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THE NEWSROOM 1.04 ‘I’ll Try to Fix You’

Aaron Sorkin’s new series spends an entire episode explaining why Aaron Sorkin’s new series isn't working.

Episode Title: “I’ll Try to Fix You”

Director: Alan Poul

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

Previously on “The Newsroom:”

Episode 1.03 'The 112th Congress'

Story:

At the office New Year’s Eve party, MacKenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) asks Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) to talk to her boyfriend Wade Campbell (Jon Tenney), who is an Assistant U.S. Attorney who wants Will to expose the government’s difficulties prosecuting the banks and corporations that brought down the economy. Naturally, this leads to a serious conversation between Will and Mac about their relationship problems.

Outside at the party, Neil Sampat (Dev Patel) tries to convince everyone that Bigfoot is real, Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) hooks up Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) with Maggie Jordan’s (Alison Pill’s) roommate Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman). Maggie is visibly unsettled by the idea. Will finally emerges into the party proper where Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) encourages him to chat up Nina Howard, who unbeknownst to both of them is a gossip columnist. There’s mutual attraction until Nina tells Will she’s doing a “takedown” piece, which is designed to slam a celebrity and nothing else. When Will tries to lecture her about her lack of ethics, she throws a drink in his face.

The next morning, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) calls Will into his office because the event predictably ended up in the gossip rags. Will proceeds to spend the rest of the episode suffering through romantic indignities, including an unusual night with a woman packing a gun and marijuana in her purse, and finding those embarrassing moments strewn across the media. Meanwhile, Jim lies to Maggie about how things are faring with Lisa, who discovers that they’re sleeping together when Don tells her to call Jim, and then calls Lisa, whose distinctive ringtone gives the lie away.

At a Saturday meeting, where Neil is still trying to convince everyone that Bigfoot is real, Maggie’s aggression towards Jim comes to a head. He pulls her aside and apologizes for lying to her, but points out that Don made this whole situation happen, possibly in an attempt to sour Maggie against Jim in an attempt to preclude their possible involvement. Will, Mac and Charlie are having a meeting about his tabloid problems when Charlie realizes that it’s all part of a smear campaign from their own network, led by Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), who needs to discredit Will before she can fire him.

Everything gets put on hold, however, when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is shot. The entire news team puts their differences aside to report the story, and despite Reese’s protestations that they announce Giffords dead – as every other news outlet had done – they wait for the confirmation at Don’s insistence, in the process being the only outlet to get the story right, since she survived. Will decides not to back down despite Leona’s Machiavellian shenanigans, and even agrees to hear Neil’s pitch about Bigfoot.

Breakdown:

“I’ll Try to Fix You” is one of the most interesting episodes of television I’ve seen in some time, for entirely the wrong reasons. It’s an episode predicated on the idea that kvetching about personal drama distracts from greater issues, and yet the episode itself and series as a whole is guilty of that exact same sin.

“I’ll Try to Fix You” concludes with the entire cast putting aside their petty foibles for the greater good, but "The Newsroom" is reluctant to do the same thing. There’s no self-awareness to the conceit and no irony to be found beyond a strange kind of hypocrisy. If you can imagine an episode of “Lost” in which the entire point was that leaving a mystery unresolved is unforgivable under any circumstances, you’ll have some idea of why this week’s installment of “The Newsroom” doesn’t work.

The contrast between formulaic romantic subplots and “The Newsroom’s” supposed raison d’être, a Capraesque depiction of journalistic idealism played against the well documented, ratings driven (and arguably compromised) 24-hour news cycle, has never achieved the level of balance necessary to turn Aaron Sorkin’s latest enterprise into a great television series. High-minded storylines about maintaining a fair and balanced journalistic viewpoint in a competitive environment designed to quash that very sort of ambition don’t gel well with accidentally e-mailing the whole office about your romantic escapades.

In a motion picture, these sorts of interrelationship storylines would be relegated to a B-plot and interspersed only lightly throughout the narrative to flesh out the protagonists’ lives. The romantic foibles of Andrew Garfield in The Social Network supported his character’s difficulties in the more pressing environment of the Facebook startup, and Brad Pitt’s familial obligations ultimately prove Moneyball’s nigh-Ayn Randian conceit that sentimentality often runs counter to personal achievement. Both of those scripts were written, or in Moneyball’s case co-written by Aaron Sorkin, so he knows how this works.

Within a serialized television narrative, however, the balance needs to be constantly maintained from episode to episode. An occasional hour of television devoted primarily to the characters’ personal lives could be exciting, particularly when – as “I’ll Try to Fix You” eventually does – these subplots tie together at the end, connecting the main storyline, Leona Lansing’s attempts to discredit Will McAvoy and cancel his series without losing face, with the seemingly unrelated stories that take up the bulk of the episode.

It might have worked. The concept is strong and the cast is both willing and increasingly comfortable with their respective roles, but when the entire point of the episode is that the personal lives of public figures, though interesting, are merely a distraction from larger issues of greater importance to an audience, caving in to the opposite mentality for the entire episode – and indeed the entire series thus far – comes across as disingenuous and, at best, largely naïve.

Any attempt to suggest that the protagonists of “The Newsroom” and the showrunners behind it are intentionally commenting on and/or ditching this paradox, and might now move forward accordingly is immediately dashed by the preview for next week’s episode, which leads with Mac’s concerns over hurting Will’s feelings because of their romantic history and Jim hiding ridiculously under a desk because his most recent hookup has arrived unannounced at the office.

Beyond the primary criticism, which makes nearly the entire episode seem bafflingly conceived, “I’ll Try to Fix You” does occasionally make the most of its supporting cast – Dev Patel in particular sells his ridiculous Bigfoot storyline – and the episode’s rousing conclusion benefits from smart editing and an exciting climactic crest of melodrama. There’s too much talent involved in every frame of “The Newsroom” to write it off entirely, but that also means there’s too much talent involved to forgive such obvious and distracting thematic confusion.

After a spike in quality in the previous episode, which finally seemed to strike the right balance between a David and Goliath struggle between principles and pragmatism, and a broad cast of characters who happen to have relationships that effect and support the series’ primary storyline, “I’ll Try to Fix You” just seems like a major step in the wrong direction.

 

Photo Credit: HBO / Melissa Moseley