If context is the key to a well-informed electorate, as Will and his staff declare as their new mission statement, why isn’t it taken to heart by Sorkin as he writes his characters and their relationships? Why should we care about Jim’s secret crush or Mackenzie’s jealousy if we know so little about them as people?
Let’s bitch it out…
In the six months leading up to the midterm elections of 2010, the new and improved News Night staff covers the rise of the Tea Party movement. For this, the audience can be grateful. Not for the “courageous” and “rigorous” coverage of Republican primaries, which is driven by the expected proclamations about how the Tea Partiers are hijacking the nation with their stupidity. But rather for the storytelling structure, as montages of fact-finding and broadcasts keep the story moving forward. There are still the occasional conference room scenes and conversations about journalistic responsibility to endure. But in this episode they are edited down to just a few minutes apiece in order to touch on the major political events of the pre-election news cycle. For the first time the hour felt like a whole episode and not a half hour of set up and talk before getting to the meat of the story, which actually made it enjoyable.
Slow pacing has never been a problem for the romantic relationships on this show, however. We’re only three episodes in and we’re already witnessing plot lines that most series would play out over seasons (and for good reasons). In this episode, we see Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) get jealous as Will (Jeff Daniels) parades a stereotypical string of dates through the newsroom – one is actually a cheerleader and another is a buxom blonde with no back story – and Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) helps Maggie’s (Alison Pill) relationship with Don (Thomas Sadoski) even as he hates to see her with him. These are both perfectly understandable through lines for a series described as romantic comedy. The problem is that this is only the third episode. We haven’t spent enough time with the characters for these interactions to be meaningful. Should we feel Jim’s heartbreak just because we’ve seen Jim give Maggie a couple pep talks and offer to take her home once when she was drunk? Should we understand Mackenzie’s jealousy just because she stated in the last episode that she loved Will three years ago? Without context, we’re only watching romantic entanglements happen instead of getting to experience them with the characters.
At least the romantic relationships do give us a peek, however superficial, into their personal lives. Outside of their political and professional beliefs, all that is presented about the characters that is new this week is that Maggie suffers from intense panic attacks. That’s it. And it seems like such a waste, as the time spent on moving the romantic relationships too far forward too quickly could be spent introducing us to the characters as individuals. Where do these characters come from? Who or what inspires these intractable ethical codes they share? And is everyone as justified as they think they are for treating Don like crap? Even spending more time on relationships that aren’t romantic could be more enlightening on who they are. We’re told that Mackenzie and Jim are inseparable partners who reported from Afghanistan together, but they have hardly shared the screen since the pilot episode. There is just so much potential in these characters, and it’s worrisome that we’ve seen hardly any of it actualized yet, despite the hefty amount of screen time given to hormones run amok.
- Jane Fonda’s introduction as Leona Lansing is easily the best part of the episode. Like Jed Bartlet’s introduction on The West Wing (“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before Me”), Leona comes out swinging, ending her Jesus and Moses golf-playing anecdote with some important food for thought for Charlie (Same Waterston): “Do you want to play golf or do you want to fuck around?” It’s good that the show has a powerful antagonist who isn’t merely a weaselly corporate-type, but a level-headed businesswoman who hasn’t drunk Charlie’s idealistic Kool-Aid.
- I wish that there was more to say about Neal (Dev Patel), but it seems like all we’re going to get of his character is that he is a nerdy nerd who enjoys nerdy things like live blogging and WikiLeaks. Although he was having sex at the top of the episode, so at least he isn’t a complete stereotype from the 1980s.
And now it’s your turn. Are you invested in any of the Official Relationships™ yet? What do you think of the introduction of Leona Lansing? Sound off in the comments below!
The Newsroom airs on HBO, Sundays at 10 EST.