The Newsroom, Ep 1.08: “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn” is another solid outing for the show

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The Newsroom, Season 1, Episode 8: “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn″
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Airs Sundays at 10:00 PM ET on HBO

The question of ratings versus quality is something that has hung over News Night 2.0, and The Newsroom in general, since the beginning of the show. While there was an initial euphoria over Will McAvoy and his team having successfully broken the story of the 2010 oil spill before anyone else, the rumblings of a loss of viewers have always been a dark undercurrent of the proceedings. While the initial drop was attributed to Will’s sudden change from a Jay Leno-esque neutral figure to an aggressive newscaster, one factor has, until now, not been explored by the show; the sensationalism aspect of modern news. Most channels tend to pick and choose what they’ll report based not on what’s most important, but rather what will hold the viewers’ attention the longest, and it is this issue that The Newsroom tackles this week.

A strong positive of this episode, much like the past few episodes, is the way the writers have managed to re-discover the character of Mackenzie, and make her a viable force once again, rather than someone who simply pursues Will’s approval. Her outburst towards Charlie at having to cover the Casey Anthony trial, as well as her interaction with Brian Brenner, had the potential of devolving the character, but by having Mackenzie stand her ground in both scenarios, the reason she earned the position of producer on the show becomes clearer. Moving the focus away from her relationship woes with Will, and tying it into the larger story whenever it does surface, has been a very smart move on Sorkin’s part, and it allows the audience a better look at Mackenzie in a professional context, which is what the show is aiming for.

Just like Mackenzie, Maggie this week also managed to prove her worth beyond simply being one point in a love triangle/square. Her impassioned rant against Michelle Bachmann was an unexpectedly clear insight into the character, the type of which this show has been sorely lacking, and her interaction with Sandy proves her affection for genuine news as well, affection that we haven’t seen enough of in recent weeks. Hopefully the writers are working on a way to bring the focus back on Maggie’s professional life as well, the way they have managed to do with Mackenzie.

The actual debate on what news to cover was surprisingly lively and interesting as well. This was a storyline that had the potential to be quite dull, especially since News Night 2.0’s position on frivolous pieces is well known, but the writers managed to add a twist to the proceedings by having Will acquiesce due to his hope of getting the debate he wanted, thus veering away from predictability. It was also a great way to bring back Chris Messina’s Reese Lansing, a character who’s been enjoyable in all his moments on the show.

The storyline involving the TMI hacking scandal is also fascinating to observe, as it appears to be the first news story that’s unique to the show’s universe, rather than one shared with ours. We have yet to see the News Night 2.0 crew conduct any sort of investigative journalism on something that wasn’t already threatening to become breaking news elsewhere, so how the show chooses to handle this story going forward will speak a lot about The Newsroom‘s capabilities, and whether it can sustain itself beyond the headlines.

The show also continued its unexpectedly strong track record with guest stars, with Paul Schneider entering the fray this week as Brian Brenner. Not only has The Newsroom been able to get strong actors and actresses for smaller roles, but the writing has also given them some good material to work with, and Schneider this week was no exception. The fact that the returns of Krumholtz, Crews, and Fonda this week didn’t feel hollow, despite their relatively brief time onscreen, is a testament to how well-portrayed these characters have already become, and Brian easily joins those ranks after this episode.

Overall, however, this was another highly enjoyable episode, although it didn’t quite hit the highs of the past two weeks. Which is not to say it was without its mistakes; the choice to once again play swelling music over a monologue, with Sloan the victim this time, was a poor one, and undermined the trust in the cast that the show has displayed since the pilot. The chemistry between Crews and Daniels continues to be amusing, even though it was only relegated to one scene this episode. It will be interesting to see where Sorkin intends to take the second part of this episode next week, and how he winds up to the first season finale, which will be a key component in whether the show’s second season is anticipated or dreaded.

– Deepayan Sengupta

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