The Newsroom Recap: How Do You Repeat History Without Repeating History?

Sorkin's show must resist falling into the same traps.


The Newsroom' episode 3: Olivia Munn, Jeff Daniels

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Three episodes in and The Newsroom is already getting repetitive.

"The 112th Congress" opens with what might be the show's 112th "Let's save the news!" speech, as Will McAvoy publicly apologizes to "the American people" for failing "to inform and educate the American electorate." The monologue is reminiscent of Don Draper's "Why I am quitting tobacco" letter from Season 4 of Mad Men. Unlike Don Draper, we have known this moment was coming from Will, and its sentiments have been expressed by other characters a number of times before.

"It's not very realistic, but boy, is it idealistic," said Jessica Stuart, a 15-year television veteran who discussed with The Newsroom in E-mail and over the phone. "I don't think the kind of apology Will made would ever happen on television."

[Check out our gallery of political cartoons.]

The episode charges through some seven months of news, leading up to 2010 midterm elections, with Will focusing on the changing nature of the Tea Party and the increasing role billionaires David and Charles Koch play in "hijacking" the movement. He also refuses to overhype other stories his competitors are spending their time on.

This rankles Don, the producer who left Will's show to work in ACN's 10 p.m. slot, who then scolds News Night Senior Producer Jim Harper. Tension is growing by the episode between these two, and after Will's on-air apology, Don lays into Jim: "You guys just set me up to look like an asshole before I even get started." Later on, after a particular successful News Night episode, Jim teases Don about a 10 p.m. segment that featured a story about the McRib.

Stuart says the bickering between staffs is pitch perfect.

"There's definitely internal competition, especially among staffs," she says.

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Meanwhile, in the upper-level conference rooms at Atlantis World Media, Leona Lansing, (played by a fiery Jane Fonda) the CEO of the cable channel's parent company, calls a meeting with News President Charlie Skinner and two other execs to discuss the new direction News Night has taken. The back-and-forth between Charlie and Leona is among the show's most compelling scenes thus far, as she threatens to fire Will over his newfound crusade against the Tea Party and its corporate backers (which risks the profitability of the company at large).

The episode culminates in the "wave" election of 2010 which saw the rise of Tea Party Republicans in Congress. It's not surprising the The Newsroom is at its best when it is depicting television journalism as it best, according to Stuart.

"I see journalism at its finest in how the networks have been treating the election cycle, since the 2000 with the Gore/Bush situation." The Newsroom aptly replicates the kinetic frenzy of such a night.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

While the business of news (thankfully) takes the lead in propelling the episode, the office romance predictably hurdles on. Will and MacKenzie parade their new love interests around the office, presumably to make the other jealous, and Jim continues his hapless quest for Maggie's affections. Here's holding out for a late-series affair between Charlie and Leona to spark the otherwise droll romantic plotlines that have so far surfaced.

For members of the media who have closely followed the events Sorkin depicts, they have found his portrayal of the sausage-making of news eye-rollingly unrealistic. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that Sorkin is not writing for members of, as Will would say, "the media elite."

Rather, Sorkin presents a revised version of what created the current deadlocked political landscape for a general audience who may not understand the nuances of political coverage, and who could appreciate watching history repeat itself through a Sorkin-ese lens.

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The Newsroom can continue to pull off the history lessons and become a quality show as long as Sorkin can stay away from recycling the same ham-handed stump speeches and romantic pratfalls in which his characters continue to move through.