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The Newsroom Frustration Almanac: From A to Z

Photo: HBO

The Newsroom finishes its first season tonight, and it’s been a bumpy ride. There are occasional flashes of interest, of humor, of dramatic rhythm, but they get swallowed up by the show’s black hole of sanctimony. Over the course of ten episodes, the show has elicited feelings of intense anger, deep annoyance, a chronic feeling of disbelief — and it’s brought out the confusing, damaging desire to watch more. We’ve settled into something between a hate-watch and a hope-watch, knowing that while the show’s ostentatious lousiness brings us a certain kind of perverted delight, the real joy would be in this show legitimately getting good in its second season. Until that day comes, though, we have a Frustration Almanac. This list covers the many facets of The Newsroom that have driven us crazy the last few months, on both nitpicky and more overarching scales.

A: Apex Predator
That’s the official term Neal uses for Bigfoot, his irritating and not-at-all-credible obsession.

B: Osama bin Laden
In this group of progressive, mostly liberal-minded beacons of ethics and morality, not a single person expressed even a tiny shred of distaste about celebrating an execution? An iota of skepticism? No one? Not even “you know, I can grant that for a variety of complicated reasons there was no way for Osama bin Laden to stand trial, but military executions are not something I want to glorify”? Seems like the kind of thing someone might mention.

C: Conveniently knowing everyone
Jim’s sister and his college friend just happen to be connected to the BP oil spill! Maggie just happens to know a staffer for Jan Brewer! Neal just happens to have been on one of the trains on 7/7! His girlfriend’s dad just happens to have been killed on 9/11! Lisa just happens to have gone to high school with Casey Anthony! So many fortunate coincidences.

D: Doing a Big Thing Badly
It’s just one of the hundreds of repeated Sorkinisms on Newsroom. Mackenzie beseeches God for a sign that she’s “not doing a big thing badly” — here, covering the Casey Anthony trial — and is rewarded with a surprise blackout. Back on Sports Night’s “Mary Pat Shelby,” Dan accused Dana of the same thing, only that was about how to report (or not) on Natalie being assaulted by an NFL player. Note the difference in stakes.

E: Elites
“We are the media elite,” Will likes to say. Mackenzie wants to make “elite Northeastern pricks” seem “sexy again.” It is exhausting.

F: “Fix You”
Please, no more using “Fix You” on TV shows.

G: Gabrielle Giffords
News gathering can be a fraught process, and getting accurate information during a deadly crisis is not easy. Unless you work for News Night, where your integrity —  and Aaron Sorkin’s handy-dandy 20/20 hindsight — makes you perfect.

H: Hat
We speak of course of the NYFD cap some anonymous staffer soberly dons while Will reports bin Laden’s death. That’s a secretly stashed baseball cap of respect.

Will’s horrified to discover he has a blog. He feels bad for his Eskimo brother reporter who had to write for a pathetic web outlet. He thinks commenters should have to have college degrees. The Internet is where death threats come from. And as a special tip to whoever is helping with special Internet intelligence: Yes, website administrators can absolutely tell if the two commenters are actually the same person.

J: Jam sessions
Actually, Jeff Daniels and John Gallagher Jr. playing guitars and singing was the high-point of the season.

K: Koch Brothers
Another occasional issue with The Newsroom using actual news stories is that the show erases some of the real work done by real journalists. Isn’t it great that Will knows all about how the Koch brothers fund the Tea Party? Thank an actual journalist.

L: Love
Are we supposed to still be rooting for the Will-Mackenzie romance? Because given the hideousness of the Don-Maggie-Jim-Lisa HR-nightmare quadrangle, it’s hard to root for any kind of love on this show. (Except maybe between Neal and Kaylee. They seem cute! What are we, made of stone?)

M: Misogyny
Sorkin denies that the show has any kind of woman problem. He’s wrong.

N: Northwestern University
Curse you, “sorority girl,” who started this whole mess by asking Will the astonishing question at a Northwestern forum about what makes America the greatest country in the world.

O: Opening Credits
Did everyone get the message about how Will is the modern incarnate of All Great Newsmen? Okay, good.

P: Pens in mouths
This is by far the most lifelike gesture anyone on the show makes, but it is kind of gross.

Q: Don Quixote
Mackenzie’s twice the woman any of you will ever be! She’s a journalistic genius! She will lead News Night to its righteous place atop the self-respect throne! She does not know what language Don Quixote was written in, and she’d rather quote Man of La Mancha anyway.

R: Republican Debates
All the ostensible selling-out with the Nancy Grace–like coverage was in hopes of “winning” the Republican Debate — i.e., getting to moderate it. But Will’s ideal debate format is just The Will Show, Starring Will and His Superior Ideas. Were we really supposed to be shocked that the RNC declined his offer to shame everyone?

S: Mandy Stadtmiller
Stadtmiller is a former Post writer who dated Sorkin and wound up inspiring Hope Davis’s character. Thanks to that character, whom Sorkin called “Bad Mandy,” we’ve all learned about how terrible tabloids are, which is almost as terrible as the terrible women who write them, who are almost as terrible as the terrible women who read them.

T: Technology
MacKenzie can’t send e-mails correctly. Jim has a fax machine next to his bed. What world is this?

U: University of Phoenix
There are plenty of ways to wind up with a crankpot expert on the air, but Kendra not knowing that the University of Phoenix shouldn’t be one of them. How incompetent can one staff be?

V: Valentine’s Day
There are lots of things that strain belief in the Valentine’s Day episode: That MacKenzie can’t subtract without using her fingers, that Maggie would go to such lengths to “help” Jim please Lisa; that Lisa has such an easy time getting up to the News Night offices. But the most egregious is that when Lisa shouts — shouts across her boyfriend’s office —  that she’s been stewing in edible underwear for hours longer than she intended to, Jim interprets this as enticing and sexy.

W: Sam Waterston
Especially his angry outbursts. A lot of people love this performance, but it’s awfully heavy on the crazy eyes and weird cadences.

X: Xanax
Nothing more romantic than being rescued from your panic attack. It’s almost a good thing that Lisa’s friends kept stealing Maggie’s pills!

Y: Gideon Yago
Yago was the only staff member with a “written by” credit on an episode this season (episode 3, “The 112th Congress”).

Z: Mark Zuckerberg
That pathological smugness worked on Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg. And every time we see Don sneer, all we can think is “this worked better in The Social Network.

The Newsroom Frustration Almanac: From A to Z