Crashing Pilots: The Newsroom
By David Mumpower
June 28, 2012
The fallout from this is allegedly swift and dramatic. The host is sent on a two week vacation (with Erin Andrews…how do the rest of us sign up for this punishment?), and it is at this point that the network makes some changes with their various programs. The tenor of this change from one host to another is similar to when MSNBC switched their allegiance from Keith Olbermann to Rachel Maddow at the start of 2011. Initally, I incorrectly presumed that McAvoy is being positioned to suffer the same fate as Olbermann but an explanation toward the end of the pilot reveals that this is instead a wake-up call of sorts.
What everyone who comes into contact with McAvoy believes is that the man is a jerk. This causes me to posit that Sorkin is again mining the flaws in his own personality in order to create another damaged hero. As everyone knows by now, Sorkin is not the easiest person to love. In giving the character of McAvoy the same weakness, however, there are automatic limitations placed upon the storyline.
The second most famous person in The Newsroom is Emily Mortimer, arguably the best actress in the world without an Academy Award nomination. Her character, MacKenzie McHale, is intended to be the heart of the story. In fact, she is described as a Frank Capra fan in order to sell her optimism. Unfortunately, her primary focus in the pilot is to act flighty and make the usual grandiose Sorkin speeches. Hopefully, she will be allowed to branch out more in future episodes because Sorkin haters are right that her breathless oratories occur too often and for far too long.
McHale is introduced as having a prior relationship with McAvoy that was undone by an as yet unrevealed mistake she made. She has attempted to apologize for this several times over the years, yet he clearly resents her mightily for this action. When McAvoy discovers that McHale is to be the new executive producer of his news show, he is so outraged that he re-works his contract to accept $3 million less in order to gain the right to fire her at his discretion.
This is the core problem with the first half of the pilot. Within 20 minutes of meeting Will McAvoy, he has berated a 19-year-old for asking a well-intended question, blamed his (largely thoughtful) response on vertigo medication, yelled at a kindly drunk of a boss for making a thoughtful decision without his blessing, and attempted to destroy the career of a woman who is being positioned as the love of his life. Apparently, Sorkin missed the day at mentor William Goldman’s screenwriting class where the author of The Princess Bride described the necessity of making the viewer root for the protagonist. A viewing audience respects McAvoy enough to watch him speak, a boss loves him enough to save his career and a woman he has scorned willingly returns to his life because she knows he is in need. All these people receive in return is a guy acting like the type of jackass who gets punched out at a bar.
Thankfully, The Newsroom pilot exists beyond the character of Will McAvoy. Allison Pill (Kim Pine in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and John Gallagher Jr. comprise the members of the News Night staff who will be the focus of the series moving forward. Pill portrays an intern turned assistant turned associate producer whose name McAvoy cannot remember. Patel handles McAvoy’s blog and Gallagher is the senior producer whose first day on the job is unbelievable. No, really. I literally do not believe it, which is not something I say often of Sorkin stories.