The Newsroom Review: “The 112th Congress” (Season 1, Episode 3)

After being at the helm of the series premiere, Greg Mottola returns back to the director’s chair of The Newsroom this week, which starts with yet another lengthy monologue. Will opens his programme with an apology for his previous broadcasts, claiming no excuse for their sloppiness in reporting actual news and outlining to his viewers the kind of news programme he and Mackenzie are now striving to make successful. However, as usual, the network bodies are getting in the way.

There’s a nice structural play which goes on in this week’s episode, Sorkin and co-writer Gideon Yago interweave the goings on of the newsroom with a meeting that is retrospectively looking over those events. In the meeting, Will’s boss Charlie Skinner is meeting with the ratings man Reece and his mother, the head of the company: Leona Lansing, played by the utterly brilliant Jane Fonda.

Alongside the speechifying, the zippy one liners and the flashback plotting, this week’s episode is also concerned with another thing that Sorkin really likes to do: take pot shots at the Tea Party. As they run up to the senate elections of 2010, Will comes to Charlie with an idea of reporting against the Tea Party for its central hypocrisies and ultra right wing views. Will’s angle is to report on the fact that this small group of people managed to succeed and infest the Republican party through millions of dollars of donations from the Koch brothers and are destroying what the Republican party actually stands for.

As we know, Will is a Republican/Conservative (which is unusual for a Sorkin protagonist) and he believes that Republican voters should hear the truth about the Tea Party from a trusted registered Republican. So as News Night goes out through the midterm elections, Will acts as “a lawyer for the voters,” putting those candidates under his intensive spotlight and asking the questions that he thinks should be answered. All the interviewees are thinly veiled impersonations of the senators who did run in the race. For example, there’s a lovely cameo by Philip Baker Hall as one of the senators being interviewed who is a dead ringer for Newt Gingrich.

But chastising the Tea Party movement and its members isn’t something Leona is interested in seeing, as it begins to kill numbers and her private relationships. As usual, Charlie has to be there defending Will’s corner… Doing… Burgess Meredith… impressions? But he can only do so much as Leona threatens to fire Will if he continues the way he’s going.

This is highly political material and if you aren’t someone who is that finely tuned into politics you may find it difficult to follow. That said, the characters do explain quite a bit, they just speak so fast that it may go over your head.

The Newsroom is probably the most overtly political material that Aaron Sorkin has ever written and you either like this kind of soapboxing or you don’t. I’m not usually a particularly big fan of that method of storytelling, I like material when it’s politically charged but not when it has to resort to vitriolic ranting. That being said, The Newsroom just about gets away with it due to its format and setting. Plus, if I’m going get it, I want Sorkin to write it.

What works to a lesser degree is the cultural references. It’s nice that the characters are populating our real world where they can, referring to Rocky II, Inception, 2001 and Gypsy, but it feels a tad clunky. It makes the thudding soapboxing sound even better.

Anyways, in other news around the office, there seems to be some burgeoning romances. One is between Will and a number of very young post graduate women, one of whom is a cheerleader, and the other big office will-they-won’t-they is between Jim and Maggie. It is all very nice and lovely but it is also remarkably hackneyed and is something we have seen countless times before. The Office (UK and US), Broadcast News, Working Girl etc. this isn’t anything new. It is however, nicely played. John Gallagher Jr. and Alison Pill portray really great characters and the interlay between the two actors is very entertaining.

Finally, as per usual, Jeff Daniels is stellar. It is his show through and through, he is deserving of many awards for his work in The Newsroom and the success of the show rests on his back.

While other elements around him may not be as impressive, if he remains consistent, the show remains watchable. I’m now fully sold on Emily Mortimer too, who I think is doing excellent work with a character that is really quite annoying.

The Newsroom is getting better and better, it’s not one of the defining shows amongst HBO’s back catalogue, but it is quality, well written entertainment that deserves a bigger audience.