The Newsroom Review: "The 112th Congress" (1.03)
Between airings of the second and third episode of The Newsroom, HBO announced the series’ renewal for a sophomore season. It seems the only way the network will end this trainwreck and put everyone out of our collective misery is if a horse dies on set.
“The 112th Congress” is a fitting name for an episode that was more dysfunctional than either of the previous two episodes. The writing was egregiously insulting to its audience, and not just in typical Sorkin fashion (although Mac Mac remained an inexplicably weak character despite her abundant professional talents). The episode rather astoundingly presents a six-month span in which McAvoy and Mac Mac’s show transforms from a typical nightly news hour to incredibly eloquent ad lib idiot-bashing.
At its most basic level, this format is interminable; the episode is composed almost entirely of montages. This would be acceptable if the sequences showed any development or change, but they essentially play out like this:
1. Will calls idiots stupid.
2. Everyone thinks Will is a super cool guy.
3. An attractive woman meets Will in the newsroom, tells him he’s a super cool guy.
4. Mac Mac gets jealous and flustered because, since this is the Sorkinsphere, she obviously can’t be restrained and professional like a man.
5. Maggie and V-Neck break up.
6. Neal tells Jim, “If you love her, run to her.” (Her being Maggie)
7. Maggie and V-Neck get back together; Jim is the saddest of all pandas/journalists.
This cycles several times during the episode, all interspersed among an episode-spanning meeting involving boozy Sam Waterston, shitty PowerPoint slides, cold-hearted corporate goons and other redundancies.
Beyond the structure itself, The Newsroom really kicks its pretentious hindsight into overdrive within each of Will’s tirades. We are told that McAvoy’s superhuman political insight and legal knowledge are a direct result of his abnormal intelligence (he graduated college at 19! Bully for him!) and his previous experience as a lawyer (how terribly convenient!) Surely he would not possess the hard-hittingness required for such a task if he were a mere journalist.
Herein lies one of the many problems tied to writing the show two years after the fact. Hindsight provides The Newsroom’s writers and, consequently, the staff of ACN’s newsroom, with knowledge—how the story ends—that was not readily available to the general population at the time. The question each episode begs is, “How could everyone be so blind?” without acknowledging that it would be impossible to anticipate the resolution of every news event.
The episode ends with the revelation that the network’s owner (played by Jane Fonda) has no reservations about manufacturing controversy to require McAvoy’s removal as anchor should his Tea Party-bashing continue. This seems like an opportunity to draw the show away from the physical newsroom and its inherent flaws. Unfortunately, the show is called The Newsroom, so the chances of that happening seem rather slim.
For a different take on The Newsroom, check out editor-in-chief Josh Jackson’s defense of the series here.