Jane Fonda Said Something on Last Night’s Episode of ‘The Newsroom’

This week’s episode of The Newsroom once again began with its horrible opening titles accompanied by Thomas Newman’s overwrought theme music. The Newsroom’s titles are a joke that was funny in the first episode, but one that has quickly become tired after three. After those 90 tortuous seconds that begin with a black and white image of Sputnik (my eyes won’t quit rolling), the episode commences and we see a montage of News Night‘s staff receiving an urgent email from Will (Jeff Daniels), who then delivers a heavy-handed monologue from the top of six thousand soapboxes at the beginning of his newscast. This terrible, self-important speech, which lasted anywhere between four and 120 minutes (I can’t actually be certain), causes his staff worship him and, apparently, the owner of ACN’s parent company, Leona (Jane Fonda), to despise him. "From this moment on," Will tells his audience, "we’ll decide what goes on the air based on a simple truth: that nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate."

Let’s call that speech point A on a timeline. Now let’s call the next scene, a board meeting on the 44th floor of ACN’s building in midtown Manhattan, point B. The distance between points A and B is six months, and the episode bolts through those six months while occasionally flashing forward to the board meeting (point B). It’s almost as if the episode’s writers (Aaron Sorkin and MTV News’ GIDEON YAGO) were so bored with the first two episodes of the season that they felt compelled to fast forward through six months and just highlight the good parts, only there aren’t any good parts. The events of those 180 days include Maggie (Alison Pill) and her Xanax-deprived love triangle, Mack’s (Emily Mortimer) frustration with Will’s blossoming love life, Will’s attacks against the Tea Party (remember: it’s 2010!), a reference to Inception (remember: it’s 2010!) and some anonymous patron at News Night‘s after-work karaoke bar singing India.Arie’s "Video."

But none of that is important. The meat of the episode was that board meeting (point B), where we learn that Will’s new style of reporting the news (objective and fact-based with no segments produced for the purpose of either improving ratings or appealing to advertisers) has decreased News Night‘s audience over those six months (point A to point B). Charlie (Sam Waterston) finds himself being reprimanded by Leona and her son (an actor who looks very familiar but one I don’t feel compelled to Google. Maybe it was Chris Messina? You don’t care). 

But wait. That’s wrong. For most of the episode, Leona’s son does the talking while Leona just sits and looks. Or sits and reacts. Or sits and tilts her head. Or sits and shakes her head. Or sits and goes in and out of focus. It isn’t until the 49-minute mark that she stands to speak. "Jane Fonda is about to make this show worth watching," I thought. "She’s about to make these 2.8 episodes worth my time." I watch her pour a glass of water and take a sip. I watch her swallow. I watch her mouth open, and then I hear the beginning of the worst kind of Sorkin monologue:

"Moses and Jesus are playing golf," she says. I stop listening.

She goes on and on, I fall asleep, dream about watching season two of Enlightened instead of this garbage, and then wake up as her monologue ends. "I’ll fire him, Charlie," she says. "He’s gonna tone it down, or I’m gonna fire him.

So wefinally have some stakes—some semblance of motivation for at least one of the characters that should last throughout the remainder of this first season. Jane Fonda may fire Jeff Daniels. That means she’ll be in future episodes! Great! It also means I need to keep watching The Newsroom. Shit.

I really hope they hired Sway to write the rest of the season.

Everything Every Female Character Did During Episode Two of ‘The Newsroom’

The second episode of The Newsroom opens with Will McAvoy (Dumb and Dumber‘s Jeff Daniels, according to Wikipedia) sitting in his home office studying the names, faces, and backgrounds of his new staff—a sign of a growing dedication to them despite his outward hostility. Good for him! That’s great! Nice guy! I, however, will continue referencing Wikipedia each time I want to know one of those morons’ names.

Speaking of morons, this episode centers on MacKenzie’s (Emily Mortimer, according to Wikipedia) attempt to change the way News Night reports the news. She calls it "News 2.0," because in this parallel-universe-alternate-history-2010, people still speak like it’s 2006. They also use email like it’s 2001, something we discover as MacKenzie (again, I had to consult Wikipedia) accidentally sends a personal email to her entire staff. But that wasn’t the only thing a female character did on last night’s episode that made me question Sorkin’s opinion of women. He likes writing women so that they spend a great deal of screen time either performing tasks for men, being frazzled, or both.

Here’s a list of everything the female characters did during episode two of The Newsroom.

  1. Will’s nameless housekeeper: Dusted Will’s office.
  2. MacKenzie: Was flustered while giving a presentation.
  3. MacKenzie: Didn’t know what “auto-correct has been enabled on your Outlook” meant.
  4. Margaret: Didn’t know what “auto-correct has been enabled on your Outlook” meant, either.
  5. Margaret: Looked to a man (literally looked at a man) for answers.
  6. MacKenzie: Didn’t know what a good mnemonic device was.
  7. Kendra: Said something smart!
  8. Margaret: Didn’t know what “prejudicial” meant.
  9. Inconsequential Female Staff Member: Said, “I still don’t understand.”
  10. Margaret: Was frazzled and confused about something.
  11. Sloan: Had an intelligent adult conversation with MacKenzie!
  12. MacKenzie: Had an intelligent adult conversation with Sloan!
  13. Margaret: Was frazzled after ruining a segment
  14. Margaret: Begged Jim for another assignment.
  15. Kendra: Said something smart!
  16. Inconsequential Female Staff Member: Said something smart!
  17. MacKenzie: Thought she sent a personal email, but her misunderstanding of technology caused her to accidentally send it to her entire staff.
  18. MacKenzie: Thought she could solve the previously mentioned problem by pouring coffee on a phone.
  19. MacKenzie: Was frazzled about all of that.
  20. Kendra: Said something smart!
  21. MacKenzie: Made a poor attempt at explaining her past infidelity.
  22. Tess (I just found out Inconsequential Female Staff Member’s actual name!): Was asked to perform a task by Will.
  23. Tess:Nodded at Will.
  24. MacKenzie: Was frazzled.
  25. Margaret: Looked nervous.
  26. Kendra: Said something smart!
  27. Margaret: SAID SOMETHING SMART!
  28. Gwen, the second runner up at Miss USA: Said stupid things on national television.
  29. Gwen, the second runner up at Miss USA: Continued saying stupid things on national television.
  30. Sarah Palin: Said something Sarah Palin actually said once.
  31. Female karaoke singer: Karaoked a a Colbie Caillat song about being smitten with a boy.
  32. Margaret: Drank a Cosmopolitan.
  33. Margaret: Got drunk on that single Cosmopolitan.
  34. Margaret: Was delusional.
  35. Tess: Was asked by Jim to take Margaret home.
  36. Tess: Obeyed and took Margaret home.
  37. Female Bar Patron 1: Told Jim he acted “awesome.”
  38. Female Bar Patron 2: Agreed with Female Bar Patron 1.
  39. MacKenzie: Drank a whiskey (scotch?) on the rocks.

Oh God, the episode ended and Thomas Newman’s horrible self-important theme started again.

 

And then I scrambled for the remote, as desperate to turn off the TV as Timmy and Lex were to turn off the flashlight that was attracting the T-Rex once Nedry disabled all of Jurassic Park’s electric fences.

Aaron Sorkin Creates the News

Who the fuck knows where Keith Olbermann will be when the Aaron Sorkin drama The Newsroom debuts on HBO on June 24. The ill-tempered leftist demagogue may yet find another sucker network from which he can become spectacularly estranged. Most likely he’ll smolder until, bereft of a public outlet for his anger, his wrath turns to garden-variety bitterness. There’s no doubt, however, that he’ll enjoy his Sunday nights, when he can see himself immortalized by the doughy Jeff Daniels in Aaron Sorkin’s newest show, The Newsroom: a paean to broadcast news. Daniels plays Will McAvoy, an anchor who begins the series known as “the Jay Leno of news anchors” for his anodyne views. That quickly changes and the Olbermannization begins.

The precipitating crisis is McAvoy’s brief moment of public peripeteia. “America is not the greatest country in the world,” he blurts out to an audience of naïve college kids during a panel discussion. Then, obviously, all hell breaks loose because, duh, it is. The show concerns itself with McAvoy’s second act as teller of truth to power. From Leno to late-period Jon Stewart in a flash.

True to any Sorkin project, there is a great deal of talking in this show. If all the kids in Moonrise Kingdom (see page 19) grew up and went to UPenn, they would become characters in The Newsroom. For those who enjoy Sorkin’s verbosity, this rapid-fire dialogue and witty repartée is like a shiatsu showerhead right to the brain. Those who find Sorkin’s trademark logorrhea infuriating would be well advised to watch something else. There’s a new Charlie Sheen show on FX called Anger Management that debuts June 28 and, of course, there’s the nightly news. Neither will be very witty.

But even if you aren’t a fan of Sorkin’s dialogue or even his archetypes (brilliant yet loathsome men nursing a hidden wound; practical no-nonsense women nursing a hidden crush), it’s the relationships between the archetypes that animate the show. After McAvoy goes renegade, it falls on his executive producer (and old flame) MacKenzie McHale, played by the wonderfully wee sleekit beastie Emily Mortimer, to rein in his more self-destructive tendencies. Though wee, Mortimer isn’t tim’rous. When McAvoy yells a lot, McHale yells back. When he throws a Blackberry, she stomps on one. They’re both driven by morally righteous ambition. “My character is very concerned with just putting on the best news program possible and doing it with grace and integrity,” explains Mortimer during a break in filming. This is hard since the network craves ratings, and ratings come more quickly to programs with neither integrity nor grace (at least in the Sorkinian universe). “You have to be entertaining on some level to be on television,” admits Mortimer, “unless you’re PBS.”

Is this set-up a sly reference to Sorkin’s own too-smart-for-television projects, like the short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? Is it a trenchant indictment of philistine America? Is it simply wishful thinking? It’s probably all those things. But the real question is whether one can make good television about how hard it is to make good television without seeming self-satisfied. Executing that will take all of Sorkin’s talents, while it is incumbent upon Daniels, Mortimer, and the supporting cast to imbue these industry folk with more than a passing humanity. To them I say, good night and good luck.

‘Looper’ Trailer: Time-Traveling Joseph Gordon-Levitt Hunts Himself

Here’s one for heavy concepts: In Rian Johnson’s Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a type of assassin — naturally called a looper — whose job it is to kill people sent to him from the future. As in, criminal mobs from 2072 time travel the person they want gone back to 2042, where JGL pumps them full of lead. Everything’s going fine until he’s tasked with a killing out of the ordinary: His future self, played by a grizzly Bruce Willis. In the moment where he hesitates for the kill, Willis escapes and hijinks ensue, because nothing’s worse in a sci-fi film than someone from the future meddling in the past. 

It’s definitely ambitious: Director Johnson, previously known for quirky genre exercises like Brick and The Brothers Bloom, has never been shy about breaking convention and doing something strange. In this case, it means slicking JGL with makeup to make sure he resembles a younger Willis, an effect which is partially believable and partially absurd, especially when they try to make the same grumpy guy facial expression.

But the mystery of what remains to be seen — why Willis is up for assassination, and how time-travel can be retroactively achieved — seems to make Looper as interesting as any other movie you might see this year, assuming science fiction is your bag. Which, why the hell not? Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Piper Perabo also star. It’s out on September 28.

Jumping the Line at Sundance

Scene at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City: A junior flack manning the door at the Kenneth Cole Black – GenArt party at the Sky Lodge last night bellowed out from behind her clipboard to the frigid swarm of party-goers mushrooming in front of the door: “If you’re not a celebrity, an honoree or press, get in the back of the line!” That pretty much sums up the Sundance party admittance hierarchy. Luckily, we snuck into the tail end of that equation and jumped the line, breezing right in to find cigarette girls and guys doling out jumbo boxes of Hot Tamales, Sour Patch Kids, cartons of popcorn, and other movie fare, as the likes of an unnaturally blonde Denise Richards, Eliza Dushku, and what appeared to be “Pedro” from Napoleon Dynamite shook their groove thangs to guest DJ Nick Cannon’s ’80s mash-ups. (Thanks, but do we really need a remix of ’80s one-hit-wonders The Outfield?)

image Brent Bolthouse and Kenneth Cole.

Harvey Weinstein made a brief appearance, turning heads and eliciting whispers (“Harvey’s here!”). After a glimpse of indie film royalty, it was time to go.

image Jeff Daniels and Olivia Thirlby.

At Sundance, the best parties are said to happen far from the jammed throngs of Main Street, out in the quiet white night of the surrounding town, where movie moguls and movers and shakers of varying importance rent massive wooden mansions. Thanks to the delightful women who run the Woodstock Film Festival (this September marks their 10th anniversary), we found ourselves ensconced in said setting late into the night and had the pleasure of a fireside chat with a lovely young filmmaker whose last film, The Doorman, had the distinction of earning its worst review ever — in BlackBook. Hey, all press is good press I reminded him, and raised my mug of clove-spiced grog to his future success.