The Newsroom s3 ep 6

“Really boring” is not the way I wanted to describe the Newsroom series finale.

Calling it “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” was a nice little wink at Sorkinites who remember the first “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” or the more famous second, or even the critically reviled third, but if this episode proved anything, it’s that a pancake by any other name is still as flat.

This “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” got off to an inauspicious start with Mac making a phone call outside REDACTED’s funeral – Girl, could it not wait an HOUR? Y’know, till after you’d buried the guy? – before coming back in and disrupting it by catapulting Will into the first of many long, tedious flashbacks, turning the episode into more self-indulgent prequel than satisfying endgame.

Giving us just a couple of minutes of flashbacks would have been poignant – one or two of the Will/Charlie scenes did make me tear up a little – and maybe even giving us a couple more would have been funny – Don and Sloan obviously made me laugh and squee simultaneously. Giving us three-quarters of an episode of flashbacks, however, sucked the very life out of me, dragging us “back” as it did to a pompous, annoying and apparently dull period which the characters, the show and I have long since gratefully moved on from. The return of the unspeakable season 1 Maggie, the obsession with Don Quixote, the endless smugness of the mission to civilise – oh God. It was like The Newsroom’s Own Private Vietnam, flashing back to a dark time I don’t have any interest in revisiting; I wanted to spend the last episode with the characters I have grown to love (NB – this does not include Maggie or Useless Jim) as they are now, not as they were then.

But then I suppose the one consistent thing about The Newsroom has been that so many of us have so keenly wished it to be better than it often was; having to say that I wanted to wholeheartedly adore the finale but I didn’t is probably a fitting, if rueful epitaph for a show which has lurched from the sublime to the infuriating too many times to count.

As with the entire series, so it was with this episode: there were brilliant moments mixed in with the annoying ones.  The present-day strand was infinitely better than the flashback one, with some genuinely touching moments, some sweetly funny ones and even a couple of air-punchers. “How I Got to Memphis,” the return of REDACTED, Don’s scene with Nancy Skinner, Will’s tear-jerking speech at the wake – all lovely. But the creeping sexism which has plagued this show from the start managed to infect the finale as well. The appalling Maggie was offered (just about) two different jobs because boyfriend Jim decided she deserved them (boyfriend Jim got then-girlfriend Hallie a job, too, you’ll recall), and the marginally less offensive Mac, having been offered her current job because she was Will’s ex-girlfriend, was this week given a new one because she’s a woman.  And bizarrely, her husband (who was secretly consulted by her boss about the idea first, without reference to Mac herself) announced her promotion to her colleagues before she even knew about it, let alone had a chance to say yay or nay. What the…?! These are supposed to be grown, independent women building careers through their own skills and talent, not being handed them by their love interests.

Thank goodness then for Sloan and Leona who continued to be independent and great regardless of who they were sleeping with. And thank goodness for my beloved Don who returned to his usual awesomeness after that bizarre Princeton business last week. And thank goodness for grandchildren in garage bands, and Charlie being crazy, and “You embarrass me” and all the things that did work beautifully about the finale and about the show over the past three seasons. Aaron Sorkin has been the subject of a lot of criticism over The Newsroom – some wholly deserved, some not so much – and, as I said, the show hasn’t always lived up to our (unfeasibly high, in retrospect) expectations. But while it got a lot of things wildly wrong over its short run, it also got a fair few of them spectacularly right and, if it does end up being Sorkin’s last tv project, at least he went out on his own terms. It wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but I did love The Newsroom and when it was on form, it was fantastic. I’m sorry it’s over.

The Newsroom s3 ep 5

It’s the penultimate episode of The Newsroom and these are dark times for the staff at ACN.

Will’s in jail, still refusing to reveal the source. Pruitt has turned the station into Gawker TV and Charlie into his frantic lapdog. And Jim and Maggie are bickering their way round Moscow Airport while failing to find Edward Snowden, listening to this pair of irritants making this a dark time for the viewer as well.

I don’t propose to waste much time on the latter plotline; when the show first started, Jim and Maggie were clearly meant to be this adorable ship we were all to root for but that plan went south long, long ago. He’s useless, she’s appalling; I hope they’re together for the rest of their lives, but only because it means Lisa (remember Lisa? She was great!) and Don will now be safe from their respective advances forever.

Moving on, then, to the top two stories of the week. The Will side of things is interesting at first, with the gut-punch of learning how much time has gone by and the hope that the conflict with his cellmate is going to take us into a poignant world of truth and self-awareness. But although it’s beautifully acted and there are plenty of good moments, using a woman’s REDACTED as the path to a happy ending seems crass and inappropriate and the final cellmate reveal no doubt seemed profound on paper but comes across as hackneyed on screen. There’s an important point somewhere in those scenes about the weirdly hostile attitudes towards the educated and the so-called “liberal elite” which have been used to manipulate American politics over the past few years, but the lurch towards psychodrama completely robs it of its power.

Which leaves us with the most controversial storyline of the week: the Gawkerisation of ACN or “Aaron Sorkin vs The Internet: Part Eleventy-zillion.”

The move towards “citizen journalism” (surely one of the top ten most annoying phrases ever invented) has turned Charlie into a tired, frightened old man with no more fight left in him; he spends his time insisting that it’s Pruitt’s way or no way, so suddenly Lady Gaga’s tweets matter and ACN is #uracn, which, as Don points out “looks like urine,” the subtext of the entire plot being that it smells like it too.

Charlie may have surrendered, however, but Mac, Sloan and Don are still raging against the dying of the light. Mac just rants a bit, in her usual Mac way, of course, but it’s the other two who have to do the heavy lifting, with entirely apposite results.

Sloan’s on-air annihilation of the smarmy digital editor is magnificent: razor-sharp, whip-smart and air-punchingly hilarious. And, perhaps more importantly, it adroitly manages to make Sorkin’s regular point about the dehumanising effect of certain aspects of Internet culture in a way that is neither patronising, annoying nor stupid.

Unfortunately, Don’s contribution is infinitely less successful. Pruitt’s insistence (and Charlie’s) that he track down a particular campus-rape victim and have her face her accuser on air is the worst idea in the history of man, and Don, to his (and Sorkin’s) credit realises that. So he finds the girl, invites her on the show and does his absolute best to talk her out of it. And most of the things he says are absolutely, completely and utterly right. It will be covered like sports. Mary will be slut-shamed. And it is a terrible, terrible idea. But it’s the bizarre three or four lines where he tries to tell the rape victim – whom he clearly believes and empathises with – that he’s “morally obligated to believe the sketchy guy” who raped her that have resulted in a critical firestorm, completely overshadowing the rest of the episode.

To be honest, I thought that scene was more idiotic than misogynist. No one in their right mind is going to track down a rape victim in her dorm room and start debating with her the negative effects of her website on the presumption of innocence in a bid to persuade her not to do a tv show. If you must talk to her about it at all – and the last five minutes of the episode suggest not – instead of focussing on why it might hurt allegedly “innocent” men accused of rape for her to do the show, you’d surely stick to the many reasons it might actually hurt her? (See sports, slut-shamed and terrible idea, above.) So the whole scene just becomes a really clunky way to make a point about how unproven accusations on the Internet can hang over people forever, said point again being robbed of any power or legitimacy it might have had by the stilted ridiculousness of the offending lines – Thomas Sadoski is fantastic and I love him, but even he can’t save the “morally obligated to believe the sketchy guy” dialogue because no one is ever going to say that outside of a tv show, ever – and the poor choice of subject matter. Since research shows that campus sexual assaults in the US are both widely prevalent and mostly unpunished, this is not the area to make this particular stand; “700,000 untested rape kits” suggest that there can’t be too many false accusations ruining the lives of the accused since so many of the genuine ones aren’t actually getting far enough to do it.

The Newsroom s3 ep 4

The DOJ bring Will in front of a grand jury and an unhappy judge. Charlie teams up with Sloan to try and stop Pruitt buying ACN and bringing on the Apocalypse. And the Maggie/Jim/Hallie love triangle turns into a love rhombus since Professor Whoever turns out to have eyes as well as Ethics and suddenly notices that his girlfriend is into someone else, even if that someone else is currently being an asshat.

Hmm.

For something so crammed with Significant Moments – Warrant! Wedding! Whackjob buying the company! – “Contempt” was a strangely underwhelming episode and a bit of a disappointment after the unfettered joys of eps 2 and 3. It wasn’t bad, but with so much going on it should have been breathtaking rather than quite so bland.

There were things I liked. The legal hearings were good, as was the ending. Not being a Mac/Mc shipper, meanwhile, I thought the wedding was all right if a little too “let’s do the show right here!” but I was much more interested in Mac threatening Clea Duvall than picking out a wedding dress. Mac with a backbone! (A Mackbone?) Who knew?!

Also, I don’t really understand what the point of the HR guy story was or how Don and Sloan could be stupid enough to put up with it for so long, but it gave us the fun Instagram stunt and Don’s adorable speech about Sloan, so fair enough. And, yes, the only way having Pruitt buy ACN two episodes before the show finishes forever makes any sense at all is if Newsroom is just going to end with everyone quitting in a big blaze of principle/pique, but at least Charlie’s war against Pruitt was mildly amusing in a mildly ridiculous kind of way.

Since I’m just going to ignore the pointed arguments about leaks and election-fixing (none of which sounded like Don speaking, but hey ho) however, the one irredeemably terrible part of the episode was the Useless Jim/Placeholder Girlfriend Hallie “Old Media Guy/New Media Girl” story. Since the beginning of the season, Jim seems to have been actively seeking out ways to annoy Hallie, wrapping up each little jibe in layers of condescension and judgement about the Internet, because this is Aaron Sorkin and he hates it. As I said last week, we know, Dude. WE. KNOW.

Anyway, this week, Hallie takes her revenge by writing a piece about how mean Jim is to her and putting it on the said Internet, cunningly concealing his identity by calling him “Tim”. Because of course she had no intention of concealing it at all. Young love, eh?

There is no doubt this is an utterly horrible thing to do to someone you profess to love, so Jim’s entitled to be furious, but instead of behaving like a normal person and being justifiably upset that his girlfriend has basically told the world he’s an appalling boyfriend (although the defence of veritas definitely applies here), Jim is apparently only upset because she’s compromised her journalistic soul by writing about herself on the Internet. Eh?!

Here’s the thing: attacking Jim in public like this makes Hallie an absolutely terrible girlfriend, but doing it on the Internet doesn’t make her any less of a writer. After all, writers have been writing about themselves and their loved ones and publishing it in journals, memoirs, books, print of all sorts since someone invented the pencil – what makes it so bad to put it in new media instead of old, Jim? How is doing what Hallie did so deeply offensive, while Studio 60’s thinly-veiled jabs at Kristen Chenoweth are absolutely fine? I’m a Sorkin fan but come on, now, sauce for the analogue goose is sauce for the digital gander. We all know Useless Jim and Demon Muppet Maggie are going to end up together, but there has to have been a better way to get Hallie out of the road than this.

The Newsroom s3 ep 3

Starting an episode of anything other than Nashville or Smash with a character singing is a risky business, but it’s Gary (imagine if it had been Maggie) and it’s not anything from Gilbert and Sullivan (imagine her doing “Three Little Maids” – Dear God) so this week’s Newsroom brushes through it tolerably well. And then of course, it turns all pointed and kicks all kinds of ass when Gary walks in on the end of last week’s episode: the FBI, in the newsroom, with the warrant. Dun-dun-dun!

Gary’s less than impressed, which in turn fires everyone else up, resulting in a rebellion which could have been super-annoying if left to Useless Jim and Demon Muppet Maggie, but is rendered super-fun and indeed super-funny (“We’re gonna mis-spell it.” – HEE!) by the combined forces of Charlie, Don and Sloan, who – obviously – rule. Mac’s FBI “friend” is dead wrong when she says “That stunt with the cameras – that wasn’t cool,” because it definitely was. Oh, yes.

Mac herself can shut up about her stupid wedding as soon as she likes, though. ARGH.

While said “stunt with the cameras” may put paid to the raid, though, it doesn’t stop the FBI’s quest for Neal, the source and any further info they can get from Idiot Mac. FFS, Idiot Mac. Luckily, no one is paying any attention to her advice and instead Rebecca Halliday (who is very smart) and Will (who is not quite as smart as he thinks he is) are leading the battle with the FBI, which leads to a frankly awesome meeting at the Main Justice building (Go Will!) and an also awesome ending to the ep (Oh No, Will!).

In between rounds of chicken with the forces of law and order, meanwhile, Will interviews Maggie’s EPA guy in a joyous sequence which manages to make the end of the world being nigh absolutely hilarious; a new (awful) guy wants to buy ACN and turn it into I don’t even know what but I hate it; and Jim gets into a jerkish fight with Hallie, partly so Maggie can spend the entire episode instead of just half of it being horrible and judgemental and physically abusive to him in that “adorable” way she has, but mainly because Aaron Sorkin still hates the Internet. Oh, Aaron. I love you, but Dude. We. Get. It.

Ah well. It’s not quite as fabulous as last week’s “Run”, but as long as you ignore anything involving Maggie – ok, apart from “Baking News” because that made me laugh – “Main Justice” is still both wildly entertaining and very, very funny. The Pruitt fellow is beyond irritating, as is his HR guy and there’s not quite enough Don and Sloan to give me my weekly fix but we get a little Lansing love, a healthy whack of Will at his best and plenty of knockabout fun, as well as some genuine thrills and spills, so I’m happy. Newsroom is on great form just now – I’m loving it.

The Newsroom s3 ep 2

“It’s almost six months to the day since our last public apology!”

So, about time for another cluster of disasters then, and that’s exactly what this fantastic episode gives us.

On the “Oops, I committed a felony!” front, Will and Rebecca Halliday bicker entertainingly over what to do with Neal, who’d rather go to jail for espionage than listen to them sparring. Mac decides she knows best because she’s Mac and therefore “an idiot savant” according to Will, or just “an idiot” according to me. Both idiocy and felonious conduct seem to be contagious, however, since even Don, who isn’t usually an idiot at all, accidentally manages to commit a felony too (Dude, come on – how could you not have realised?) but he and Sloan make up for it by being hilarious and adorable yet again. “I can’t believe I’m being Don Keefered!” and “You bit down HARD.” are currently vying for the position of my favourite moments of the week – SQUEE!

Meanwhile, on the “behaviour which is not actually punishable by incarceration” side of things, Hallie does the kind of stupendously moronic thing these characters would probably excuse coming from Maggie, but not coming from the current obstacle to Maggie and Useless Jim’s love for the ages. The Demon Muppet herself, meanwhile, is on a train, managing to land a story, give up a story then land another one because she’s so gosh-darned righteous and decent and moral (give me a break), while also (inexplicably) charming an ethics professor by ranting at him about how exactly he should be doing his job. (Guys, really? This is supposed to be endearing? Seriously?). Points, though, for the amusingly meta “You’re giving a monologue”….”Everyone does where I work.” HEE.

Oh, and while everyone frets about ethics, First Amendment rights and how easy it might be to break into a filing cabinet from Office Depot, Reece (whom I like more and more every week) and Charlie face an even bigger danger as they try and save the company from Evil Kat Dennings. Dun-dun-dun! Hide your children, shelter your old folks, Evil Kat Dennings cannot be defeated! Unless…. is it Superman? Is it Wonder Woman? No, it’s SuperWoman! Welcome back, Mrs Lansing – I love you!

And I loved this episode. Managing to incorporate political and legal commentary, humour and a genuinely thrilling story arc (that final few scenes with the FBI and the take-out menu business – WHOA) without driving the viewer mad with annoyance is the Newsroom Holy Grail and we just about got there with “Run.” I felt flickers of my usual irritation with Maggie, but I think that’s a sort of Pavlov’s dog reaction for me now – she has been so, so much worse than she was this week, but, three seasons in, it only takes the sight of her to set me off. Never mind Maggie, though, this episode as a whole was terrific: a joyous mix of smart, sweet, exciting and very, very, funny. Superb.

The Newsroom s3 ep 1

We begin, somewhat inauspiciously, with Mac telling Will she’s having nine bridesmaids so he has to have nine groomsmen. This scene is no doubt supposed to be charming and funny in a “crazy yet delightful bridezilla vs grumpy yet loveable misanthrope” kind of way but it misfires since – for reference, anyone planning a wedding any time soon – nobody needs nine bridesmaids. Unless she’s wearing a very large crown and taking up a position as head of state. And even then, nine bridesmaids will – as Will quite rightly points out – take forever to walk up the aisle so all the bride’s subjects watching at home will get bored and switch off their TVs.

Anyway, to get to my actual point, now that they’re engaged, Will and Mac are still in constant disagreement but they now bicker gently and chide each other lovingly instead of shouting angrily all the time about her cheating on him. Hurrah!

All this happiness has apparently blunted Will’s edges, though, as he keeps getting confused while trying to make his patented grand speeches about integrity and whatnot. The purpose of this seems to be to have one’s cake and simultaneously take great bites out of it: the show gets to remind us how principled our heroes are about the news business and how awful everybody else is, while at the same time poking fun at itself for its perceived pompousness. The theory’s sound, I suppose, but having Will bumble his way through it doesn’t make for an entirely successful execution, this week at least; whether this is Mac’s influence or Charlie’s, it’s hard to tell, but it does mean that both Will and Charlie (no change there) come across as drunk for most of the episode.

Now I’ve got the gentle, loving chiding out of the way, however, let’s move on to the good stuff. A solid, thoroughly enjoyable, if not particularly spectacular, opening to the season, “Boston” focuses on the bombing at the Boston marathon, and the media mis-steps which followed.

The gun-shy / responsible (depending on your perspective) ACN holds back from reporting, firstly, the breaking story, then the unseemly speculation over suspects and arrests and the like, to avoid another Genoa-type debacle. This means they get to be right even if they don’t get to be first but it also means a crash in their ratings. Uh-oh. Although Reece is actually very nice about it – maybe he’s had his edges blunted by love as well? For a moment, there, I thought he was looking longingly at fellow numbers person Sloan.

Fellow numbers person Sloan however, is way too busy looking longingly at her new Bloomberg computer – which is very funny – and lovingly at Don, because they are quietly, discreetly and adorably a couple. OMG. I could squee and squee and SQUEE. SQUEE! But ok, I’ll try and restrain myself, for everybody’s sake. (*Squee!*) That rueful little shake of the head he gives her when the Jacob fellow asks if she’s seeing someone, though….. Smelling salts, somebody. STAT.

It’s not just little headshakes Don is magnificent at, of course: getting out of jury duty in joyous style, helping Sloan with her sleuthing, decimating Buzzfeed, Reddit and Twitter users – yes, Aaron Sorkin still hates the Internet, but this week’s point about the rabid online speculation and the lynch mobs it spawned is one nobody should stop making and Thomas Sadoski’s Don (with an assist from a strangely subdued Jim, no doubt shell-shocked from both Maggie and Hallie working in the same office and telling him off all the time) makes the scene work beautifully.

The episode does remind us, though, that the Internet isn’t just for the dissemination of lies and tv reviews, as Neal is contacted by this season’s whistle-blower, giving us this season’s reason for a federal investigation. Fair enough. For this season’s arcs, then, we have felony espionage, we have the business, er, business Sloan uncovered, and we possibly have wedding stuff. Two out of three ain’t bad.

On the character side, as I said, Don and Sloan are wonderful and I could happily watch The Newsroom just for them, so anything else is a bonus. I don’t love Will being silly, but Mac isn’t anywhere near as bad as she was in season 1, Neal is sweet, Elliot is great, Charlie is fine, Reece is surprisingly likeable and Maggie… well, I suppose Maggie keeps the yelling to a minimum now, at least. She’s still Maggie, though. At first it seems like everyone (except Useless Jim) is onto the fact that she’s worse than a man down but then she gets to put on a designer dress and do a news report which I find as awkward and uncomfortable as trying to touch your nose with your elbow, but everyone in the show seems charmed. So we’re back to the idea that she’s meant to be delightful. Whatevs. I don’t think Maggie is fixable as a character, to be honest. I’m never going to like her. But, as long as she’s not front and centre, I like The Newsroom a lot.

Public Service Announcement 51 of 2014: The Newsroom, Babylon

A quick reminder that Aaron Sorkin’s flawed but fun HBO drama The Newsroom returns to UK screens tonight (Wednesday, 10pm on Sky Atlantic) for its third and final season. It has had its problems (Maggie and Mac) but the second season was significantly better than the first (less Maggie and Mac) and as long as Don’s in it, I’m sold. Weekly reviews here, as usual.

As one of this week’s shows enters its final strait, however, another is just beginning: after an uneven but entertaining pilot earlier in the year, Channel 4’s ambitious police comedy/drama Babylon starts its first full season tomorrow night at 10pm. I really liked the pilot, James Nesbitt was brilliant in it and Brit Marling is always worth watching so I’ll be tuning in anyway. I’ll review the first episode at least.