Aaron Sorkin’s new show, “The Newsroom,” on HBO, has been torched by the critics as too preachy and unrealistic a presentation of a cable news show that decides to give ‘em the real news for a change, ratings be damned.
So much fault has been found with the show’s female characters that Sorkin must be delighted. The energy and level of detail in all those complaints about the brainy-but-klutzy MacKenzie and the promising-but-anxious Maggie suggest some of the flyspecking boils down to what BuzzFeed political reporter Andrew Kaczynski tweeted during last Sunday’s show: “The Newsroom sucks…can’t wait for the next episode.”
My own complaints? Well it isn’t remotely true that all that Grade A journalism requires is that we stop being so lazy and craven and just decide to commit it; journalism also costs money, and plenty of it, which is why the bottom line does matter. (And hey, readers and viewers, if there were more of a market for the straight stuff, there’d be no shortage of it; instead, the public reliably prefers knowing what Kourtney Kardashian’s baby name means to keeping up with conflicts in Burma or
Colombia or even Afghanistan, where our troops are still dying.)
The pontificating, bourbon-loving suit played by Sam Waterston — “News organizations are a public trust, with an ability to inform and influence the national conversation!” — would have been fired in the ‘80s, probably after a stint in whiskey school. Then there’s the lack of chemistry between the two main characters, who couldn’t behave more like seventh-graders if they were lobbing spitballs and passing notes in study hall.
Yet none of these minor inflammations have kept “The Newsroom” from becoming my new favorite show; the writing is irresistible, the subject matters. And I completely reject the idea that a woman (or man) can’t be smart and kind of a ditz; it’s a combo that does exist in nature.
The best female character is indeed the toughest, the cable network owner played by Jane Fonda.
“What in God’s name has happened to News Night over the last six months?’’ she asked in her debut last week. “What happened to human interest stories? Breast cancer, hurricanes, older women having babies, iPhones? Will was great at that (stuff.)”
But the Mac character works, too — or will, once the writers let her settle into herself. As the show’s executive producer, just back from the war zone, she’s at least as intelligent as the male anchor (and ex) she props up, but unlike him has some people skills, too.
Alison Pill’s meek Maggie, who is pushed around by her newsbeau on the show, and once hid under a dorm-room bed while the guy who stashed her there had sex with an old girlfriend — is a more annoying version of Donna from Sorkin’s West Wing, someone we’ll get to watch grow, and who will probably grow on us.
Or must all the women on the show be strong as well as brave? To those who complain about how often the male characters tell their female counterparts what to think and do, I’d just say that’s been known to happen in real newsrooms, too. And aren’t those characters being painted as jerks compared to the much more collegial
women in the newsroom?
Of course the show is a rescue fantasy -- Mac rescues Will from moral decay (and in the future, from dates with women he doesn’t care about). The country is rescued from the no-good, corrupt MSM by a few true-believers who decide to defy the odds and do honest-to-God news instead of merely good television. The cable network may or may not be rescued from itself by Jane Fonda. But if News Night does not survive, it will go down showing them how it’s done.
Back here on Earth, in any case, I’m just glad there are 2.2 million Americans who thought this high-flying discussion of news and politics -- performed as one “aria of facts” after another, the New Yorker said disapprovingly — was worth tuning in for last week.
Melinda Henneberger is a political writer for the Post and anchors the paper’s “She the People” blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.