Tuesday, August 6, 2013

HBO’s Newsroom #14 “Unintended Consequences”

By Catherine Giordano

HBO’s The Newsroom episode 14 (Season 2, episode 4), airing Sunday August 4, 2013 was titled “Unintended Consequences.”  I’m titling the show “Slap-Happy” referring to the characters onscreen as well as to how I, as a viewer, feel.

The problem with this show is that it can’t make up its mind. What kind of show is it? A serious drama or a sit-com? You can’t mix the two without having the viewers feel jerked around.  And in this last episode, we see some characters totally changing their character. People don’t change their personality from week to week.
The main focus of the show is Maggie’s interview with the stern, always professional, company lawyer, Rebecca Halliday, played by Marcia Gay Harden.”  Only this week, it is like she is punch drunk. She is trying to be funny—totally out of character, and the jokes aren’t funny. She is insisting to Maggie that she is a funny person except her character would never care what Maggie thought of her. The mind reels trying to understand this new persona Rebecca has adopted. One of the few characters on the show who seemed realistic has now joined the rest of the buffoons. That leaves Leona Helmsley, played by Jane Fonda, as the only believable character. I’m sure that won’t last long. I cringe for Marcia Gay Harden, a fine actress, forced to say these lines as she struggles to stay “in character.”

We see a totally new Maggie in this episode as well. Her long blond hair is gone, and she is now a redhead with a spiky pixie cut. Her public meltdowns and scatter-brained  proclivities are gone, and she’s all no-nonsense steely. Perhaps a trip to Arica and an attack by bandits can do that for a person. (Or maybe Sorkin, the series creator, just got tired of the constant barrage of “Maggie’s an idiot” comments in the press, and so he did a character transplant.) On a better show, this incident in Africa where a young child who Maggie befriended is killed as Maggie tries to help him escape from the bandits would be poignant; on this show it just seems out of place.

And talking about slap-happy and punch-drunk, the hitting goes on. This time it’s not Mackenzie slapping people around—it’s Shelly Wexler, one of the leading non-leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Neal gets her an on-air interview with Will McAvoy who appears to take delight in taking her apart on air, humiliating her. So what does she do—she walks out and punches Neal in the gut, hard.

Shelley wants an on-air apology and she has some leverage. It seems that one of the Occupy Wall Street squatters was in Pakistan and may possibly have information about “Genoa,” a war crimes story that the news team in investigating.  Everyone on the news team takes a turn “making nice” to Shelley, and they all only make her angrier. McAvoy accused her of being naive and ineffectual and she proves her naivete by thinking that she can get an apology.  (Fortunately, she doesn’t hit anyone else.) McAvoy accused her of being naive and ineffectual and she proves her naivete by thinking that she can get an apology. Finally, McAvoy turns on the charm, gives her a sorta personal apology, and Shelley melts even though he tells her no way is she getting an on-air apology.

In the meantime, Jim and his fellow rebels from the Romney campaign bus are still struggling to report on the campaign. Taylor, the press liason has frozen them out. But then, Taylor, who is always so composed and precise, evidently loses it and blows up at Jim, cursing him out. This could be very embarrassing to the campaign if Jim reports it, so to “make nice” she offers him 30 minutes with the candidate. He lets his fellow reporter, Hallie Shea, who he is crushing on, have the interview in his stead.  MacKenzie finds out about Jim giving up the interview and she yanks him back to the newsroom. But never mind, he gets a kiss from Hallie.

There is one thing that I liked—the “smart-ass-comment” of the week.  MacKenzee says, “I don’t ignore evidence. I’m not Congress.”  Now that is humor that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been slapped upside the head.

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