. They did a good thing badly. The show only has one writer as of now and his name was usually the only writing credit on the show anyway so it’s hard to know what we’ll expect from The Newsroom next year. Will it be more of the same or can we change the game a little bit?

Chances are that it doesn’t matter. People like to hear what they think

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