[Review] The Newsroom, Season 2 Episode 3, "Willie Pete"

Courtesy of HBO
Third episode of the season, a full third of the season gone, and for the second week in a row we didn't see a sign of the much ballyhooed flashforward depositions that such a big deal was made of in the press before the launch. What we did get was an episode devoted almost entirely to resolving the two lingering plot points from last season: the phone hacking scandal, and the gossip columnist. And perhaps what I appreciated most was the fact that, despite the seriousness they were given last year, their resolutions were completely and appropriately irreverent, and this episode more then most sold Sorkin's constant refrain that The Newsroom is, at it's heart, a comedy.

Besides, there are new plots to take seriously. And to mock the Occupy movement some more.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that always listens to the tape before blackmailing someone.

Comedy is the hardest to write, the hardest to act and the hardest to edit. Everything has to be just right for the joke to land, whether its a knock knock, a sight gag or someone falling over. Sorkin has never had difficulty writing humour, his series and films always keeping one foot in the funny door, having it slammed shut on said foot over and over again. He knows what works in terms of getting a laugh, and so, much like pieces of his dialogue, you often see the same sorts of jokes pop up again and again. For instance, someone falling out of chair in the middle of a serious conversation. And then doing the exact same thing again, with full awareness of it happening, when they should have known better. That's just funny, and Thomas Sadoski played it perfectly straight.

If there were a guide book on how to write comedy, which there is, and you really shouldn't read it because comedy isn't the sort of thing that can be assembled, like a Buick or a quadratic equation, then one of the rules of comedy is the art of undercutting. Build up a tense situation, put all expectation in one arena, and undercut that by either going the opposite direction, or deflating the situation entirely. This episode was a lesson is such technique, as nearly every dramatically charged scene was deflated in a puff of awkward self awareness, disgruntled calamity or a wonderful Sam Waterston freak out. So while it may not have been as emotional an episode as last week, it was a more entertaining one.

Waterston continues to be the series best and least secret weapon. Charlie is right in line with Sorkin's definition of the perfect boss: tough, occasionally scary, but the sort of guy who is easy to love and be friends with. He's the natural progression of the Isaac Jaffe and Josiah Bartlett character. I wonder if, once upon a time, Sorkin had a mentor like this who has imprinted on all future authority figures, or if it's just fictional wish fulfilment. It is important to note that the villains in Sorkin's works tend to be the people who can make the Charlie character powerless, usually a network executive or in West Wing's case, congress. So here, we have the Lansing family, particularly Reese, who was his smarmy best in this episode, but actually made a good point: he's the boss, and what he says should go. Anything else is either mutiny or unrealistic expectations (to satisfy myself in thinking that ACN drawing 1.5 million viewers sounded low, FOX News drew in 1.9 after the Boston bombing, so I guess that's about right).

I loved the awkward, obvious-in-its-outcome Dead Poets Society scene on the press bus, with Sorkin, through Jim, expressing every bit of frustration over the modern system of talking point, endless flagellation of the same topics, the lack of elaboration on any subject for fear that later on in the campaign a candidate might have to back track and be seen as a "flip-flopper," and the pointlessness of the absurd length of American election seasons. Canada and the UK get it down in two or three weeks. Everything else is just wank. Jim is filling in the Josh role here, the endless put upon, smart and marginally successful in all things but life sort of guy. Sorkin isn't being subtle about hooking him up with Hallie, the question becomes will he or she abandon the other once the campaign ends, or will Jim bring her back to the enlightened Mecca of news, adding to Maggie's pressed psyche.

Genoa is finally becoming interesting. It is, apparently, based on a real event in the 1970's, and a report CNN made about it in the 2000's. In that case, investigations found that the discovery process in that report was flawed, and people lost their jobs. The Newsroom devoted a not small amount of time, and has involved along the way both Charlie and Mac, to investigating the claims of the use of sarin gas against civilians. What is interesting to me isn't the story, or the reporting, but because we already know that the story isn't true, that lawyers get involved, and that the whole thing is an embarrassment to the network, where the fault will lie. Tweets and translations aren't the most solid foundation for a news story, but one can assume that it will only galvanise them into finding something more concrete. So I'm interested to see how this will all blow up on them, and who exactly will pay the price for the error (Charlie and Mac's supervision can't be for nothing).

When the series was initially announced way back before the turn of the decade, it was described as following a "Keith Olbermann type," but on camera we rarely get to see that side of Will. This episode began with an extended look at that side of things, with Will's editorial about the booing of a gay service man at a Republican primary debate. He, and through him Sorkin, was right of course, but it was one of my least favourite of the blatantly political monologues the show has done, because there was no debate. Sorkin wasn't able to have a Devil's Advocate in there, in part because there is no other side to that situations, and the people who booed and the candidates who didn't chastise them were horrible people, but I prefer it at least when a discussion can be had. Discussion is interesting, it is source of conflict and character growth. Just yelling at the screen for three minutes, no matter what side of the political tape isn't interesting, its just annoying.

Meanwhile, the watch for Patton Oswalt continues...
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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