Party Like It’s 2011
It’s been one year since the launch of the ACN experiment dubbed “News Night 2.0,” and anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is hosting a soiree to celebrate the occasion at his nauseatingly beautiful Manhattan loft. As parties go, it’s an appropriate representation of “News Night,” a hybrid of half-cocktails and gossip and half video games and chess. Boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson) is outside on the terrace taking a phone call from an anonymous source who gives him a heads up that something big is about to happen. But instead of letting Mac and the gang in on it, Charlie keeps his new tipster to himself, because that’s of how Charlie rolls. Less discreet is Maggie (Alison Pill) who’s anything but shy about giving Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) guff for not breaking up with his girlfriend Lisa who recently dropped an unreciprocated “L-Bomb” on him. After strong-arming Jim into dating Lisa, Maggie is now strong-arming him into breaking up with her. A few scenes later, Lisa perceives the uneven nature of their relationship and breaks up with Jim instead. Then, despite his dogged insistence that he’s always been interested only in her “sexy sexiness,” and that he was pressured into the relationship but didn’t want to hurt her by ending things, he abruptly and inexplicably asks her out again.
Meanwhile, Neal’s (Dev Patel) girlfriend Kaylee (Natalie Morales) is floating between dominating at Guitar Hero and getting a cocky Will high on weapons-grade edible marijuana in the kitchen. Finally, a few more tips come in corroborating Charlie’s anonymous non-tip, and the crew heads to the office. Charlie suspects that Osama bin Laden has been killed.
Osama bin Laden Has Been Killed
This week’s episode stands out because it’s the first one where everyone seems to know what the big story is right from the outset. (Except Neal, who is hoping we’ve made first contact with aliens.) The story that unfolds is mostly one about verification, and the fact that Charlie isn’t comfortable going on the air with the story until the news of bin Laden’s death has “double confirmation.” It’s an apropos topic in light of recent embarrassments like CNN and Fox News getting the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act decision wrong, and an ABC reporter wrongly speculating on the political leanings of the Aurora shooter. It’s a critique of an overly competitive news culture that too often values getting things first, more than getting them right.
This philosophy is at the core of series creator Aaron Sorkin’s imaginary hyper-ethical news show. What isn’t so clear is the dramatic value to us as TV viewers of an actual show, which asks us to wait for someone to burst into a conference room announcing that someone else, off screen, reported something that everyone already knows.
Please Remain Seated
While the waiting game unfolds in the newsroom at ACN, Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Sloan (Olivia Munn) are stuck on an airplane lamenting that they can’t get into the action due to flight delays and gate mix-ups. It’s a curiously pedestrian b-story, which plays a lot like a hack comedian’s airport material, as Don goes head-to-head with a stereotypically dispassionate and controlling flight attendant. It’s also strange to see Don become an element of cartoonish comic relief in these scenes, a stark contrast to the more mean-spirited and sometimes manipulative black hat he’s been in the past. But fascinatingly, the lack of action in the airplane scenes isn’t all that different than the lack of action back in the newsroom.
The catharsis in “5/1” ultimately comes from watching the characters break the news to other characters. Don tells the flight crew that the 9/11 attacks have been, in some small measure, avenged. Will tells his bodyguard, an ex-MP, who in turn, tells some NYPD officers. Everybody who hears the good news is relieved. Except the HBO audience, who knew the whole deal the whole time.
Win Rosenfeld is a producer and national television correspondent. He's produced and reported for PBS, NPR, and Current TV. He's a bad actor, but his portrayal of Linus in the 3rd grade production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," was widely acclaimed by his family.