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TV Review: The Newsroom – “5/1”

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First, apologies for being a bit late (and perhaps a bit brief) with this week’s review of The Newsroom‘s latest episode “5/1” while I’m in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and Internet connectivity is a bit sketchy. On Sunday May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama came on the air late in the evening to announce that our military had shot and killed Osama bin Laden, putting at least a bit of closure upon the horrific September 11, 2001 World Trade Center bombings nearly a decade earlier.

This week’s The Newsroom is set in the hours preceding the announcement as small hints and leaks begin to emerge into the ears and Blackberries of Will’s (Jeff Daniels) earnest young staff. But the hour begins with a phone call to ACN News Division President Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) by a man who identifies himself only as “Deep Throat.” Deep Throat’s inklings about the evening about to unfold are simply his calling card (and proof of street cred) to hint at a much different and, likely, more personal story for Will and his team.

The question raised during “5/1” is “When is it both acceptable and responsible to release a breaking news story?” Is it responsible journalism to break an historic news story immediately? After one credible confirmation? After two? With a story like the killing of bin Laden, Will and Mac (Emily Mortimer) are reminded of All the President’s Men and breaking the story about the Watergate break-in. When you are dealing with a story that can change the world with a single sentence broadcast to millions, it’s not good enough to simply “know.” You need more than one independent confirmation, no matter how highly placed your source.

But to Charlie, even a double confirmation isn’t enough. He knows from personal experience the old wartime adage “loose lips sink ships.” He insists that ACN wait until they know the U.S. military is out of harm’s way before Will goes live on the air. It doesn’t matter that Geraldo is blabbing on Fox News what it thinks is the real story. Or what the New York Times is confirming. It is not until Vice President Joe Biden confirms to Will that not only has the U.S. killed bin Laden, but it’s okay to let the world know, that he is willing to broadcast the story.

Yes, we have a right to know the facts. Yes, news reporters have an obligation to report the news even when the establishment, government or whoever wants it sequestered (temporarily or forever), but integrity sometimes demands restraint, especially when jumping the gun can only serve the interest of self-aggrandizement (and/or ratings).

The story unfolds on an evening of celebration; it’s the one-year anniversary of Newsnight 2.0. It’s showrunner Aaron Sorkin’s way of letting the audience know that the narrative has jumped ahead once again, and now by episode seven, an entire year has passed.

Relationships among the characters have settled into routine, if not the mundane. Will and Mac have an easier camaraderie; their relationship is warm and caring, but not romantic. Jim and Lisa are still together, but those “three little words” now uttered by Lisa loom over the relationship, which now seems to run on inertia and convenience more than anything else, while there still exists much unresolved sexual tension between Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie (Alison Pill). Don (Thomas Sadoski) is still neurotic about his relationship with Maggie, annoying everyone in his path.

As much as I like The Newsroom, I wish it moved more slowly, particularly in telling the relationship story. It seems too abrupt at times, without letting us get a feel for the emotional subtext of the character stories. We’re seeing months of unspoken character development as the narrative jumps ahead week to week. If the news aspect to the series were the main thrust, I could go with the relationship leaps and bounds, but more and more, the character arcs seem to be more important. Yes, the scripts tell us that months have passed, but it doesn’t feel quite that way to me.

I don’t agree with much of the criticism leveled against the series. I understand what Sorkin is trying to do; he has created a universe of flawed, intelligent, and interesting characters. I like the female characters, who are flawed just like the guys; they do stupid things and they do very smart things. Such is life (real and otherwise).

So, how did you feel about this week’s The Newsroom? Let us know in the comments thread below. The Newsroom airs Sunday nights on HBO.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Flo

    Hello. I loved the episode but as @Jim and Barbara said I don’t think people should gloat over an assassination even if it’s Bin Laden’s.
    Fortunately, Neal’s girlfriend (what’s her name again?) put some sense in that regards, saying that it doesn’t change anything. It won’t bring back the dead. The towers are still missing so are the people who died. The people still somewhat traumatized.

    Otherwise, great episode. I like the insouciance (English?) of the beginning of the episode abruptly put down by a major event like this.

    ps: how annoying is Don? With a few exceptions (like in the second part of the epi “Amen”, for example), he’s been an insufferable, one dimensional character. Sorkin should pay attention to this IMO.

    Concerning the show, yes there’s a problem of pace and timeline. It really doesn’t feel like a year has past.

  • I like the show a lot and have always loved Sorkin and (almost) all his works. Can’t understand why people are critical of this one. When Studio 60, which I really loved, was on, I remember thinking it had a better chance of survival if it were set in a newsroom, not on Sat. Nite Live.
    Aaron Sorkin ALWAYS moves fast (he’s a Gemini). At first I had trouble understanding some of the relationships (for instance, I couldn’t tell Jim and Don apart) because of this. But I am really settled into it now and am hoping we see it on the air for a long, long time.
    I was bothered about the Osama Bin Laden story too, as was the commentator Jim, above. I understand why people wanted to get rid of him, I was here for 9/11; I had young friends who just barely escaped dying that day– and yet, and yet… even though he was a monster, I agree we should not “whoop” over the death of anyone, even him. (However, if it were Hitler, and the date during WWII, the British might have whooped a bit too). We’re better off in a world without him, yet what Donne says– “send not to find for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee,” is still true.
    Let’s hope this show is around for a long time! I can just barely put up with the demise of HOUSE, MD with it on!

  • Jim

    Good show, but I find the whooping at Osama bin laden being murdered offensive. I’m from the uk find it upsetting that people would celebrate the death of anyone 🙁

  • Leslie

    I absolutely love this show. The intelligent banter, the wit, and the humor are all excellent. I will agree in saying that I do wish it was slower; as stated in the review though we know a year has passed it doesn’t totally “feel” like it has. Perhaps Sorkin will address this next season?

  • Erika

    Wow! Finally a critic that doesn’t hate this show. I really like it. I think it’s smart and entertaining. There’s definitely room for improvement. I think some of the physical gaffes, like Don falling in the aisle of the plane this episode and Jim continuously hitting his head in a previous episode, are hokey. Also, it sometimes feels like Will missed his calling to become a preacher instead of a journalist. Overall though, I think it’s a really promising series. I suspect many journalists don’t like it because it hits a little too close to home. I kind of understand. I’d probably be very critical of a show that’s critical of my profession too.