5Takeaways From The Newsroom “Willie Pete”

As a journalist/writer/blogger, I almost see watching The Newsroom as a journalistic responsibility. If it covered a different industry the same way, I don’t think I would watch the show.I do really enjoy Aaron Sorkin’s writing though. I binge watched my way through the short-lived SportsNight on ABC, have watched a couple seasons of The West Wing and absolutely loved The Social Network.

I found The Social Network, especially interesting because Sorkin was able to make computer programming and legal proceedings so interesting.

Although The Newsroom has yet to capitalize critically where SportsNight and The West Wing had, it has become an exciting cultural touchstone on Twitter. As such I will be adding it to be weekly recaps on #5Takeaways.

Here are #5takeways from last night’s episode, “Willie Peat.”

1. The show needs to figure out what it is, dramedy or comedy?

Looking at Aaron Sorkin’s previous endeavors, a lot of his content is drama based with slices of comedy. SportsNight was probably the most comedic of all his ventures, but with The Newsroom he desperately tries to make everyone funny.

But it doesn’t really work.

I think comedic overtones worked better with a show like SportsNight because that show dealt with lighter issues like who won the baseball game that night. On the other hand, The Newsroom is dealing with drone strikes, intolerant Republican nominees, wars in Africa and hypothetical American chemical attacks. You’re in this zone of seriousness, so when Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) says something that’s supposed to be funny, I find it cheap and jarring.

After McAvoy has a really great “Commentary” this week about Republican candidates disavowing gay members of the military, Mackenzie and McAvoy has this really stupid and silly argument about how he needs to push his chair back, during filming.

The conversation is supposed to be funny (I think), but in the end, it takes you out the great speech you just saw. It also doesn’t seem organic, it seems like a scene just plopped in the middle of something else.

2. I’m tired of Jim Harper playing Jon Stewart.

I really liked the introduction of Jim Harper last season. NewsNight hired a new executive producer Mackenzie (played by Emily Mortimer). She brought on the smart Jim Harper. He was a fresh air. He was able to combat the forced intellectualism of the show. They way he responded to events and issues seemed natural.

This season not so much.

After their political correspondent broke his leg or something, Jim volunteered to cover the Romney campaign. It took him a while to “get on the bus” as the press officers didn’t want an ACN reporter on the bus. Since Harper’s been on the bus, all he’s done is pretend to be a Jon Stewart, calling the campaign on where Romney’s flip-flopped and asking questions he know they won’t answer.

I almost feel bad for the press officers when Jim starts pestering them with question. I also almost think that Jim is surprised when the press officers don’t answer his questions comprehensively. Any year one journalism student could tell you that the press officers would never answer harm their candidate when answering a question. It’s up to the journalist to uncover facts about the candidates past. And if I hear him say, “can I have 30 minutes along with the candidate one more time,” I may jump off a bridge.

3. Every time Maggie comes on screen I want to a bullet through my head.

I understand where the character or Maggie came from. Maggie is a carbon copy of Natalie Hurley from Sports Night. Natalie is super excited about her job and has a crush on the new guy at work (similar to Maggie). But Natalie pulls this off better than Maggie. Maggie is supposed to have more experience working on NewsNight, then Jim does, but she constantly looks stupid, frazzled or has no idea what to do.

This is season Maggie is concerned with finding a “focus” for her reporting. You’d think she wouldn’t be hired UNLESS she had a specialization but that’s beside the point. Maggie wants her focus to be Africa and has been cleared to visit Uganda with a camera person. She has started taking medication and literally spends the whole episode running around, freaking out about the side effects. They REALLY need to figure out what to do with her.

I think Jim being around made her “calmer,” so now that he’s gone she really doesn’t know what to do. If Jim could come back to the studio maybe I wouldn’t find Maggie so annoying (but I probably still would.)

4. I do like where the “plot” of the season is going.

In contrast to last season, this season actually has an overall “plot.” We start the season of with a lawyer, played by Marcia Gay Harden, going over the specifics of a story with the crew. NewsNight has clearly reported something as false and is now being brought into legal proceedings.

The story deals with how an American operation oversees ended up with the military using chemical weapons on civilians. Witnesses said the army was using Saran gas. This is actually interesting. It is both topical and if this fictional story is true, could end the Obama presidency (on TV that is).

It’s also interesting to see how the vetting of a story and sources takes place. You may think that a news story aired on TV was reported on that day, but many times the story has been weeks in the making. In that respect the show does get it right.

5. Jim Harper (did I mention I find him annoying) is being characterized as the Mahatma Gandhi of political reporting.

I’ll get into the actual plot of episodes next week!

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