erinptah: (The Newsroom)
[personal profile] erinptah posting in [community profile] moreasthestorydevelops

Okay, so this is way late, but whatever. Have some thoughts.

Most of this is a critique of the show's use of real news as dramatic fuel. Particularly in that last sequence, under the Coldplay lyrics.

Short Observations

-- The running gag with Bigfoot was cute. Kind of...off, and didn't seem to fit in with the rest of what I'm feeling from the series -- but oh well. I suspended disbelief for cuteness.

-- Sloan not knowing how normal people talk to each other was awesome. Now we just need about a bazillion more minutes of screentime about her character, and her bromance with Will.

-- Love triangle stuff continues to suck time and energy from more interesting things. There are bits I feel like I could enjoy on almost any other show, but still. Blech.

-- Is "Fix You" supposed to be the touching theme song of Will's newfound self-styled Mission to Civilize (TM)? And does anyone want to make a ridiculous Will-POV mix using only soft-focus alt-rock ballads?

And On A More Serious Note:

After the way this episode ended, I'm feeling a whole new layer of iffiness on this "using real news events as grist for your story mill" premise.

Within the world of the series, Gabrielle Giffords gets shot, and the news program is thrown into turmoil. Pressure is high to report that she's died. People are changing the channel every second they don't make an official announcement. "No!" bellows Our Hero, on his manly righteous Mission to Civilize. "She's a real person, not a gimmick for ratings!"

Out here in the real world, Gabrielle Giffords got shot. As of January 2012, she had recovered enough to make her official resignation from the U.S. Congress herself. Her voice is shaky and off; her face doesn't move the way it used to; we get clips of her struggle re-learning to walk. Doctors say she's in the top 5 percent of recoveries from the kind of injury she received.

And two years after the attack, Sorkin uses it as the emotional capstone of an episode of a TV series. Her near-death experience (I understand she was actually clinically dead for parts of it) and subsequent traumatic brain injury conclude Will's subplot about a Very Special Lesson on gun violence. With a fictional event it would make sense; we expect some dramatic license in a plot, are prepared for distant tragedies to happen when it's most dramatically convenient for the characters we care about. But here? Someone should have been standing firm at Sorkin's desk and bellowing, "No! She's a real person, not a storytelling gimmick!"

Sigh.

A lot of people have talked about how Will McAvoy is another of Sorkin's fictive Olbermann clones. Some have pointed out that if you want to talk about newspeople trying to steer the business in a more noble direction circa 2010, you should really write a show about a fictive Rachel Maddow instead. I am on board with this.

What nobody's brought up yet (as far as I've seen) is this: On a meta-level, The Newsroom is creating a fictionalized news program based on real events in order to criticize the state of the news industry. And the real-world people doing that are Stewart and Colbert. If News Night with Will McAvoy is Countdown with Keith Olbermann, then The Newsroom is The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

It's also been pointed out that it's not really fair to condemn CNN by showing how much better ACN does, since ACN's realtime coverage has the advantage of being written two years later, with all the hindsight that confers. But something interesting happens when you stack up The Newsroom against The Daily Show. Here's Jon Stewart and John Oliver's reaction to the shooting, and the media's coverage thereof: written and performed a couple of days after the event.

And...I like it so much better. So much better.

Two points in particular I want to mention. First, the clip is a good reminder that a big focus at the time was the toxic political climate -- the "Sarah Palin's graphic depicts rifle sights targeting Democratic districts" flavor of animosity. Anyone else think it's odd for Sorkin not to even touch on that? It seems like it would fit right in with The Newsroom's other criticisms of 24-hour news networks: afraid to fact-check for fear of seeming non-neutral, focused on ratings-boosting fluff rather than quality content, and addicted to the same conflict-based hype-machine as so many politicians.

Second, TDS opens with a self-conscious stepping-back, an acknowledgment that their usual dramatic framing devices aren't up to handling situations like this. There's a light touch, and it's still funny (panda pajamas!), but we're clearly getting a hefty helping of "Jon the executive producer" as opposed to "Jon the hapless anchor who makes comically shocked faces at clips he's never seen before." What equivalent to that does The Newsroom have?

Maybe the closest thing would have been a placard before or after the broadcast, the way shows do with Moral Episodes), pointing viewers to, let's say, a charitable foundation focused on TBI. Or one for victims of gun violence. Or, better yet, a charity of Gabrielle Giffords' choosing. (You know, it just occurred to me -- I watched this episode via a torrent, so for all I know it had a placard which got cropped by the torrent preparer. Can anyone who watched it via broadcast confirm that nothing came up?)

...alternatively, maybe -- and this is a radical idea here, folks, but hear me out -- maybe they could just not try to do this show using real news.

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