I tend to be skeptical about Very Special Episodes -- I mean, you're just never going to meet the benchmark set by Family Ties with Tom Hanks as the alcoholic uncle, so why try?
Aaron Sorkin gave it a shot this week on his HBO show, which I like to call WestRoom (which you would know if you've been reading my series of posts about the show). I suppose, after finally starting to work up some story lines and character development in the previous couple of episodes, he felt a need to grind that to a sudden halt by spending an hour reminiscing about how awesome it was that we killed Osama bin Laden.
It is the night of May 1, 2011, and the spunky staff of the nightly national political cable news show is gathered at a party where they are, bizarrely, not talking about NerdProm.
NerdProm, for those of you lucky enough to not have a Twitter feed full of real-life versions of the WestRoom characters, is the epithet we in the biz use for the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. In 2011 it took place the night before bin Laden was killed, which meant that President Obama was delivering his stand-up routine (particularly zinging Donald Trump) knowing that the operation was underway.
Now, I'm not a stickler for verisimilitude in my TV comedy-drama series, but there are only two possible scenarios for this May 1 staff party. Either the staff who attended NerdProm are regaling the others with stories and gossip; or none of them attended, and they are all talking about how ethically superior they are to the compromised journos who did attend NerdProm.
But let's try to move past that. The Very Special Episode puts us behind the scenes during the hour-and-a-half or so in which news organizations didn't know what the big live Obama announcement was going to be. That doesn't turn out to be very interesting -- they mostly make futile phone calls and read Twitter. That's pretty accurate, but not very compelling drama.
But if you're watching as I have advised, there was a special fun to be had in seeing how all the high principles the Serious Journalists espoused in previous episodes have vanished. For example, Mac the airheaded journalistic superstar declares, apparently not in jest, that her entire career in journalism -- reporting on wars and stuff -- will have been worth it if she can give the public five extra minutes of knowing about bin Laden's death. I don't recall that bullet point on her white board.
The best, though, is Serious Journalist stuck on a plane. This is the same character who, just a couple of weeks ago, argued against prematurely broadcasting Gabby Giffords' death with the Olympus-like decree that "a doctor pronounces her dead, not the news."
This week, he is desperately trying to claw his way off the tarmac to pronounce someone's death based on his clever sleuthing about the location of a backup generator.
I guess that's what you'd call "situational ethics" -- the difference being that we know from our future vantage point which is the "right" call in each situation.
Bottom line on the episode: Anchor Guy stoned is no alcoholic Tom Hanks.
And the next two weeks, according to listings, comprise a Special Two-Part Double Episode (The Blackout Part I and Part II). Consider me skeptical.