‘The Newsroom’ 1.04 Recap: “I’m on a Mission to Civilize”

As I’ve certainly made clear by now, I’ve been incredibly disappointed with ‘The Newsroom’. Some critics who were in a fortunate enough position to receive advance DVD screeners from HBO (I’m not, and I wouldn’t want to watch on a crummy DVD anyway) complained that the first few episodes took a downward slide after the pilot (a sentiment I agree with), and that the fourth is the worst yet. Now that it’s aired, I’m actually surprised to say that I don’t believe that episode ‘I’ll Try to Fix You’ is the worst of what’s aired so far. Unfortunately, it’s still not terribly great.

One thing in its favor, the episode jumps forward a few months to New Years, 2011. I can only hope this means that Aaron Sorkin plans to hop, skip and jump over past news events until (perhaps in Season 2?) he’s forced to catch up to the present and fictionalize storylines, as he should have done from the beginning.

We start on a slow news week. The News Night show has been rehashing the prior year’s events under the category of “Stuff We Didn’t Cover Enough Last Year.” In the writer’s room, Neal (Dev Patel) harps on a story idea about Bigfoot being real, because… I don’t know… apparently he’s both a nerd and a moron.

At the staff New Year’s party, Will insults a gossip columnist (Hope Davis), who then sets about spreading rumors in her celebrity rag that he’s a womanizing groper (not too far from the truth, aside from the groping thing) and a hypocritical gun nut. This turns out to all be a ploy by Leona (who isn’t even in this episode, aside from flashbacks) to smear his reputation so that she has an excuse to fire him.

On air, Will goes on the offensive against Right-wing pundits who’ve blatantly lied about things Obama did or didn’t do. This is interrupted by the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. News Night is pressured to announce her death after other outlets do, but Will and his staff stick to their guns and refuse to make the call until they can get better confirmation. Of course, Giffords survives, and Will looks like the only journalist in America with any integrity.

Good things: The banter between characters is particularly good this episode, even in storylines that have been the least interesting until now. The love triangle between Maggie (Alison Pill), her boyfriend Don and her co-worker Jim culminates in a pretty funny scene where Maggie finds out that Jim is sleeping with her roommate, a turn of events orchestrated by Don. This personal relationship stuff has been a really weak link in the show, but some of it finally starts to work here.

Bad things: By having Will go on a rant against blowhard demagogues like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc., Sorkin inadvertently legitimizes them as public voices that should be taken seriously. Will should treat them with the same amount of disinterest as he treats the Real Housewives. Lampooning those buffoons is a job for Jon Stewart, not a real news anchor. This is an amateurish mistake, and Sorkin should know better.

I know that I’ve said this before, but I can’t emphasize enough how incredibly sick I am of the way that Sorkin re-enacts real news events with two years of hindsight that the characters couldn’t possibly have. The Gabrielle Giffords storyline is perhaps the worst example of this so far. The climax of the episode is Sorkin’s smug way of declaring: “You see, that’s how it SHOULD have been done! This is how I would have done it!”

Well, that’s nice for him to say two years later, but characters living in that moment wouldn’t have that knowledge. The show would be much more interesting if it tried to depict things the way they actually happened, and to show why people made the mistakes that they did, rather than Sorkin’s wish-fulfillment fantasy of how he thinks things should have happened in a perfect world filled with all-knowing people who never make mistakes.

When he wrote ‘The West Wing’, Sorkin understood that the best way to connect that show’s fictional characters to real-world concerns was to create fictionalized stories drawn from elements of real events, in a “ripped from the headlines” fashion. That same approach would have worked perfectly here, and would have alleviated many of the complaints I’ve had while still making the same points he wants to make. I can’t fathom why Sorkin thought that it would be a good idea to handle this new show the way he has. It just doesn’t work.


  1. RollTide1017

    In other good news, you can now watch every episode of “The West Wing” in HD on Amazon Prime Instant Video! I feel a marathon coming on!

  2. Matt

    I’m a little behind, but I just got done watching this episode.


    Sorkin needs to replace McAvoy’s “newsdesk” with a pulpit. I don’t even disagree with everything said, it’s HOW it’s said. He’s becoming no better than the Hannity’s and Limbaugh’s he’s railing.

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