The Newsroom 2.1 – “The Genoa Tip”
The new season of HBO’s The Newsroom is up and running, and the second episode, “The Genoa Tip,” is principally spent maneuvering us towards the season’s larger ongoing stories. We receive a better picture of the events that will lead us to last week’s legal deposition wraparounds featuring Marcia Gay Harden’s ACN attorney, though curiously we don’t actually see any of her this week. What we do get is some long-overdue progress and settling of affairs on the Jim-Maggie-Don love triangle, more of intrepid-as-opposed-to-incompetent reporter Neal Sanpat, and more than one genuinely fun scene featuring Sloan.
First off, there are a couple of plot developments I neglected to mention in my review of last week’s premiere, mainly because they weren’t super interesting. The first involves Jim Harper, finally fed up with his unrequited feelings for Maggie, volunteering for a lowly long-term assignment on the road with the Mitt Romney 2011 primary campaign. Upon arrival Jim discovers that the Romney campaign (and GOP at large) are not too wild about Will McAvoy’s “Tea Party = American Taliban” comments, and Jim is forced to follow the press bus in a rental car. Things have not improved much this week, though Jim does manage to secure a spot on the bus (um, presumably abandoning his rental car?) thanks to Hallie Shea, a rival reporter who looks a tonne like Meryl Streep because the actress, Grace Gummer, is actually the daughter of Meryl Streep. I’ll admit, this plotline doesn’t interest me hugely, considering it mostly seems to consist of Jim doggedly asking questions of the Romney campaign aide on the bus, before getting shot down by their incessant talking points. Take that… Mitt Romney, I guess? While there are interesting points to be explored about how scripted and largely perfunctory media coverage of the presidential campaigns are (especially coverage of the presidential primaries) Sorkin seems satisfied here simply taking easy shots at Mitt Romney’s ultimately failed campaign platform.
Back home things are moving along nicely with the titular “Genoa Tip,” thanks to fill-in producer Jerry Dantana, played by Hamish Linklater (The New Adventures of Old Christine). He brings his information to MacKenzie McHale, who once again takes a backseat in the episode, serving to direct traffic around the News Night offices and instigate outside stories. The Genoa story that Jerry brings is potentially explosive – he has an inside tip that a covert US military extraction on foreign soil used sarin gas (remember The Rock?) on civilians, which would certainly count as a war crime. MacKenzie is understandably skeptical, but allows Jerry to follow up on the story using the minimal resources possible. Given what the audience learned last week about the looming legal action against the News Night team (and The Newsroom generally only relying on news stories that actually happened in the real world) the audience is placed in the odd position of already suspecting where this storyline will lead. I’ll give Sorkin the benefit of the doubt for the time being, but I remain as dubious as MacKenzie as to whether this story will prove compelling enough to anchor the season.
As for the rest of the staff, Sloan discovers Maggie sleeping in an office after moving out of Don’s apartment. Maggie comes clean about her and Don’s breakup, shouldering all of the blame for last season’s YouTube-freakout-Jim-love-confession. For now, Maggie is concerned with a bigger problem: preventing her roommate/best friend Lisa from seeing the video, and knowing about her feelings for Jim (whom Maggie set Lisa up with last season). Again, Sorkin (or at least, Sorkin’s assistant writers) show an improved awareness of how the internet works here, with Maggie using the YouTube video poster’s FourSquare account to track her to a laundromat in Queens. Sloan accompanies Maggie on the mission, likely because Sloan is a much more interesting character than Maggie. The confrontation scene with the YouTube is actually pretty fun – she reveals herself to be a Sex and the City blogger, who is much more interested in increasing her online profile than in helping salvage Maggie’s friendship. Eventually, Sloan bargains her into removing the video in exchange for posting a tweet from her own account, claiming that the blogger has the “best SATC fanfic on the net.” Here Olivia Munn cements her status as possibly my favourite performer and character on the show. While I find the character’s social awkwardness at times cartoonishly unbelievable, Munn’s timing makes her a natural with Sorkin’s dialogue, managing to consistently score huge laughs (particularly when her character is threatening or pulling status on someone). Her objection to tweeting that the blogger is a “real life Charlotte” was the high point of the episode.
The low point of the episode however was the storyline involving Don and a particularly serious news story from 2011, involving death row prisoner Troy Davis. Now that Don and Maggie are broken up, seemingly for good, it would appear that Sorkin & Co. have realized that his character doesn’t actually serve a purpose on the show. He’s no longer an employee of News Night, he’s not even really friends with any of the other main cast, and frankly us viewers were rarely given a reason to care about him in season one. Seemingly to address this, Sorkin shoehorns into the episode the fact that Don is and has always been a strong advocate for the release of Troy Davis, following the case for nine years and “going down there every six months.” Don believes (like many others) that Davis was innocent, and demands that Will and the ACN staff help champion the cause on air. This leads to an interesting debate with Will about the real-life implications of advocating for a man already convicted of murdering a police officer, and ends in a touching scene, but still smacks of a desperate last-minute effort to give the viewers a reason to like Don.
The remainder of the episode picks up several of the stories we saw in the season premiere: Will unofficially takes himself off of the network’s 9-11 ten-year memorial coverage, a move which affects Will throughout the episode by robbing him of his confidence. Oh, and we’re also treated to a bizarre but ultimately interesting scene featuring behind the scenes footage of Will anchoring on 9-11, being watched by two control room staffers (you know, as you do). We discover a few interesting facts about Will: namely, that he was just the ACN legal correspondent in 2001; that he was the only person available to anchor on September 11th when several other reporters couldn’t make it to the studio, and that apparently he often protected his siblings and mother from their abusive father (though I apologize – I can’t recall if this was established last season). Through the episode, Will finds every reason not to advocate for causes, until he is finally forced to rescue one of his own reporters from jail. Seems Neal has been getting routinely mocked at work for his insistence that Occupy Wall Street will be a thing, until he manages to get arrested while filming police unlawfully cracking heads at a peaceful demonstration. Again, it’s nice to see Neal prove himself a capable member of the team, even using his previous obsessions with fringe news stories to justify why his coworkers make fun of him.
Oh, and finally Maggie is confronted by her roommate Lisa in a great scene that’s better watched than described (though I’m pretty sure it was well-established last season that Lisa was nowhere near this bright, but whatever, it’s good TV).
All in all, this is a solid episode of The Newsroom, which continues to grow from its awkward beginnings last year into a show with some promise. The increased focus on the characters in the past two episodes has been welcomed, and hopefully will serve to get us through the biggest news story of 2012 since we all, um, kind of already know how that part of the story turns out.