The Newsroom Season 1, Episode 2 Discussion

Throughout the first season of HBO’s new series The Newsroom, a few of our writers will analyze and discuss each episode in detail. Beware of spoilers.

For other episode discussions, check our pop culture page.

Vinny Ginardi: In the pilot, we saw a newsroom where everything that could go right, go right. But in this episode, we saw just the opposite. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. And while I didn’t like this episode quite as much as I liked the first, I’m glad that we were shown that just because this newsroom is trying to do news the right way doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be easy.

But the biggest takeaway from this episode comes from two of our central characters: Will McAvoy and Mackenzie MacHale. We find out more about their previous romantic relationship and why it ended. While I didn’t particularly like the storyline of Mackenzie sending the email explaining why their relationship ended to the whole company by accident (it seemed a bit contrived), I was glad to already see depth in these characters and in the relationship they have with one another. Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer have great chemistry and makes their relationship feel real.

Greg Kaplan: I’m in the opposite camp of Vinny on this one. I agree with him that the Will/Mack relationship is what’s going to fuel the show. And I absolutely love how real the relationship between Maggie and Jim. But, I really hated the ending to this week’s episode. The key to this show’s success is going to be how real the actual newsroom feels. All the characters feel real, but the ending to the episode was so frustrating.

Look, we all saw it. If that type of news show happened in real life (and it does happen, take it from someone that works for a local news station), YouTube and The Daily Show would blow up for a week straight ripping it to shreds. There were so many things that could go wrong and went wrong when talking about such a controversial topic. And yet, when all was said and done, its like the show said we’ll be OK. 

No! Why does everything always have to end happily? People have really shitty days, and Maggie was having one. I actually loved how real it felt that she took it to heart that she made a mistake, then compounded that mistake with a moment of real when she broke up, on purpose or not, with Don. Why did the show have to end with a melancholy Will calling a slightly buzzed and much more depressed Mackenzie saying he was in? Why couldn’t Will just stay really pissed off for a little longer and Mackenzie wallow in her self pity for a little longer? They both obviously completed their worst news show in their careers. Even if they wanted to apologize to each other, they seem like really strong and proud people where an apology would be hard to come by, at least for Will.

So, why did they have to apologize so quickly? It bugged me. It seemed forced. And, even worse, it began to feel like I was watching something staged. That’s the most disappointing part of it all.

VG: Greg, I agree that Will’s apology did come a little quickly. But I didn’t see it as unrealistic as you did. It’s clear that even though their romantic relationship has ended, Mackenzie’s thoughts and opinions still affect Will. So after they put on the worst show in history, it seems to have struck a chord within Will that Mackenzie was most upset about the Palin addition to the show, not the trainwreck that led up to it.

And I suppose I should have elaborated more on why I said I enjoyed that this episode focused on a bad news show.  It came as a relief to me that every episode wasn’t going to be News Night having a perfect show. While I loved the fast paced environment and how everything fell into place during the first episode (such as Jim having two credible sources by complete chance), I was nervous that every episode was going to be this newsroom outperforming other newsrooms. It was refreshing to see that the News Night crew isn’t going to catch breaks like that with every show.

Let’s take a quick turn. After receiving solid ratings in its first two episodes, HBO has renewed The Newsroom for a second season. The show has received mixed reviews so far, do you think this was a good or bad choice by HBO?

GK: I think it was a good choice. Even with receiving some really rough reviews, a lot of people are still talking about it. Conversation about any show is still conversation, and The Newsroom is getting a lot of press. I think part of the reason it got picked up is because of Sorkin’s track record with his previous shows (even my reference point for this show, Sports Night, had a second season despite poor reviews). Every show is an investment, and HBO likes to go with a sure thing when they can. I think people are going to keep tuning into this show regardless of what the critics say.

One problem I am having with the show so far Vinny is that it feels like Sorkin is taking clear sides on important topics. Before I begin what I think is going to seem like ripping this show a new one, let me just say that the characters in the show are deep enough that I’ll keep coming back for them, not for what the show stands for.

OK, disclaimer aside, I get the feeling that Sorkin is trying to re-write history a little through his writing. It is very hard to have a show like this one, where Sorkin is taking actual real life events from the past two years and covering them on a fake news show. Its a little Tuesday Morning Quarterback-ing. Nobody covered the BP oil spill like News Night did on the first night because nobody had the opportunity to cover it like they did. I highly doubt that, even in the most complex of newsrooms, a group of highly educated people would’ve been able to connect the dots that quickly like Mackenzie and Jim did. It’s just not plausible. So, it seems a little bit back-handish that Sorkin pretty much proclaimed “this is how I would’ve done it…” when really, it was all done, and mostly covered very well by some very smart people when it was actually happening. 

Then second, in this week’s show, Maggie has a monologue about how immigrants who enter the country without proper paperwork deserve a better identifier than “illegals”. Look, a lot of people agree with that view. I agree with that view. But, there are still people that don’t. They’re out there, and they have a right to their own opinion. It isn’t fair, on a show like this, to just say “well, this is their point of view, we’ll justify it in the newsroom, but when we show what a trainwreck show is like to our audience, we’re going to do it at the expense of this view point”. I know Sorkin wanted to show what a really terrible news cast looks like, but did it really have to be that point of view that falls through? What if Will had guests come on trying to support the argument why the bill shouldn’t be passed and they weren’t professional on TV, while the Governor presented a legal, competent argument for the pro?

What I’m saying is, even when Sorkin was showing a terrible news cast and all the things could go wrong, he was still presenting his opinion on a major issue. That’s really my major problem with the show. It seems very biased. And it doesn’t matter that, in my heart of hearts, I agree with what Sorkin is presenting and it was pretty funny to see three incompetent people talk about something that is over their head. I just have a problem with the messages I’m getting through the show. Again, I love the characters and I love how they’re growing. I just can’t get over some of the messages presented by Sorkin after the fact.

VG: In most of the reviews that are negative toward the show, both of those points are brought up. The rewriting history portion  I can find somewhat substantial. Sorkin is able to use information that no newsroom at the time had. It’s kind of like playing a game of Texas Holdem, only if you knew what the flop, turn, and river were going to be. It cheapens the show a little bit, but it’s also interesting to see how certain events were viewed by most at the time.

I don’t have as much of a problem with your second point. Yes, the show does come off as preachy. But really, is that such a bad thing? Most shows are made strictly for entertainment, but The Newsroom offers a bit more than that. Yes, Sorkin’s views on politics and the state of journalism are present throughout the show, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the audience needs to agree with them. Most of the best shows and movies and books in history are considered so great because they have a strong message behind them. People are offended because some of the messages in this show happen to be a commentary on political issues. If you disagree with the views presented in the show and dismiss the show because of that, you are just proving the point made in the first episode that people aren’t open to looking into viewpoints that go against their own.

GK: Right, and that’s the thing. I’m not even disagreeing with Sorkin on his points. So far, I haven’t been like “Well, that’s just outrageous, I totally disagree”. I’d probably end up on the side of each debate with Sorkin and support his points.

But, I don’t know. I guess I tune in hoping to get away from actual news rooms and just watch an entertaining show that involves the world of news. I think my views would be different if the messages were more subtle, or the situations were hypothetical. But, this is Sorkin making it obvious through his writing which side of the debate he is on. And I think it bothers me a little.

I can’t blame Sorkin for doing it. Its his show, he can do whatever he wants. I can always choose not to watch. But, again, the development of these characters fascinates me, and that is what will keep me coming back and keep me watching through a second season.

VG: I agree, the characters are the driving force behind the show and what keep it compelling. We’ve been introduced to several different individuals and in only two hours, we’ve already seen some of them grow.

On an unrelated final note, I found it interesting that everyone had Blackberrys. Was this product placement by Blackberry to try and stay relevant? Or was it a cruel joke by Sorkin that in just two years Blackberrys have gone from one of the most popular smart phones to almost out of business? It was probably the latter, but it was just something I found amusing.

GK: Were iPhone’s around in 2010? I know they couldn’t have been as popular. I do think its Sorkin staying true to the times. I mean, think back. The two episodes that have aired so far?

LeBron James was still a Cleveland Cavalier (sorry, Cleveland fans). Only a handful of us had Twitter accounts. Facebook had just added the “Like” button and most status updates had to start with (Your name) is…

Yeah, its only been two years, but living in the 24-hour media cycle, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture we’re consumed in, that might as well be two decades.