Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 2, Episode 5 of HBO's "The Newsroom," titled "Newsnight with Will McAvoy."
So, let's get something out of the way. This week's episode of "The Newsroom" takes a big ol' shot at The Huffington Post, and all our sideboob-loving ways. Such criticism is, of course, perfectly reasonable and acceptable. It's just weird that Maggie Jordan (or, more accurately, Aaron Sorkin) chose to target all those cleavage posts as a way to deride all of the outrage over Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke, and to mock the people who were outraged by saying they might as well write columns called "White Men, I Think I Hate Them." Yes, that's the lesson of the Fluke saga: White men are being persecuted by faux-outraged media hypocrites. It's too bad Sorkin chose to make such a classically dismissive -- and, yes, sexist -- argument.
Also, if you search "sexism" on HuffPost, you get a lot of stuff about ... sexism.
OK, moving on!
Besides the Fluke stuff -- which is really just a way for us to see how damaged Maggie still is from the trauma in Africa, and to revive the dullest ongoing romantic squabble in television -- "Newsnight with Will McAvoy" is chock-full of random, shoved-together plot points that encompass every story that was in the news about 15 or so months ago.
This is the second or third episode of this season so far where a lot happens in the plot, and yet, it feels as though the show is spinning in place. There's an odd weightlessness to "Newsnight," even as seemingly momentous things occur on screen.
As a single edition of the show plays out, the gang tackles: the war in Syria, Trayvon Martin (thankfully, we only see a minute or so of Will's take on that one), the suicide of Tyler Clementi, Pat Buchanan's exit from MSNBC, and probably a couple more that I missed. Oh, and naked pictures of Sloan wind up online, and a shadowy spy friend of Charlie's sort of confirms to him that something really did happen with chemical weapons in Pakistan (though of course we know that's not true). And Will's father dies.
So, why does so much of this not work? Part of the problem is that we're being directed in so many different places, and most of them lack much dramatic heft.
Sloan's online saga, for instance is an excuse to get her and Don closer together -- specifically, in a room where neither of them bothers to turn on a light for some reason. But since nothing really happens between them that hasn't happened before, and since things don't really advance, the plot thread just sits there, adding little. The same goes for several of the other strands of the episode. Meanwhile, Will's dad dies and it's a relatively minor part of the hour, though presumably we'll hear more on that front next week.
Sorkin also has a tendency to punch down, whether it's the poor Occupy protester from last week or the poor Rutgers student this week. We get it: He doesn't like Twitter and thinks today's culture is full of self-aggrandizing, get-rich-quick bottom-feeders. He has told us this once or twice before, if my memory serves.
But why single out some 19 year old who's in over his head and searching for a way to come out to his parents as the target for all of that criticism? When MacKenzie tells this kid, "Fuck you," it's meant as some sort of righteous moment. Instead, she's mostly an arrogant bully. Sorkin is like a dad who's trying to teach you about life, but instead, winds up telling you that you're a disgrace to humanity.
Yet again, the Genoa stuff manages to poke its way through all of this muck. Charlie's conversation with his spy buddy is the kind of wary back-and-forth between brilliant professionals that used to pop up on "The West Wing" a lot, and the format still works. By the end, Charlie's convinced that the story is true, and there's a nice squirmy quality to the whole thing as we wonder how this will all unravel. So I say to Aaron Sorkin, once again: More of this please. And please, please, please, less of everything else.
"The Newsroom" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.
Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
Emily Mortimer as MacKenzie McHale on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
Alison Pill as Maggie Jordan on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
Thomas Sadoski as Don Keefer on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
John Gallagher, Jr. as Jim Harper on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
Dev Patel as Neal Sampat on HBO's "The Newsroom" Season 2.
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