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The Newsroom Review: Bullies, Breakdowns and Bacon

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At the outset of "Bullies," I was prepared to make a very negative comparison of The Newsroom to Glee, considering each so often focuses on a Topic of the Week over any kind of character development or ongoing arc.

For Glee, it's teen suicide, or texting while driving, or domestic abuse or, well, Britney Spears.

For The Newsroom, it's been real-life topics - Gabrielle Giffords, BP - with a hindsight-based twist that continually hammers home how a true journalist should have handled these stories.

But then Will stopped by therapy, we were treated to the presence of guest star David Krumholtz, Aaron Sorkin relied on one of his most effective story telling techniques and the episode went in a far more interesting direction.

The Newsroom Team

Any long-time fan of Sorkin has seen him play with time in the way he did here, from a beloved season two episode of The West Wing that focused on Josh Lyman and his post-shooting PTSD, to pretty much the entire Social Network. It may therefore not be original, but it's darn well done.

In this case, it helped viewers understand Will McAvoy. If you're going to make a show all about one man - and The Newsroom is ALL about one man - you better give that man plenty of depth.

And Will was lacking in that department for awhile. He was basically depicted as an arrogant ass who may have possessed an admirable world view, but who still came across as nothing more than an arrogant ass. We started to break down that facade in the closing scene of last Sunday's "Amen" and we totally destroyed it on this installment.

We went from what seemed like an hour that would hoist Will up on another pedestal - venting about anonymous Internet comments - to literally sitting the anchor down in a chair and delving into his abusive past. The revelation explained a lot about his personality, even hearkening back to the premiere and giving us an idea of why he went off on that poor student.

And what a great, tense scene between Will and the Rick Santorum advisor. I wish Sorkin hadn't given Will the last word, and we would have seen his bullying, holier-than-thou side completely turned against him for a change, but at least sufficient time was provided to the gay black man and the mistake many likely make in assuming someone such as that is only defined by those qualities.

Will may think he has every answer about journalism and the country, but he didn't hold a key answer about himself until this therapy session. Or about the side effects of bacon.

Elsewhere, as always, there was plenty wrong with The Newsroom. I have no why the decision was made to turn MacKenzie from an experienced, respected, war torn reporter into a literal walking punchline among her colleagues, but it's non-sensicial and endlessly irritating.

Apparently she often gets gum stuck in her hair. And twists her ankle at the starting like of marathons. And is so scarcely respected around the office that an offer of "wisdom" is met by outright mockery. SHE'S THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AND SHE'S BEEN IN A WAR ZONE FOR THE LAST FOUR YEARS. It would be nice if the show reflected those credentials in any way.

Maggie also continues to be nothing more than helpless, supposedly comedic fodder. She doesn't know what LOL means? She mixes up the state of Georgia and the country of Georgia? It's just a waste of a character and an actress, making her nothing more than a cute airhead and love interest for Jim.

And even that relationship really doesn't get any time or care from Sorkin. It's been a year since the incident at Northwestern, Will said. And Don and Maggie were dating for a few months when we first met them. So that means the couple has been together for around a year and a half. Do they live together now? Any talk of marriage? Any reason for viewers to be invested in these two, or Don's concerns over losing Maggie to Jim, aside from the show giving Maggie and Jim blatant moments of flirting and banter every week?

Even Sloan, a female character at least allotted a certain level of intelligence, is really only seen through the eyes of Will. He's responsible for her screw-up, he's the one she turns to when unsure about a decision.

It really is all Will McAvoy all the time on The Newsroom. I'd love to see an episode dedicated to a supporting character at some point. But at least we were treated to one here that focused on the man behind the News Night desk more than the issue about which that man was ranting. It was a welcome change.

What did everyone else think?

Review

Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (222 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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Love the showw, it's smartk,sophisticated and entertaining. Jeff Daniels is fantastic in his delivery and timing. Love Sam Waterson and all the other charachters EXCEPT the Maggie charachter. It's ridiculous and doesn't belong on such a sophisticated show. She's obnoxious and completely unrealistic the way she bosses around her bosss Jim. It's just a little too contrived and soap opery. I'm not saying to remove the charachter, it's not the actresses' fault, it's the writers. I cringe every time I know here scenes are coming up. A little too overbearing for someone who doesn't have half the brains or experience of the people around her.

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Am I the only one who thought that the key moment of the show didn't involve the titular bullying? Sure, Will was belligerent, but in a way that was wholly justified. Careful review makes it impossible to take the guest at his word. Almost the very first thing the guy says in his rant is "How dare you reduce me to the color of my skin", but no one had mentioned race (except santorum in the clip). In the ensuing rant he brings it up twice more, unprovoked. So I can see two possibilities: 1. He feels that santorum isn't just homophobic, but also racist, and is simply expressing outwardly the same arguments he's had in his head for years to justify his continued support for a bigot. OR 2. He's just a skilled talking head who throws race into the fight and puts on an angry face so that he can dominate the conversation. Just before his rant breaks out, he's avoiding responding and is instead sticking to the same talking points he tried to get out before: Both times that he gains control of the conversation ("Stop, just stop" and "Shut up! I'll let you know when I'm finished!") he goes right back to reading his talking point. It is exactly what Will warned Sloan about earlier in the episode, but for some reason he's supposed to be ashamed of it now. Either way, Will wasn't a bully; You can bully a person, you can't bully a press release even if it is being read out loud.

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I am so disappointed in this show. The story-lines are puerile, the characters are weak (how extremely irritating, unbelievable and unlikeable are MacKenzie and Maggie?). The dialogue is risible, the situations hackneyed and clicheed. What's happened to Sorkin? His stuff used to be very watchable rather than painfully embarassing.

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Emily Mortimer should channel Meryl Streep in her tone, facial expressions and hand gestures. Her character can be neurotic without a trace of being pathetic. Despite all the words put in her mouth, she is neither sharp nor sweet (nor vulnerable, nor witty in a light-hearted way, etc.)

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@Matt: It says "Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0", which rounds up to five stars, and since you're the Editor it looks like it's your rating. If it's not maybe you should label it differently. About MacKenzie: Yes, she has changed since the premiere. She has become human. In the pilot she was introduced as the best EP in the world, the hero who reported from a war zone, the woman who somehow threatened the big Will McAvoy so much that he changed his contract... Now we've learned that she made a mistake with Will, that she can be clumsy sometimes, that she's a nice person who likes and respects her coworkers (instead of a big intimidating boss everyone's scared to talk to, like you apparently want her to be)... I think all of that makes her look more likeable, not stupid. And by the way, she's still a great EP, that hasn't changed - so what's the problem?

Maram mahmoud

I enjoyed the part when he defended Muslims.. Well spoken.. As for the reviewer, why do I get the feeling that he has some issues with the writer of the show and every single character of it...

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This was the 2nd best episode besides the premiere. I completely agree that Mackenzie has been nothing like the premiere since the premiere. I don't get why she and Will air their conversations across a full office. I don't get why any of them do. It's so unbelievable. It shows lack of maturity and professionalism. And speaking of that, how is it that Maggie can talk to her supposed boss like she does? And besides that she is the most irritating character. She went from Will's assistant to associate producer and is not even qualified it seems. Second most irritating is Don. All he is is a crabby little somewhat smart boy. I do not buy that he gives a shit about Maggie at all. If he does, it's because someone else is in the sandbox and is a threat. The best part of the show is how Jeff Daniels delivers Will's lines. He's the most natural at delivery. Everyone else is doing it for show. Jim is pretty good too. I just hate the little quips that are delivered like a shootout at the OK Corral and under their breath in this show! Jeff Daniels is the only one who can do it where it's believable. The rest of them force it. The Social Network and The West Wing casts were way better at it. Just my 2 cents.

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I am trying to enjoy this show but there are too many of the same story lines as The West Wing. Bartlett had a shrink that questioned Will with the same lines. There are many others but that's one standout from last nights episode. I would like to see some more stories that aren't rip offs of TWW.

Matt richenthal

@steph: I didn't give the episode five stars. And I think I explained my take on MacKenzie rather well. You're free to disagree, but I think I backed up my point at least.
Do you really think the depiction of MacKenzie has remained true to how she was introduced on the premiere?

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The show does have good moments. However time and again the writing is a disappointment. When I see past episodes of The Sopranos or Entourage--other hit HBO shows--what stands out is the crisp writing and dialogs that you don't see coming. By the time last night's episode aired, I could smell a joke a mile before it was made. This isn't about making Mackenzie or Maggie seem dumb. This is about how they are made to seem dumb. The one-liners are entirely predictable, very lame, and out of place at times. This idea of bringing up what Mackenzie/Maggie did in the past to belittle them or show them as airheads is a distraction from what are the strenghts of the show. I loved the combative questioning by both Will and Sloan in last night's episode. Aaron Sorkin essentially gives you a scenario on the pluses and minuses of aggressive and follow ups, and leaves it to the viewer to decide what is the right way. As I watched it, I realized the fine line interviewers like the late Tim Russert walked on his NBC Sunday show--getting a response without once seeming threatening or dismissive. The show should sideline characters like Maggie, Don and even Mackenzie and focus on Will, Sloan, Charlie and Leona who have much more interesting storyline and sub plots.

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