Will McAvoy is the bland, non-partisan anchor of fake network ACN's fake show, News Night. He does a panel at a college with two other newscasters who have political leanings and sits in the middle of them while they bicker about current events, saying little except for how much he likes the Jets. This makes one wonder why people invite him to be on these panels in the first place, but that is never revealed. When a blonde student dares to ask the panel why America is the best country in the world, the moderator pushes McAvoy to say something of substance. At the same time, he hallucinates Emily Mortimer in the audience holding up cue cards about how America isn't the best country in the world anymore … but it could be. How could it be? By keeping its public informed with quality news broadcasts! It's not about the people who do the things the news reports on, but the actual reporting of that news that once made our country great. Will says this and much more, most of it anti-America (though he never says which country is the best in the world since America no longer is) and all the students whip out their video iPhones and Youtube happens.
Three weeks later, Will returns from a long vacation to find that almost all of his staff will be moving to another show because they have no hope that he'll last much longer now that everyone knows he hates America and also because he's a nightmare to work for – either screaming at his underlings or being so indifferent to them he doesn't even know their names. Only Neil, the blogger Will didn't know he had, and Maggie, Will's assistant who is a clumsy, female, dating Will's soon-to-be-former Executive Producer (and cries at work like a true professional), decide to stay with him. This gives Will's boss, Charlie, whose alcoholism is hilarious!, the chance to hire the Executive Producer he thinks will turn Will and his show into News Done the Right Way: By Trustworthy Older White Men Who Are the Voice of the People. And that EP is Emily Mortimer, except now her name is MacKenzie McHale and she's an America-loving American with an English accent who used to date Will.
Will runs off to find a way to get rid of her while she makes herself at home in the newsroom, bringing in her trusty sidekick, Jim Halpert Harper, to serve as senior producer. Will returns for an argument with MacKenzie, leaving Jim to look at everyone's computer screens and see a news alert about an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that Will's outgoing EP, Don, dismisses. Then we realize that this show takes place IN THE PAST – April 2010, to be exact – and the explosion is the beginning of the BP oil spill. I don't know why they couldn't just make up news stories for this fictional program, but whatever. Jim quickly gets on the phone with some Valuable Sources – namely, his old college roommate who works at BP and his sister, who works at Halliburton, which doesn't make him a great journalist so much as a guy who coincidentally knows people – and they tell him that there is much more to the story. Jim takes this over Don's head to Will, who decides to go with that story for the night's show instead of whatever crap Don and his staff wrote for him. It could be because Will is now a noble newsman who wants to inform America and make it a better place like it was in the '50s (according to everyone on this show, who don't seem to know a whole lot when it comes to American history), but it may also be to stick it to Don. Either way, it gets MacKenzie and Jim on the job two weeks early and the newsroom springs into action. This involves many phone calls and looking at computer screens. THRILL!
Will's show that night is all about the oil spill that his show knows about before anyone else. Even stupid Maggie gets something right, which MacKenzie rewards with an offer of shopping, every girl's dream! The news is saved and journalists are on the road back to being American heroes again. Will softens a bit towards MacKenzie, who cries at work because that's how Lady Journalists roll on this show, and we find out that those cue cards Will thought he hallucinated her holding up in the beginning of the show were real and also that she apparently carries the same pad of paper around everywhere she goes.
All in all, it's a show with a lot of words that manages to say very little. The parts that happened during the actual news show were compelling enough (though nothing we haven't seen before), but I'm not sure they're worth slogging through the rest of the show and its many truly unlikeable characters to get to them.
I'm a recent journalism school graduate and I'll be your recapper this season as we explore the world of journalism as seen through the eyes of Aaron Sorkin, who somehow manages to be more self-important and self-absorbed than a recent journalism school graduate.
We open on Jeff Daniels sitting in between two arguing anchorpeople with decidedly political leanings: one conservative, one liberal. Jeff Daniels stays silent and smirks bemusedly at their silly words while the camera circles around and goes in and out of focus in a way I find conspicuous and annoying but I guess is supposed to capture how it feels to be stuck in between two people arguing about politics. This happens to me at nearly every family Thanksgiving, but I manage to get through it without squinting at how bright the lights are or seeing Emily Mortimer sitting with us. Daniels isn't so lucky. He sees her in the audience, but then it turns out just to be a woman who looks like her. Either that, or Emily Mortimer found a woman in the audience wearing the same clothes as she is and looks like her and decided to play tricks on Jeff Daniels and make him think he was hallucinating. But that would just be ridiculous. Right?
Finally, the moderator asks Jeff Daniels, a.k.a. Will McAvoy, Boring Unopinionated Anchorman Extraordinaire, if he would like to add anything to this hot debate and justify however much Northwestern paid him to sit on its stage and stare at Emily Mortimer lookalikes for 45 minutes. He does not. An audience member, who identifies himself as "Steven," asks Will about his political leanings. "I consider myself a New York Jets fan, Steven," Will responds. The audience chuckles politely. I'd just like to point out that Will managed to remember the name of the random white male audience member, but, as we'll see later in the episode, can't figure out the names of his female or non-white staffers. The moderator asks Will if he traditionally refuses to state his political allegiances because he wants to be seen as a neutral news presenter. "That sounds like a good answer. I'll take it," Will says. "HA HA HA" says the audience that has apparently never seen anything actually funny before.
The moderator quotes an article accusing Will of being "the Jay Leno of news anchors." Will says he's jealous of Leno's ratings. The moderator realizes he's not going to get any more out of Will and moves on to Jenny, a sophomore who wants to know, "in one sentence or less" because blonde 20 year olds are stupid, why America is the best country in the whole wide world. "Diversity and opportunity," says Liberal Lady. "Freedom and freedom, so let's keep it that way," says Fox News Guy. "New York Jets," says Will. When pressed for a real answer: "diversity and opportunity and freedom and freedom." He looks out into the audience and sees Emily Mortimer again, now holding up a sign hastily written on her notepad that says "IT'S NOT." On the next page: "BUT IT CAN BE."