11 Sep 2013

[Review] - The Newsroom, Season 2 Episode 8, "Election Night, Part I"

Courtesy of HBO
I take back every bad thing I've said about this season of Newsroom. Every comment about missteps, every criticism about how the time skipping plot device is badly handled. Hell, I'll even take back all the apathy I've voiced for Jim and Maggie. Because Aaron Sorkin is a comedic genius. This uneven season, the meandering Genoa story, the inconsistencies and the faltering characterisations, none of that mattered. It was all just detail material for the longest set up to a joke, ever. Sorkin rather masterfully spent 8 episodes, and HBO's money (including reshoots) telling the most complex joke every conceived. And all of it building towards a punch line expertly delivered and perfectly reacted to. I was floored, and not just because it was a pretty solid joke, but at the artistry involved in the execution.

Kudos to you, sir.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that learned the hard way never to cross the Oxbridge crowd.

I have to reevaluate my opinions about this entire season in the light of the Petraeus line. This might be one of the greatest acts of comedic rebellion ever. It isn't satire exactly, but mutilating an entire season of a television series, warping characters into shadows of themselves, all for the sake of a joke is a master stroke of comedic timing and excellence. I am, of course, being a tiny bit facetious. Mostly. I'm sure that Sorkin didn't structure this entire season just for that joke, though if he did, and is willing to admit that, I will respect him forever. In truth, this has just been an uneven season that managed to pull out a fantastic episode in the eleventh hour, and serendipitously have a place for probably the best laugh of the season. If not the series.

The real time News Night episode remains the best structured, best written, most dramatic episode of the year, there is no contest in that claim. But this episode was the most fun. It was just wall to wall comedy. Yes, Mac is having a crisis, and yes the looming shadow of her and Will's failed relationship reared its head again. But this episode seemed like a hearkening back to Sorkin's Sports Night days. Back in season one, Sorkin was adamant that Newsroom was a comedy with dramatic overtones. If so, this is what the series should be, week after week. This is the exemplar. This was a solid hour of good comedy. Of small details being obsessed over. Of big things going bad, with hilarious results. Of people placing themselves in charge of morale. This was good old fashioned "set 'em up and knock 'em down" humour. And we need more of that.

Each week, independent of the quality of the plot, the actors have proven themselves to be an impressive troupe, and they really shone here. Eliot and Sloan's slagging off one another; Taylor and Maggie's ganging up against Jim; Don being... well, Don, and his life being generally terrible. It helps that many of the actors have backgrounds in comedy, and it helps that the rest of them are amazingly talented. But seven hells, even Jim and Maggie were engaging and likable here. OK, maybe not likable. But they weren't overtly off putting, and that is a step up from the norm. And Jeff Daniels found that spark in Will again. He wasn't boisterous; I assume that is coming next week. But Will at least seemed like he was alive, which is more than can be said for most of this year. Last week, I made much the same comment as Mac did here, that Will couldn't be this passive about the whole Genoa thing, and that an explosion had to be coming. At least by making that observation, Sorkin is aware of the neutered malaise that has overcome his lead. And hopefully will make things better in the finale.

Aside from the final punchline, probably the best scene in the episode was Charlie's speech to Reese as he begs to get fired. And Reese's momentarily on topic, increasingly distracted and all too revealing of his mother issues rebuttal. It's a standard sitcom setup, a character working towards the opposite you'd expect. That is comedy 102 (101 would be falling over without looking like you're falling over), and what elevates it out of the manual is Sam Waterston. If Waterston doesn't win some sort of award for his role as Charlie this season, which has been the one much needed consistency throughout this year and was taken to new heights here, then I don't know what anyone is thinking. This is premier league stuff he's giving us.

Jeff Daniels tweeted that Newsroom will be returning for a third season, but HBO has remained quite on the truth of that. And moving into next week's finale, I'm actually excited about the possibilities inherent in the current situation. Let's assume that, since Leona won't fire Charlie and Will, and Will has allowed Mac to fall on his sword (not a euphemism), that he will use what remains of election night to get himself fired. To be the man he was in season one again, and do something (though what exactly, I'm not sure of in light of the Genoa disaster) that forces Leona to fire him, publicly and resolutely. I'd like to think that the season will leave off with the three leads jobless, and go into next season looking for work elsewhere, but I'm betting that won't happen. I'm betting that something will come out of the blue and save everyone, and if it does, I'll be disappointed. But those are serious thoughts for serious times, and there was very little place here for that sort of thing.

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