The Newsroom Review: “The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate” (Season 1, Episode 9)

And so, ACN does not get the slot, proving that they aren’t untouchable and that the cult of personality which has surrounded Will has destroyed any chance they have for rebuilding what they had before the Casey Anthony disaster.

It’s a first for The Newsroom and like all the best Sorkin work it has something to say. The points he makes are clear and difficult to disagree with. The highly public personalities of news, especially in US television with the likes Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, destroy any chance of being taken very seriously. Rather than being actual politics, the news descends into tete-a-tetes, it becomes about personalities and how the personality has grown to be bigger than the news they are reporting.

Will McAvoy is a seriously flawed character who has, in the past, let himself get in the way of his show’s quality. Will isn’t willing to sell out on his new format though. When the RNC offer him the debate as long as Mac doesn’t produce, he and the rest of the ACN anchors turn the RNC down.

Sorkin is stating that the news in America is greatly accustomed to taking the softer side of things. It isn’t interested in politics or giving the American public what it needs to make informed decisions when it comes to arriving at the ballot boxes, it would rather have its politicians state what their family life is like and what bands they’re obsessed with.

This part of the episode was impressive, providing the behind the scenes insight which Sorkin has always done so well. What doesn’t work is the constant problem that has the beset The Newsroom throughout its entire first season run. What I’m referring to is the poorly written will-they-won’t-they office romance between Jim and Maggie. In this episode, the scenes between them reach an all time low.

When it is revealed that Lisa (Maggie’s housemate) was a college roommate with Casey Anthony, Maggie is assigned to get her onto News Night to make sure that their coverage of the story is at least unique. Maggie and Jim go down to her place of work in order to get her on the show and what follows is the worst scene of Sorkin’s career.

The Newsroom and much of Sorkin’s other material has always toed the line between drama and comedy, and he is aware of that. He is aware of how funny he can be. Here, what is supposed to be a lighthearted scene just comes off as spectacularly misjudged, Judd Apatow style comedy, which Sorkin isn’t really brilliant at. John Gallagher Jr. and Alison Pill do try their hardest but they are working with material that isn’t up to scratch and it doesn’t serve their performances well.

It is also revealed this week that Don has been sleeping with other women while he and Maggie were on one of their several break ups, spelling the end of their relationship. This would be the perfect moment for Jim to make his move and Maggie to make hers but instead it is prolonged even further by Lisa interrupting and asking for another date with Jim. All this despite the fact that a couple of episodes back she made it quite clear that she didn’t want to see him again. I hope to God all this gets resolved in the season finale because I don’t think any of us are going to be able to take more of this hackneyed, unoriginal office romance.

The Newsroom has potential but it chooses to squander it so readily by falling into well worn and tired cliche. The political stance is good and the behind the scenes drama is fascinating but the subpar attempt at comedy and the office romances are really bringing the show down. It’s a shame and the promise of a truly earth shattering season finale are now pretty much gone but let’s hope that when we get to Season 2 Sorkin will finally have a handle on what works and what doesn’t.