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Posted by Melissa Weller
As promised, digesting the conclusion of this epic tale took a while.
Like many other millions, I became addicted to the death grips on my stomach rarely, if ever, felt from a television series. As the passing weeks drew the finale closer and closer, a new level of scorching inevitables was reached. Yet with each painful plot twist of the knife came a deeper appreciation for the art. The show surpassed novel status; analyses broke new heights of intensity with each episode. The Monday morning recap roundup became more an act of duty than of leisure.
Breaking Bad introduced a world where things got messy, experiments failed and variables unaccounted for meant catastrophic consequences. A slight miscalculation could mean a batch with lower purity levels or it could mean Jesse’s next trip to the hospital. Morality and any other human element had no place in this laboratory. It was refreshingly unapologetic to watch the whole equate the sum of its parts at all costs. This gave rise to an ugly place with uglier people. A place where an 8-year-old is shot dead in broad daylight because he risked contaminating a methylamine beaker. A place where a middle-aged scientist – a father – could watch a young girl choke to death on her own vomit and not move a muscle because her extraction was necessary for optimal results.
Popular opinion wavered from sympathy to respect and disdain to repulsion from character to character, but the more wretched things got and the more betrayed we felt, maneuvering through the moral muck became a more engrained, sacred exercise.
This was reality, objectified. It was merciless and cruel, accountable to no one except scientific correctness. This world didn’t allow its purity to be jeopardized by outside factors as unreliable and fleeting as human response, or human emotion to a response. It was untarnished, steadfast and proud. It was controlled chaos.
It was beautiful.
The finale put a halt to these sensations in more ways than one. We were left with nothing to talk about – no conjectures, no pointed fingers, no Holly hypotheses – only silence. After so much time and even more jaw drops, how could the loose ends be tied this neatly? So many wrongs righted?
A handful of people say they weren’t so neatly tied and that the ending, though fair, was far from happy. Walt is dead. Hank is dead. Mike is dead. Gomie is dead. A former Walt Jr., now full-time Flynn, is very p-p-p-pissed off. Skyler’s relationship with her sister is beyond repair. Marie, noticeably devoid of purple in the final episodes, won’t be doing so hot any time soon. Saul will require professional counseling any time he sees a flip phone. And as for Jesse, he’ll enjoy his next good-night’s sleep whenever the nightmares of dearly departed girlfriends and poisoned Brocks and murderous paternal figures subside.
Another handful of people praise the finale because it allowed our masterful anti-hero to accomplish his end goal without sacrificing the sanctity of an unwavering storyline. No cut corners, no half measures. He removed Lydia as a variable with a one-way ticket on the Stevia Express. He implemented a (questionable) system where his seed will reap the benefits of his fallen empire and his Gray Matter frenemies will probably spend their whole lives trying to scrub the Heisenberg shake from their hands. He criminal-masterminded himself into Skyler’s apartment to deliver the final word on her escape route and kiss Holly good-bye. He wiped out the Nazi regime. He freed Jesse. That’s all, folks?
The execution was flawless. Everything worked out the way it should have, but was it the way it had to? Until now, Bad did a phenomenal job keeping “should have” and “had to” mutually inclusive. Unapologetically so. It felt to me like “Felina” didn’t play by the same rules.
I wrestle with Walt deserving the luxury of inner clarity or transformation, especially the peace he felt taking his final breaths on the lab floor. Not because of the blood on his hands or the devastation he caused, but because I’m hard-pressed to find the chemical formula in which this works. Why now, after a few months of playing Paul Bunyan in a log cabin, NOW he decides to pull the self-awareness card (“I did it for me”), and with it enjoy the satisfaction of knowing his son will be comfortable financially, Skyler won't go to jail, Holly will keep her innocence and stay virtually untouched in comparison, AND that his surrogate son got to literally Need for Speed himself into the sunset?
The universe Vince Gilligan and his team slaved so meticulously to create, one that celebrated the unbiased beauty of a zero-sum policy, granted what felt like a free pass. The universe allowed the detail-obsessed egotist with situational values and a 30-year Gray chip on his shoulder the legendary status he so longed for. As Michael Cain’s famed quotable from The Dark Knight goes, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Walter White didn’t much care whether the world burned or not, so long as people knew he was the man controlling the flame. This was the code he lived by through these five seasons – it drove his every move. And anyone who stood to threaten otherwise caught the first plane to Belize. He even saw Jesse as a creation of his own making, and a father watching his son fail in any capacity is viewed as a failure, also of his own making. Not to discredit the compassion he had for Jesse, it was real and it was honest. But it was not selfless. When sticking his neck out for himself went hand-in-hand with sticking his neck out for Jesse, he didn’t hesitate. But the opposite was true as well.
My disappointment is rooted largely in a sense of familiarity that I hadn’t felt until the finale, and hadn’t missed. Walt would not blow away like grains of sand across Albuquerque deserts to the forgotten song of his hubris, Ozymandius style. Walt was victorious, something protagonists do best. His grand experiment yielded the desired results at long last, and the sweet whispers of Badfinger cooed to a crowd brimming with oddly optimistic closure. It felt weird. It felt cheap. I was looking for a final lab explosion, and instead I found a final lab sweep-up.
I wanted the world to burn, bitch.
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September 24, 2013 | 5:52 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
So the Emmys were on Sunday, and with it no shortage of Neiling, Breaking and flopped attempts at Modernizing. Not least of which was characterized by the slap-happy host jabbing “our younger audience” by clarifying that television is “the thing you watch on your phones.” Cute? Sure. Out of touch? Ugh.
And so it began. The 65th Primetime Emmy awards, a Hollywood tradition long thought of as little more than a red-carpeted popularity contest, had garnered speculations and conversations in the weeks prior that were markedly different than the usual buffet of “will-she/won’t-he” gossip. Many cautiously hoped to witness the fruits of an Academy ready and willing to validate a rapidly changing industry, the appropriately titled golden age of television. An eagerness to welcome a landscape already rich with content and even richer with possibility.
The finished product indicated a pretty acceptable purity level. Perhaps not by Walter White standards, but by no means a bunk batch. (Save for the drawn-out In Memoriam segment and grossly blatant Cory Monteith monetizing.)
Here’s what we saw. For the second year in a row, broadcast networks were kept out of Outstanding Drama consideration. And while we saw a few contenders for lead and supporting roles in the drama categories, Kerry Washington for Scandal (ABC), Christine Baranski for The Good Wife (CBS) and Jim Carter for Downton Abbey (PBS), to name a few, none went home with a win. It was AMC’s Breaking Bad that took the Emmy for Outstanding Drama, the ratings for which continue to climb week by week. Last Sunday’s episode saw a whopping 6.6 million viewers, up from 6.4 million the week before. My girl Anna Gunn also got her just desserts with a statue for her role as Skyler Wife to Lord Bad. As well she should have; the positive reinforcement was long overdue.
Cable network kingpin HBO stole the show with 27 wins on the night, while leading the pack for the broadcast networks was CBS with 16. The numbers, significant though not surprising, are indicative of the shift away from broadcast network models and a transformed television landscape. Adding to the shakeup this year was a historical win for Netflix, ruthless leader of the online streaming movement, whose political victory garden House of Cards secured one of its three primetime nominations in the form of David Fincher for best director in a drama series.
Netflix at the Emmys? The force behind that conspicuous red envelope gracing my mailbox? The same Netflix whose logo this blog’s banner is fashioned after? That Netflix?
That Netflix. And here’s what it means. With esteemed personalities like Kevin Spacey backing the unconventional model from both sides of the camera, and promises from higher-uppers to create a minimum of 10 original programs in 2014, the cloud is the limit. The Big Four team of ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX has long played by an ol’ boy business strategy where higher ratings equal higher profit via advertisers. But with the introduction of DVRs and online video streaming, coupled with the impact of an ever-elusive social media jungle, the days of X + Y = $ are slipping further and further away. Pepper in the indisputable threat of alternative viewing platforms, only the beginnings of which are being demonstrated by Lady-in-Red Netflix, and you have an inevitable system overhaul on the broadcast horizon.
Another, sexier variable at play is cable content vs. broadcast content. Cable and online content is, well, sexier. And more varied. Characters housed in premium cable channels are more complex – more shaded, more jaded, more human. The way we watch TV is changing, but more importantly so is the way we think about and even socialize with TV. The broadcast network hold on the comedy sphere remains, as seen by ABC’s Modern Family winning Outstanding Comedy Series the fourth year in a row. But even with recent success stories like Modern Family and Big Bang Theory, no one is rushing to the online water coolers for a rousing debate about Jim Parsons’ psychological underpinnings. The characters don’t seep into our everyday musings because they’re not very interesting and even less relatable. And with shows like Orange is the New Black and Louie blurring the lines between what constitutes a drama or a comedy in the first place, it’s clear television real estate is not just building up, it’s expanding out.
There is room in the small screen club for these shows. People watch them because they enjoy them and that’s fine. (FOX’s new comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hilarious. Tune in tonight at 7:30 PT!) But they lack the interactive component characteristic of most cable shows that many find so satisfying – the chewiness of the episode after the credits have rolled. The ability to mentally chew and be chewed week after week by Breaking Bad and Mad Men is more than just the luxury of writers maintaining creative power. It keeps us talking, it keeps them employed. One-dimensional entertainment can be blissful, but broadcast networks’ golden egg of formulaic churn-outs won’t stand a chance against the golden age of television.
This regime change has not gone unnoticed by the steadily rusting big broadcast execs, though it seems the scrambled efforts to stay relevant in the drama world are for the worse. If you’ve scanned the bill for fall’s new dramas, don’t scan the bill for fall’s new dramas. Grantland staff writer Andy Greenwald sums it up like this:
“…the new network dramas of 2013 are a particularly insipid lot, a mediocre mishmash of throwback pablum and attention-seeking crazy. The dominant programming strategy seems to be based on that time-honored tradition of giving up on being one thing and doubling down on being all of the things.”
When you whittle it down, the 65th Primetime Emmys reflected a familiar sermon in a different dialect. The serenity to accept the cable networks it cannot change, the courage to change the broadcast networks it can, and the wisdom to stream the difference.
August 28, 2013 | 4:15 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
Yesterday I asked a coworker, with whom I’ve participated in many a yay Skyler/nay Skyler conversation, to forget details for a minute and sum up in one general statement the first time he remembered filing Skyler White under the bitch column, and why. Coworker settled on Skyler’s early and obvious hobby of not letting Walt just do what he wants. He cited her cancer reaction, specifically her reaction to Walt’s cancer reaction, as the earliest example.
I later asked a second person (not a coworker) the same question. This person contributed to my market research survey with “because she wasn’t letting walter sell drugs and it’s like let walter sell these drugs.”
The vehement collective loathing of Skyler didn’t sit well with me from the beginning. Not because of my differing and increasingly unpopular opinion on the nature of Mrs. Walt, but because I genuinely couldn’t understand the drive behind such a widespread disdain. I pride myself on my ability to sympathize with a vast array of moral compasses, so the mental brick wall standing before me was annoying. So annoying in fact, that I shot right past asking for an explanation of the position and went straight to 24/7 defend Skyler warzone. As such, stockpiling my own arsenal of Team Skyler chants to unleash on the unsuspecting soul who dared speak her name within earshot began commanding more of my allotted Breaking Bad brain space than I care to admit. Discussions escalated from:
“You think Skyler shouldn’t have forced Walt into chemotherapy? It wasn’t her place, you say? By all means, let’s hear what you’d have done differently. Allow your husband, father of your son and unborn daughter, to sign his own death certificate just because he wants to feel he’s ‘the one deciding’? Good, he can pat himself on the back for his last six months. You and your children are more than willing to pay the financial and emotional consequences for the next several decades. Fair trade. When’s the last time you even called your mother?”
“What’s ‘Skyler had on a white shirt’ supposed to mean? What’s wrong with a white shirt? Do you think it’s symbolic? You think it represents a white flag of defeat and surrender? Skyler’s been defeated and is now surrendering to Walt, like every woman should surrender to her husband? To any man, for that matter? You’re sexist, a misogynist. Skyler isn’t responsible for your failed relationship with your father, don’t take it out on her.”
So on and so forth. Eventually I resigned to the general public’s inferior analysis of the show/of everything as the answer to their misguided opinion of my Skylark. Vince, Anna and I would be just fine looking down from atop our mountain. But Anna Gunn’s recent piece in the New York Times offered a different take. She points to the existence of modern-day misogyny.
The op-ed titled “I Have a Character Issue” is a confessional of sorts, in which she shares her unrest at the vicious uproar spanning all five seasons against her character. The character feedback I cited earlier reflects opinions across the board, but is also fairly moderate in comparison. People seem to get personally offended just by seeing her on screen, an accomplishment not many actors can pull off. Gunn references Facebook pages dedicated to cataloguing fan hostility toward her. She admits receiving death threats, threats aimed at Anna Gunn, the actress, when Skyler White, the character, was found particularly unfavorable.
Really take stock here. King Joffrey can make his fiancé watch as he hacks off her dad’s head and beat two call girls to a bloody pulp all in time for lunch, but we appreciate the dynamic his presence brings to Game of Thrones – so no harm, no foul. Pulling the gender card is never a go-to for me, far from it. But could the gender issue cloud, something so seemingly outdated and passé, really be the culprit in this anti-Skyler mania?
I took to the message boards. Here are the three big player haters.
“If she really were the pinnacle of morality she claims to be, she would have gone to the police. She is a hypocrite.”
Skyler, like all women, holds one agenda sacred above the rest. Ensuring the security and livelihood of her family. It’s an evolutionary truth that, for better or for worse, we’re all strapped with. Going to the police would have been in direct contradiction to this agenda. Turning her husband over to the police means the rest of his already limited days are spent rotting in jail and her children are saddled with a lifetime of disturbing and perpetual confusion, at best. Bitter resentment toward both mother and father would be unavoidable, and self-destructive tendencies are not uncommon among children thrown in such situations. Not to mention the very real possibility of her implication in the whole thing.
“She’s ungrateful for all that Walt is doing for his family to make sure they are financially secure and have a future when he’s gone. She spends his hard-earned money, then cheats on him with a man who is also a criminal. She’s a hypocrite AND a slut.”
Walt is just as much in the empire business to help his family as Gus Fring was in the fast food business to sell chicken. She is resentful toward Walt for putting her in a position where her only viable choice is to be an accomplice. As she made clear to Walt and to everyone watching, in one of the most powerful scenes of the whole series, “I am your hostage.” As for her affair with Ted, she and Walt were separated at the time. The woman is human whose only shred of intimacy in months, maybe longer, has been with a wine bottle. True, she eventually starts laundering his money, but only as an attempt to temper the possibility of dire consequences.
“She is an annoying mega bitch.”
You would be, too.
These are not revolutionary responses; anyone who had thought about these accusations for half a second before plastering them on every Breaking Bad article comment section they could find would have reached the same conclusions. This is where the gender argument starts retaining more weight.
Skyler is a woman who stands in the way of a man, everyone’s favorite super anti-hero Walter White, who has proven steadily throughout the series to be an egomaniacal sociopath. Yet unlike Anna, Bryan Cranston’s character has only been judged by the rules of Breaking Bad fantasy entertainment, a land where the only thing bluer than his pills of methamphetamine decadence is the blood inside the bodies he’s buried. We love navigating the New Mexico drug labyrinth in his Chrysler 300 and the issue of morality has been a nonstarter.
Why? Why is Skyler burdened with a moral standard that Walt isn’t? Maybe because she’s proved to be an obstacle in Walt’s half paintball-half chess game, like an annoyingly placed pawn keeping his legion from ultimate takedown. We perpetually tune in to the almighty Next Week’s Episode for fantastic entertainment, for escape, and Skyler serves to take that escape from us. But if that were true, how do we answer for Hank? Does he not serve the same purpose? Sure, he’s not the most likeable character at times either, but he’s never bore the brunt of visceral hate the way she has.
TV writers far my superior point to a lack of care in writing Skyler’s character, suggesting a small failure on Vince Gilligan’s part in making her as interesting or dynamic as Walt. I don’t know, personally I think Skyler is one of television’s strongest, most dynamic and interesting characters to date.
Then again, I am a woman.
July 22, 2013 | 4:56 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
“Hate-watching” is a recurring theme in The Newsroom conversations, but I think the more accurate label comes from Tim Goodman’s review in Hollywood Reporter when he said “Don’t kid yourself — you were 'disappointment watching.'” The creator, the concept, the cast, all was ripe with hopeful promise. Then Season 1 happened and we were left not with anger, nor a resignation to spend our viewing time more productively elsewhere, but a certain sadness. The mighty hath fallen, and we alone to wander, wondering how, why, when.
Sir Sorkin heard our cries and already we’re seeing a couple of marked improvements. At least the team shows signs of being tethered to their own universe, one with rules, one with lawsuits, as opposed to free falling unscathed through an impossible, hind-sighted version of ours. Will is finally accepting the consequences and responsibilities of his mouth. (“I’m not who I used to be right now.”)
Charlie (Sam Waterston) pulls Will off the September 11 tenth anniversary coverage, citing Will’s recent labeling of the Tea Party as the American Taliban, and the sensitive timing with the even more sensitive issue. “You’ll get the flu around the 9th or 10th.” The silent moments following resemble a funeral march, starring Will as the pallbearer, the priest and the deceased. We learn later that Will’s first night as an anchor was September 11, 2001, adding some needed weight to their conversation and his somber reaction. And after we’re shown his opening footage from that night, a scene delivering arguably the series’ most emotionally heavy moments to date, the scars of last season begin to feel pardonable.
Likely still licking his wounds from last season’s ego-blow in The New Yorker, and now with the boot from the tenth anniversary coverage, Will is starting to show welcome changes to his previously indestructible demeanor. Whether the pendulum will swing too far the other direction remains to be seen, doubtful as it is. (Still, Will 1.0 of last season wouldn’t be affected in the slightest upon finding www.whywehatewillmcavoy.com. Though we’re only able to catch a glimpse of the site, it looks about as foreboding as a Westboro Baptist Church message board.)
But while we’re on the subject, time has passed come for Mackenzie MacHale to take some responsibility of her own. Season 2 deserves recognition for its sizable tape job, but the Mackenzie dilemma is getting more unbearable by the minute. Forget the fluff stuff – her flittering about, the ditzy desperations, the dumping of her Jameson Rocks on Will’s shirt without even a suggestion of ramification. Season 2 has her committing offenses that do more than file her under Sorkin’s Dim-Witted Woman with High-Profile Career folder.
Also, is there one person in America who believes Mackenzie MacHale’s drink of choice is Jameson on rocks?
In last week’s season premiere, Neal (Dev Patel) approaches Mack about chasing the Occupy Wall Street lead and is told to find more concrete, reliable sources, a completely rational, responsible answer given the information available at the time. But after a few short moments, she submits to her maternal and less reliable instincts and gives him the go-ahead to attend the group’s next drum circle. Why? Because Neal made a sad face. She had no choice! But last night’s stunt will prove less forgivable, as seen by Maggie’s traumatic new hair do. Maggie chases Mack down at the gym to beg for a chance to prove herself a vital News Night player. She will accomplish this by reporting from Africa. Specifically Kampala, Uganda, which she believes is the next American military base in the War on Terror. Again, Mackenzie is rightfully hesitant.
But Maggie can name the president, and she even promises to take her vitamins. Plus she reeeeaalllly wants to go. Clearly these are adequate grounds for permission to travel to a third world country, across the world, to the War on Terror’s next military base. Besides, everyone deserves to be picked first for dodge ball at some point. So off she goes to book her flight, with Mack’s blessing. We don’t know what happened to Maggie, the season is running as a long series of flashbacks, but we know it didn’t end well.
I would forgive every violation The Newsroom has committed thus far if Mackenzie is fired.
Now on to Page 6. Don’s discovery of the YouTube video documenting Maggie’s intoxicated profession about her feelings for Jim was the most unfulfilling breakup scene known to exactly nobody, save for those who hide from their failing relationship behind office patty-cake. Last week’s faux-mantic high fives? Relax. No one does that, not even in Sorkin’s Love Sandbox, USA. Population: everyone. But all’s empty that ends empty, as was their relationship and on-screen chemistry. Seems like we’re in store for a much-needed break from the original triangle (special guest appearances by Sloan Sabbith), with Jim safely tucked away on the Romney campaign bus and Maggie headed for Africa. We will still need to deal with Will and Mackenzie, but even their dynamic seems more tolerable, even if it is simply from less time together on camera. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Despite its structural improvements, the show has a long apology road ahead as evidenced by its paltry two Emmy nods this year. One belongs to Jeff Daniels for Best Actor in a Drama Series, the other to Jane Fonda for her role as AMG owner Leona Lansing. Watch Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on HBO to track the journey.
July 16, 2013 | 1:22 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
Orange Is the New Black, adapted from the 2011 memoir of the same name, is, in a word, perfect. Perfect pacing, perfectly scripted, perfectly performed. A voluntary incarceration to the couch proved a fine way to spend the weekend, and many who participated in this latest Netflix binge-fest can be spotted with glazed-over, bloodshot eyes and a cat-who-ate-the-canary look of satisfaction.
On paper, Orange can be easily dismissed as another … coming-of-age? coming-of-cage? female dramedy cataloguing a privileged white girl walking on the underprivileged black side of the tracks, the genetic makeup of which we’re all familiar. But there’s something refreshingly believable about the whole thing. Believable, but not entirely relatable, which is refreshing in itself. When people say they enjoy a particular movie or TV show because they sympathize with what the characters are going through, or relate to the tribulations in some way, it’s usually because they can point to their own stories with a heartfelt “I’ve been there.” This is not the case with Orange. (Save for the lady viewers who have served hard time in a federal corrections facility. Hats off to you.) Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and her dream team pull off a perfect balancing act of challenging viewers to invest in the characters selflessly while keeping them at a believable distance. I’ll go out on a limb and assume the majority of us don’t have much experience in global drug rings, or surviving only on hope and heroin in the streets of New York. Just the starting line down those paths is one beyond most of our collective comprehensions. But Orange is a dramedic reminder that we don’t need to look to our own personal, limited understanding of achievement or struggle as the only avenue for empathy.
At the crux of the show’s palatability is an appreciated absence of heavy-handedness, despite the heavy content material. Idealistic social comments aren’t shoved down our throats and we’re trusted to draw our own conclusions, at our own pace, and tailor them as the show progresses in whatever fashion we find most meaningful. We end up caring for these women deeply because we decide they’re worth our care, not because someone on the other side of the camera is lecturing us.
This cast. My god, the cast. The chemistry of this cast is stunning, with Kohan providing a structure ripe for damn near D.D.L.-level method actors.
Yes, I recognize I just made that comparison. Anyone who I’ve offended may call the Jewish Journal front desk at (213) 368-1661.
Taylor Schiling is phenomenal as Piper Chapman, the college-educated blondie who co owns an artisanal bath soap business (“We made it into Barneys!”). She’s landed a 15-month sentence per her involvement with an international drug cartel, one her ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Ex-Girlfriend!) occupied a large operational role. Laura Prepon goes full sex-pot mode as Alex, the tattooed alpha vixen with a soft soul. Piper’s fiancé Larry is played by Jason Biggs. Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs, channeling with ease his masturbation-obsessed, parent-helicoptered Jew Boy à la American Pie. Then there’s Pablo Schreiber, who absolutely kills it as Officer Pornstache Mendez, the prison guard creepster. Our consumption of him is entirely uncomfortable yet irresistibly delicious. Like Sriracha. He is the evil older brother of the entire Reno 911 cast and genius in his delivery.
Most important shout out belongs to the scene when Larry visits imprisoned Piper for the first time and their hug is cut short when a guard yells “No touching!” Anyone who burst into fan-girl/fan-boy ecstasy with the (intentional, I’m sure) homage to Arrested Development, another Netflix darling, I see you.
July 13, 2013 | 10:47 am
Posted by Melissa Weller
The second season of The Newsroom premieres this Sunday on HBO, and for those who maybe didn’t tune in but kept an eye on critic reviews of and fan responses to Aaron Sorkin’s latest brain/ego child know the HBO drama’s freshman year was met with mixed feelings, to say the least. While Dan Rather himself sung its praises by noting a heroic yet accurate interpretation of the moral vs. money crossroads most networks encounter on a daily basis, Andy Greenwald, a staff writer for Grantland.com, went so far as to say “… in terms of pure fantasy, neither (True Blood nor Game of Thrones) holds a candle to The Newsroom." Considering these shows are home to vampires, centaurs, dragons and 13-ft furry zombies, this is a tall statement.
At first and even second glance, the show feels cool, feels fresh — each episode riddled with snappy banter, *painfully witty* zingers and, huzzah! Major world events to boot! Remember the BP oil spill? The Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt? Death of Osama?! Sure you do, and those memories bring an instant gratification born from watching the little-news-team-that-could live through and report on these very real, very recent events of national and international importance. Paired with Hip-2-Death dialogue, we’re served Sorkin’s specialty dish of shiny, intellectual camaraderie sprinkled with old-school American patriotism. Where Sorkin missed the mark is in character depth and believability.
The first season finale pulled out all the stops. Wise choice, because it was past bedtime for the two or three halfway intriguing storylines. Our patience was rewarded with a bloody apartment,
a drug overdose self-medication mishandling, a sting operation and further self-sabotaging from inconvenient admirers. After hapless Jim (John Gallagher) had been drooling hopelessly over Maggie (Alison Pill) because, damn girl, them quirks of yours just won’t quit, they finally kiss after a full season’s courtship tango strapped with two left feet. But, as fate would have it, the significant others of these significant lovers had other plans.
Do-gooder Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) is Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) lovable ex-lover who indulges in bouts of playground outbursts when faced with producing content that doesn’t, as Will describes in a rare display of self-awareness, “tell the audience to eat their vegetables.” We learn very early in the series that soon after her relationship with Will ended, she and Jim manned the war trenches of Afghanistan and Iraq for two years. She is also referenced multiple times as the best executive producer in New York. The disconnect calls for a much louder suspension of disbelief than some are used to, myself included. I don’t believe the woman who thinks scorned puppy is the only facial expression available is regarded as a journalistic war hero.
Though a fantastical and arguably impossible character, the least offensive personality of the bunch is The Real McAvoy himself. Next to Jim. Heart you, Jim. Yes, we are asked to accept that Will McAvoy, a man who rose to celebrity status as a TV anchor, formerly known for his tacit, calculated impenetrability, is now leading a crusade against the Tea Party after Mackenzie is hired as his executive producer. He is also a registered republican, so that’s fun.
None of this is to say the show doesn’t redeem itself from any angle. It’s well-shot, fun to watch and the dialogue offers a guilty pleasure of superiority. The message is not one to dismiss, either. I just wonder if the quality of the message is suffering from the quality of the medium.
So, where does that leave us and what can we expect for season 2? Probably more of the same. Will and Mac still playing cat and mouse, Jim and Maggie continuing to hammer nails into their love coffin, and Sam Waterston drowning in scotch until he’s given a respectable script.
Watch the season 2 preview here: