The first minutes of The Newsroom's pilot episode are a harbinger of the appalling gender representations to come. While giving a talk at a university, the show's protagonist, newscaster Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) explodes after a perky blonde college sophomore asks a (stupid) question about why America is the greatest country in the world, referring to the dumbfounded student as a sorority girl who may or may not accidently wander into a voting booth one day.
When the actual newsroom is first introduced, a young assistant, Maggie (Alison Pill), weakly pleads with her producer boyfriend Don to come to dinner with her parents. He refuses in a most patronizing manner, while simultaneously belittling a recent career decision she made, calling her choices dumb. After humiliating and berating her, he nonetheless makes arrangements to meet her later that night, presumably for sex. Of course, she obliges. These insulting portrayals of women continue throughout the rest of the episode, and, according to numerous television critics, it doesn't get any better in future episodes. On Monday, the Daily Beast released a lengthy discussion between TV columnists Lace Jacob and Maureen Ryan that examined the subordinate role of women in the series.
One of the bigger problems with 'The Newsroom' is that so many scenes involve men setting women straight, men supervising women, a man teaching a woman how to use email (and the woman getting it spectacularly wrong regardless), a hapless woman seesawing between two different men, etc., says Ryan.
Jacob concurs, referring to a scene in episode two, in which one of the female leads, and the only woman with any kind of power, Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) struggles to send an email, making an embarrassing and outdated gaffe when a private message intended for McAvoy instead goes out to the whole staff.
It's hard to know what's more infuriating: that MacKenzie is written as though she hasn't even heard of a war zone or that she's presented as alternately hysterical and incompetent. Her email gaffe in the second episode is unbelievable and galling, says Jacob. If you're thinking, well, who hasn't sent an errant email? Why does it have to be some symbol of misogyny? Then picture a male character in Sorkin's world who doesn't know the difference between the '*' and 's' keys on his BlackBerry. Impossible.
Poorly sketched female characters are only part of Sorkin's problem. The Newsroom began generating criticism well before its premiere on HBO, with countless outlets accusing Sorkin of having a superiority complex.
After Sorkin told Entertainment Weekly that reporters used to be the good guys in popular culture, and I wanted to write them that way, Gawker's Drew Magary lampooned him in an article titled Aaron Sorkin Is Ready to Masturbate All Over Your HBO ...
I can't think of a more Sisyphean mission than to try and restore America's faith in the media with a f--king TV show, Magary wrote. Yes, reporters used to be depicted as good guys in pop culture, and that's because pop culture back then was naive and stupid. That was before everyone realized that the media is filled with incompetent, self-admiring dips--ts who choose stories essentially at random. And that was before the Internet exposed the media as being almost comically unreliable.
The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum wrote a widely read critique of the show, which helped set the tone for numerous critical assaults, from the New York Times to Newsweek to the Washington Post, while a few outliers came to Sorkin's defense -- including the New Yorker's own David Denby, who responded to Nussbaum and other critics' dismissal of the show.
Jeff Daniels told the Los Angeles Times that he welcomes the chatter -- whether it's positive or negative.
The fact that everyone is talking about it, for whatever reason -- challenged by it, disturbed by it, annoyed by it, loving it, can't wait to see the next one, all of the above -- we absolutely love it.
We certainly are in no hurry to watch Sorkin continue to get away with presenting a modern-day workplace that's about as evolved as the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. If there's any silver lining to be found, it's in the very strong likelihood that The Newsroom will get shut down before too long.