Andrea Martin as Carol, Briga Heelan as Katie.
One of the things that still confuses me about Great News is that it only seems to half-understand how cable news works. Based on its moniker alone, MNN would appear to be some kind of hybrid of CNN and MSNBC (which was actually based in New Jersey for many years), but The Breakdown is run more like a third-tier lifestyle program for local news in a major metro.
One of the key rules of parody is that you need to have a real understanding of the thing you’re parodying, and The Breakdown doesn’t actually feel like watching a cable news show in a funhouse universe. The jabs are too thin, the production values are too low, and the stakes don’t seem high enough — despite the characters’ many on-air gaffes, ratings and network demands barely merit a mention, much less a plotline.
The latter element certainly applies to this episode, in which Katie gets a chance to be a field reporter after one of The Breakdown’s field reporters is arrested on-camera for serial arson and attempting to start a rebel army of redheads. That’s the kind of opening gag that should indicate that Great News lives in a heightened world with no connection to reality, but the subsequent plot — in which Carol pulls out all the stops to manipulate Katie, who prefers producing, into staying on the air — is followed with such plodding fidelity to the classic pushy stage mom/resentful stage kid dynamic that it crashes everything back down to earth. As Justin puts it, “They’re working through past trauma,” but it sometimes seems like Great News is more interested in rendering the past in loving detail than exploring what’s happening right now.
That’s especially true of Katie, whose character still lacks depth. Six episodes in, she seems to be determined by goofy memories of things she’s done — like a coordinated routine to “Here Comes the Hotstepper” at a child beauty pageant, or an unrequited crush on a neighbor’s son who kills opossums — as a substitute for expressing who she is now. Of course, Briga Heelan has to be the straight woman to some extent, but despite being a game actress, she gets bulldozed in one-on-one scenes with Andrea Martin, whose character has so much more nuance and specificity. (I also think the makeup department isn’t doing her any favors; the scene at episode’s end where she’s “taken off her makeup” was the first time that I was able to clearly see Heelan’s eyes and some of her expressions.)
The show seems equally lost when it comes to Justin, who’s made it six episodes with such little character development that Katie and Greg seem fleshed-out by comparison. That’s a huge bummer, because Horatio Sanz is talented and I hate to see him wasted. I was hopeful that his plotline with Chuck might reveal a little bit more about him, but it mostly leaned on broad, Chuck-centric humor, namely the silly and insanely long theme song they compose together (which ends up running on The Breakdown in lieu of Katie’s on-camera “Hotstepper” breakdown). Justin’s last-minute admission that hanging with Chuck has helped him feel better about his own deadbeat dad is played as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it laugh line.
Besides Carol, the character Great News has best nailed is actually Portia, whose mix of airheadedness and cultural savvy feels like a fresh update on the dumb-blonde stereotype. (Her choicest line this episode is when she doesn’t know what her young-adult novel is about: “I dunno, like, an elf or something?”) Like a lot of people, I groaned when I found out Nicole Richie was part of the show’s cast, having only known her for her reality-show appearances, but she’s quite comically gifted. Unfortunately, Portia doesn’t seem to get a lot of involvement in the plot. Hopefully that’ll shift soon.
• Portia also got my second-favorite line of the episode: “There were no survivors, but also no deaths, because no one was there.”
• Andrea Martin continues to be just the best. “The truth is that I just wanted you to be able to pursue my dreams. My dreams. I keep getting it wrong … my dreams.”
• Ini Kamoze must be really chuffed about that onscreen shout-out he got. I wonder if it was part of the rights deal? In any case, that “Hotstepper” stunt dancer who subbed in for Briga Heelan was really talented.
• This episode had no Tracey Wigfield and she was missed. It’s interesting that the show has given so much quirky specificity to minor characters like Wigfield’s Beth and Sheaun McKinney’s Wayne (who once again had some great lines), even as a lot of its leads feel undercooked.
• Even though The Breakdown’s inability to find an mildly competent field reporter is frankly ludicrous (in real life, people work like crazy to get those jobs), I’m glad that the show went full circle with another member of the Redhead Army being hired as Katie’s replacement, complete with a book on “How to Sound Brunette.”