July 22, 2012

The Women of the Newsroom

I, in no way, feel Aaron Sorkin, the creator/writer of the new HBO hit The Newsroom, has any malice towards women at all. Sports Night and The West Wing, two shows he helped create, had powerful and strong female characters. The first person I think of when I think of Sports Night is Felicity Huffman. Even though I never watched the show religiously or often, I remember lines she had and things she did. I can't recall a single thing from anyone else.

On the West Wing, I always think of Donna and CJ first and foremost. Why? I dunno. They just seemed so real and enjoyable to me that I think of them first whenever the show pops up in my brain. I actually have to think about the names of the other characters outside of President Bartlett.

Sorkin has given us great females but when he decided to make The Newsroom, either all his bad writing ideas came out at once with his female leads or he truly has forgotten how women are in the real world.

Take a look at this video below. Tell me what you see:

In this preview for one of the episodes, notice the men's roles and the women's roles. Main character MacKenzie McHale, played by the truly lovely Emily Mortimer, is trying to revolutionize the show and, as you'll notice, she mostly gets eye-rolls from the skeptical co-producers.

Then we focus on character Sloane Sabbith, played by the real-life feminism-confuser Olivia Munn. In this trailer and in her first four episodes, she is relegated to little political/economic talk, her speciality, and, instead, is giving relationship advice to the oddly bumbling McHale, who, though having spent three years overseas getting shot at for the sake of news, is running around the office petrified of rumors and/or trying to outfox main character Will McAvoy's buxom one-night stands.

*on a side note, Sloane sets Will up on a date with someone who is just a little bit off and is clueless as to the possible issues that could arise from this, especially with a celebrity who, as we find out in the first episode, is coming emotionally unhinged and is confusing viewers*

Lastly, the preview above showcases Alison Pill's Maggie Jordan, a newly hired producer who was hired not for her efforts or skill but because McHale thought she was cute and like her when she was young. As you can see in just the trailer, most of the 'successful' males are angry that Maggie can't do things that well. McHale's solution to Maggie's nature in other episodes: have her trusty right hand man flirt with her to make her feel special.

What the trailer doesn't show you, and what the show proper does, is that Maggie, despite being played well by Pill, spends her non-work time desperately (and foolishly) trying to get back together with producer Don Keefer (played by Thomas Sadoski), a character known primarily for being a dick and who has complete power over the young Maggie. In scene after scene, Maggie is trying to apologize for the inevitable and predictable break up the two have. Despite Don being the rather unsavory character, he is constantly depicted as in control and successful at his job, at least in comparison to the women, with only the pilot episode showing him being upstaged by another male employee.

The primary male characters, Will, Don, Neal (Dav Patel), and Jim (John Gallagher, Jr) certainly have their flaws too but they are either depicted as endearing, (Will/Jim), professional (Don), noble/comedic (Neal), or, if nothing else, make up for these flaws by being competent and dependable. Will is amazingly vulnerable and this makes us root for him. What adds to us rooting for him is that McHale was the one that did him wrong, not the accustomed other way around.

And, played for laughs, we get to see Will get his revenge: banging bimbos, restructuring contracts so he has firing power over McHale, etc. It's childish but McHale, upon learning that Will's recent non-compete clause, which in one episode is being used as near blackmail by the network owners to get Will to stop fucking around, apologizes for her past mistakes and apologizes for him for what he did to his contract. Something HE did, out of childishness, is apologized for by the victim of said childishness. Will's his own worst enemy, but McHale gets him off the hook by being selfless in an area where she should have no right to be selfless.

So you have women betraying their own written pasts (can you see McHale living in a foxhole in Afghanistan when she is bumbling around an office worried about what Willy said to Sloane in gym class?), being generally awful at their jobs, and pretty much being around to look pretty.

That last bit goes to Olivia Munn. I wanted to believe she was doing the 'proper' actress bit. But I remained skeptical because Munn has made a career of singing the right tune to the proper ears. Plus, she hasn't exactly endeared herself to respectability: any chance, so far, Munn has had to be as naked as humanly possible to get publicity, she has done it. And now that she has a hit show, she's moving on to movies where, alas, she is getting fully naked (the recently released Magic Mike).

The quite properly dressed Sloane Sabbith would be forgivable and seen as a step forward for the confusing Munn but Sorkin, in yet another oft-used trope, decides to have McHale, who hired Sloane, to say that why she REALLY needs her on her news program is so when talking about economics, people will be looking at her legs. I understand sex sells but every other female character, played by actresses who are quite attractive it should be added, all have been based on some sort of physical respectability (professionals in professional settings). In the end, Munn is being back to being the 'pretty one', not the 'smart one', which doesn't help bring respectability to a character who is said, in the show's own script, to be 'the smartest person in the room'. Coupled with her bizarre, goofy behavior, the character is a complete embarrassment.

Jane Fonda shows up as the network owner but she's the cutthroat bitch we are supposed to hate whose living offspring is equally dickish. I think we've rounded the bases of female tropes going the stereotype route and not the road towards originality:

1)the nervous bumbler who always runs back to her man, no matter how bad he is
2)the evil businesswoman, out to get the hero
3)the beautiful scientist, who gets noticed for looks first and thoughts second
4)the ex-girlfriend who bumbles around looking to get back together with her former lover

And this is all packed in to a show about news? I think the show, overall, is a good thing. It has a purpose and, regardless of gender, has something to say about us as human beings. BUT, for the sake of comedy and drama and in the act of either laziness or complete obliviousness, the females on the show are making the progressive part of the show look a bit spotty.


  1. Thank you! Finally, I found someone who agrees that The Newsroom is not taking a misogynistic angle! I was just having this discussion with a few Dish coworkers whom are also women, and they think the show is disgraceful because of Maggie and Mac’s characters. However, I think everyone forgets to mention that the male characters are not the brightest crayons in the box either! Neal calling a staff meeting on a weekend to discuss his belief in Big Foot is a wonderful example! I think a lot of people want to see The Newsroom fail, so they are looking for reasons to hate it. I find Sorkin to be a brilliant writer, and I want to start expanding my knowledge of his work. I have only seen The Social Network, which I loved, but everyone keeps talking about The West Wing in comparison to The Newsroom, so I will have to check it out! Do you have any other recommendations for Sorkin works that would be worth digging up? I have the Blockbuster@Home service through my Dish account that allows me access to tons of titles; it’s kind of like having a tiny Blockbuster store at my house, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find anything you think is worthwhile. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Studio 60. Have you seen it?

  2. Hello! Thanks for the read.

    Yeah, I don't think Sorkin goes out of his way to be mysognistic, but he is just not giving the women something truly meaty to work with which, having watched both West Wing and Studio 60 (so yes, I have seen it), Sorkin has no problem with. I'd actually say Sorkin was one of the best writers for women on television for a long time. We'll see how it goes.

    As for Sorkin, let's see. . .his writing work in films has been pretty flawless: Moneyball, The Social Network, The American President, Malice, A Few Good Men, and Charlie Wilson's War are all good-to-great movies though none a classic.

    His TV stuff is mixed. West Wing is great, Studio 60 is a mixed bag, Sports Night is a mixed bag, and The Newsroom is a mixed bag. But mixed bags have LOTS of good in them. If you like The Newsroom you'd probably love The West Wing and Studio 60 and maybe Sports Night.


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