I don't watch a lot of TV anymore. But I'm a huge fan of The West Wing. I rewatch it all the time. So naturally I had high hopes for HBO's 'The Newsroom.' It's written and produced by Aaron Sorkin, and stars Jeff Daniels. Several of my friends work for Daniels' theatre in Michigan, and I've met him at parties and premieres. He's greatly talented, and on the show I think he and Sam Waterstone are fantastic. In fact all the performers are doing marvelous work.
But the writing is driving me away.
Let me say again, I'm a huge fan of Mr. Sorkin's writing. I loved SportsNight, I still relish the West Wing, and I even found characters and moments to enjoy in the troubled Studio 60 (I still think it was poorly marketed). His stage plays as well as his sceenplays are often some of my favorites in any given year. Perhaps it's because I hold him to such a high standard that this new show is driving me mad.
The pilot, though flawed, was generally good. Episode 2 was so awful I wanted to throw something. But I didn't stop watching, because I like the overall story they're telling: the corporate news dilemma, trying to stay ahead of other stories, infotainment, all of it, great stuff. The decline of the news industry is of real national significance, and it's my hope that by reintroducing us to recent stories and exploring how they were covered and why, we might as a nation reassess how we looked at them. In short, I think this is a hugely important show.
Episode 3 gave me hope with the introduction of the corporate villain, Jane Fonda. And every episode, when they're actually covering the news, I'm enthralled.
But now we're five episodes in, and I can't watch anymore. Why? Because I find the portrayal of women in the workplace to be the most insulting piece of misogynistic pablum I can remember seeing on TV.
Emily Mortimer is doing the best she can. But let's contrast what we're told about her with what we see. We're told that for the last 3 year she's been producing amazing stories in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We're told that she has a knife wound from braving a Sunni riot. We're told that she's the daughter of England's UN ambassador. We're told that she is brilliant, fearless, and above all extremely competent - the best Executive Producer in the business.
What do we see? We see a woman who doesn't know how to use e-mail. A woman who has to count on her fingers to subtract. A woman who doesn't understand even the basics of the economy, despite having produced economic stories for nearly a year, who has to have explained to her in simple terms the history of the Glass-Steagel Act, and in the middle of having it explained bursts into tears about her ex-boyfriend. A woman who repeatedly allows her personal history to interfere with her work.
A friend pointed out that the men are pretty relationship-dumb, too. I agree. There are no adult male-female relationships on this show. But the men aren't the ones compromising their professionalism due to relationships. In the second episode, both of the crisis moments are created by women who are incompetent because they are focused on their personal, not professional, selves. We have seen no male sacrifice their professionalism for their inept romantic lives. Yes, Daniels' character negociated a bad new contract so he could stick it to his ex. And yes, his opening rant in the pilot was due to seeing his ex. But neither of those events compromised his ability as a reporter, or made him a figure of ridicule. Indeed, we're meant to admire him for his rant. So though his deep wounding has led to bad decisions, it hasn't made him unable to understand email, or count on his fingers, or offer to take a colleague who has done well to treat her to a shopping trip. He's portrayed as a grown-up making bad decisions. Mac is being portrayed as a child.
And even the false equivalency of "she counts on her fingers" and "he took tap lessons as a child and cries at Rudy!" shows that making fun of women is calling them stupid, making fun of men is calling them feminine.
I WANT to like this show. But the depiction of professional women is so utterly awful (I haven't even mentioned Maggie blowing a huge interview because she once hid under the bed while her date had make-up sex with his girl-friend right on top of her - WTF!?!), that I don't know how much longer I can stand it. How is it that Olivia Munn is the only competent female on the Newsroom staff? How is she the only one who doesn't allow her personal life to compromise her work?
After watching an episode, I'm more angry at Sorkin than I am at the Tea Party, or the Koch brothers, or injustice in Egypt. Again, it's not the fault of the performers. It's the writer and show-runner. Mary Tyler Moore was more of a journalist than any of these women. Hell, Ted Baxter was more competent!
Making a woman stupid doesn't make her "quirky." Yes, you may be thinking you're making His Girl Friday. But Rosalind Russell was smart, sharp-tongued, and utterly competent at her job. She didn't let her personal life interfere with getting the story. In fact, she sacrificed her personal life to GET the story. The character of Mac on Newsroom had such potential, could have been amazing. But each week she becomes more and more boxed in by bad writing, by terrible character traits that only serve to make her totally wrong for the job she holds. At this point, the only reason we've seen for her to have the job is because she was Will's ex. Which is the exact opposite of what the story should be.
The show had such potential. But with every additional incompetent woman story, it squanders any goodwill it might have earned with me.
Rant ended. For now.