‘The Newsroom’ Recap: ‘News Night’ Becomes The Daily Show-bait

By  · Published on September 9th, 2013

Two weeks ago, when Operation Genoa proved to be a sham, Charlie was in despair. In ACN’s top executive suite, he was ready to fall on his sword and make a big, bloody mess of himself by Leona and Rebecca’s (Marcia Gay Harden) Prada slingbacks. “Leona, we don’t have the trust of the public anymore!” he cried, his voice breaking. But the head honchess who had tried to get Will fired in The Newsroom’s first season now seems to be in love him, as well as Charlie and Mac. “Get it back!” she coached with exasperation.

“Election Night, Part I” covers the fallout from that moment: Charlie cracking the whip on his employees, his persistent attempts to quit to prevent the airing of ACN’s dirty laundry, Will and MacKenzie’s never-ending game of competitive guilt-tripping disguised as flirting.

But a show that doesn’t ever leave the studio – seriously, did HBO use up all its production budget on Game of Thrones? – will have a hard time getting its viewers to care about what happens beyond its borders. For all of his huffing and puffing, then, Charlie’s threats that the sky is falling on “News Night” because it’s lost the trust of the audience carries absolutely no meaning when we never spend time with that fictional audience. Nor is the program imperiled by low ratings, as it’s apparently not subject to them. Nor will the dirty laundry sully them. In fact, Charlie’s whirlwind of dejection matters only insofar as it affects the newsroom’s activities, as when his ultimatums – Be perfect or you’re fired! – leads to small-scale disasters within the office involving, unusually, Jim’s confusion of Michigan with Mississippi.

An external pressure I’d love to see “News Night” subjected to is The Daily Show or a show similar to it. There’s no question that Jon Stewart would have devoted at least three minutes to Sloan’s big flub of the night: “In a race for the Kansas state legislature, the Democrat is an anti-gay, anti-abortion train conductor. Pardon me, the Republican is a train conductor and gay. Somebody’s a conductor and somebody’s gay and somebody’s father is in the Klan.” Though the moment was played for laughs, it’s exactly the kind of credibility-destroying unprofessionalism Charlie was railing about in Leona’s office, as was Elliot’s clumsy tour of ACN’s Math Cube, where Kathy Ling and her un-telegenic ilk generally toil in obscurity, which they evidently prefer to the spotlight.

Without any stakes, “Election Night, Part I” is a perfect example of the “much ado about nothing” quality that suffuses The Newsroom and makes its characters seem like extras from Idiocracy. Amidst a presidential election, an imminent network-wide humiliation, and two multimillion-dollar lawsuits hanging over their heads, Sloan, for example, is preoccupied by an autograph forgery, while MacKenzie has Neal endeavoring to change a single word on her Wikipedia page instead of, you know, blogging about the election like his job description says. It’s all so blatantly stupid and trivial. I’d accept it if Aaron Sorkin was willing to out these twits for the egomaniacs that they are, but the god of this universe is as endlessly forgiving of his own creations as he is merciless toward others.

There were so many other irritants, from Rebecca’s mischievous legal sprite popping up out at inopportune moments to brag about how many money she makes (because that’s definitely what we want to hear about from rich people) to the ongoing fixation with Maggie’s clown hair (didn’t we cover that already when she had her failed-white savior moment?) to the frivolous “suspense ending” of David Petraeus’ impending sex scandal and resignation.

Among the endless election chatter, only two things were actually interesting: Jerry Dantana personally suing Don for unfortunate wording in his negative job recommendation (Jerry must have the best lawyers in the world) and Will’s firing of MacKenzie. That plot development was foreshadowed early in the episode when Mac called Will “a bomb that’s about to explode” and Will brought up for the ten thousandth time since their reunion that she cuckolded him. After Genoa, she’s now helped make him look like both a loser in his personal life and a fool in his professional life. The firing probably won’t stick, or Mac will take over Don’s job or something – the Will/Mac dynamic is too important to the show for this to be Emily Mortimer’s exit, especially when HBO has just renewed the show for a third season.

So the bomb exploded. I’m still waiting to see why I should care.

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