Thursday, September 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'Great News' - Katie Gets a New Mentor Who Has Big Ideas About How to Change the Show in 'Boardroom Bitch'

NBC's Great News - Episode 2.01 "Boardroom Bitch"

"The Breakdown" gets a new boss, Diana St. Tropez, a tough business lady with big plans to bring their outdated news program into the 21st century. Katie is thrilled since this is exactly the kind of strong, professional female role model she hoped for, but Carol is immediately wary of this new influence in Katie's life. Chuck has trouble adapting to Diana's idea for a new panel segment of screaming pundits.

In its first season, Great News was a bit of a throwback show in its tone and structure. It had references to the present day but it had the setup of a more classic show. That was perfectly fine as well. It grew significantly across its first season. It ended in a really creatively strong place. It didn't dig as deep as it could in its comedic situations. It's not a fiery sendup of cable news in 2017. But it was a really solid show with entertaining characters who play well off of each other. It's always a mystery as to whether or not "The Breakdown" is actually a good show. And yet, that allows things to be as absurd as possible. It was a little miraculous that the show was renewed for a second season at all. The first season aired at the very end of the last broadcast season. It didn't debut until late April with NBC airing two episodes back-to-back each week. The ratings were nothing to write home about either. They weren't screaming renewal. But NBC remained high on the creative of the show and the belief that it could grow if given the opportunity. So, it surprisingly got a slot on the fall schedule airing after the revival of Will & Grace. That gives the show the best opportunity for success. I'm incredibly hopeful that the show is able to break out in a big way this season. Because based on one episode, it feels like the show has made another creative leap. "Boardroom Bitch" is a fun and insightful episode that picks apart the reality of cable news in 2017 in a compelling way.

Of course, the most notable part of this premiere may be that executive producer Tina Fey now has an onscreen presence. That was probably a mandate to help get the show renewed as well. The executives at NBC are still very high on Tina Fey and will support whatever she is interested in doing. They want to be in business with her. Her introduction as Diana St. Tropez takes up the majority of screentime in "Boardroom Bitch." Of course, it's very deserving as well. She immediately commands attention and is able to shake up "The Breakdown" in a significant way. Plus, it's just a fun character for her to play. She's the new owner of the station who has big ideas for how to bring the show into the 21st century. She is able to get Chuck to do what she wants so easily. She's a boss who walks around with the authority of a white man. That's a lot of fun for her to play - especially since the character knows it and champions it as well. That's a great inclusion in this show. It makes a lot of sense why Katie would be obsessed with her and Carol would be worried about her. It's a great dynamic that adds something new to the show. Of course, I'm not entirely sure how long Diana will be around since Tina Fey is just a guest star. But I'm guessing she'll have a significant impact on this season. She certainly does in this premiere.

And yet, the show doesn't need Fey in order to be funny. It certainly helps. If Fey wants to play this character, then she should play this character. But the show is terrific to watch long before Diana shows up. The cold open is pretty brilliant. It shows that Carol is still causing problems at "The Breakdown" as an intern. She frequently gets more power than she should and that has a great impact on the actual broadcast. She rushes into a room declaring that China has launched missiles at the United States. The day has finally arrived where they will all die in a fiery and radioactive explosion. They are preparing for those fates while still doing the news to inform everyone on what's happening. It's not surprising in the slightest that Carol was misinformed because she didn't have her glasses on. It just speaks to the dangerous consequences that come from journalists not double checking their sources. All it would have taken to discredit this report was someone in the control room looking at the piece of paper Carol had. Instead, they all took her at her word and declared impending doom on the airwaves. It's a funny setup that shows that the audience shouldn't take "The Breakdown" anymore seriously now even though they broke a huge story at the end of last season. These characters are capable of great reporting. But they are still constantly messing up as well. And in the end, that's not all that surprising in the news anymore.

Diana's suggestions for how to improve the show are fairly predictable and expected as well. She believes "The Breakdown" needs to include half a dozen panelists disagreeing with each other. She sees that as entertaining television. She sees that as what cable news is in 2017. And in the end, she's absolutely right about that. Greg is riveted by the story happening in front of his eyes. He's engaged in a way he hasn't been before when the show was just Chuck and Portia telling the stories of the day to a camera. That's the way that Chuck has always done things though. He struggles immensely under this new presentation. It means he needs to actually have opinions and be able to defend them against people who completely disagree with him. The panelists are quite fun as well with an Obama denier, a transracial person and a gay dog who served in the military. These panelists could become a nice recurring feature on the show across this season. It will make "The Breakdown" even more absurd than it was last season. And that's to the benefit of the show as a whole. It actually means something when Portia takes pity on Chuck. She's perfectly fine with watching white men buckle under pressure. To her, it's them finally dealing with the hardships that the rest of humanity constantly has to deal with. But she and Chuck are closer than that. They still aren't friends but she still feels the need to support him once things delve into chaos on the show. She sets him up perfectly for success. In the process though, she comes across as a better moderator than him too.

Meanwhile, the main story involves Katie desperately wanting to learn from Diana. She sees her as her idol who can teach her how to succeed in this business. It's an opportunity to show just how eccentric Diana can be as a character. She believes in freezing one's eggs to then have children in one's 50s via a surrogate with different sperm donors while the babies are born on international flights so they are citizens of the world. It's crazy and goes against the traditional values that Carol has always wanted for Katie. She wants Katie to do things the same way she has. Only now is she being faced with the reality of that sentiment. Katie may have to give up a perfect career in order to have a husband and children. Or Carol may have to give up her dreams in order to ensure Katie has it all. It's a conundrum that has plagued many lives over the years. Diana claims to be the only woman in the world who has figured out how to have it all. She carries herself with that pride and acclaim. She's only interested in teaching Katie because it would be a significant challenge. Katie is lashing out emotionally because of the hormone injections she takes in order to freeze her eggs. That leads to a couple solid moments of unexpected reactions as well. But mostly, this is a story that prioritizes work aspirations instead of dealing with the romantic cliffhanger at the end of last season. Of course, Carol now knows that Katie and Greg almost kissed. She's already planning their wedding. So, it'll remain a huge focus for the season. But the dynamic between Katie and Diana should be just as significant as well. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Boardroom Bitch" was written by Tracey Wigfield and directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller.
  • There are so many great and unique character moments in that cold open. Beth believes she's ready for nuclear disaster because she has a gun. Except she has lost that gun. That set up the expectation it would be found and go off unexpectedly somehow. It doesn't but it's a nice character beat as well. Meanwhile, Wayne is ready to take over as leader until he realizes how lame it would be to call his domain "Wayne's World."
  • Do you think we will ever see Greg's girlfriend, Kat? She's in heat right now. Of course, Greg then explains that's a broadway musical based on the film of the same name. Perhaps it would be better if she never showed up because the show could have a lot of fun with those puns and excuses for why Greg can't get too close to Katie.
  • Carol is horrible at keeping secrets. She's immediately planning Katie and Greg's wedding as soon as she hears about their almost kiss. She has a date picked out already even though she lost a bet with her priest about Greg being interested in Katie. And yet, will she talk about this with everyone at the show? They may not think anything about it but it could bug Katie when she wants to be focusing on work.
  • Greg is a fan of Diana as well. He likes how she is able to get things done. That's a significant improvement over how Gram ran things last season. Mostly, he respects how she was able to use reverse psychology on Chuck. But then, Diana does the same to him to ensure that he doesn't get a desire to run to her with every problem he encounters with the show.
  • It's already clear that Tina Fey is having a lot of fun playing this character. Her big introduction is quite the reveal as well. She's dressed up as a janitor and does a big reveal to show just how poorly things are run in this workplace. Later on, it's then amusing to see her seemingly fall asleep while Katie is talking with her only to learn that she's just acting like a man who "cares" about the problems of his female employees.
  • There isn't much for Justin to do here at all. Horatio Sanz is a series regular. But Justin gets as many lines as Beth, Wayne and Gene do. That's not a whole lot. He mostly just sets up the bit with the janitor. But fortunately, things will probably include him more in the future as well with Diana's introduction out of the way.