Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Newsroom (Again)

I admit that I've obviously enjoyed watching The Newsroom, although perhaps in the way most of us enjoy news stories we would all admit are not what we really believe news should be about! Now that the show's first season is over, however, one can aspire to assume appropriate critical distance!
As a drama, The Newsroom runs on two major tracks. The first is the political journalism track, in which the anchor, Will McAvoy, and his staff - with a self-righteousness rivalled only by the Tea Partiers they so despise - promote a highbrow approach to journalism.  Sadly this often seems to be little more than a vehicle for McAvoy to express his political prejudices with an intensity matched only by his personal self-absorption. The second track (somewhat more easy for most normal folks to connect with) is the relationship track. There is the on-going soap opera of Will and MacKenzie, which goes on and on at great personal cost to both and in the end sort of leaves one wondering why anyone would ever like (let alone love) either of them. Much more sympathetic are the younger characters - Maggie, Don, and Jim - caught up in their seeminly inescapable love triangle. Don's actually not such a bad guy, but I at least found myself rooting for Maggie to dump him for Jim. That looked as if it might at last actually happen in the final episode, but Don won Maggie by "committing" to her. That is, he asked her to move in with him - and gave her a key to his apartment. Is a key the post-modern version of a ring? That's not an absolutely outside-the-box question, since Sloan Sabbith, the sadly single economic reporter explicity told Don earlier in that episode that she would regard a propposal of marriage as the true sign of someone's commitment. Apparently, marriage is just way beyond Don's imagination - or Maggie's expectations. (Sloan's belief in marriage might help explain her unfortunate singleness at least as much as her supposedly off-putting intellectualism and her supposed social awkwardness.) Meanwhile, Maggie's and Don's continuance as a couple seems to leave Jim stuck in an even more incongruous relationship with Lisa.
Back to the political track, the show seems to veer from an emotionally powerful episode (the killing of Osama Ben Laden) in which everyone seems to rise above partisanship and actually embrace patriuotism to totally absurd scenarios, such as expecting the Republican National Committee to accept a debate format the sole purpose of which apparently is to ridicule and denigrate the candidates while further inflating McAvoy's ego. One certainly doesn't have to like or agree with any of the actual candidates to sympathise with the young RNC apparatchik who complains to his older (more traditonally "moderate") colleague, "I hate these people. I don't know why you don't."
The show really is fun to watch, and it has some really engaging sub-plots. One such is Will's psychotherapy, which offers intriguing insights into his neurotically lonely life, facilitated by a well played therapist.There's the story of the tech nerd, Neal Sampat (who, of course, is also charming and sexy, as well as intensely intelligent and talented), whom one would hope to see more of in any second season. There's the corporate sub-plot about the tension between the high-minded news division and the bottom-line preoccupations of the parent company's CEO, Leona Lansing (superbly played by Jane Fonda), and her son Reese, who is presented as the unambiguous bad guy in the group.Of course (as every scene of McAvoy's Manhattan apartment reminds us), Reese's bad-boy greed only highlights the hypocrisy of the elite lifestyle enjoyed by McAvoy, et al, who even in this economy know absolutely no personal financial anxiety.
The program wants us to believe that news stories like the debate on the debt ceiling really matter more than the Casey Anthony trial or Anthony Wiener's texting. I suspect most of the show's audience already agrees. A decade ago, when 9/11 hit after a silly summer of similarly trivial news coverage, there was considerable hand-wringing about the media's addiction to such stuff. But there somehow needs to be a better way of making that case than playing right into populist stereotypes about liberal elites who are contemptuous of ordinary people - or trying to make moral heroes out of people whose own selves seem as trivial as the news they disdain.

No comments:

Post a Comment