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Reading 'The Newsroom': 'The 112th Congress'

Brittany Frederick Brittany Frederick
July 8th, 2012 11:00pm EDT

In the third episode of HBO's The Newsroom, Will picks a fight with the Tea Party, Charlie gets called to the principal's office, and Aaron Sorkin revisits the second episode of Sports Night. It's messy and more than a little familiar, but it's still an impressive addition to the summer TV landscape.

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"The 112th Congress" opens with something that should be very familiar to fans of Sorkin's previous show about a TV show: an on-air apology. Will opens News Night with an editorial comment about how sorry he is for the program's past mistakes and flaws. "I'm a leader in an industry that misdirected your attention" is one of the many lines in a diatribe that we all know is going to court even more controversy for him. To some people, it's sure to come off as preachy, but two things make this scene laudable: Jeff Daniels delivers that huge amount of dialogue perfectly, and Will makes a very valid point about journalistic responsibilities.

Unlike Dan Rydell's apology in Sports Night, we see that this wasn't something Will was made to do, but something he wanted to do and about which he consulted with MacKenzie and Charlie before he did it. That doesn't make his comments any less incindiary, however...and he's just getting started offending people.

Will vs. the Tea Party

After getting up at 2 AM to go over some polling data, despite being unable to remember who faxed it to him, Will goes on a rant about the Tea Party to Charlie while an amused MacKenzie looks on. He compares the Tea Party to 1960's radicals and wants them to be the top story on News Night. When he finally leaves, MacKenzie correctly guesses that it was Charlie who sent Will the polling data.

From then on, Will is on a crusade to show how dysfunctional the Tea Party is, whether it's asking pointed questions of various interview subjects, cracking jokes about laughable public statements, or interviewing a now-former State Representative who lost his seat in Congress. We find out later in the episode that before he was a newsman, he was a prosecutor, which explains a lot.

His biggest blow comes when he rips apart a pair of Tea Party members after one of them insists that the party has no central control and isn't beholden to anyone. Will points out that neither of them have heard of David and Charles Koch, who run Koch Industries and bankroll several Tea Party candidates with their considerable wealth. So much for "we the people."

It's just another day at the office for Will McAvoy, who ends it sharing 2 AM drinks with his colleagues, during which Charlie gets a message saying he's wanted upstairs the following morning. This is the last scene of the episode, so we know that meeting doesn't go well...and neither does this episode's attempt at non-linear structure. But if nothing else, this episode's on-air segments are more evidence that Jeff Daniels is absolutely brilliant in this show. I'm trying to think of who else could play his part, and so far I'm drawing a blank.

Will and MacKenzie

It's dueling relationships this week for Will and MacKenzie. She awkwardly runs into Will's date, a New York Jets cheerleader named Danielle, and this doesn't sit well with her. When Will pulls her aside for a conversation, MacKenzie first suggests that he's only seeing Danielle to get back at her, and then that Danielle is only interested because he's famous. The following day she's piqued to see him leaving with another woman who is not Danielle, and once the third date shows up the day after that, she is visibly unhappy.

Maggie picks up on this and suggests to Will that he not have his dates meet him in the newsroom out of respect for MacKenzie. Although he appears to brush this off, Will changes his mind and goes into the control room to apologize to MacKenzie, and he's just about to do so when her new boyfriend Wade (Jon Tenney of The Closer) walks in. Seems that MacKenzie has moved on, too.

It's clear that Will and MacKenzie are going to get together at some point; they're The Newsroom's version of Sports Night's Casey McCall and Dana Whitaker, except for that they have a previous romantic history. Here's where I have an issue: there's no denying that Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer have chemistry, but the subplot so far feels heavy-handed, with MacKenzie's longing looks and her insistence that Will is trying to get back at her by dating someone else, which makes her look either a little full of herself or desperate or maybe a bit of both. Sports Night let the chemistry develop; The Newsroom feels like it's jumping the gun.

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