How Is Chris Messina On 'The Newsroom' & 'The Mindy Project'? By Playing Basically The Same Character Twice
HBO's The Newsroom barely needs antagonists, since its central group of bumbling reporters are so adept at getting themselves into trouble. And yet, for the first two seasons, there have been two: Atlantis World Media CEO Leona Lansing (played by the illustrious Jane Fonda), and her son Reese, the company's president (played by The Mindy Project 's Chris Messina). But Leona turned out to be not so bad, once it was revealed that — even though her hands were often tied by business she had in front of a conservative Congress — she actually admired the efforts Will McAvoy and his team were making. That left Reese as The Newsroom's nominal Big Bad, and Messina played the role with relish. In the first two seasons, Reese was an unscrupulous thorn in ACN's side, wire tapping their phones and dampening spirits with his doomsday ratings speechifying.
Imagine viewers' surprise, then, when Messina sauntered into Season 3 playing not the Reese we'd grown to love/hate, but basically a second iteration of his Mindy character, Dr. Danny Castellano (only wearing suits instead of scrubs). It's understandable why this sudden turnaround happened. Despite having worked steadily on film and television since the mid '90s, Messina's popularity really exploded this past year thanks to Mindy — and in particular, one surprisingly sexy dance routine. (And one un surprisingly sexy strip tease, let's not forget.)
It's easy to see why Aaron Sorkin and HBO would want to capitalize on the public's newfound fascination with Messina. But it's still jarring to see the formerly caustic Reese transform, seemingly overnight, into the second coming of Diamond Dan. Rather than being an immoral jerk with no problem spying on his own employees, Reese is now a gruff-but-lovable dude going to bat for his beleaguered news division. He's a "douche on the side of the angels," as he put it himself in the season's second episode.
But Reese's metamorphosis doesn't mean Season 3 of The Newsroom is without an antagonist. Just like how in Season 1 it was revealed that Leona wasn't nearly as bad as her own son, it's now been revealed that Reese isn't nearly as bad his own half-siblings, Blair and Randy. The twins, played by Kat Dennings and Christopher Nicholas Smith (both of CBS sitcoms: 2 Broke Girls and We Are Men, respectively), are truly without scruples. They're planning to make a boatload of money by selling their combined shares in AWM (45 percent all told) to another company that already owns 6 percent... which means that the other company would then have 51 percent and essentially own AWM.
Fighting against this hostile takeover is what makes Reese a good guy this season, and that at least makes some sense, character-wise. But the introduction of previously unmentioned and conveniently evil family members is a shade too reminiscent of 24's embarrassing sixth season for my taste. (Remember, that's when we learned that Jack Bauer had a father and brother we'd never met before... who were both nefarious terrorists working against him.) How much do you want to bet that, by the end of Season 3, we'll learn that Blair and Randy aren't actually that bad — it's really their criminal mastermind third cousin who's behind it all!
Look, I love The Newsroom and I love Chris Messina. I especially love that the show is giving him more screen time than ever this year. But Messina is a talented actor who's capable of playing a good guy on one show and a bad guy on another at the same time. By making Reese and Danny essentially the same character, it feels like Sorkin is underplaying Messina's abilities. Be on the lookout for anyone on The Newsroom blasting Aaliyah tunes; if Reese Lansing ends up busting out some sick dance moves in the middle of the AWM boardroom, you'll know his evolution into Diamond Dan is complete.
I just have one more question: If Reese = Danny, then is there some alternate universe where Jane Fonda = Rhea Perlman? The fitness guru and the Cheers actress could hardly be more different, but they're both playing Messina's mothers. (Fun fact! Fonda and Perlman have only ever appeared in one project together: ABC's 1990 Earth Day Special , which starred Bette Midler as an ailing Mother Earth, Neil Patrick Harris's Doogie Howser as the doctor who treats her, Danny De Vito and Rhea Perlman as a couple watching the special, and a long list of famous cast members that has to be seen to believed, including Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep as "Concerned Citizen," and the Muppets. You can watch this gem in its entirety here.)
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