The Newsroom Review: “Amen” (Season 1, Episode 5)

The Newsroom is developing into a very strong show. For a while it seemed that HBO and Aaron Sorkin had dropped the ball, but their ambition for The Newsroom is perhaps a little different from what people were expecting. When the extensively wordy dialogue is stripped back, the show reveals itself as a very simplistic drama that hits a very typical narrative structures.

Sorkin has always talked about “the rules of drama” and sticking to those thoroughly in order to write a play, a film or a TV show. This is what The Newsroom is: A basic drama on the surface with conflict, unity of place & time, romance and resolution, but in the middle it has a comedic, light hearted, very good natured centre that just so happens to comment upon the world around us. What makes the show so fresh though is the unity of place.

As commented in the initial review, we have seen behind-the-desk drama before with Broadcast News and Network, but The Newsroom has an ace up its sleeve, which is showing in detail how the news is constructed.  This is where the show is at its strongest. Episode 5, entitled “Amen,” is perhaps the best episode of the season so far because it strikes its balance just right and we see Sorkin at his best.

The tension between Jim and Maggie and the fact it’s Valentine’s Day and Maggie has set Jim up on a date with Lisa doesn’t really rear its ugly head until the final 5 minutes of the episode.  The main focus of this week is New Night’s coverage of the Egyptian uprising, focussing on the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo which lead to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, whose regime had become deeply unpopular by the end of his reign.

The coverage starts out with Elliot, the hapless anchor of the 10 o’clock programme, being live streamed from Cairo reporting on the events that are taking place, with a focus on the reaction of the Egyptian public. The problem is that Elliot is holed up in his hotel room with little access to the streets for fear of attack upon himself for being an American, so News Night’s coverage is compromised. Meaning their top story cannot achieve the vision of what News Night was set up to be, a solid news show which is about the news. With no live footage, their story doesn’t hold up to their standards.

When gunshots are fired outside his hotel, Elliot goes to investigate only to be beaten by locals. So in addition to having no on-the-ground footage, they now have no correspondent, meaning they have to find one or else they won’t have a trusted news story. This is where Neal comes into play. After 4 weeks of playing the spare underused-yet-really-good-actor-behind-a-computer-desk role, Dev Patel really does come into his own this week with a script that allows him some breathing room and allows him to have more relevance in the unfolding drama.

Neal manages to hunt down a young YouTube user who has carved a name for himself by providing accurate, on-the-ground reports on the Egyptian revolution. The young man is named Kahlid and he manages to gain unprecedented access in all areas. After the broadcast, Kahlid states that the way to go with the story is to focus on the military and how they support pro-Mubarak sabre rattlers who are murdering people on the streets. With the blessing of Will and Mac, Kahlid will attempt to gain access to the Ministry of the Interior where he believes there are strange activities going on. Only, things don’t according to plan.

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