After an impressive series premiere last week, The Newsroom continues to be an exciting and energetic new show. Series creator Aaron Sorkin (who wrote this week’s episode as well as last week’s) fills his script with not only his trademark rapid-fire dialogue, but also jokes so subtle enough to be completely overlooked if one isn’t paying close attention to what each character is saying.
While last week’s episode straddled the line of fairness between liberal versus conservative ideology, tonight’s episode gets much more one-sided in the fight and it is clear where Sorkin’s viewpoint lies. One of the most interesting aspects of The Newsroom is that Will, the show’s protagonist, has conservative leanings, albeit very moderate conservative leanings. By the end of this episode, he is already on the way to being redeemed thereby diluting one of the key ingredients that makes The Newsroom different from most other television shows.
In “News Night 2.0,” we get a full-fledged introduction to the new approach Mackenzie plans to use to separate “News Night” from every other news show on television. She wants each episode to be driven by accurate reporting of stories that matter, not sensationalistic pseudo-journalism that plays to ratings points. When Will suggests they open with the oil spill (a continuation from last week’s episode “We Just Decided To”), Mackenzie points out there has been no new developments so it’ll be buried late in the show. Will argues that footage of an oil tanker sinking into the ocean is good television and Mackenzie says, “We don’t do good television. We do the news.” This (somewhat heavy-handed line of dialogue) essentially sums up her character and the crux of The Newsroom.
During the Rundown, in which Mackenzie and the staff plan out that night’s episode, the lead story is Arizona immigration bill SB 1070 (we are told the date is April 23, 2010). While Mackenzie is trying to finalize the interview with Arizona governor Jan Brewer, Will is busy showing off how he memorized the names, positions and resumes of every staff member, even those who are no longer on the staff. (One of tonight’s best moments is Will’s shock that Fox News “hired someone with three Muhammads in his name.”)
Up on the top floors of Atlantis World Media, Charlie Skinner is meeting with Reese Lansing (Chris Messina), one of the chief marketing researchers who has been feeding Will daily updates on the show’s audience polling. Charlie asks him to keep the numbers from Will for a little while as they maneuver through the transition. Reese points out that Will is the “ratings whore” who demands the information and Charlie politely encourages Reese never to call Will a whore again or he’ll punch out every single one of his teeth.
Back in the trenches, Maggie is pulled aside by Jim for a pre-pre-interview practice round. Jim wants to make sure that Maggie is ready to do a prep interview with Governor Jan Brewer’s press aid since it is critical that she appear on that night’s episode. Maggie points out that she has done this before, but based on her obvious anti-SB 1070 rant during the Rundown Jim thinks she may be too emotional.
Meanwhile, Mackenzie has stepped away on a little recruiting mission. Sloan Sabbath (Olivia Munn) is a financial analyst on one of ACN’s other programs and Mackenzie wants her to join “News Night.” After proving her worth as an economist, Mackenzie admits that her physical attractiveness will be the gateway by which they will be able to attract viewers so as to deliver serious news. Sloan agrees to come on board which makes Mackenzie extremely happy.
Where things take a wrong turn is when Sloan lets it slip that everyone thinks Mackenzie and Will broke up because he cheated on her. Mackenzie says this isn’t true and it leads to an unnecessary and predictable error on her part when she sends an email to the entire staff that was meant for only Will that references the fact she was the one who cheated, not him. This was set up early in the show and probably the only poor bit of writing in this episode. Will is upset and then they move past it.
Like last week’s episode (and we can assume this is how most episodes will be), the last 20-25 minutes are where the real fire is. Maggie screws up the phone call with the governor’s press aid (they had a very unfortunate relationship in college) and she backs out of the show. The only replacements they can find to take the pro-SB 1070 position are a crazy professor from the University of Phoenix, a volunteer militia soldier and the second runner-up from the Miss USA pageant who believes she lost first runner-up because of her answer to a question about immigration. The interviews are pure gold.
The episode ends with the entire staff feeling pretty defeated over that night’s broadcast. Though Will intentionally went against Mackenzie, the two patch things up and agree they need to work together. Maggie breaks up with Don (sort of) and we see Jim’s feelings for her grow. The final shot is Will on the balcony of his apartment looking at the Statue of Liberty, a ridiculously heavy-handed way to end an episode about the immigration debate in America.