manuel vázquez montalbán, “offside”
bochy and belt

the newsroom: i'll try to fix you

The Newsroom has gotten some harsh reviews, and while I agree with much of what is said, I’m fond enough of Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue that I’ve stuck with the show.

More than one person suggested that Sunday’s episode, “I’ll Try to Fix You”, was the worst one yet, and I avoided reading anything on Twitter to avoid spoilers. Now that I’ve seen the episode, I was able to go back and see people’s reaction, and I was surprised to find mostly positive comments.

Surprised, because there was something that happened in that episode that I found more than a little troubling. (If you don’t want spoilers, go away now.)

Most of the episode was typical for what we’ve seen so far. Plenty of witty dialogue delivered at a rapid-fire pace, lots of condescension towards the female characters, and a ton of speechifying where every character on the show serves not as an individual but as a mouthpiece for Sorkin. I agree with a lot of what is said in those harangues, but the soap-box aspect isn’t why I watch TV.

And so to the final minutes of the episode. All of the various possible men/women combos that are currently romancing, having sex, dating, or just working together, have come together so that the only people not involved in a stupid argument are the group that are listening to a boring story about Big Foot. Then, a news bulletin comes across the wires. (For those who don’t watch, The Newsroom takes place a couple of years in the past, and this episode began on New Year’s Eve, 2010, then moving into January of 2011.) Gabrielle Giffords has been shot.

Instantly, the newsroom bursts into action: there’s a story to cover. All of the romances and Big Foot stories are put aside, so the team can work together on the big story. It is, to be fair, inspiring … this is what Sorkin does well on this show.

But I couldn’t get one thought out of my mind: Aaron Sorkin was using the recent assassination attempt on Giffords, who eighteen months later is still on a long fight to regain something of what she lost in the shooting, Sorkin was using this as a plot device. I thought this was, at best, in extremely bad taste.

What made it worse was when all the networks were saying Giffords was dead, and one of the show’s network honchos was demanding that his network called it too, someone states that they are talking about a person, and doctors are the ones who call it when a person dies, not a news organization. Of course, she does live, and everyone can feel superior because once again, our heroes have Done the Right Thing as a news organization.

I just found it pretty arrogant that the moral high ground in the scene was taken by those who wanted to treat Giffords as a person, not just a news story. Because that’s the exact opposite of what Sorkin did. He used the shooting to move his story forward.

I’m not sure why this bothered me so. It’s not impossible to fictionalize real life events without condescending … Treme, which is a post-Katrina tale, never feels exploitative to my mind. But in “I’ll Try to Fix You”, I felt strongly that Giffords was being exploited in order to make for better drama. That this happens on a series with a heavy dose of sanctimony only makes it worse.

Alan Sepinwall, who disliked most of the episode, said that he actually liked the ending, and reading that, I thought I must be off track with my own take. But, having explained why he liked it, he proceeded to echo my own opinion:

The other thing that bothered me was the way the sequence eventually turned into an excuse for the characters to feel good about themselves, to turn this shooting — in which six people died (including a nine-year-old girl), Giffords suffered brain damage that has (for now) ended her political career, etc. — into something that's all about them and their problems. … I don't care that Jim's instincts were proven right, that Will is going to fight back against Leona, that Mac is just so, so sorry about the many ways she injured Will. That becomes irrelevant in this moment, and the show and its characters seem self-indulgent …

Is anyone out there watching this series? Am I completely off base?

Comments

Diana

A few weeks late in responding but, yes, Jeff and I are watching and enjoying The Newsroom. I can definitely see your point re: the Giffords plot choice but I don't quite feel the "wrong"ness as deeply, I don't think. It may be because the shooting was a sudden and tragic piece of news up here in Canada but it didn't dominate the headlines for as long. In terms of Sorkin exploiting it for the sake of his characters' righteous superiority, I have to admit that it's something I kind of expect from Sorkin, there were shades of it in Sports Night and Studio 60 and I believe it was a repeatedly used strategy in The West Wing. It may be *more* in bad taste because Giffords' recovery is still a current topic but Sorkin does with it what he does best - stoke the flames for the heroes and ramp up the audiences' emotions. He is shameless in his use of what tools he has at hand and that's kinda why I watch. The fact that Don is the one that makes that doctor comment was my actually my favourite part of that final crescendo. Nothing like a redeemable d-bag to challenge my expectations.

Diana

Oops, the whole reason I dropped by today was to see if you've seen "Strike Back", a Cinemax/BBC Sky co-production. I'm watching and flashing back to scenes from "Rome" when the guys are together. Vorenus=Stonebridge, Pullo=Scott...

Steven Rubio

Haven't seen Strike Back.

I'm still watching The Newsroom, for what it's worth. The reasons I like Sorkin are still there. I loved the episode that featured Olivia Munn ... until the moment when she didn't know what to do and begged Will for help, specifically rejected Mac. I wanted to break my TV at that point.

And then next week, there I was, watching again :-).

Diana

I've come to the conclusion that Sorkin may not be the most adept at writing women. Would need to go back and look at Felicity Huffman's character in Sports Night for confirmation, I guess. I'm pretty confused as to Munn's character. Mack & Maggie, I get. Sloane makes no sense to me - as a woman, as a journalist, or as an Asian-American. But, like you, I'll be watching.

When/If you have time in your viewing schedule, let me know what you think of Strike Back. I'm just finishing S1 and their long game has been interesting.

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