‘The Newsroom’ Recap: Another Battle Won in the War on Women

By  · Published on August 12th, 2013

At least half the fun of The Newsroom is the game of guessing how much Aaron Sorkin the Thin-Skinned Celebrity is apparent in Aaron Sorkin the Writer.

“News Night With Will McAvoy” feels like a compilation of miscellaneous rants that Sorkin had rattling around in his head, from criticisms of the show’s sexism to cast member Olivia Munn’s nudie pics to his hatred of the Internet. Hence the sour grapes delivered by the bunch with, “It should be obvious to you by now that fundamentally small people are going to try to raise their profile by standing on your neck.”

Unless the The Newsroom undergoes some kind of extreme makeover, it’ll probably be remembered forever for its ingrained sexism and terrible female characters. The lazily titled “News Night With Will McAvoy” initially seems like a concession to feminist critics and a long-due mea culpa: it dramatized the seriously scary problem of revenge porn – an epidemic mostly afflicting women – and offered up a fine, intellectually sound defense of female promiscuity.

Sloan’s revenge-porn storyline was an unexpected pleasure. (The Newsroom is getting better at tastefully exploiting Munn’s sexualized image.) Yes, it’s a calculated development to bring her and Don together – a couple that’s somehow even less interesting than Maggie and Jim – but it was also fascinating to watch the emotional fallout after the pics went viral. Sloan bemoaning, “This is who I am now,” wondering how her parents will deal with the news, and feeling unworthy of interviewing the Chancellor of the Exchequer despite her Ph.D. in economics were a really great complement to the Limbaugh slut-shaming plotline.

Sloan kicking her former boyfriend in the nuts and slugging his nose was also just the right kind of un-smug indignation that The Newsroom could use more of. (Putting my Nina Howard heels on, the whole storyline was also an interesting reminder of Munn’s hacked-phone scandal – a meta-plot if there ever were one.)

Unfortunately, Sorkin couldn’t dredge up the same sympathy he has for sexual victims as he does for sexually autonomous women. Early in the episode, Maggie says, “Rush Limbaugh called a woman a ‘slut.’ It’s not hard for me to get over that. But now I have to ask, ‘What’s wrong with sluts?’ That’s a woman who has a lot of casual sex with different guys. Why isn’t that good as long as everybody’s safe?”

It’s a valid argument – and one Sorkin immediately undercuts by having Maggie’s bed-hopping be the result of her African trauma and blossoming alcoholism. (Maggie’s back to her long, blond locks. Hopefully, that means we’ve seen the last of Marcia Gay Harden’s haughty lawyer.) Worst of all, Maggie’s now cutting down Hallie – and her worthy championing of Sandra Fluke – out of catty jealousy.

The other front-page news of the day – George Zimmerman, Dharun Ravi, Syria, Newt Gingrich’s primary candidacy (heh) – takes a back seat to the characters’ troubles. When Zimmerman’s name first appeared onscreen, I was dreading some kind of self-righteous rant accompanied by an orchestral swell, so I was happy to see Sorkin leave that tragedy well enough alone. The dramas inside the newsroom (will Will forgive MacKenzie this week?) too often seem petty compared to the national and global news the characters report, but last night’s episode was different, partly because of its Dateline feel – it addressed issues, rather than specific events – and partly because it showed how wannabe newsmakers, like that other gay kid from Rutgers, take advantage of media cycles in important and unimportant ways.

Less interesting was Will’s obsession with tweets from a random Post writer. After dealing with a death threat, you’d think he’d grow a thicker skin with regard to all the crap flung at him by online trolls. Will’s desperate need to be loved by his audience is a worthy character tidbit the first season constantly alluded to but never really developed. Hopefully the rest of the season will pick up that thread, especially how his insecurities relate to his now deceased father.

Returning to silly female characters, though, it drove me crazy that MacKenzie constantly prods Will to call his father during News Night’s commercial breaks. Why would an executive producer want her star to be distracted by personal concerns during a live taping? Don’t they have plenty of show-related matters to discuss during those breaks, like the fact that one of their employees doesn’t know the basics tenet of journalism? (Or how to cover up her whiskey breath?) What if his father had picked up the phone and wanted to have a life-altering chat when it was five seconds to air?

These quick commercial-break chats – a hallmark of The Newsroom — are certainly effective in fostering snappy banter and a quickened sense of time-running-out, but it makes no sense for a supposedly talented EP to constantly endanger her show in such a reckless fashion.

MacKenzie might well be the worst producer working in the news today. Oh well, another battle won in the war on women!