'The Newsroom's' Osama bin Laden Episode Draws Fire From Critics, Viewers
HBO's The Newsroom has polarized critics and viewers since its June 24 premiere, and Sunday night's episode was no exception.
The latest installment of Aaron Sorkin's drama series, titled "5/1," focused on the death of Osama bin Laden, which actually took place May 1, 2011. After ACN news division head Charlie (Sam Waterston) receives a tip from an anonymous source telling him that big news is coming shortly from the White House, the News Night team races to get the scoop, which anchor Will (Jeff Daniels) is later able to report -- while high from consuming two marijuana cookies and Vicodin for an old injury.
The episode received mixed reactions from critics and viewers for a number of plot points.
Beth Hanna, writing for IndieWire's Thompson on Hollywood blog, wrote that the episode was the "weakest of the season," calling it "the death of a potentially compelling 50 minutes of television by never-ending filler."
"This episode dealt with the death of Osama bin Laden," she wrote. "That's an incredibly charged subject for most Americans. And yet somehow the show's final minutes are resoundingly flat."
Another subplot that was "dead on arrival," she wrote, was having the newsroom staffers research other possible stories that the White House announcement could focus on, which results in "five to 10 minutes of filler we don't care about."
Meredith O'Brien, writing for the TV blog CliqueClack, noted that Sorkin's decision to show a "lengthy excerpt" featuring real footage of President Obama announcing that bin Laden had been killed will likely raise questions about whether Sorkin was trying to give the president a boost ahead of the upcoming election.
She also noted that the story about Will getting high -- and still being allowed on the air -- was "preposterous."
"While watching the latest episode ... I finally understood why so many journalists hate this show, other than because of its sanctimonious speeches and inhumanly snappy dialogue," she wrote. "The Newsroom makes the rest of the real world journalists look like craven fools because Will & Co., though they may have personal faults (which somehow never affect their news product), wear shiny, heroic halos."
Huffington Post's Jack Mirkinson took Sorkin to task over several script elements, saying that the episode was full of "mawkishness" and questioned the introduction of a phone-hacking scandal in the vein of last year's News of the World scandal.
"Most gallingly," he added, was having a minor character reveal that her father was in one of the Twin Towers when they were hit on September 11, which he felt was Sorkin "shoehorning this in just so he could hit every angle of the event."
Mirkinson also was critical of the pot-cookies story line.
"Why (oh why oh why oh why) in the world Sorkin decided that what the episode needed was a heavy dose of sitcom schtick is beyond me. But he does," he wrote, adding that "there's no reason for it to exist except as a MacGuffin-worthy piece of filler. Will can't tie his tie! He's giggling! It goes on and on."
Another issue that Mirkinson had was the "love quadrangle" among Maggie (Alison Pill), Jim (John Gallagher Jr.), Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Lisa (Kelen Coleman), which took up "a surreal amount of time." The story line finds Maggie telling Jim to break up with Lisa after overhearing that she told him she loved him and he reciprocated only out of politeness and cowardice. Maggie, meanwhile, appears to have ulterior motives as she is still in love with Jim even though she's seeing Don, who is stuck on a plane with Sloan (Olivia Munn) and news anchor Elliott (David Harbour).
"I'm starting to wonder what huge world moment would be able to distract these people from the agonizing slog that is their love quadrangle," Mirkinson wrote of the story line. "Bin Laden just got killed and this is what they're scurrying around discussing? Isn't that a fireable offense? I can just picture them hissing recriminations at each other while, all around, people try to figure out who this Lee Harvey Oswald guy is."
On the other end of the spectrum, Capital New York's Glynnis MacNicol was in the minority with her assessment that the episode was the show's "strongest" so far and called the pot-cookies story line "funny."
"Actually, this episode was so strong -- in the best Sorkin way possible -- it could have been a one-off special for HBO about the killing of bin Laden seen through the eyes of a cable news staff," MacNicol wrote. "If The Newsroom slinks back to its old ways, I'll wish that was all it had been."
He argued that the bin Laden story line let Sorkin do what he does best, writing that it's "the sort of news story best suited to Aaron Sorkin's talents: A black and white, good guys vs. bad guys narrative involving America at 'its finest [if temporary] hour.' The kind of narrative that allows for a clean, unambiguous tick-tock, one that embraces numerous moving parts that all fit together to provide a compelling snapshot of something important."
On Twitter, viewers were divided about the episode, with some noting that the bin Laden story line was less than timely.
"Really trying to avoid watching the news so I don't spoil Newsroom two years from now," tweeted Jon Lovett, former White House speechwriter and co-creator of NBC's upcoming comedy 1600 Penn.
Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine blogger and City University of New York journalism professor, referred to the #NBCfail Twitter hashtag that arose from viewers upset about the network's tape-delayed coverage of the 2012 London Olympics.
"#NBCfail and #newsroom operate under the same unfair advantage: knowing what is going to happen after it happens," he wrote.
Still others praised the show, including Linz Loves, who wrote: "Tonight's episode of the Newsroom was fantastic. Even if you don't watch the show normally, as an American you'll appreciate it :) *tears*"
And Avan Tudor Jogie tweeted: "If I may speak colorfully, The Newsroom may be the best news program on television."
TVSourceMagazine.com added: "If you aren't watching The Newsroom on HBO, you're missing out on brilliant television. #Newsroom"