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by Alison Willmore
August 28, 2012 1:18 PM
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A 'Newsroom' Wishlist: Five Things We'd Love to See Aaron Sorkin's Drama Do In Its Next Season

Jeff Daniels in 'The Newsroom' Melissa Moseley/HBO
"The Newsroom" closed out its first season this past Sunday the way it began, with an episode -- "The Greater Fool" -- that brought back series premiere director Greg Mottola and showed off the precise mix of fiery idealism, incontestible santimoniousness and maddening writing of female characters that have come to define Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama. "The Greater Fool" was an episode that showcased what Sorkin does best -- tout idealism (come, let us tilt at windmills!) and slam the bad guys (take that, Tea Party!) -- while also demonstrating how frankly juvenile many of the personal dramas have become.

"The Newsroom" has taken a lot of flack from critics and other journalists over its 10-episode run -- to the degree that some have felt the need to point out that people don't have to watch the show, and others have noted it's just such a great series to hate-watch. I fall somewhere in the middle of the watch/hate-watch spectrum, liking the cast and having found the newsroom process segments and sanctimonious increasingly irresistible (really, TV needs more angry liberals) while getting all the more exasperated with the love quadrangles and flat attempts at a screwball comedy vibe. But it's a show I've stuck with and have wanted to stick with, and one that's slated to return for a second season. Here's a wish list of things I'd love to see happen when the show's back next summer.

Engage real cable news problems. The fact that "The Newsroom" shows how its fictional team covers (impeccably, since they have the basis of hindsight) actual breaking news from 2010-2011 can give the show a certain smugness -- of course this is how to do it right. But if the show is aiming at real events and real politicians, why not dig more into other real show and journalists? One of the smartest, most cutting moments in the series was when Don (Thomas Sadoski) outlined for the team how Nancy Grace uses visual and edits to insinuate guilt and blame on "The Blackout Part I: Tragedy Porn." There's so much to legitimately critique in current cable news, the actual delving into the nitty-gritty of irresponsible journalism is something the show could do more of, instead of setting up and then knocking down easy, made-up targets like "TMI." Will (Jeff Daniels) has yelled at college kids and presidential aides -- can't he yell at a Fox News commentator who'll abusively try to cut him off?

Enough with the love quadrangle. Unresolved sexual tension makes the TV world go round, but the Maggie (Alison Pill)-Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.)-Don-Lisa (Kelen Coleman) mess is just that, and one that, in this week's finale, threatened to also drag in Sloan (Olivia Munn). Flirtations and pining are all well and good, but not when they make your characters look like children who can't form words. "The Greater Fool" ended with Maggie moving in with Don despite both essentially admitting to others that they weren't in love -- Maggie even Inadvertently confessed her feelings to Jim, but then decided not to be with him because... the guy who'd never seemed that into her was finally willing to commit? It became impossible to invest in who Maggie would end up with because she didn't seem to know what she wanted herself and was torturing everyone around her with her indecision.

READ MORE: The Surprisingly Sympathetic Underdog of 'The Newsroom' Responds to the Show's Critics: 'We're a fantasy TV show!'

These characters need friends. "The Newsroom" is an ensemble show, but between the all-consuming nature of the characters' work and their lack of personal lives, that ensemble can seem crazily, unheathily isolated. MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) had her boyfriend, with whom she quickly broke up, Neal (Dev Patel) has his girlfriend, Will has his string of dates, and tend to be the outside presences in a series that's about work and hanging out with your work friends after work. MacKenzie even confesses to Sloan that she had no friends and hopes Sloan will become one, while Sloan's idea of a wild weekend is to head off to a think tank conference. The only major representative of a life outside of the office is Lisa, and Maggie's treatment of her is terrible -- she sets her up with her own crush, then resents her for dating him, tries to bolster their relationship and then takes an ax to it by telling her that it was Maggie Jim came to see the night that Lisa got back together with him. Hints of lives outside the newsroom would let some fresh air into the series and in the least introduce possible new love interests to save everyone else from falling for either Maggie, Don or Jim.

Stop trying to make the women "adorable." Sunday's finale found Maggie getting drenched, Carrie Bradshaw-style, by a passing bus that happened to be part of a "Sex and the City" tour. Maggie's resulting rant about how real NYC women wear flats and don't have a ridiculous disposable income and on and on lost all of its "you go girl" cred given that "The Newsroom" certainly doesn't write its women any better. The "real" girls of the show, particularly Maggie and Mac, are meant to be extremely qualified and talented in their field, but still accidentally send emails about how they cheated on their ex-boyfriends to their entire parent corporation, knock into things all the time and screw up key pre-interviews by failing to disclose that they once hooked up with the person on the other line. These details that are clearly supposed to be endearing quirks -- Mac has to count on her fingers, Maggie bonks Jim with the door multiple times, Mac hits the recently hospitalized Will with a magazine -- add up to seriously condescending portraits. Sloan gets spared a lot of this because she's supposed to be a socially awkward nerd, which is why she's the best female character the show has.

Things should go wrong more often. At its heart, "The Newsroom" is more traditional, populist and interested in crowd-pleasing than most of HBO's recent output, so its need to reach for the rousing ending is understandable. But the show's often been stronger when things haven't gone right, when Will realized he overstepped and was an asshole in his interview with Rick Santorum's aide, or when for the sake of viewership the team had to cover Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner despite not believing either to be legitimately important news. There's a reason that television news has changed, and the forces that have shaped it are considerable and not easily dismissed by someone snapping that it's their job to worry about the content, not the ratings. More mistakes need to be made -- especially by Will -- because it's interesting and it's human to see the characters deal with and overcome them. There's no need for these people to always be right -- they exist in the real world, where "right" isn't always so clear cut or easy.

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9 Comments

  • David St. Hubbins | August 1, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    This show started out strong but is heading straight down the drain. And this is a shame, because the show does a good job of dealing with important issues and presenting them intelligently, but only to lose it all to lame attempts at comedy. The best example of this is the Maggie Jordan character, who is easily one of the most annoying and ridiculous characters in recent memory. For The Newsroom, she will end up in that rare place occupied by Will from the Star Trek TNG series. Get back to what you're good at, Mr. Sorkin, and stop trying to write Ally McBeal Does the News.

  • mike h | September 26, 2012 10:51 PMReply

    I can only agree on one point. Sorkin's work may appear to be slanted to the left, but it's done with facts rather than perception or opinion so it really isn't something I would find disputable. So to this point, I will say Sorkin simply named will republican to make the show appear neutral. And I'm sure in time he will claim his party more in time.

    In case you missed out on popular shows like "Law and Order" or"Grey's Anatomy", sometimes shows will not capture every intricacy of a specific profession. Yes, there is romance everywhere. And if you've ever seen and HBO show, sometimes sex and relationships can make the show more attractive to some fans.

    Part of me is also unsure that you even watched the entire season. Between recieving death threats, multiple icy interviews (one of which partly goes on in a different language, a power outage, and one employee being severely injured, A LOT WENT WRONG in ACN's newsroom. Actually, if more went wrong they would make professional journalists look bad. The women are not "adorable" but they are "flawed", so are the men. Usually flawed characters make a good show... just saying.

    And above all you need to remember that this is just the "First Season," many of these things can still happen but don't necessarily need to. I'm a fan on this show and think it's one of the most intelligent ones to see on tv.

  • Anna | September 13, 2012 10:04 AMReply

    I love this list and the very first comment. I'm glad someone said it. I have watched all of sorkin's movies and TV shows. No matter how convoluted and endless the love stories would get, he would make them riveting and charming(Like josh-donna, dana-casey). Since Studio 60, he started writing the romatic history into the plots and I say they got tedious as hell.

    About the screwball comedy, Even Dana in Sportsnight, CJ in TWW, Sydney in "The american president" were given the "adorable 50s screwball comedy" slapstick touch but they didn't distract us from seeing their strengths as smart women in power. I don't see that kind of strong female characters anymore. its as if he wants them to have the label of CEO but behave as a secretary to the awesome maverick male protagonist. In every episode, the all knowing male character is saving the poor-little-smart_female-boss from making a mistake because she lacks clarity of thought. Emily Mortimer may be smart but she knows less about economics than a 10th grader. Also, I agree that HE HAS TO STOP writing 1. strawman rightwing characters. and 2. Republicans who are SO Good that they are Democrats.

  • Mike | August 30, 2012 4:05 PMReply

    Dear Aaron Sorkin:
    The Newsroom isn't the perfect show by any means, but you are the smartest writer on TV and the show is 10 times smarter than anything else on, such as "Short attention span theatre" and "The real morons of south beach" to cite your bullseye shots at the dribble we have to watch everyday. Since you are at the head of your class, and I do mean class, more is expected of you, as you also stated in at least 3 of your shows. I loved the West Wing, Charlie Wilson's war and just about everything else you did. I will always be a devoted fan of anything you do, and here are some suggestions to help you make the Newsroom as elite as The West Wing and expand your viewership:
    1. OK we get it, you are a Liberal, all Liberals are geniuses and all Consertavtives are assholes and say the dumbest shit possible, so much so that we have to be reminded of it not once but twice in the same episode (Michelle Bachman hearing from God etc etc etc). You did the same thing in West Wing when you had a Republican candidate that embraced the entire Liberal agenda because it was so right and true. Give your personal political pulpit a rest and get back to super sharp writing, real drama, real issues and developing real characters. At the very least, maybe once in 5 episodes just try and be objective as far as political views and that the whole country isn't Democratic or Liberal.
    2. For the love of God get the hell away from comedy, particularly slapstick comedy. Dry humor, irony, wit and sarcasm are your specialty and there is plenty of it to love. What the fuck is up with people smashing into doors TWICE in 3 minutes, bumping their heads while hiding from a woman under a desk, and Will not being able to figure out how to put on his pants? WTF??? That wasn't even funny in Sportsnight which was a comedy show, and it certainly isn't funny on a serious drama like The Newsroom. You strive to create real multi-dimensional characters here and on West Wing, then you dumb them down by making them say the stupidest shit in the world, run into doors, and fall down. Get back to doing what you do, not what morons from south beach do in their real lives.
    3. What is up with the most lameass subplot relationship bullshit I have ever seen? It looks like you mixed Jim & Pam from The Office with Ally McBeal. I thought I actually was watching Ally McBeal in the Finale when they all gathered at the kareoke bar accross the street after work to the musings of Vonda Shepherd at the piano. You even used one of the same songs! Jim's name even sounds like Jim's on the Office. WTF? Stop with all the sexual tensions of all the people who have past history with past flames popping up all over the place. We don't give a shit about who's going to hook up or who used to hook up or who may hook up with who, we just want smart writing, real plausible plotlines, and how real people with brains larger than a grape think about real life events, and what it's like doing the news.
    4. Every show took some time to learn to walk, to find themselves, and to evolve into something much greater than their beginning. I have great confidence in your brain, your writing skills, your way of thinking. I AM Will McAvoy in that I see myself as elite, as in the top 10%, as smarter than most, that most people are morons, and I too am on a mission to civilize and raise the level of thought and substance and conversation in my own small world. Please give me a place where I can come and find others of my type, of which you are one. Get off the base comedy sight gags and the fucking lamess MTV real world and Big Brother shallow pseudo-relationship bullshit. There's plenty of junkfood on 600 TV channels, please stop serving that and stick to the filet mignon. Read your own script and stop writing Casey Anthony & Anthony Wiener plotlines, stick to the debt ceiling and BP story lines and what you do best. You are the best, we have some to expect nothing less from you. Don't let us down.

  • Amanda | August 28, 2012 9:02 PMReply

    This is such a great list and I agree with all of it. The Newsroom has been a guilty pleasure for me, and I’m going to watch season two, but I can’t say I’m sad that the first season is over. I was talking about this with one of my Dish co-workers and we both agree it could have been so much better. The love rhombus stuff is especially exhausting. Now that this is over, I feel like I should go back and re-watch The West Wing to get the taste out of my mouth. I’ll have to add that to my Blockbuster @Home queue, which I have through my Dish account. It’s so convenient being able to have the DVDs mailed right to my apartment. Do you think there’s any chance of Sorkin taking to heart some of the criticism and making the second season more bearable?

  • Old male republican | August 28, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    I absolutely love the show. In fact, I think it's the best show I've seen on TV since PBS did a "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" mini-series back in the early 80's. As an old white guy, I've been longing for decades for the true republican party to re-emerge, ever since it was co-opted when Reagan's wife made a deal with the Moral Majority devils and turned the current version into "the American Taliban". I like the writing, the humor, and the acting. I'm stunned that it hasn't been cancelled, given that any show that I even moderately appreciate seems to disappear quickly. Hopefully a couple of million viewers is sufficient for Mr Sorkin to continue to be allowed to produce this magnificent product in the face of such stiff and stellar competition from the likes of the Housewives of New Jersey.

  • Rubi-kun | August 28, 2012 3:11 PMReply

    Two things that need to happen next season:

    1. Will needs to start campaigning for Gary Johnson or Buddy Roemer or (my favorite, what with being a gay Jewish shaving cream commercial actor giving away frisbees and trying to troll Mitt Romney) Fred Karger, one of the smarter Republicans who were ignored by the media.
    2. Sloan should be officially diagnosed or reveal an official diagnosis of Asperger's and rip Joe Scarborough a new one for his horrible insensitive and wrong "James Holmes probably has Asperger's" comments which not even The Daily Show seemed to criticize.

  • SoulHonky | August 28, 2012 1:42 PMReply

    I agree with these and I'd add that they have to give Will a Republican stance that he sticks with and causes some friction with his left leaning coworkers. The so-called Republican of the show has never butted heads with his liberal cohorts. The closest they came was him muttering that he's worried about people who lose their jobs to illegal aliens but even with that stance, he came around to the Left side and paid for the illegal immigrants cab ride to work at the end of the show.
    The show Don is working on is a far more interesting focus for The Newsroom - the newbie anchor and up-and-coming EP trying to carve their niche, deal with suits, while establishing themselves as a credible and legit newsman who can get ratings is much better than seeing Will McAvoy lecture everyone and not care about ratings (except so he can get a chance to pitch his never-in-a-million-years debate format of... him lecturing everyone).
    And I know they can't do it but the show needs to lose Maggie. She's like Moira Kelly's character in The West Wing; it's just not working. Dumping that love story and giving the other characters more to do (and, well, more of a character) could move the show to a better place.

  • Starks | August 28, 2012 3:58 PM

    Maggie looks like she's always having a seizure - its annoying